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[Page 149]

Aguda Youth Organizations and Beis Yaakov Schools

by Avraham Moshe Benczkowski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My grandfather Reb Michael was known as an upright, observant Jew and a great scholar. A large portion of the Sierpc Holocaust survivors still remember my grandfather, who had been their rabbi. Students who later became known for their scholarship came forth from him.

Reb Michael also had a great influence on the development of the Agudas Yisroel, Poale Agudas Yisroel, and Pirchei Aguda[1], which played a significant role in Jewish societal life in Sierpc.

As a member of Pirchei Aguda and later of Poale Aguda, I remember well the activity of those organizations. We were involved with religious-cultural work, with gatherings in a friendly atmosphere of camaraderie.

The multi-faceted work of the Beis Yaakov School was a strong expression of that religious-cultural activity. The girls received their religious education in that school. The educators were female teachers who had been sent by the Krakow Beis Yaakov Seminary. Nice girls, cherished, modest daughters, of whom the town was proud, graduated from that school.

Translator's Footnote:
  1. Agudas Yisroel is a major organization of the non-Zionist stream of Orthodox Judaism. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Agudath_Israel Poale Agudas Yisroel is a workers branch of Agudas Yisroel, and Pirchei Agudas Yisroel is the children's branch of the movement. Return

 

Banot Agudat Israel and the Beit Yaakov School

by Hana Tzitrinbaum Lichtensztejn (Beit Hilkia)

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The teachers in the public school in Sierpc were Jewish, but the culture that they taught us was foreign and estranged from the spirit of traditional Israel. Of course, we were taught to admire only the historic Polish culture. We did not know that “they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” [Song of Songs, 1, 6]. We can only imagine the results of this kind of education, and what the culture of a generation that was taught in this way would be. It would lead to complete assimilation. A few outstanding individuals stood up to stop this deterioration: the threesome of Leibl Piotrkowski, Nachum Tatz, and Brachah Fleisher the Rabbi's daughter, of blessed memory, and their helpers: the Tajtelbaum and Wafel families, of blessed memory.

The Beit Yaakov School [for girls] was opened in the year 5689 [1928] on Warshawska Street, in the house of Kasazh, with 30 pupils. The foundations for the “Banot Agudat Israel” [Daughters of Agudat Israel] movement were also laid in the two narrow rooms of this half-deserted house. We drew our handfuls of faith and confidence in our difficult path there. Beit Yaakov revealed our true treasures to us and we remained faithful daughters of Israel thanks to the school,. Our love for our resurrected country is a result of this movement that aroused in us a true desire for the land of our fathers.

The first teacher that succeeded in convincing us of this ideal was Ms. Wolfe, of blessed memory. The committee members who unstintingly helped her were the chairman Leibl Piotrkowski, Watman, Rusak, and Wafel, God will avenge their blood, and may he live a long life, Chayim Bojmwol, now in Israel. He influenced many people with his lessons that were full of substance and enthusiasm for our movement. The women's committee consisted of Tatz, Tajtelbaum, Pukacz, and Wafel, God will avenge their blood.

The “Banot Yaakov” society was founded one year after “Beit Yaakov” came into existence. There were 20 members at first, and the teacher Shidlowska was the chairlady. The committee members were Rachel Tatz, Tzirel Granewicz, Chayah Ostrich, and Hana Lichtenstein. “Banot Yaakov” members were able to use the library of “Tzeirei Agudat Israel”. The books were interesting, and our members used the opportunity to expand their knowledge. There were lectures from time to time, and Watman, of blessed memory, was outstanding in that his lectures left an indelible impression on us. Bojmwol taught us the Bible. The “Batya” society, with 35 members, was founded during that time. The writer of these lines was their counselor, along with the teacher Burstein, of blessed memory.


[Page 150]

Cheder Yesodei Hatorah

by Yosef David Wajsroze

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The important educational institution, Cheder Yesodei Hatorah, was a modern religious school in Sierpc with bright rooms and teachers who felt the responsibility for the public.

The founder of Cheder Yesodei Hatorah was Michel Koplowicz. That activist placed much effort and work into the cheder, both in finding appropriate teachers as well as in ensuring the existence of the institution, for there were frequent threats that the school might close down. Thanks to the work and efforts of Reb Michel, Nachum Tac, and other Jews who were dedicated to this matter, the cheder blossomed and developed.

