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[Pages 175-183]

Parties and Organizations

 

The Zionist Movement in Zloczew

by Mordechai Majerowicz

Translated by Marta Wassertzug

The Zionist idea in our village drew its inspiration from pre-political Zionism; its roots were nourished by the currents of Hovevey Zion that flooded the far and near regions. To my regret, I don't have detailed information on the Zionist philosophy of that time, its different expressions and the extent of its activities. However, judging by what was relayed about its principal actors of the previous generations, the extent of the Zionist activity then was expressed by its fund raising efforts for the benefit of the different national funds, distribution of shekels, etc.

Members of the branch committee
of the Zionist movement

 

The Balfour Declaration, in November 1917, gave a big thrust to the Zionist enterprise. The Zionist federation in our village, headed by Yaakov Bielawski, knew how to take advantage of the spirit of sympathy to Israel and the great enthusiasm for the Zionist idea that overtook the streets of the Jewish masses in Poland in general, and in Zloczew, in particular.

The idea of the “return to Zion” found a sympathetic ear and a warm reception even within those circles, which, in the past, had refused to hear about Zionism, which they had regarded as something impure (treif), a heresy, an apostasy and everything negative.

In view of this new situation, a new organization had to be created quickly in order to adapt the modus operandi of the movement to the spirit of the new era, and to take advantage of all the possibilities that arose in order to strengthen the Zionist activity. And the local branch was not ready for this.

The lack of adaptation of the local branch to the new conditions could be attributed to the fact that the majority of its activists came from the ranks of the old generation - local people whose worldview was shaped by the romanticism of the old formula of the Hibat Zion movement. And the sum of their activities, as we said before, dealt with fundraising to benefit the Jewish National Fund, selling of shekels, and inviting Zionist “preachers” every now and then.

The First Pioneers

Despite all of that, a group of young people, steeped in the pioneer idea, was organized. They were influenced by the change that occurred in the outside world, and they established the first Hechalutz organization in the village. Some of the participants in this first group were: David Yosef Dawidowicz (Yosef Bar-Natan,) Shmuel Kampinsky, Penkovsky, Isik Ferkel and David Loel (the latter died in France, on the year this book was published.)

A group of Zloczew recruits to the Polish army

 

To my regret, I don't have any information on the extent of the Hechalutz activities then, but I do know that, in one of the farms that belonged to a Jew in our village, the pioneers established a hachshara (learning farm) and that two of its members: David Yosef Dawidowicz (Yosef Bar-Natan) and Shmuel Kampinsky, emigrated to Israel in 1921, and were one of the first olim, after Chaim Zemel - who emigrated in 1913, and who merited the title of first immigrant from Zloczew.

The Development of the Movement

A reorganization of the local chapter took place afterwards. A wide, successful recruitment of new movement members was undertaken. The ranks of the Zionist federation in Zloczew grew, and, as a consequence of the general spirit of renewal, a new executive committee was chosen that included both veteran activists and new ones.

The movement and its activities grew very rapidly: a library of books in Yiddish and Hebrew was opened, evening lectures on literature and politics were organized, there were public debates, artistic shows, dances and concerts by an orchestra formed by members of the local chapter under the direction of Binyamin (Bank) Friedman and Yechiel Werushewski.

In this realm of cultural and artistic activities, which contributed much to the enthusiasm of the rank and file, the choir (under the direction of Binyamin (Bank) Friedman and Aharon Laupert) held a prominent spot. The choir participated in all the events organized by the branch, and entertained the public with a beautiful variety of Israeli songs. Bank, a graduate of the Warsaw conservatory, had a remarkable acute musical sense, whereas Laupert was endowed with a well-developed ear, and would correct the minutest mistake immediately and decisively.

At the head of this increased activity of those days stood some very prominent figures: Yaakov Bielawski (chairman,) Shlomo Karo, Moshe Lefkowitz, Leibush Weinberger, Esther Schmidt, Chaim Markowitz, and the writer of these lines, as a representative of the young generation.

At the same time, kudos is due to the establishment, for the first time, of the central and most important enterprise: the youth movement Hechalutz Hamerkazi, which included the best and strongest Zionist aware youth. Belonging to its ranks were also those who hadn't found an outlet to their beliefs in the then Socialist-Zionist parties.

