Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
This work was written on the basis of record books, excerpts from minutes, information, materials and notices which were given to me by Yerakhmiel Arons Arsh, the landsleit [people from the same town] worker; Yitzhak Ginzburg, Ahron Noach Noachmanovitch and Shlomo Rubin. Thanks to the material provided, I was able to assemble this documented treatise about the Rakishoker Landsmanschaft [society of people from the same town].
The Rakishoker Landsmanschaft has been in existence for over 40 years and those from the neighboring shtetlekh, Abel [Obelial], Kamay [Kamajai], Svidoshc, Ponedel, Tibat, Skopishak, Poneminok, Sevenishak, Anushishok, Novo-Aleksandrovski=Ezsherni and others, are also included as landsleit.
Many significant and great changes took place in Jewish life over the course of time. A great deal of water flowed over the Jews in many lands; not least the Jewish people suffered from anti-Semitic persecutions and pogroms and slaughters, the First World War and a Second, when the savage destruction of the Jewish people under the rule of the Nazis took place and, finally, the rise of the State of Israel.
Without a doubt, all of the years and times lay their seal on organized Jewish society in general and on the Rakishok Society, which at the critical moment had to master and absorb all of the shadows and light in Jewish life, seeing the strengthening of the beliefs of our members and awakening in them the hope of better times that stimulated them to communal activities and to national actions.
The barely 40 years of the Rakishok landsmanschaft is an important communal event not only in its own area, but also for the entire local Jewish organized society and it is therefore necessary to very abundantly reflect its activities in the columns of the Yizkor Book.
The first emigrants from the Jewish shtetlekh in Lithuania who began to wander to distant South Africa did so in the role of pioneers and among them were educated circles of landsleit who were mutually connected and were among themselves like family members and brothers who would come together to share the news of those scattered in various population areas of South Africa. Such frequent gatherings were the beginning of a landsmanshaft.
The devotion of one toward the other was expressed in deeds; a new emigrant was met at the ship, he was offered hospitality, helped to look for work and given the initial financial aid, and care was also given to a sick landsleit, providing him with a doctor and medications, too.
The excerpt from N.D. Hofman's Book of Memories, published in Jews of South Africa by Leibl Feldman (a Rakishok landsman), can serve as a source of information:
When a griner [newly arrived] Jew would arrive in Cape Town, he would look for distant relatives with the addresses he had brought with him from home. He would be received with pity, taken to a bath to destroy his third plague [lice], he would be led to a barber, given other clean clothing and held at home for weeks at a time until he was rested from the long trip and became a little assimilated. Then the landsleit would take him to a wholesale merchant where they had credit and provide him with several pounds of goods. They would help him pack his bag, writing the price on each piece of goods, what it cost, as well as the price for which he should sell it. Placing the heavy pack on his back and tightly binding it with two wide leather straps, they would wish him success and would send him into the countryside around Cape Town among the Boers.
Landsleit circles were organized entirely spontaneously after which a landsmanschaft was founded. Landsleit would come together monthly on Shabbosim [Sabbaths], yomim-tovim [religious holidays] and on Sundays in a hall or at the home of a landsman a pioneer who had immigrated with his family or was able to bring them here.
In general single people, individuals, without wives and children, came with the first storm of immigration to South Africa and it was a long time before they decided to urge their families [to come] and to create a new home in South Africa. Even young men, who left brides beyond the sea, also did not rush to ask them because the ideas were deeply sunk into them that they still would save a little money and they would return home.
There was too strong a nostalgia with each Lithuanian Jew and Jewish immigrant for the way of life in his shtetl or city. He also could not live a religious life as at home. During the early years there were only a few khederim [religious primary schools] for children, only a few synagogues, clergymen, beli tefilus [men who read the prayers on holidays], cantors, shoykhetim [ritual slaughterers] and preachers.
The climatic and economic conditions also were entirely different from those in Eastern Europe.
It was difficult to adjust with respect to the work. There was no sellers market for much of the local work and means of earning a living. In addition, the industry in South Africa was still undeveloped at that time.
The immigrants, not mastering the language, could not take
positions of employment in various trade firms. They became trayers [peddlers], carrying goods on their backs, mainly to the Boer villages and farmers, or they received work places in kaferites [restaurants for the Africans].
There were many cases when immigrants returned home to their wife and children, to the relatives and those closest to them. There were also those who again returned to South Africa when they lost their saved money in trade. These facts were not an influence in such measure that Jewish immigrants would consider South Africa as their permanent home.
The landsleit joined more strongly and more firmly together in order to quiet their longing for family and home.
L. Feldman in his above-mentioned book talks about the reciprocal connection and strong friendship among the landsleit. I quote here that passage from his book:
The thousand miles that separated him (the immigrant) from his home increased his longing and loneliness. After work, on holidays and days of rest, he felt his loneliness in fear and strongly longed for community, at least to pass time. The wish for community to quiet his loneliness and longing for his family and familiar environment drove him to the relationship with Lithuanian Jews from his town or city. As others were in a similar situation as he was, they strongly befriended each other. They would come together at the home of a landsleit and they would talk about the old home, about the difficulties of the new life, about income; they would ask for advice and they were helpful to each other.The extract provided above can serve as an argument for what was necessary for the rise of landsmanschaftn, including the Rakishoker Landsmanschaft.
The coming together of the landsleit or of just Yiddish speaking Jews took on a more communal character each time. They would meet more and more often. In addition to discussing their old home and daily economic questions, they would also speak about and discuss news and worldly matters.