I recall how Reb Michel, as president of the cheder, organized the first public examination of the students. Rabbis and scholars from Sierpc and the region came and asked them about difficult discussions in the Gemara and Tosafot. Reb Michel glowed with joy and happiness because his hard work had paid off, and many children received awards from him. I was also among them. I will always remember that moment as the finest moment of my childhood.

 

A Battle with Shkotzim[1]

I will briefly describe here a characteristic event that demonstrates how we, the Jewish youth of Sierpc, did not display any fear when we had to defend all the Jews.

It took place during the First World War. The Polish youth went around proud and cheerful. At that time, they had their own legions in the Austrian Army and, from great joy, wanted to demonstrate their power over us Jewish youth. However, we did not let them do so, to the point were it came to a “war” between us and the shkotzim. Of course, the “war” was not with live ammunition but rather with stones. Despite this, the battle was very serious.

The Polish youth fortified themselves on the hill of the pig market in a stable full of stones. We, a group a Jewish youth, set up our fortress in the courtyard

[Page 151]

of Burstyn's restaurant and also at Yitzchak Grope's. We even prepared a “first aid” that turned out to be very important later on, during the height of the battle, for a few of us did get wounded.

The battle lasted a long time. There were times when we were stronger than them, and we even went to their “fortress” and took two shkotzim into captivity.

The war ended like all wars – with a peace treaty. However, the fact that we, a small group of youths, fearlessly conducted a battle with the wild shkotzim, made a great impression on the Jews of our city.

Footnotes:
  1. A derogatory term for gentiles. Return

 


[Page 151]

The Library in 1916

By Rivka (Karpa) Arpa

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the year 1916, the library was located in Szmigelski's house on Plocker Street. It occupied several rooms. The largest room served as the reading hall. In the middle of the room stood a long table, upon which lay various periodicals and daily newspapers that were available for everyone to read.

The library was located in the second room. There, one could borrow one or two books for a minimal monthly fee.

Reading sessions of the members were conducted in the library every Saturday. The members dealt with the works of the writers and conducted discussions about the theme. Literary evenings with lavish programs were held several times a year, which consisted of joint skits, declamations, singing, and the like.

We also had our own humorist, Zalman Goldstein. He evoked joy and laughter in his audience with his humorous monologues. Every person who had a bit of talent was able to contribute to the cultural activities of the library.

Dance evenings took place with various forms of entertainment. It was often a masquerade ball with prizes for the most original masks.

The youth were very interested in the existence of the library, which served as a spiritual corner for those who wished to know about cultural life. Therefore, everyone made efforts with their full energy, whether spiritual or financial, to help the library.


[Page 152]

The Hebrew School “Tarbuth” in Sierpc

by Yitzhak Dichter
Principal of the School in Sierpc until the Holocaust and Destruction

Translated by Alex Weingarten

1. The Building

The Hebrew school “Tarbuth” [“Culture”] in Sierpc was in a strange and hostile neighborhood, poisoned by hatred of the Jews, on a street without any other Jewish house.

The school was established with much toil and limitless devotion, without the help of the government or any outside support. The building served not only educational needs; all the Zionist activity in town was centered in the school.

The building had two floors. It was taller than all the houses in the neighborhood, and proudly stood in its stately majesty, observing the town of Sierpc. Children thronged to this house in the morning, and adults and youth in the evening. The Jews of Sierpc descended on this corner, on this house. Every Jew helped in building it, each one contributed his share, and all were attracted to it.

 

sie152a.jpg
The “Tarbuth” School Building

 

sie152b.jpg
Teachers at the “Tarbuth” School (the 4th and 6th Were Not Teachers)
Right to Left: Ahron Baumel (Ilan), Hadassah Goldberg (Kindergarten Teacher), Ahron Skoropa (Zhoromin), Ephraim Talmi (Valuka), Sheina Kleinerman, Moshe Podskoc

 

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Rubber Stamps of the “Tarbuth” School

 

