The Rabbi from Radzymin
In Poland and especially in the area around Warsaw, Radzymin was known because of the Rabbi of Radzymin. Chassidim came to him from the cities and towns for Sabbaths and holidays. It was close to the capital --18 km. from Warsaw. This distance was reduced by a small paved road. The dynamic Jews bought and sold, while the local people, the goyim, remained inactive at home, not having to go to cosmopolitan and noisy Warsaw. During that period the Rabbi was the central personality. In the Chassidic world he was "the Rabbi," though in his city were many who opposed him. The pious of the area would travel to the Rabbi of Gur, or Alexander, etc., and tended to tell praiseworthy stories about their Rabbi, deprecating somewhat the Rabbi of Gur, about his desire to tame his need to become rich, etc.
A story went around about a person who treated the holiness of the Rabbi with disrespect. He was called Shabbatai Moah -- one who knew Torah. He came to the Rabbi and when he was asked, "What is your wish?" he replied, "A drink." From then on, Shabbatai became steeped in drink, a drunkard mocking the pious rich, shaming them in public but showing love and devotion to the poorest. Yet Shabbatai Moah, as I knew him in my childhood, was a remarkable prankster. He used to come to the courtyard of a stingy rich man, pick up a fat chicken and bring it without delay to a poor woman who had just given birth. He never hid his contempt for the rich, and always revealed his deep love for the poor and downtrodden. He would say to the rich man of the city, "If typhus should hit the water carrier he would not know where to go. But should it hit you, you would have at your disposal remedies and other aids."
During Kol Nidre while others prayed and trembled from the awesomeness of the judgment, Shabbatai was drunk. And when they said to him, "Come, pray," he answered, "A drunk doesn't give judgment or receive judgment."
Advocacy of Israel -- the Hero of the City
Among the remarkable personalities that this city brought forth was Professor Boden de Courtnoy who adjusted and became assimilated in Poland. This dear man made it his purpose in life to watch over the Jews in Poland, to vouch for their righteousness, to deny any false charges against them, to safeguard their equal rights.
The rich man of the city, Zalmen Radzyminsky, was well known. In everyday language he was called Zalmen Shlezaner. This man who started out as a horse dealer and was known in the small town Shlezan became successful, became owner of a beer factory, a flour mill, a metal work- shop, fields and houses, and was considered to be among the rich people in the surrounding area. His family tells that he had a large sum of money in a certain bank in Warsaw. One night he dreamed that the bank was about to collapse. The following morning he removed his money from there. Stories like these were usual among the elders of the town. But who can measure the degree of reality or imagination among them? In my memory is etched the conduct of the man during Purim. He used to sit at the table full of goodies -- beer, fine wine, baked goods pleasing to the eye and good to the taste, candy of all kinds, fruit from Israel. With his long, thick beard, he showed an understanding of the many who gathered around -- relatives, friends, visitors. From time to time there appeared delegations from different institutions or just needy people. Every one brought a covered dish. Reb Zalmen would repeat for everyone what was in the dish. There were also those who did not bring shalach manas, but they amused the audience with jokes, discussion or plays. These too were complimented or praised, and into the plate went a suitable amount of money. I was a lad, and when I was invited for the first time I stammered, "Fit for a king!"
The Struggle Against Strolling Couples
But this is part of a distant past, the period before the First World War, when the heads of the community were masters of inspiration and greatness. In those days when the lads of the city learned from the ways of the goyim to stroll with young girls in the streets or in the suburbs, the Rabbi came to a decision with the Russian policemen -- with practical convincing, of course -- that such a strolling couple if apprehended should be brought to court before him. And woe to the couple who is caught and brought to court while court is in session or when the elders of the city are giving counsel!
Secretly the young people came to the library of the Polish notary. Here they received reading and study books on loan, and occasionally advice and direction on the ways of the world. Incidentally, this notary, faithful to the Polish Socialist Party, told me once in a heart-to-heart conversation, "Part of the population must emigrate from Poland, and obviously you, the Jews, must be the first to leave here, and not we, the Poles."
But this agitation did not affect the town at first (except for a small number of the local people). The town, on the whole, guarded its apparently peaceful way of life. A man was not called by his family name, but by his father's name and occasionally by his grandfather's name. I, for example, was called "Chaim Itza Zalmen's." There were also nicknames like "Elia Rumpf" or "Yizhak Behind", and so on. But these nicknames were given only to those who had excelled in something, and not everyone was worthy enough to earn a nickname.
Life was quiet, slow-paced. There was room for those who excelled and for excellence in the ulpan, the heder, the shtiebel or in the 'Yeshiva of the Rabbi'. They learned a great deal, but there were no divisions into grades, not even for the 'creme de la creme.' Some earned respect and love because of their personalities. I especially have etched in my memory my elderly friend Yitzhak Sokol, who was exceedingly ugly (I used to say, "a kind of Socrates") but who was blessed with a noble soul. He used to devour books and remember their contents. He was like a bottomless pit that doesn't lose a drop, as modest as a girl and beloved by all. Opposed to him was the yeshiva lad who shows off with his clothes and outer self until the Rabbi defines him as a 'good-looking lad made of smelly soap.'