This led to founding of landsmanschaftn and khevras [groups] that had as their purpose to give material support, (gmiles khesed kases [interest free loan fund], medical aid) to the landsleit and help the shtetlekh of the landsmanschaftn in question.
* * *
The genesis and stages of progress of the Rakishok landmanschaft are not comprehensive, but are mirrored in the protocol books of the Society that were kept. It is regrettable that they are dryly written, in a banal style and in a Yiddish language that has a great deal of English and German words. It is indeed a fact that the first Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, not being in the country for long, used such a strange mixed language.
Yet, looking at all its drawbacks, the protocol books are for us a
worthwhile source from which we can learn and be informed about the founding and activities of the Rakishok Landsmanschaft in various periods of time. First of all, we are informed that the official founding of the Society took place on the 14th of January 1912, that is, over 40 years ago. From that historic day I cite the full text of the first protocol without any changes:
A general meeting was held on Sunday, the 14th of January 1912 in South Africa, Palmesten [Palmerston] Hotel, Commissioner Street to found a Rakishoker Sick Benefit Society. The following officers were elected, S. Shwartsberg as chairman, Zalman Sher, vice chairman, Gedelia Zakstein as treasurer. Hilel Eidelman and S. N. Yafa, trustee committee, Sh. L. Yafe, Josef Feldman, S. H. Abelovitz, W. Kahn, D. Shaibla Yisrael, N. Kahn, Z. Beinart and S. Shneider as secretary. Meeting closed.After this general meeting two committee sessions took place:
It is signed by Shimon Shwartsberg
Sunday the 21st of January 1912 and Sunday the 28th of January 1912.At the session of the 28th of January 1912, it was decided:
Letters shall be printed and a general meeting shall be called for the 4th of February.The second general meeting, which took place on Sunday the 10th of March, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, 1912, dealt with and approved the points of the proposed constitution for the landsmanschaft. And a banking account was opened.
At the general meeting of the 4th of February, 1912 the particular rules and regulations of the constitution for the landsmanschaft were discussed and a decision was made that the society would arrange for a doctor who would provide medical help for the member, and his family would have the benefit of a doctor for half price and also medicine for half price. It was then decided: register books shall be printed and each committee shall have a register book and collect contributions.
I publish the adopted constitution as an historical document.
* * *
He is permitted to discontinue his obligations for six months and he is without benefits during this time.
In case of illness, the national member may present a certificate from a doctor and he will have the right to receive the same benefits according to the rules of the Society for a local member.
7/6 entry money and he shall be considered entitled to benefits after six months, if he has paid all of his obligations.
The chairman shall administer all meetings; if he finds it impossible to attend a meeting because of certain circumstances, he must then notify the secretary in writing a half hour before the meeting or he will be fined one shilling. He shall control everything that belongs to the Society and sign the minutes of every general meeting. When he finds it necessary, he can call a special meeting. At the time of the meeting he must maintain order among the brothers of the Society. If a brother is not obedient, he has the right to punish him. If the brother is not obedient after being called to order three times, the chairman then has the right to take away his right to vote at this meeting. If the brother does not obey the penalty, then he has the right to ask him to leave the hall for the meeting. If the brother is not obedient the chairman can take him to arbitration. The chairman shall have a casting vote.
The vice chairman has the same duties and rights as the chairman, when the chairman is absent.
The treasurer must attend all meetings and shall receive all monies from the secretary of the Society and give him a receipt for them. He shall deposit all monies, checks and other documents. He deposits everything he receives in the bank in the name of the Society.
The secretary shall have correct reports of all meetings and handle all of the correspondence and the books of the Society in good order. He should inform each member by letter about each meeting. He must attend all meetings and insure that all of the contributions are paid. All money that he receives for the Society must be given to the treasurer and he has the right to keep up to one pound for small payments.
The assistant secretary has the same duties as the secretary. He must perform all of the tasks that the secretary gives to him for the Society. However, he cannot sign any documents that belong to the Society.
The trustees shall attend each meeting and when the committee decides to
issue a check, it is the duty of the trustee to sign the check.
The auditors shall review the books every six months before the election and sign the balance sheet if it is correct. They have the right to demand the books at that time and verify them. In case an auditor does not fulfill his duty when he is asked, the committee has the right to arrange an election in his place.
Each committeeman must attend the meeting promptly and carry out all of the business that is brought to the committee. A quorum of the committee must be seven committee members in addition to the chairman.
If a committeeman fails to attend three committee meetings in a row without an important reason, the chairman has the right to fine him up to 2 shillings and then the secretary shall write a letter to him and if he fails to attend a fourth meeting the committee may declare his seat vacant and designate a replacement unless he sends in an apology.
The committee has no right to make new or other rules; a special general meeting must be called for this purpose.
The committee shall compile a report for the general meeting about the work that it undertook. Committee meetings shall be held every month.
The doctor's duty is to examine a member when he asks him and in such cases he must send a certificate to the secretary and set down if his illness is infectious. He must attend all sick members at least once a day when they are seriously ill. When the sick person can, he must go to the doctor. When the doctor thinks that an extra doctor's help is needed and provides a certificate, the society will permit the taking of another doctor.
When a member moves to a new residence he must give notice to the secretary with his new address not later than two weeks or he will pay a one shilling fine.