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The Building Committee of the “Tarbuth” School, Sierpc 1933/34
Right to Left, Sitting:
Avraham Groda, Yitzhak Klejnman, Yeshayahu Frydman, Yisraelik Smolinski, David Bergson, Shaul Rozenblum (the Principal)
Standing, Row 1: Moshe Balt, Tepper (a Teacher), Zina Bachrach (a Teacher), Nasha Groda, Hanna Atlas, Yaska Cohn (Konitz), Hanna Fleisher (Kindergarten Teacher), M. Handleman (a Teacher), Baruch Atlas
Row 2, Standing: Haza (Zvi) Malewanczyk, Hershel Rotenberg, Shlomo Kutner, Chayim Skorka, Avraham Zhabitsky, Yehuda Visroza

 

2. The Women of Sierpc For the School

Sunday. The Poles in the town are celebrating their day of rest, and we are beginning our workweek with joy and commotion. The bell rings, and heralds the first lesson. After 2 or 3 minutes, there is a hush in the whole building. Only the voice of a teacher or pupil can be heard in one of the classrooms. I wander the long corridor; listen breathlessly to the sounds of children studying, and my heart swells with delight at the hallowed efforts taking place in the school. Suddenly, a high note. Female voices reach my ears. I turn my head and I see three mothers hurrying to the school kitchen. They have left home for a few hours to prepare a hot meal for the ten o'clock break for students immersed in their studies. When I saw the children of Kasazh, the fishmonger, and others like them, who perhaps had not eaten anything until ten o'clock, leaving sated and warm, I always murmured a silent blessing. It is very, very hard to reconcile oneself to the thought that these dear women, the gentle wives of Sierpc, had such a horrible fate in store for them.

 

3. The End of the Week for Pupils and Adults

Friday we finish with Kabalat Shabat [welcoming the Sabbath]. The Sabbath songs escape the walls of the school and drift to the homes of the Jews of Sierpc. The boxes of Keren Kayemet tinkle with the children's contributions. Another song and the children leave the school for the Sabbath.

Sabbath eve. The whole neighborhood is quiet. Only our school is lit and pulsating with activity. Men, women and youth are flocking to it to listen to a lecture by one of the teachers, or a visiting lecturer. The Jews of Sierpc do not allow themselves any rest. After the weekday exertions, they want to learn. The Jews of Sierpc want to shake off the materialism that attached itself to them to them in the six days of doing things. They want to warm themselves in the light of the edifice. The auditorium is completely full. Our teacher Skoropa Aharon, of blessed memory, stands on the stage, his face is radiant and his words are gems. He is lecturing on the period of the destruction of the temple, on the reasons for the destruction, on the partisan quarrels, etc. The audience is completely prepared, completely attentive. Here and there, you see a tear glistening in someone's eye, a fist clenched. This whole audience is now living in its homeland, living the life of the people. As if all of this happened just yesterday. And surely resolving not to repeat the errors of the past.

A different Sabbath eve. The teacher Sheina (Yaffa) Kleinerman stands on the stage. She is discussing the subject of women in the bible and in Zionist literature. She talks about the matriarchs of the nation, about Devorah the prophet, Yael, Judith, and so forth. She speaks of the courage of the women of Israel and their wisdom, and their contribution to the freedom of the nation, and to its existence. The audience is listening with great interest. Sometimes a literary trial. The culture committee selects a topic, a problem that is the subject of some book that is put on trial. Of course, then the auditorium cannot accommodate all of the spectators, and it is never over before eleven or twelve o'clock at night. Every one may be tired, but no one hurries to leave. Moreover, you feel that this audience will not tire of hearing an analysis of some topic or the chronicles of our people until the light of day.

 

sie153a.jpg
The “Tarbuth” School Kindergarten - The Beginning of the “Tarbuth” School
Right to Left:
the Kindergarten Teacher - Hana Fleisher, Her Aide - Gocha Zinaderka

 

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The “Tarbuth” School - Teachers and Pupils
Right to Left:
Yitzhak Klejnman, Menachem Avni (Mendel Shtinhoz), Tepper (a Teacher), Moshe Berman, Nasha Groda, Yeshayahu Frydman, Hanna Atlas, Shaul Rozenblum (School Principal), Yaska Cohn (Konitz), David Bergson, Hana Fleisher (Kindergarten Teacher), Unknown (a Teacher), Gocha (Gitel) Zinaderka (a Kindergarten Aide)

 

