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[Pages 47-50]

“The Children of Israel” - “Bnei Yisrael”

The Social and National Background

by M. Frank

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The era of “The Children of Israel” was a romantic and very interesting episode in the life of the Jewish youth of Orheyev. This energetic youth, full of energy and youthful enthusiasm, aroused itself and found itself on a path that was not a path. It was determined decisively that the way of Jewish life in the Diaspora was lost for it completely. Before the eyes of this youth that struggled greatly with searching for its path and believed in its ability to forge a new path, stood one focal point – the liberation of the Jewish nation and the ingathering of the nation in its ancient homeland with the foundations of equality, justice, labor and creativity.

In the Wake of the First World War

The era was that of the end of the First World War. Humanity as a whole was weary, bleeding, and licking its wounds. The Jews gave their appropriate “donation of blood” to the war that was foreign to them since they were “citizens of the entire world”, and of course “faithful” to their native lands. They fought in the opposing camps and unknowingly spilled the blood of their brethren. When the war ended and Russia began its great revolution, the masses of workers and farmers in the vast expanse of Russia breathed easier, for they saw the revolution as a ray of light and hope for a better future. At that time, a terrible wave of bloody pogroms began for Russian Jewry.

The ruling class, who did not wish to come to terms with the revolution and the new conditions that were created, stood at the head of the counter revolutionary movement, gathering around them many dark and criminal forces. Thus was forged the covenant of hatred between every “black force in the Russian community.”

The enemies of the revolution began a civil war with the intention of overturning the revolution and returning the government to their hands. As an intermediate stage on the path to their goal, they began murdering Jews and pillaging their property. Pillaging bands passed through Ukraine and throughout the expanse of Russia. Many gangs became incited under the leadership of the generals Petliura, Denikin, Wrangels and others as they pillaged, raped, burned and murdered Jews. When the revolutionary forces fought against the many gangs and against the intervention at that time, Romania invaded Bessarabia in response to the request of the Bessarabian reactionaries, and conquered it.

Brotherly Assistance to the Refugees from Ukraine

With the conquest of Bessarabia by the Romanians (1918), our Jewish community was cut off from the large Jewish community of Russia. The only connection that remained was the large stream of refugees from the sword of the gangs on the eastern side of the bank of the Dniester.

Naked and lacking everything, weary and emaciated from hunger, Jewish refugees arrived in Orheyev and were received with open arms. They found a warm corner in every Jewish home. All of the communal institutions, synagogues and private homes were filled to the brim with refugees. People neglected their occupations and livelihoods, and dedicated themselves willingly to the care of the refugees. Gershon Weinstock, Leibel Kleiner, Moshe Kalmanovitz, Leib Stolyar and others served as a fine personal example to us youth, for making their nights as days in order to assist the unfortunate people.

The myriads of refugees had no possibility of establishing themselves in Bessarabia, and they desired to emigrate abroad, including to the Land of Israel among other places.

The Balfour Declaration and its Influence upon the Youth

At that time, the Land was freed from the Turkish yoke and the German conquest. Jewish battalions (made up of volunteers from every corner of the earth) marched at the head of the liberation army, alongside the British troops that were lead by General Allenby. The Balfour Declaration was proclaimed immediately after this, and Lord Herbert Samuel was appointed as the first High Commissioner of Judea. These events had a deep influence on the Jews of the Diaspora, including of course upon us, the youth of Orheyev.

The Zionist movement began to turn to practicality. We imagined the “Redeeming Messiah” in the form of youths strong in body and spirit, pioneers who were prepared for work, with weapons in their hands – forging with their sweat the path of the nation, and leading it. In the eyes of our spirit, we beheld the downtrodden and persecuted Jew suddenly straightening out his form, feeling for the first time that he too had the right to exist upon the earth, that he also had an ancient, desolate homeland, and that he wished to grace its earth. The joyous news excited the Jewish consciousness, broke down barriers on the Jewish street, and also reached the ears of the gentiles. Our Christian neighbors began to relate to us with more honor.

In the Jewish home, the day to day worries were pushed aside into a corner, as they made room for serious, revolutionary thoughts. With trembling in the heart, they began to whisper about the practical possibility of aliya to the Land of Israel.