The rules acquaint us with specific characteristics of that time and the active program of the landsmanshaft, as we read in these several points:
Point 1 says: The name of the Society shall be a) 'Rakishoker Sick Benefit Society,' as long as there are 10 members in the Society. This point teaches us how strong the patriotism and connection to Rakishok was among the Rakishok landsleit, who wanted to make sure that the name Rakishok Sick Benefit Society would not be changed, as long as there shall be 10 members of the Society.[Page 460]
Point 2 formalizes the purpose of the society as follows:
Point 3 limits the age of the members of the landsmanschaft as follows:
- The purpose of the Society shall be to give such members who shall need one a doctor and medicine for free. All remaining aid and services from a doctor shall be taken up by the committee.
- To give the wife and children of a member who shall have need of a doctor and medicine the Society's price for their expenses.Candidates can only become members of the Society if they are not less than 17 and no more than 45 years old.That a candidate could not be older than 45 was connected to financial calculations. In order not to carry the burden of medical help for members older than 45, because for the most part, older people become sick more often.
Points 5 and 6 are characteristic and instructive.
Point 5 relates to a candidate who acts immorally.The candidate who wishes to become a member of the Society must be a well-behaved man. Whoever has a connection to immorality, directly or indirectly, cannot be admitted to the Society. When the committee learns that a member is involved with immorality, the committee has the right to return the money he has paid in and to expel him as a member of the Society.Point 6 has a close connection to point 5:If it is brought before the committee that a member is accused of bad behavior, or the behavior of a member is harmful to the will of the Society, the committee then has the right when the accusation is proved correct:
The above mentioned, as well as many more points in the constitution, were consistent with that time when the Jewish community in South Africa was still young, taking its first steps.
Both rules were meant: to separate ourselves from such degenerate elements and not shame the name of the landsmanschaft, which must be a solid member of the Jewish societies and organizations in South Africa. The word immorality can be interpreted with a varied meaning, beginning with criminal offenses such as robbery, swindling, as well as in the erotic area: houses of prostitution, trade in women, etc.
- To take away all rights, benefits from a member that the committee shall find suitable.
- To call on the member in writing to resign. If he does not, then the committee can remove him from membership. The committee shall give the member all rights to defend himself and appeal in person or in writing to the general meeting and if he is found guilty at the general meeting, he will be bound to the punishment and has no right to complain to the Society.
Point 8 has the object of protecting the purity of the Jewish race:A candidate who is not married according to the Laws of Moses may not be a member of the Society.Finally I want to stress that Point 14 was intended to strengthen the brotherly approach among the landsleit:A member of the Society who is going to be married shall receive a present from the Society and it shall cost no less than 30 shillings.
The principle task of the landsmanschaft then was to give medical help to sick landsleit. The activities in the medical area figure prominently in the minute books.
The newly arrived immigrants went through more than a few illnesses with their arrival in new climatic conditions and also because they lived in small rooms and were scattered over roads and detours, because they carried heavy packs of goods to the Boer customers who lived in faraway places among mountains and valleys and in the wilderness.
Taking into consideration that the immigrants were without families for the first time, they ate in cheap restaurants where the food was not fresh or they quickly cooked a little food and fed themselves with meals that were not nutritious.
There were extremely difficult working conditions in the cafeterias and other work places, which physically weakened the immigrants.
Therefore, it is completely understandable that at first the Society cared about medical help for the landsleit. The most important task was in the foreground of its activities.
The Society drew experienced medical personnel to the medical work, such as Dr. Elson, Dr. Shapiro, Dr. Max Yafa, Dr. Reznik, Dr. A. Flaks, Mrs. Dr. M. Mendelev.
The Society had a standing committee, which was named the Sick Committee. Its task was to follow the health condition of patients and they were in constant contact with the doctors and pharmacists.
In such cases, the chosen Sick Committee stood on watch and made sure that the patient would be treated conscientiously both by the doctor and by the apothecary. The Sick Committee would bring all of the disputes before the committee and the more severe conflicts would also be treated at a general meeting of the landmanschaft.
The patient, who in most cases lay lonely and solitary in his rumke [small room], would be tended to by landsleit. According to the determination of the committee, special attendants would sometimes be hired.
In connection with this it is worthwhile to illustrate with the account in the minutes:
When a member becomes ill and he is alone in his room, we shall provide an attendant for the entire day and everything that the doctor orders shall be given to the member. This means: doctors, medicine and an attendant in cases where we are not able to attend the patient with our own members from the society.The primary connection to the sick landsleit can only be substantiated by the fact that at each meeting the health conditions of the sick brothers was first mentioned and, if they were all healthy, it was reported in this style:
A Sick Committee member, M. Nodel, gave his report for the committee: he hired a brother Yafa for one night for 8/3 [shillings/pence]. He served as an attendant for brother Press for three nights- 10 [shillings] a night and Mr. Press was attended to by several committee members for one night.
The Sick Committee reports that all brothers, thank God, are healthy.Those patients who needed a hospital were connected by the landsmanschaft to the management of the hospitals and were provided with
beds, frequent visits to the patient and the showing of a brotherly interest in the condition of that patient.
The Society was also in contact with the Ladies Society, which provided the Jewish sick with kosher food in the hospital and also contributed on behalf of this purpose. To this day, the Rakishok Landsmanschaft is a member of the kosher kitchen at the hospital and pays a yearly taxation to the General Hospital.
After the Society normalized its activities in the area of medical help, a proposal was made to found a loan fund for its own landsleit. This was a necessity at that time. The immigrants in a strange land did not always have work and the income was sometimes not enough as a means of support and to send a few pounds to the family at home. There were also many cases where landsleit needed a little capital in order to open a small shop, to buy goods for peddling or to bring relatives across the sea.