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For the Aliyah of Avraham Bergson to Eretz Israel and the Departure of Noach Lesman for America
Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting:
Yaakov Meir Pukacz, Gershon Bergson
Row 2, Sitting: Yaffa Yankelewicz (Papierczyk), Ber Charka, Noach Lesman (in America), Avraham Bergson, Fela Bergson
Row 3, Sitting: Yaakov Rabinowicz, Zalman Grodka, Hanna Levin (Oberfeld), Zev Aharonowicz, Libiah Danziger

 

sie153d.jpg
Stamp of Keren Kayemet Committee in Sierpc

 

4. The Holidays of Israel in Sierpc

a) Tu BeShvat [15th day of the Month of Shevat]

It is cold outside. Snow covers everything, and the women of Sierpc who are members of “WIZO” [Women's International Zionist Organization] flock to the school to listen to a lecture by the teacher Hana Dichter on the values of the holiday, and on Tu BeShvat [Arbor Day] in Our Land.

It was on a Sabbath afternoon. We felt that the teacher was preparing something special, but we did not know what. The teacher came in and the holiday spirit came with her. We open with a Tu BeShvat song, and then with the lecture. Today the teacher says, is the first day of spring in Our Land, where they do not sit wrapped in furs or in a house that requires heating. There they do not celebrate as we do, at home. There they go outside and plant. They plant on the mountain and on the rocky hillside, and wherever possible. The teacher discussed the status of the tree in the homeland and its influence on the climate. She talked of the difference between desert and a settled country. On the desolation of the country because of the exile of its people, and the mitzvah [commandment] of planting trees, and more. In the room silence and stillness. Apparently, everyone understood the great value of the trees, and why a certain day of the year was designated for planting them, and it was called the New Year of the Trees.

And then Madame Cipris, old but erect, stands up, walks over to the teacher, and says, “Now I shall say the blessing ‘Shechechianu’ [the blessing when something new occurs] since I have heard the news of the blooming of our country. When I will prevail and live in our country, I will plant a tree with my own hands, and remember you forever, that you opened my eyes and taught me the importance of the tree to the homeland.”

Now comes the surprise. The teacher opens a cabinet, distributes packages of fruit from the Land of Israel, and says, “Beteavon” [bon apetit]. But no one opens their package “We will keep this as a memento”. The evening arrives. The whole audience of women sits and sings together with the teacher “And when you will come to the land and plant every tree”. They do not rush home. They do not want to return to the foreign country. They enjoy sitting here in the atmosphere of the Land of Israel. They feel good.

b) Passover

The joyousness of the holiday is everywhere. However, the Jews of Sierpc are busy preparing the bazaar for Keren Kayemet. Its place, of course, is at the school. As soon as the holiday begins, the school turns into a market. People bring all sorts of exhibits. All the rooms are occupied, each room has its own style. The opening is set for the intermediate days of the holiday. On the eve of the opening, the school is full of people, finishing the arrangements, appointing those responsible for each stall and for other tasks.

At eight o'clock, the teacher Hana Dichter stands on the stage. She opens the bazaar in the name of WIZO, the organizers of the event. She says, “Today the people of Israel celebrate the festival of freedom, the holiday that symbolizes our emancipation from the land of slavery, when we turned to the land of our origin, the Land of Israel. Today, we also turn only to the Land of Israel. This bazaar is dedicated to the redemption of the Land of Israel.”

After her speech, the representatives of all the Zionist organizations and their supporters in Sierpc add their greetings. Everyone goes downstairs to open the bazaar, and she greets the chairman of the Zionist Organization, Dov Charka. A moment of anticipation and exaltation. Charka says the “Shechechianu” blessing and cuts the ribbon. The public flocks to the stalls. The school is full of visitors over the whole holiday. I looked at those around me, and saw a glow in their eyes. We achieved a great accomplishment, a good deed. Everyone is asking, “How much did this stall or that stall bring in? What kind of income is expected from this market?” Everyone helps, lends a hand, as if to say, “We are here, but our future, and the future of our children is there.”

 

5. The School and the Surroundings

a) Help for the Surroundings

The school in Sierpc was not just satisfied with its great accomplishments, and what it did for the town, but it offered its services to the whole area.