After a few years, Zloczew's Zionist federation managed to include a great portion of the town's inhabitants, those who were moved by patriotic fervor as well as the eldest of the youth, who came from Chasidic and traditional homes. This youth came to the movement's ranks because of the socio-political pressure in Poland, and began to work in trades that were more productive than in the past. Thanks to the cultural and propaganda activities of our federation, its influence was also felt in the social and professional life of our village.

The tight cooperation between the branch of our Zionist federation and the Chalutz Hamerkazi, and also the total and unshakable commitment, loyalty and belief of its members to the idea of national renewal, were responsible for the continuous growth and fast development of the Zloczew Zionist federation.

Preparation for Aliyah

The regional committee meeting of the Chalutz Hamerkazi took place in Zloczew in 1934. It relied on the active help of our town's Zionist federation. Headed by Chaim Margalit, it counted with the participation of many of the members of the top leadership.

One of the main problems discussed was the question of kibbutzim, that is, the establishment of some kind of agricultural training farms in different places so that the future immigrants to Israel could practice the skills that would be needed later.

Tzeirei-Zion-Poalei-Zion (on the right) in the training farm

 

Three of these farms were established after that discussion. They were situated in the areas of Zloczew-Bastalcze (Mozigovsky), Niechmirow (Glischenshteyn) and Zapola (Domgovsky). Dozens of youth received their agricultural training on these farms. It wouldn't be an exaggeration on my part to say that, during that period, the federation grew in such unprecedented proportion that it became the center of the social life of Zloczew's Jews.

The activity in the branch continued to develop peacefully, and it was based on its members close adherence to the movement's life outlook and their total spiritual identification with its general goals on one hand, and with the ways to achieve the daily goals, on the other. For these reasons, the movement fulfilled the social, spiritual and cultural needs of every individual. This fact came to concrete expression in the existence of group discussions, lectures, meetings, informational activities, fundraising for the national funds, and public debates, etc. Both Yaakov Bielawski and Binyamin (Beinush) Perkal appeared frequently at these meetings.

Regular Days and Special days

The special, festive days were the ones that contributed much to change the rhythm of our everyday existence. These events, for example, the annual memorial to the visionary of the State of Israel, Dr. Benjamin Zeev Herzl on the 20th day of Tammuz, left a huge impression upon the members of the youth movement. Also, the celebration of the Balfour Declaration provided an opportunity to highlight the progress made by the movement since the inception of political Zionism.

Yaakov Freund

Another great event was the laying of the cornerstone of the Hebrew University on the 7th of Nisan, an event that became a tradition since April 1, 1925. On that day, Yaakov Freund organized a youth parade, in complete coordination with the authorities in charge of the municipal schools who agreed to allow the students to participate in the city parade. That event made an indelible and lasting impression.

Yaakov Freund also had an historic privilege, decisive and central in the life of the Zionist federation of Zloczew. Despite his involvement in one of the main undertakings of the Zionist enterprise, he was ordered (by the decision of the central committee of the Zionist federation) to return to Zloczew from the neighboring town of Lutotow where he had been sent to teach Hebrew in the Tarbut school, in order to stop the influence of the leftist movements (Bund, P.Z. Left) over the Jewish youth, and to establish a Zionist youth movement, whose direction and aspiration was simply Zion, without external ideologies.

He devoted himself to this enterprise heartily, and thanks to his well-designed programs, energy and perseverance, (in addition to his organizational talent) he succeeded in creating the first branch of the Hashomer Hatzair, and lead it for four years, until his own immigration to Israel (see also the article by Y. Freund entitled: Hashomer Hatzair, in this publication.)

Yaakov Bielawski

It is not my intention to minimize the stature of all the others if I devote my next comments to the most outstanding personality in Zloczew's Zionism. My venerable teacher, Yaakov Bielawski, contributed decisively to the prosperity and development of the Zionist federation in our town.

There are some people who make such a lasting impression that, despite the passage of years and despite the cruel fate that can separate human beings forever; you can still see them as though they were alive before you: that was the case with Yaakov Bielawski.