The proposal to found a loan fund was filed on the 18th of May 1913. However, a few years passed before the loan fund was implemented.
It was decided on the 4th of April 1915 to open a loan account. The decision was accepted based on the following points:
The applicants shall go to the secretary for an application. The
*[Translator's note: There are two entries with the number 8.]
A solemn gathering in honor of the opening of the loan fund was called on the 11th of April, which was attended by brothers and friends. Everyone was seated at tablecloth covered tables and the chairman as well as the secretary clarified the significance and purpose of the founding of the interest free loan fund in short speeches that were received with applause.
Then a goblet, which cost one pound 10 shillings, was auctioned off and it was bought for seven pounds 10 shillings by J. Sneig, may he rest in peace, and for his entire life it was a dear memento for him of the founding of the loan fund of the society.
The organizing work of the Rakishok Landsmanschaft went at a rapid tempo. All of the statutes were carried out exactly. Committee meetings took place regularly each week and general meetings were called often. Elections took place every half-year and then in the later years the terms of the committee were lengthened.
The duties of the members, of the chairman, of the committee members and the doorkeeper's duties were worked out in detail.
Because of the characteristic role which a doorkeeper had had and also because of the particular ceremony at the acceptance of a new member, I cite their duties according to the way it is followed in the minutes of the 22nd of September 1919.
Is to remain in hall near the door and let in each member when the meeting is open for business and to stop him at the door and announce to the chairman the arrival of the member and his name so that when the new member appears in the middle of the hall, the chairman will
greet him as necessary and he will quietly take his place. The doorkeeper must hold the registry book and record the members present or permit them to enter their names.
When the chairman gives notice of his initiation, it is the duty of everyone present in the hall to stand and greet him with enthusiasm, by clapping with the hands three times. Then the chairman or the secretary shall present him with his rulebook and address him about the worth of and obedience to the Society, as well as his duties as a member and the duties to his brothers who shall end with hand-clapping.According to the minutes we see that in general a discipline reigned and all decisions were carried out. Each one was commanded to carry out their duties. There was a strong reaction if a committee member or a member of the Society did not fulfill his obligations.
In addition the calendar showed many activities for the landsmanschaft to bring the members closer to each other. It was done at various opportunities.
The Society sent gifts: to a wedding of a landsman or to a wedding of his child; to a Bar-Mitzvah; at the birth of a child or to a Bris [ritual circumcision]. There were gifts for each member who showed activism at organizing balls and various undertakings on behalf of the society.
The Society took part in both the joys and the suffering of a landsman.
When a landsman died, it delegated its representative to the funeral and mourned with the family. In a case where the deceased was alone, the Society erected a headstone for him and photographed the headstone to send to his family. An obituary was also published in the press. There were cases in which the yahrzeit [anniversary of a death on which a memorial candle is lit and the memorial prayer is recited in the synagogue] was observed. There was also interest given to the situation of the orphaned family both the one in South Africa and the one beyond the sea, helping it financially and morally.
It also was concerned about the naturalization of the landsleit and supported those who endeavored to receive citizenship according to the proposal of Sh. Rubin, as follows:
Mr. Sh. Rubin proposed that the Society shall assist financially those who shall submit for naturalization. The chairman was instructed to offer support from the Society solicitor about the question of how to safely and inexpensively carry it out.
Such activities strengthened the connection among the landsleit and the leader, in which they saw brotherly interest and devotion.
At various times an aid collection also was organized in behalf of Rakishok and its surroundings. They also helped to bring poor landsman or the family of a landsman, who did not himself have the money for travel expenses, to South Africa.
After the First World War the situation of the Jews in Lithuania was very sad. The returnees from the evacuation did not have any means to settle. Those who found themselves under the German occupation also had become very impoverished.
Although each landsman helped his closest family members and relatives, there were still many of those who had no relatives and friends in South Africa. Institutions also had to be supported.
At a meeting on the 14th of March 1920 it was decided to send 100 pounds for the Rakishok needy. The money was sent to the address of the Rakishok Rabbi, Reb Betzalel, of blessed memory. Fifteen pounds was also sent for the poor Jews in Abel [Obeliai].
Chaim Khit from Rakishok had in the name of the Rabbi, Reb Betzalel - sent an accounting of the 100 pounds received, showing that it was divided in the following just manner: One part for the orphans in the Talmud Torah [religious school for poor boys]; one part to buy wood for the poor and one part was given to repair the bathhouse and the mikvah [ritual bathhouse] in Rakishok.
A fire broke out in Luknik, a shtetele [small town]; the Rakishok landsmanschaft sent in its contribution in support of the victims of the fire.
The Rakishok Society accommodated all those in South Africa turning to it for help. It was in contact with all of the other landsmanschaftn and also contributed whenever a society turned to it.
Many levies were issued in support of various campaigns in South Africa, such as in support of the War Victims Fund and for the action to bring 250 Jewish orphans (after the First World War).
The beautiful mitzvah [commandment] of charity and aid for the home was adopted by the Rakishok landsmanschaft from the first day of its founding. The following can serve as an example:
A donation was given for the Hebrew Orthodox synagogue and the members of the first committee Sh. Shwartsberg, and Sh. Sher were present at the laying of the cornerstone of the synagogue. Also they satisfactorily supported a Hasidic minyon [prayer group] with a letter when it turned for help to buy its own building. Thereby the society was guaranteed that it had the right to hold meetings in the building when it would need to at times when [the minyon] was not praying or themselves holding a meeting.