The economic life was conducted accordingly. Every Wednesday there was a market that brought in farmers to sell their produce to the city people. They in turn could buy what they needed for work. The rich had real estate and could make loans. The poor fulfilled themselves through work and some small industry. A father turned over his trade, whether good or bad, to his son. So the chain continued. Somewhat of a change occurred when Poland was overrun by the Germans 1914-17. During this period a small window was opened to the Jews to engage in administration and services. The transition from Yiddish to German was easy. Evening classes and courses to matriculation. With the German army came enlightened Jews who extended the narrow horizon of the Jews in the Polish cities. As they paved a path there emerged the Chalutz, "Young Zionists," "Agudath Israel," "Poalei Israel".
During this period the 'war' between parent and child increased. The young people started to wear shorts and to be particular about their pressed scarf. The parents were angry, and fumed and swore "As long as I live this won't happen." But life did what it did, and it did happen. When the Rabbi and some of his faithful followers were ready to start a branch of Agudath Yisrael in Radzymin, we -- the chalutzim and the Zionists -- were unable to accept the fact that conservatism and anti-Zionism would cast a shadow upon our city. What did we do? Close to the appointed time for the founding of the movement, we arranged a meeting of the chalutzim. They came to the Beth haMidrash to expound on what they had accomplished and their organization. The young people could no longer postpone the establishment of a local branch. On every occasion, the Rabbi continued to preach against the transgressors and sinners who pursue the theories of 'the goyim', but his voice was already hoarse and scoffed at, and it was no longer able to turn the wheel backward.
When the first World War ended and Poland became an independent nation, gaining her freedom from the yoke of the Germans, the Jews, in purity of spirit, wanted to participate in the fruits of freedom. There were shared demonstrations. Representing the local Jewry was a young lad of 18 who gave a patriotic speech in ornate, rhetorical Polish. The speaker was not Reb Zalmen, affluent and traditional, but his grandson the gymnast, writer of these lines. But it was not long before the "shackles tightened," and in their independent country the Poles waged pogroms against the Jews. But the tide of anti-Semitism, in its strength and fury, had not yet reached our city, as it had other places. But to the members of the chalutz there wasn't a shadow of a doubt that our place was no longer here but 'in a place of cedars'. At the earliest opportune time Postolsky and his group made aliyah. Here they joined the Calandia-itrot group. The average Jew went on with his life as though nothing had happened, until that sudden, fateful day when Radzymin and its Jewry were wiped off the face of the earth -- its intellectuals, its observant, its poor and rich, its old and young.
The days were emotional days. What seemed like a dream took on skin and bones. I was still young during the pioneering meetings of the Hachalutz and the Tseeray Zion (young Zionist) in Poland. The young people tried to establish rules and a program for the future life of the country and the community. All this was idealistic -- the firm belief that 'instead of cedars' would arise the land of Israel. A new community would be created, and we would be the builders.
In Radzymin Shalom Postolsky organized the first group of city chalutzim to make aliyah. They set out in the summer of 1920. Shalom Postolsky mobilized this group that was in fact the first concrete step toward the realization of organized group. Actually, the first lad who made aliyah even before the First World War from Radzymin to Eretz Yisrael was Yehiel Fyenik (concerning whom there is a special note in the book HaOrach ("The Editor")) In Palestine, too, they called the Radzymin chalutzim "The Postolsky Group".
The immediate reason for the aliyah was the particular situation in Poland two years after the group was established, during the summer months of 1920. Marshall Joseph Pilsudsky, ruler of Poland had a desire to conquer Kiev. The youth of Poland, which had just won freedom from the yoke of Russian Austrian conquest, showed fervent patriotism. Students of the gymnasiums volunteered and enrolled in officer-training schools that had been organized in feverish haste.
As a student in the gymnasium I too volunteered for officers-training school, but the registering officer told me with cynical frankness that my religion would be a barrier to my acceptance. If I registered, I would be rejected because of my Jewishness. And if I didn't register, they would say that my Jewish cowardice held me back.
That same day, I turned to the chalutz office in Warsaw with the urgent request that they help me make aliyah. This was several days after the Postolsky Group had left for Palestine. I received the answer, "It's O.K." I understood from this that I would be able to go openly and legally. But actually, only a small part of the trip was made legally and without hardship. That was the part from Warsaw to Cracow.In the region of Cracow the chalutzim lost their way. They were supposed to come to Marish Ostray, which was in the Czech area. I was imprisoned along with other chalutzim by Czech policemen.