Yaakov Bielawski with a group of friends
From right to left: Landau, Braude, Drachwolf

 

More than 30 years passed since I last saw him, but I still remember the wonderful combination of spiritual qualities that complemented his Jewish soul. Yaakov and his family were transported by the immense impulse of the movement of national rebirth, “House of Yaakov: let us rise and go” (identical to the dreams of the Biluim). They were immersed in Torah and in deeds for the sake of their Zionist ideals, and steeped in a Jewish-Zionist life. Yaakov Bielawski was a sage, a great scholar, an educated and learned man, an expert on the Talmud treatises and an arbiter on Halachic matters, as well as knowledgeable in many general subjects. The home of the Bielawski family was a gathering place for religious sages as well as a gathering center for those whose Zionist awareness elevated the renaissance of radical Zionism in their hearts, and identified with it with all their hearts.

And Nevertheless, It Moves...

An episode from those days is etched in my memory. It has to do with Yaakov Bielawski. I subscribed to the Hebrew Weekly “Baderech”, which was published in Warsaw and that I received every Friday evening by arrangement with two dear friends from the branch's directorate - Yaakov Bielawski, chairman of the branch, and Shlomo Karo, member of the central committee and Hebrew teacher. After reading it, I would give the Weekly to them. Every Sunday afternoon, we would meet, once at Yaakov Bielawski's home and once at Shlomo Karo's or in the club branch. On those occasions, we would comment about what we had read in the publication. Once, an interesting article appeared about forestation in Israel, in
which the writer explained, from different perspectives, the importance of planting trees. He underlined the difficulties that the planters ran against, and the fact that many of them were afflicted with malaria, paying, in fact, for their work with their lives. The writer finished thus his article: “And nevertheless, it moves...” When Yaakov Bielawski asked me to explain to him the meaning of “nevertheless”, I did it to the best of my knowledge, and told him that the origin of the phrase is found in the book of Isaiah: “the world moves like a drunkard”. He did not like my “partial” answer. When Shlomo Karo asked him the source of his dissatisfaction, he answered: “from a youth like him, who says he is the secretary of the branch, one can expect a more thorough answer: he should have quoted Galileo Galilei: “and nevertheless, it moves”. This is how much Yaakov Bielawski expected from the youth.

Jockeying for Positions

In order to increase its ranks, it was important for the movement to increase its social influence amidst all Jewish classes in our town. The only way to obtain such a goal was to attain more important public positions, mainly in the community's board of directors and in the municipalities.

This idea was basically sanctioned by the policies of the Zionist movement and was strengthened by the outlining of the programmatic line of action instituted by the great Zionist leader Yitzchak Greenbaum (z'l) - who passed away in Israel on the year of the publication of this book - and who had a great influence among Polish Jews in general and on the Zionist movement in particular.

Greenbaum was against the utopian view that assumed that the Zionist problem would be solved by “one grand, miraculous action”. He believed that the solution would have to be “a long and difficult struggle coming to fruition in unusual ways, which no other people in the world had yet experienced.” In his visionary outlook and with unusual intuition, Greenbaum had understood many years earlier that the “Jewish people, uprooted from its soil, needs to return and ingather back in it and put down a wide network of deep roots so that it will achieve a sizable number and favorable international conditions, or that it needs to start a war of liberation, knowing in advance that it cannot fail and that such a war will save from destruction the population that managed to survive. Then, they would achieve independence and open the road to development and growth at an ever-increasing speed. This means that the way to our goal will be long and difficult: in the meantime, the situation demands that we care to protect the interest of the Diaspora in its different places, to begin the struggle not only for equal citizenship, but also to recognize the Jews as one people in the entire world, one people with common and special cultural, economic and social needs, wherever they may be.”

Frieda Reuven and Hela,
on the day of their immigration to Israel

 

In truth, the visionary of the State of Israel, Benjamin Zeev Herzl, stumbled on this problem at the beginning of his enterprise and he exhorted the Zionists: “go and conquer the communities”, a translation of which was: “the Zionists need to be the people's representatives, and possess the right to speak on its behalf...” (From Yitzchak Greenbaum: Speeches in the Polish Sejm (Polish Parliament), published by M. Neumann.)

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