* * *
There are two five-year money reports of the Society in the minute-books: from the 1st of January 1936 until the 31st of December 1940 and from the 1st of January 1941 until the 31st of December 1945. I find it necessary to write about the evolution of the five-year report of the Society from the 1st of January 1936 to the 31st of December 1940, although it does not include the sums of money that the Rakishoker Society divided among various aid organization and campaigns:
|Membership||597 6 6||Doctors and Chemists||305 5 11|
|Loan repayments||118 7 6||Rent Jewish Guild||28 17 6|
|Entry fees||13 13 0||P.O. Box||6 5 0|
|Ball income||59 14 6||Post and revenue stamps||26 10 4|
|Board of Deputies||25 4 0|
|Donations and presents||25 6 0|
|Bank costs||3 8 0|
|Advertisements||11 0 6|
|Secretary||146 9 6|
|Income above expenses||210 14 9|
|£789 1 6||£ 789 1 6|
|Balance on the 1st of January, 1936||780 9 6||Repayments||4587 8 3|
|Payments 108 loans||4755 0 0||Balance to 31 December 1940||948 1 3|
|£5535 9 6||£5535 9 6|
|Cash in Standard Bank||162 13 8||The Rakishoker Aid|
|Loan Account||984 1 3||Society||60 0 0|
|Iron Safe||10 10 0||Doctors and Chemists||19 19 2|
|Paid to P.O. Box||1 5 0||Special Fund||38 15 6|
|P.O. Box||1 5 0||Capital on the 1st of January, 1936||739 0 6|
|Added Income||210 14 9|
|£1122 9 11||£1122 9 11|
|Collected capital £1042 10 9|
On the face of it, we can add all of the money collections for institutions and on behalf of various funds to the bank account of communal activities. If the Rakishoker Society had not had any understanding and appreciation for communal work, it would not have developed such intensive activity, and who knows if it would have existed for as long as 40 years. Without an idea and without communal activities it would have long ago fallen apart or it would have been an organization without any color and hue, without a spiritual character.
We see that the Rakishok landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same town] responded warmly to all calls from the local central organizations and societies, When the Zionist Federation had turned, for example, to her, still before the First World War, to sell shekels* and to make other commitments, she did so willingly.
*[Translator's note: The Zionist Organization sold membership certificates that were called shekels.]
We note in the minutes the participation of the Rakishok Society in all actions that the Board of Deputies organized in the interest of the Jewish community in South Africa and in the affairs of the Jewish people.
When the Board of Deputies, in partnership with the South African Zionist Federation, called a conference on the 12th of December 1917 that dealt with the plan from the British State about Palestine, the Rakishok Society was represented at the conference.
It also took part in the protest actions against the pogroms against the Jews in Ukraine and also on the 13th of July, 1919, with all the landmanschaftn, challenged the Board of Deputies to take steps against the terrible actions against the Jews in Poland. A representative of the Rakishok Society took part in the reception with General Smuts that took place on the 19th of October, 1919, when he declared to everyone that Palestine belongs to the Jews.
However, a strong expansion of communal activities was noticed after the First World War, particularly when a new immigrant element arrived in South Africa that came to build a new home for themselves in South Africa and did not think of returning.
The newly arriving immigrants had left the war and revolution. Many of them also were witnesses to pogroms and endured maliciousness toward the Jews in the old home.
Deportations of the Jews from their homes by the Tsarist regime during the First World War and the forced labor by the Germans at that time, no doubt, changed the psychology of the Jews, who understood life differently before the First World War, when they had no idea of another kind of life besides the shtetl way of life.
The storm of immigrants to South Africa grew stronger every day. Each ship brought new transports of immigrants. Often, the mail brought requests to the Society from people who asked that we send them papers and travel expenses.
The newly arriving immigrants brought a different spirit, the post-war spirit and the spirit of the revolution. They no longer carried their baggage in a sack or in a wicker basket like the first immigrant pioneers, but they came dressed in a modern way and with suitcases in their hands.
He, the newly arrived immigrant, already had an inkling of a party, of communal activity.
We note how in a short time, the literary union, the worker's club, the Zionist-Socialist Party were founded in Johannesburg. We transplanted the cultural organized society of the old home to African soil.
Almost all of the new Rakishoker immigrants became members of the Rakishok Society and saw its modernization. They were the first to fight the rules and regulations of the Society that were undemocratic and quaint.
Discussions about the rules and regulations developed at meetings and gatherings of the Society and new proposals and work projects emerged.
There was a new leadership for the Society in which representatives of the new storm of immigration were also elected: Z. Nafanovitz, M. Muskat, Yisroel Meikl, A. Noach, Sh. Rubin, H, Rubin, the Sher brothers and others. Dr. Maks Yafa, who was a progressive community man, was hired as a Society doctor.
The Society delegates on the Board of Deputies Jakob Snieg, Shlomo Rubin and, later, Ahron Noach also brought their influence to the work of the Board, that it should diversify and be in agreement with the interests of the [different] strata of the people of the South African Jewish community. They spoke Yiddish and demonstrated with this their love of the language of their people, negating the tendencies toward assimilation in Jewish society.
We read reports from the Board of Deputies in the minutes. A. Noach-Noachumovitz underlines that the Board needs to expand its work and asks for permission from the landsmanschaft that he propose to the Board a new activity plan.