One Friday morning, market day in Sierpc, Yeshayahu Frydman, the parents' committee chairman, came to the school. We were dumbfounded to see him at this hour of the morning, and we understood that he had some news for us. He told us that he had received a phone call from the headquarters of Keren Kayemet in Warsaw. A bazaar for Keren Kayemet was going to open on Saturday night in Dobrzyn, a town 40 kilometers from Sierpc,. This will be the first activity of this sort in the town, and it has to succeed. The Keren Kayemet headquarters selected the principal of the school or his wife for this task. One of them must open the bazaar there for the headquarters.

The teacher leaves her work an hour early, in order to get there in time. In the town, they waited impatiently for the representative of headquarters, because everything was ready. On Sunday, the teacher returned full of impressions and told of the enthusiasm that she had sparked in the town, of their gratitude to the school in Sierpc that was ready to free the teacher from her work in order to open the bazaar. A week later, the school parents' committee and the school administration received a thank you letter for the help it provided in opening the bazaar. I can remember to this day that among the things they wrote was “The national spirit that pervaded the opening will stay with the Jews of our town for a long time.”

b) Establishment of the Hebrew School in Plotzk

During the summer vacation, we went for a holiday to the forest near Gombin. There we met some Zionists from Plotzk, and after some discussions, I managed to convince them that it was possible to teach and educate in the Hebrew language. (They found this very difficult to believe.) Our proof was that there are Hebrew schools in Sierpc and in other towns. We called a public meeting in the Merchants' Bank of Plotzk. A Plotzk Hebrew School committee and a kindergarten parents' committee were elected. The school was to be established immediately after the vacation. The kindergarten parents signed promissory notes on the spot, and the school became a fact. At first, the “Tarbuth” center in Warsaw found it difficult to believe that I had managed to found a kindergarten in Plotzk because as hard as they had tried in the past, they had failed.

They appointed me the inspector of the kindergarten for the first year, and of the preparations for opening the school. I visited the kindergarten in Plotzk twice. The school committee found a beautiful apartment for the first grade, and the kindergarten children took great pride in the fact that they would be the first pupils of the Hebrew School in Plotzk. Regrettably, the war put an end to all our undertakings.

 

6. Inside the “Tarbuth” School in Sierpc

The school had 300 children in seven classes. All the children in town, with a few exceptions, visited the Hebrew School “Tarbuth”. The level of education, as I assess it today, was high. Hebrew was the language used for all lessons, except the Polish subjects. There was a library for the pupils. Hebrew books predominated there as well. Once a month, there was a bulletin board newspaper. Students from all grades participated in the newspaper, each grade according to its capability.

A pioneering Zionist atmosphere suffused the school, an atmosphere of complete identification with the Land of Israel. We celebrated the accomplishments of the Yishuv [Jewish settlement in Palestine], and grieved for its suffering. Every event in Palestine immediately found its echo in the life of the school, in the lessons, and in the student newspaper.

The spiritual ties of the children to the land of Israel were demonstrated during a visit by the Polish inspector to the school.

During one visit by the inspector, he asked the following question (among other questions) of one of the pupils, “gdzie mieszkaza”, (“where do you live?”) The child answered “w Polsce” (“in Poland”). “A gdzie twoja ojczyzna?” (“And what is your homeland?”) “Palestyna” (“The Land of Israel”) the child answered.

The inspector recoiled as if bitten by a snake. He accused us of educating the children in an anti-government manner, and more. We had many problems because of the child's response.

The Keren Kayemet was a cornerstone of nationalist education. The ideal “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity” [Leviticus 25, 23] found a willing resonance in the hearts of the children. Enthusiasm and larger contributions greeted each new purchase of land in the Land of Israel. We renewed the ancient custom of Rosh Chodesh [the beginning of every Jewish month]. We dedicated that day to the emptying of the boxes of Keren Kayemet. Each class participated with an appropriate declamation, dance, and a story from the life in the Land of Israel. The children would return to their homes happy and excited, and inspire their parents and neighbors with their joy. The happiest class in the school was the one that won the flag of Keren Kayemet for a month.

 

7. The School Graduation, and Where Next

The school year is over, and the seventh grade is celebrating its graduation. The joy is great. The tables are set. The mothers are preparing the refreshments. Many guests have arrived for the ceremony. Everyone is in his or her holiday clothes. The children are happy and joyful. Greetings, speeches, songs, declamations, and so forth.