While we were in custody, an officer of the Jewish community of Marish Ostray who was clean-shaven, a cigar in his mouth, wise, adaptable, and who knew how to conduct himself with the Czechs and get things fixed, came to our help. He muttered against "these immigrants" who do not know the law and who cause a disturbance to the Czech administration. After saying what they wanted to hear ("paying mouth tax") he continued, "But what can one do? Return them to the grasp of the Poles? Better that we should figure out how they can be conducted further." And even though the Czechs harassed us, (we were several hundred chalutzim), we were housed in the local synagogues. We waited and we managed for several weeks until we received a general visa from Austria. The benches of the synagogue were too hard for sleep or rest, but songs of our native land, our youthful spirits, and the knowledge that in aliyah we would forget the discomfort of this strange inn sustained us.
Happily and with thanks we departed from the local community, and we traveled to Vienna. There we needed permission to enter Palestine. It took longer than it did in Czechoslovakia, but since we had no alternative, we waited in Vienna. Austria in the tranquillity of the summer of 1920 was sad. Rationing in all its severity was imposed on all kinds of food and necessities. Food was sold through coupons, the famous Viennese pudding was an insulting reminder of what used to be called pudding, and a man who finished lunch in a restaurant was immediately ready for another meal.
Aboard the vessel
In Vienna we were transferred from inns to hotels and back again, but under more humane conditions than we had had in the synagogue. Nevertheless we were nervous and impatient; our aim was to reach the port of Jaffa, and day and night we dreamed about our first day in Palestine.
When the long-awaited confirmation for aliyah came, we did not waste even one more day in Vienna. Even those who had not yet had a chance to visit Herzl's grave, had to leave this for some future time. There was a strong heartfelt desire to reach Palestine as 5oon as possible. And also a desire to finish these wanderings and to reach the 'Port of Security.'
From Vienna we traveled to Italy by ship. When we came on board, we felt ourselves fortunate. It was a freighter, and only because there was a lack of necessary equipment were they able to use it as a passenger ship. The scoffers among us said, "When a vessel like this sinks n public announcement is made, simply because with a vessel like this, you don't make a noise." Needless to say there were no beds yet somehow we adjusted to it. The food was below standard, but who thought about conveniences while in the heart of the sea, as long as we were drawing closer to the port? The young boys and girls sang and danced, fraternized, talked with each other in groups or in general meetings.
Conditions in the Land
Freedom – I recall when our ship anchored in the Port of Jaffa, and we disembarked. Gymnasts welcomed us with white bread, jam and sweet tea. In Eastern Europe at that time there was strict rationing of bread and sugar, and white bread was a rare commodity. But here in the land we found an abundance of food and the good will of many. Yet working conditions were hard. The fact that hundreds of the legionnaires who were discharged from the army were not able to find work and were forced to return to the lands from which they had come, restrained the optimism of many of us.
When I arrived in the land, I had in my bag one Egyptian lira. I remember this because in time of stress I comforted myself that I had not lost the 'fortune' that I had brought with me.
I was able to rest a little in Jaffa and in Tel Aviv, but my heart yearned to go up to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv then was quite small. Other than the gymnasium "Herzliah" there was nothing that we had heard about in the diaspora. My heart was drawn to the capital city. In addition to this my heart was curiously drawn to those of my city -- the Postolsky Group -- who had made aliyah several weeks before this to Calandia. I longed to see how they had become acclimated, and so the day after I arrived in the land I went to the capital, and after a tour I concerned myself with how to reach Calandia. Obviously, Egged and sherut were not yet operating in the country, but between Jaffa Gate and Yemin Moshe there was an open area where donkey drivers and their donkeys gathered ready for hire for trips. I came to this open square and asked a donkey driver for a trip to Calandia. The drivers were Arabs. I knew Hebrew but not a word of Arabic, But I explained in Hebrew and with many hand movements that I wanted to be taken to Calandia. He readily agreed and we started on the way, he on one donkey and I on the second. After a tiring ride we reached Moza, which in Arabic is called Colonia. A quarrel broke out between us (the first Jewish-Arab quarrel). I said that he, the driver, was at fault. He said that I was because I had not made clear where I wanted to go. I told him that he was the donkey. Finally we agreed that he would bring me back to the Jaffa gate without further cost.
Toward evening I was fortunate to get a wagon and a group going to Calandia, which took me as a hitchhiker. I was glad for the opportunity. That very night I met the Radzyminers who were part of the Calandia group, and among them, Shalom Postolsky. After the meal, despite the exhausting day, I was unable to sleep because of emotion. I was actually with my landsleit in an agricultural settlement near Jerusalem.
The young people of the Postolsky settlement afterward scattered to all parts of the land; they did not establish in Palestine a special or separate enterprise. But in the building industries, in digging for the laying of telephone lines, in kibbutzim and moshavim, in cities and towns from Dan to Eilat one found choice seeds that were sown with love and integrity by the young people of Radzymin.
Photo p.103: "Radzyminers at the beginning of the twenties"
Photo p.104: "Shmuel Zuckerman, his wife Frieda. On the right, CH. SH. Goldstern-Lishnisky and Sarah Freuziner Cohen, at the beginning of the twenties, in the land"
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