Such landsleit [people from the same town] were also represented in the committee of the landsmanschaft who opposed each innovative measure, interpreting it as political activity. Khona Kohen, the chairman and one of the meritorious volunteers with the landsmanschaft, who was a member of the first generation of immigrants who were raised as territorialist-religious, opposed all of the new efforts. His attitude was: No politics should be discussed. However, we note in the minutes from the later years that A. Noach-Noachumovitz was empowered to defend the direction of the progressive wing on the Board.
From the minutes, we notice that the Rakishoker landsmanschaft took part in all of the actions and measures organized by the Board of Deputies on behalf of the South African community and Jewish communities around the world.
The Society was very active in all campaigns during the time of the Second World War.
Representatives of the Society took part in a conference which made a decision to send medical help to Russia, to help the Jews in Europe when the war ended and to all of the Jewish soldiers who would return to South Africa. There was also a decision to not take member dues and contributions from the Rakishok landsleit soldiers.
The landsmanschaft was active in Jewish war appeals, in the Kuybyshev* appeal and, in particular, with sending help to Russia and clothes to Russian Jews. In additon, it did not abandon the normal Society activities, such as aiding the sick and providing loans for the needy landsleit.
*[Translator's note: Kuybyshev is an industrial city in Russia that was chosen to be the Soviet Union's capital if Moscow were occupied by the Germans.]
It also stood on watch for local interests: the anti-Semitic-Nazi poison also spread in South Africa and there were Hilterist agents who spread a frightening hatred of the Jews. We find in the minutes that Mr. Avidov gave a report about the high importance of Jews protecting the synagogues in order to relieve the police who had other tasks at that time.
Rakishok Jews in South Africa engaged in the Rakishok work and there also were those who left South Africa and entered the ranks of the army in order to fight against the Germans who annihilated millions of Jews. Yerakhmiel Aront-Arsh, the chairman of the landsmanschaft who left his wife and children and voluntarily took part in the war against the Hilterist murderers and cannibals, can serve as a self-sacrificing example.
The communal activity of the Rakishok Society at the time of the war was especially devoted and very active. In order to accommodate various appeals and turns for help, a special war fund was created with the Society in 1940.
Shlomo Rubin proposed on the 8th of October 1940, Whereas the Society is obliged to answer in support of all appeals from Russia, from the refugees in Eretz-Yisroel, from ORT-OZE [ORT - Jewish educational and vocational training organization; OZE - Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jews] and to help in general all of the needy, therefore, a special war fund needs to be created.
The proposal by Shlomo Rubin was approved and the following was recorded in connection with the war fund:
Sh. Rubin, Y. Meikl, M Muskat, Sh. Shapiro and M. Wittz were chosen for the subcommittee.
In order to do communal work it was necessary to arrange for a report and to appropriately enlighten the members.
We remember that presentations by Ovidov, Sh. Bojarski, Mrs. Rabkin, M. Shur, M. Matis and others took place for the Society members.
A precise account from Mrs. Rabkin's lecture is here in the minutes of the 10th of May 1942, reporting about ORT-OZE:
ORT-OZE endeavors to transform the Jewish masses from lacking a definite occupation into constructive workers. ORT-OZE works not only in ruined Europe where the Jews learned their earlier sources of livelihood and were forced to accept unpractical work, but even here, in a more fortunate land, ORT-OZE has much to do. The question of what our children should do when they finish school presents itself. Everyone now understands that they must learn a trade that has a future. Our youth know very well that they must forget about being a shopkeeper and, although we must have doctors, lawyers, who are often useful, not all of them can enter the mentioned professions. There are also other reasons. Anti-Semitism is more widespread among Christian shopkeepers than among Christian workers; in addition, the workers are protected by the government and trade unions and they have a more secure existence than shopkeepers. However, there are trades here and we must find a suitable trade for every young person. In America certain attempts are made with each young person to find out which trade is appropriate for him; here we only have to communicate and consider what to advise him. Then there is the question of where one learns a trade. Universities are not accessible for everyone and the trade school costs money, too. ORT-OZE hopes that with instruction, with special workshops, they will then find a place to work and in peacetime as well as wartime. Russia is strong not only with its strong army, but also with its highly qualified factory workers.These reports were simultaneously an important cultural contribution for the Society members, although it cannot be concluded that they had a permanent effect.
However, based on the minutes, it can be seen that various entertainments took place, annual evening, picnics, which the Society arranged. These events included an artistic program with the participation of the artist and director, Shlomo Rubin, and of his wife, Genya Rubin an actress with many years of service, of Yisroel Meikl a folk singer, and of Kh. Katz and others. Noach-Noachumovitz would often read his own creations, mainly memories of the old home.
As an example we present an appreciation of the yearly performance that was written by a Rakishoker and was published in the Afrikaner Yidishe Zeitung [African Jewish Newspaper]:
Once a year the Rakishok landsleit in Johannesburg get together so that they not do become strangers to one another, to talk about and have greetings from survivors of the Holocaust.As we see, the program contained only Yiddish numbers and the Yiddish language. This is how all entertainments took place, in Yiddish, and the Rakishok Jews have not betrayed the Yiddish language and the national culture to this day, as well as the national Jewish way of life.
Each time an event is carried out, it includes not only beautifully covered tables, but also a prepared program of Jewish folk songs, music, recitations and humor.
Mrs. Rubin made a strong impression with the recitation of Segalowicz's poem, Dortn [There] and Gotlib's Lita [Lithuania]. Her interpretations of the moving creations brought tears to the eyes of the crowd.