As soon as the formal ceremony was over, one of the parents asked me, “What now, Principal? Where? What do we do with our child? The Polish High School does not accept our children. The nearest Hebrew High School is far away and I cannot afford it. There is no vocational school. What do we do?” And after him, a second and a third came with the same questions. The harsh reality of the diaspora cut off our happiness. Locked doors and impervious ears confront the Hebrew child. I knew, and the parents knew that there is no future for our children in exile. The youth will be redeemed only when the whole nation is redeemed.

 

8. Parents' Committee

These people were at the head of the school, and were concerned with it over the years:

Frydman Yeshayahu, of Blessed Memory, Chairman
Shnitzer, of Blessed Memory, Secretary
Bergson David, of Blessed Memory
Gutshtat Moshe, of Blessed Memory
Kleinman Yitzhak, of Blessed Memory
Smolinski Yisrael, of Blessed Memory
Visroza Yaakov Yosef of Blessed Memory
Florman, of Blessed Memory
Licht Abba, of Blessed Memory
Skornik Pesach, of Blessed Memory

*

These people took care of all the needs of the school: the budget, furniture, equipment, heating, cleaning, and more. I have not met people like them, so devoted to a school and Hebrew education, in my whole career. The difficulties that the committee ran into doing its work were immense. It was only the sublime ideal of Hebrew education that motivated them to make the sacrifices and super-human efforts that they did. “A handful cannot satisfy a lion” [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth Folio 3, 72], and they could never balance the budget. The building debt was a huge burden to them, but nonetheless they managed.

They cared not only about the material side. The educational-pedagogical part was always their first concern. They were fastidious, and the best of the very best. A teacher who did not meet their standards would not remain for another year. Teachers and principals thought that it was difficult to meet the demands of the Parents' Committee of Sierpc, but it was not so. They had requirements, but they were fair requirements. Their first concern was for the educational and cultural quality of the school.

I bow my head in memory of these dear people. Blessed is the nation that had people like these! Blessed is the nation, whose “ordinary” people could erect and maintain schools by themselves, that could educate generations of pioneers and achievers. Your memory remains with us; you are the unknown heroes. You are the real builders of the fatherland. You are the anonymous ones who laid the foundations for the resurrection of the people and the land, in every town and village and in every remote corner of the diaspora. Their memory will remain blessed in our hearts forever.


[Page 156]

WIZO in Sierpc

by Hana Dichter
In Memory of the Dear Women of Sierpc 1937/38

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The Activities of the WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization] in Sierpc

I came to Sierpc in 1937 to work as a teacher in the “Tarbuth” school. It took some time until I grew accustomed to the town and the school. The town was full of grace and charm. The Jews were a third of the population. The Polish language ruled everywhere. The Polish educational institution attracted the Jewish students, and they slowly became distant from their roots.

The parents were concerned because of the difficulties their children faced in the government schools. Also, that their children were not relating to the culture of Israel and the people of Israel. The questions of what do and how to act deprived them of their peace of mind.

During my first days in Sierpc, I made it my goal to get to know the women of Sierpc. I met Yehudit Malowanczyk, who was then head of WIZO in Sierpc. The conversation was short and very gloomy. She told me of the problems she faced. On paper, WIZO had many members. However, it was difficult to gather them in one place and start a significant activity. The only time that most of them were available was on Saturday afternoon, but few came, so that there was a problem in initiating a major project. We searched for a way to fix the problem. I said that we could reach our goal in two ways: a) To reorganize WIZO with a mass meeting; b) To prepare a detailed working strategy.

That Saturday, a general meeting was called on the subject of “The Woman's Contribution to the Revival of Israel”. The auditorium was full of young women, mature women, and gray haired women. I spoke to them in Yiddish, and apologized for having to speak in Yiddish in a Hebrew school, but we should aspire to learn and speak only in Hebrew.

I lectured for over an hour on the bravery of the daughters of Israel, that sacrificed their time and energy, and some even their lives for the revitalization of the nation. I saw the exhilaration in their faces, and the joy that came over them. The room was silent when I finished. Then I heard the voice of Hana Frydman, “I am ready to be of service to the nation; show me what to do”. All the other members then declared, “We are at your service.” We elected a new committee, and I felt that a new spark had been lit in their hearts.

 

Activities of the Committee

After a week, the committee announced its list of undertakings.