The Awakening of the Youth to Zionist Activity

We were then youths of the age of 13-15, and we absorbed the overwhelming odor of blood that was left by the war. With our own eyes we witnessed Jewish communities burnt by the fire of the disturbers. We followed behind the caravans of refugees, tormented by agony and despair, with their eyes begging for assistance. Then vistas were exposed from the east.

Filled with enthusiasm and enchanted with the splendor of the revolution, we were simultaneously pining for the dream of the revival of the Jewish nation. We girded ourselves for the national liberation. We became stormy from the depth of the idea. Many difficulties fluttered before our eyes, and we had to solve them. We joined the revolution with all our hearts. However, we did not see in it the solution to all of the problems that arose and tormented us. Could a revolution in one country bring an answer to our national problems? Could it guarantee our nation the possibility to live in a nationalist-socialist economic community? Would we not fall victim to any change or movement in the social forces of the world?

At first, the blue and white flag fluttered next to the flag of the Red Revolution, but the bearers of the flag tread upon ground that was not of their homeland. As opposed to their Russian comrades who felt the soil of their expansive homeland, this was lacking for us. We were only able to feel for our ancient homeland, a Land that must be built up and established anew. However, how would this homeland arise? What would be the economic, national and social basis for its existence?

Dreaming of the 'homeland'

Dreaming of the “homeland”

Sitting from right to left: 1. Davidovitz 2. B. Naychin 3. N. Suslensky (one of the pioneers to Israel) 4. B. Chuvis 5. L. Veitzman 6. M. Rabinovitz 7. … Z. Davidovitz and L. Veitzman hoping for a dream come true

 

The Zionist Movement and the First Pioneers in our Town

In those days, a Zionist movement existed in Orheyev that was not particularly variegated with respect to political differences. For all intents and purposes, there were two factions: the General Zionists and Tzeirei Zion (Young Zion). Even though there were no essential differences between them, the “cream of the crop” of the Jewish community of the city belonged to the General Zionists (headed by Ben-Zion Furer, Dr. Berkovitz, Nissel Duchovny, Yosef Pagis, Chalyk, David Duchovny, Leib Stolyar, Kestlicher, Shapirin, the Weinshenker brothers, Yehudah Yagolnitzer, and others). Young people still mainly belonged to Tzeirei Zion, some of them students and some of them practitioners of the free trades. They were headed by Mordechai Rotkov, Berel Klepner, Leibel Kleiner, Davidovitz, Leah Fisher, Yehudit Naychin, Guralnik, Dora Dyukman, Marosia Averbukh and others.

These, like those, would gather on occasion for meetings, festivities and various celebrations. They would speak at length about the vision of the return to Zion. The political situation of both of those factions did not obligate their members to practical outcomes - that is to say, to actualization. Indeed, some people arose who rebelled against “parlor room” Zionism and made aliya to the land. Among them were Ben-Zion Ford of blessed memory, Nissel Duchovny, Avraham Daskal, Berel Lupatner, Yaakov Dyukman, Yitzchak Rapoport, Roitman of blessed memory, Yosef Kohen, Shinder and others. However, this was a transient episode, without continuity. The youth movements did not yet exist in the city, with the exception of Maccabee (led by Yasha and Matba Sherman, Menashe Eydelman, Moshe Feinman and others).

The Organized “Bnei Yisrael”

We, a small number of youths who were students of the gymnasiums, were not organized into any movement. We gathered together to chart our future course. The participants in this meeting included Niunia Suslensky, Yisrael Shamban, Chaya Naychin, Shneur Geynichovitz, Mordechai Frank, Dov Snitkovsky, Hershel Dikler, Yechiel Duchovny and others. The goal, to “clarify our path in life,” was directed to the future of each one of us as it was intertwined and connected with the future of the rest of the members, at one with the lot of the nation. The best of the youth of Orheyev joined us (Avrahamel Bronshteyn, Ganya Zimmerman, Herzl Dyukman of blessed memory, Liuba Muntzer, Rivka Ziserman, David Shrayberman, Yaakov Chalyk and others). We became a serious factor in the Jewish street. The attractive force of our faction was great, and many people joined us. We organized into groups in order to facilitate intensive activity. The group of “wise people” stood at the head. They directed and led the cultural and educational activities of all the groups. We conducted our work in a clandestine fashion for two reasons: a) the Romanian government, and b) the parents.