Another one who contributed with beautiful singing was Friend Meikl, from whose singing all present had a spiritual pleasure whenever he appeared. Rev. Sh. Kheitovitz also obliged the crowd with his voice and hearty singing of Yiddish folk songs.
The performance of Sholem Aleichem's Oylem Habe [Eternal Life] with the accompaniment of the well-known actor, Sh. Rubin, Mrs. Rubin. H. Miller and Mr. A. Seitovitz, who appeared on the stage for the first time, was very successful.
The chairman of the Society, H. Arons, and his wife deserve a Yasha Koyekh [may you have strength] for their devoted work, as well as the committee and the women who assisted in the success of the evening.
Only Yiddish is spoken at all gatherings. To this day they have a representative on the school managing committee of the Rakishoker Folks-Shul [public school]: earlier it was M. Witts, and then Shlomo Rubin.
When the census took place in South Africa, Brother Sh. Rubin declared at a meeting that was held on the 1st of May 1941 that they needed to inform the Jews that they should give Yiddish as their language. It is reported as follows in the minutes: A statement by Brother Sh. Rubin also expressed the hope that every Jew will fulfill their duty and not deny their Jewish origins. The cost of spreading the leaflet about this was endorsed.
All of the above mentioned evidence as well as the fact that Yerakhmiel Arons, the present chairman of the landsmanschaft, turned to the Federation of the Landsmanschaftn to urge that they write letters in Yiddish, confirms the folksiness of the Rakishoker Landsmanscaft and their attachment to the Yiddish language and to Jewish communal work.
* * *
The Rakishok Aid Society, founded a few years before the war, was exclusively focused on helping landsleit in the old home. It carried out its aid work very intensively after the war. However, the Rakishok landsmanschaft can say about this society: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. The same workers in the landsmanschaft were also active workers in the Aid Society.
Here is further discussion about the activity of the Rakishok Aid Society. It later joined the Rakishok landsmanschaft.
With the unification it began a new fruitful phase under the chairmanship of Yerakhmial Arons-Arsh. Sh. Rubin stresses in his report: In the time that I have been in the society, the work has never been as active as now.
The old home lay in ruins then, the earth was covered with the corpses, but the Jews throughout the world and, also including Rakishok, wrote on their flag: No forgetting and no forgiving! They did not forget the 6,000,000 Jewish martyrs and did not forgive the murderers and, at the same time, they turned their energy to helping the survivors of the Hitleristic hell. The arrival in South Africa of Gisa Levin, who told of the frightful Jewish martyrdom under the Nazi executioner and of her own survival in the Hilterist hell, made a strong impression. The landsleit greeted her warmly and movingly at a special welcome that was organized for her.
Because of the later emerging difficulties in provided help to the Jews in Russia, the work then concentrated only in the direction of helping the refugees from Rakishok and its surroundings who emigrated to Israel. Sums of money and food packages were sent for them. The Society taxed itself on behalf of the Lubavitcher Hasidim who wanted to build houses in Israel, for the Israeli Federation of Lithuanian Jews, for the Mogen Dovid Adom [Red Star or Shield of David the Israeli emergency medical service] and for other purposes.
Communal contact was created with the landsleit through the Rakishok Jews travelling on a visit to Israel. First of all, they met with Rakishokers. Rakishok residents from Israel came to South Africa and there were ceremonial welcomes for each of them.
Yerekhmial Arons-Arsh, the chairman of the Society, traveled to Israel and he brought spirited greetings from the landsleit when he returned.
At a solemn welcome arranged in his honor by the Society on the 10th of August of that year, he spoke about life in Israel. He said to everyone the following:
When one arrives in Israel, one can understand why the English, after being in Africa for dozens of years, still say 'home' when they remember England. Now after being in Israel for a short time, one can understand what such a thing as 'home' means. It can be felt just by being there.Yerekhmial Arons-Arsh also had reported, While he had seen everyone for whom he had an address and found out that the landsleit had organized themselves as well as all of the Jews in Israel. He emphasized that life in Israel is difficult, but bearable. In general,
Israel made a good impression on him despite all of the backwardness and his belief is that what we do for Israel is too little and it is his belief that the Society needs to concentrate on helping Israel.
(Photo, caption: Dr. Mikhla Orleowitz)
In the minutes is noted that special evenings were held for all landsleit who came for a visit to South Africa.
A hearty welcome was arranged for landsman Baradovsky who came on a visit to South Africa. He, Kopl Baradowsky, is a chemist and accomplished a great deal in the chemical field for the good of the Givat Brenner communal settlement.
An impressive welcome was given to Dr. Mikhla Orlewitz and a beautiful farewell evening was arranged for Mrs. Shneiderman (Libke Ruch).
The cruel Jewish national tragedy has not been forgotten by the Rakishok Jews and every year a memorial day is organized in the Hasidic synagogue. A memorial service is carried out for all of the cruelly murdered Jews from Rakishok and the surrounding area and the Jews of Europe.
We publish the following eulogy by A. Noach-Noachumovitz that was given by him at the large memorial evening, which was arranged by the Rakishoker Landsleit Farband [Union] at the Berea Synagogue, Johannesburg in memory of the martyrs from Rakishok, for the neighboring shtetlekh and for the millions of fallen Jewish victims in Europe.
Year in and year out, generations will still come, we Jews will come together to deliver a eulogy, to cry and to lament the destruction of 1941-1945 and will not forget the victims, the martyrs, who perished in the sanctity of God's name and of the holy people.