  1. To organize a Hebrew course in the school in the evening, three times a week, at 8:30 PM. The teacher will be Hana Dichter, and the lessons will be without charge.
  2. The nutrition committee decided to give 10:00 o'clock meals to needy children. The resources for this will come from a levy of 20 grush [pennies] on every family in Sierpc. The collectors will be WIZO members.
  3. To help in activities of Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] in the town. A bazaar would be held in the school in the intermediate days of Passover.
  4. The culture committee was tasked with organizing a series of lectures to educate the women and make the challenges of Zionism clear to them:
    1. There will be a meeting held every Saturday for lectures and news of the Jewish world and the Land of Israel.
    2. Increase the activities for educating the children in Hebrew institutions.
    3. To publicize the activities in order to attract all the women of Sierpc to WIZO.
    4. Every member should learn Hebrew.
    5. To mark each national holiday with a festive party.
    6. Expand the publicity campaign for the school, so that all Jewish children will attend.
    7. To hold a district conference, to implant the idea of redemption in the neighboring towns.
The activities of WIZO started with the beginning of the 1937 school year. More than 50 members participated in the Hebrew courses. In the dark and rainy nights of autumn in Poland, and in the winter's cold and snow, shadows would be moving towards the Hebrew school that was far from the Jewish neighborhood. The members were coming to learn Hebrew. Curious and glowing eyes would gaze at me during the lesson. They would swallow every Hebrew word that they heard. Late in the evening, at 10:30, they were still working diligently at their assignment. The next morning, they would meet refreshed at the market, and decide to purchase their goods in Hebrew.

At the end of the year, the course held a graduation party. The husbands and many other guests were invited. The members recited and spoke in Hebrew, like young girls. There was great joy. Each one felt that from now on, they would know how to bind their children's hearts to the culture of Israel.

 

The Children's Nutrition

At the beginning of the school year, the WIZO women went out to collect donations of 20 grush from each family. There were families that voluntarily increased their donations to 50 grush. The committee purchased the provisions directly from farmers in order to save a few pennies for this important project.

Two members would show up at the school every morning, each according to their turn, to prepare the meal. Everyone performed this task with a feeling of awe. They paid no attention to the cold, to the unsuitable time, but left their houses and children, and their work, and hurried to get there at 8 o'clock to perform their task.

I remember a Monday when Chavah Kopperman, nee Podskoc, stood next to the stovetop. The kitchen was full of suffocating smoke. The coal was no good, but she did not notice. Her face was shining, her eyes were swelling with tears, but she was preparing soup for the children.

At 10 o'clock, the children finished eating. Chavah is happy, and hurries home, because she left two infants at home. I accompanied her from afar, and my lips mouthed a silent prayer: may you prevail and arrive in the homeland to raise your children. However, she did not prevail. She died suddenly, still young. That morning, the children asked that there be no cooking, and to dedicate an hour in her memory. Everyone donated a few pennies to plant a memorial tree in the homeland.

Every member took her turn with the same devotion. However, Hana Frydman, who was in charge of nutrition, was the most devoted and cheerful. Hana was a simple and pleasant woman, kind hearted and always willing to help anyone who was weak and hungry. She was well off, and when her turn came, she would bring all the provisions from her home, and would put the best foods into the pot in order to please the children. I saw her radiant face after she had succeeded in feeding about 100 hungry mouths.

 

The Funds Committee

The activities for Keren Kayemet.

About a month after the Sukkoth holiday, Ms. Rozen invited the Keren Kayemet Committee for a meeting at her clean and tidy home. A bazaar was to be held on the intermediate days of Passover [the days between the first and seventh day of Passover which are considered part of the holiday, but when commerce is permitted]. She divided the work into various categories. On the following day, the WIZO members were already visiting the houses of the Jews of Sierpc to collect materials, and they came back satisfied. Every family responded generously, and Ms. Rozen did everything quietly and unpretentiously. In the last days before the bazaar, she was away from home most of the time, arranging all the stalls and emphasizing anything that could bring in more money for Keren Kayemet.

The atmosphere of the Land of Israel pervaded the bazaar. All the Jews of Sierpc forgot their exile and the distance between them and their country, and lived their life, if only for a brief moment, in Palestine. The enthusiasm and devotion inspired the younger generation that absorbed the ideals, and gave it a path to follow. They would go further than their parents would, until they reached the Promised Land.