Dreaming of the 'homeland'

Bnei Israel, first group

Seated from right to left: 1. N. Suslensky 2. C. Naychin 3. Y. Shamban (Ben-Shem)
Standing: 1. M. Frank 2. Y. Duchovny 3. S. Geynichovitz 4. [alef]. Bronshteyn
5. G. Zimerman

 

Most of the parents were not pleased with our numerous meetings that were fraught with the risk of arrest. They did not understand our goals and wished to see us continue along their path of life – obviously in an improved fashion. They wished that we would continue our studies, complete university, and become established in life. In truth, we felt that our studies were important, but we felt that the value of the studies was intertwined with our desire for a new life in the homeland. In our hearts we tied our lot with that unknown Land that stood in desolation for thousands of years as it was awaiting its children to return to its borders.

We grew from a small number of people to a large number of groups, composed of people from various classes and ages. We had not yet clarified our political stand, but we knew that we must toil and study a great deal, and research deeply so that we would able to set and establish in a clearer fashion those things that would lead to the desired goal.

We were not connected to any organization or youth group for a simple reason – such did not exist. With our own flesh we witnessed the reality that was developing, and we made deductions from it.

“The Nation of Israel Lives” - “The Nation of Israel – an Eternal Nation”

This was the motto that we established for ourselves. From here also came the name “Bnei Yisrael”. We established the Hebrew language as absolutely obligatory upon all the members of Bnei Yisrael. We greeted each other with the word “Shalom”. At first it was strange to hear the new ring of the unknown language. Few of us knew Hebrew. However, we quickly became comfortable with the language. We chatted in it with pride, even though at times we botched it to the point of laughter.

The topics with which we dealt were sociology, national economics, Bible, history, literature and Hebrew. We paid special attention to the topic of sociology. We studied “Drouin” for many months (the lecturer was Niunia Suslensky). Aside from Drouin, we read “Wells”. We delved into Bible and other sources so that we could find some connection to that topic. In this manner of study and research, we wished to deduce all of the economic and spiritual factors that influence the character and makeup of man – which direct his soul and his way of thinking. The goal was to educate a person anew to delve into the fundamental bases, to distance from a bad source, with the aim of forging the most ideal character of the sublime person. In explanation, the person of healthy mind and body, who lives and sustains himself from his work, the person whose entire essence is to create the conditions of a life of happiness on earth, for himself and his fellow and to all humans. To prevent war and bloodshed among nations.

“Bnei-Yisrael” – and the Land of Israel

Through this lens of peace and brotherhood on earth, we also saw Israel building its desolate land and turning it into a fruitful garden, ingathering its scattered children from the corners of the earth.

We began to prepare ourselves to meet these goals. We imposed upon ourselves the duty to realize our goals practically, and to serve as a personal example for others. Our path was strewn with obstacles: the home, the family, the street, and also the government – everyone was against us. Indeed, there was a national awakening, and there were Zionist activities – but not to the point of actualization. Many saw us as dreamers of dreams, and waited for time to pass, the illusions to dissipate, and our return to being good children. Our parents did not want to hear about our plans that were related to the abandonment of our studies, leaving our homes, and aliya to the Land of Israel. We, devoid of any experience in life, dependent on our parents' table, with a warm family atmosphere, did not know the taste of toil, and had never tasted the taste of lack. The lot fell with these conditions: A decision was made by the Bnei Yisrael organization that demanded personal actualization from every one of its members – pioneering preparation (hachshara), activity for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund), and finally of course, also aliya to the Land. Our knowledge of the Land was scanty. With boundless joy, we would listen to anyone who came to tell us about the Land. I recall how happy I was when I was invited to Dyukman's home to hear about the Land from comrade Yitzchak Spivak, who had come to visit Orheyev. We heard about the far-off Land, its desolation for thousands of years and its lack of cultivation. It was a Land whose few residents suffered from malaria. Its soil was covered with bogs, and it was thirsty for water to water the soul of man and beast. It was a Land awaiting pioneers who would come and turn the malarial swamps into fruitful ground.

Bnei Israel'

Bnei Israel

Seated from right to left: 1. Y. Shamban 2. C. Dyukman 3. D. Snitkovsky -- Sinai
Standing: 1. D. Frank 2. R. Katz 3. Y. Zeylik 4. C. Katz 5. H. Dikler

 

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