The history of the Jewish people was always written in blood. However, this epoch is the bloodiest, the darkest.
Six million Jews perished a third of the entire Jewish people.
The mourners were not yet born who would write the lamentations, the words that could express that for which every one of us feel [the need] to cry for the tragedy of the Holocaust. The words, vakol nehi arimah [ for the sound of wailing [(is heard from Zion ) - Jeremiah 9:18], are not sufficient for the current third* destruction.
*[Translator's note: the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem and the Holocaust.]
New words had to be created that would express the terrible deeds, cruelty that our martyrs went through. The old lexicon did not know of all of the torture racks, such as gas, electrical currents, death factories.
Jewish history is rich in miracles, group miracles and individual miracles. In this present destruction there are no recorded miracles. Dark clouds covered the skies, the voices of the six million Jews, school children did not reach to the throne of honor.
Jewish children lay hidden in the dark cellars and lifted their hands, praying to God that the sun not shine in order that they not be seen.
Seven graves remained for us of our homes. Fate wanted Jewish Rakishok and the Jews from our neighboring shtetlekh to be destroyed with such a death. Everything that we built in the course of generations was swallowed by seven graves.
Eyewitnesses say: as soon as the Nazis entered Rakishok, all Jews were driven together to one place; each day Jews were taken to work; they would not return.
During the days of slaughter, all Jews were told to be ready. Everyone, young and old was driven together around the seven pits and machines guns were placed around them. The Jews understood that this was their end. The voices of women, children were head for distant, distant miles.
The rabbi of the city, the Rabbi, Reb Zelig Orelovitz, also was among the community of Jews. He begged the murderers that he be allowed to say several words to the Jews.
The rabbi could not call for an uprising in such circumstances. He cried out: The will of God is from the heavens! Sanctify the name of God with love! We are not the first and we are not the last!
After these words everyone became quiet. They no longer cried and they were ready to die calmly al kiddush haShem [in sanctification of the God's name].
Because of his words, the rabbi was the first to be shot.
Everyone was driven into the pits under a hail of bullets. Those Jews who were killed immediately by the bullets were fortunate; they did not have to be buried alive.
We, landsleit, who were left orphans, decided to write a yizkor [memorial] book in order to immortalize our martyrs of the third destruction. This would be a lament on the destruction of Rakishok and when the lamentations were read about the extermination of all of the Jewry in Europe, we would simultaneously read about the death of our shtetlekh.
The Rakishok book needs to be found in every one of our houses and be given as an inheritance from generation to generation.
We must always remember and must engrave in ourselves the words of Jeremiah
in the Book of Lamentations that cried out: Mine eyes have brought me grief over all of the daughters of my city. [3:51]. We must always feel the tragedy to be as great as if it were happening today.
The graves must never be forgotten. We Jews must always remember our martyrs, our victims.
From generation to generation we always need to curse the murderers of our people; an eternal curse on those who annihilated a third of the Jewish people!
My eyes shed tears and will not be still. Our souls cry over the cruel extermination of millions of Jews and of my home shtetl, Rakishok.
* * *
Eulogies were made on the Society's days of mourning in memory of the Jewish martyrs and victims of the Nazi devils.
However, the Society wanted a monument for all of the tragically murdered landsleit to remain forever. Therefore, it decided to publish a yizkor book that would sanctify Rakishok and its surroundings and there also would be a section dedicated to the Rakishok landsmanschaft for its 40 years of existence.
The decision to publish a yizkor book was accepted at a meeting on the 16th of June 1949. Taking part in this meeting were A. Levin, T. Orlin, Y. Miller, M. Muskat, Sh. Rubin, Ch. Rubin, B. Ruch, Mrs. Ruch, Mrs. Sura Klas, A. Orelovitz, A. Noach-Noachumovitz. The chairman was Yerakhmial Arons-Arsh.
The question was treated comprehensively and a commission of five people was chosen: Yerakhmial Arons-Arsh, A. Orelovitz, A. Noach-Noachumovitz, Sh. Rubin and B. Ruch. The commission needed to learn all of the details, select which format, choose an editor and learn the cost of printing.
At the general meeting of the 21st of August 1949, the question of a yizkor book was again discussed. Yerakhmial Arons-Arsh reported on the decision of the committee to publish a yizkor book and asked that it be accepted by the general meeting. He also emphasized that The work had already begun with a letter in the Yiddish and Yiddish-English press and letters were sent overseas as well as to local individuals for material.
After his report, the chairman was heartily greeted by applause by everyone present.
The question of the yizkor book was again considered at several committee meetings. Sh. Rubin reported that material could be taken from the minutes for an interesting and historical work.
Pamphlets were sent out to request memorials for the book; there was a discussion about hiring an editor and about creating a fund to publish the book.
The question of the yizkor book was treated with more detail at a special
session of the executive with the cooperation of Y. Ginzburg and Y. Meikle that took place at the home of Yitzhak Ginzburg.
Through Shlomo Rubin and Yerakhmiel Arons we were informed that an understanding was reached that M. Bakalatshik-Felin was the editor of the book and this important and earnest work must immediately be undertaken because the book must be a monumental work that should serve as an historic document, a source of material forever and ever.
All present accepted all of the resolutions in connection with the yizkor book.
Several appeals and notices were published in the Afrikaner Yidisher Zeitung [African Jewish Newspaper] in connection with the yizkor book.
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