I want especially to mention the work of Falcha Cipris. She was the oldest member, with white hair. She always had a look of concentration on her face, displaying energy, activity and willpower. She was not tall, but slender, quick, and wise. She was wholeheartedly devoted to the land of Israel. She left a great light in my heart, which I guarded during all the years of my wandering.

*

It happened on Passover eve, a few days before the opening of the bazaar. I was asked to contact some members that were going to visit houses and collect objects for the raffle. I went to Falcha Cipris. Her exhausted and elderly husband was alone in their store. She was preparing her home for the holiday. I was embarrassed, because as the younger person, I would not dare to ask her to leave her house at a time like this. Nevertheless, I went there. She heard my greeting, turned to me joyfully, and asked me what I needed. I very apologetically made my request that she go to certain houses with Ms. Boda to collect items for the raffle. Her answer was, “Whatever you want, my dear.” She took two baskets, left her house, and said “I don't need a partner; I'll do the job alone.” An hour later, she brought two full baskets to my house. Her flushed face astonished me and I asked, “Why did you carry such a heavy burden up the stairs?” She answered, “Holy works must be carried out to the end,” and hurried home to continue the holiday preparations.

*

The eve of Tu Beshvat, [the Jewish holiday that is equivalent to Arbor Day] was on a Saturday. All the WIZO members came to celebrate the spring holiday in the homeland. The culture committee prepared surprise packages of fruit from Palestine. The large room was too small for all the members. I spoke to them about the values of this holiday of the saplings, and on the importance of the tree in a desolate homeland. The committee members distributed the packages. The audience became as happy as little children. They opened the packages with great curiosity and tasted the fruit. But not Ms. Cipris! She came over to me, kissed me, and said very excitedly, “Thank you for this sacred moment that you have created for us. I will not open the package. I will keep it until I will go to the Land of Israel. And if I do not achieve that it will come with me.”

We were both very excited, and at a loss for words. The tears in our eyes expressed everything. Our comrade Cipris never made it to the place of her heart's desire. Nevertheless, who knows, maybe the executioner did not steal the holy package from the land of her yearnings from her.

 

The Culture Committee and its Activities

The culture committee performed very important tasks. They arranged lecture series on various topics. These would entrance the listeners and enrich their knowledge. Thanks to their intensive activities, they persuaded many people, and brought women who were becoming assimilated to WIZO.

 

The WIZO Secretariat

Mindel Kociolek, the wife of Yosef Kociolek, was the secretary of WIZO in Sierpc. I speak of my memories of her, which are very dear to me, with the trembling brought on by something holy. She was an example to us all in her limitless energy, her methodical work, and punctiliousness. She was not just someone who knew how to talk. I will remember her until the day I die, and she is a remembrance of better times that will not return.

That is how they were. Twenty years have passed since I parted from them. I have maintained these dear memories for twenty years, and carried the Holy Ark inside my soul. Let us remember a few more of them.

  1. The teacher Zina Smolinski contributed her talents to the school in Sierpc, where she worked for a number of years as a teacher and educator. She was the daughter of the shochet [ritual slaughterer] from Lithuania, in whose house she acquired her values. She also settled in Sierpc, and her husband was active in the parents committee of the school, even though they did not have children in the school. She was a member of the WIZO cultural committee. She was joyful at every accomplishment of her students, and disappointed by every setback. She was expelled together with the whole Sierpc community on that tragic day of November 8, 1939, and I never saw her again.
  2. Our member Schwartz, nee Podskoc, was in poor health. She was thin and tired, the mother of two sickly children. In spite of this, she was the first to volunteer for every activity.
  3. Her sister, Ms. Nedzwijed, single and lonely, always helped in WIZO activities. She always attended the Hebrew lessons, and studied diligently.
  4. Our comrade Lipka always helped in every activity. I would often meet her, together with her 15-year-old daughter, on their way to the school where they both acquired a nationalist education.
  5. Shifrah Loita was always among the first to volunteer. She was tall and graceful, with a tender and pleasant laugh that displayed all the emotions in her pure heart.
  6. Poza Hodes was effervescent, quick, and active, always ready to help. She studied Hebrew diligently. I remember her pleasing smile when she came to receive her diploma.

 

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