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[Page 236]

My Path in the “Torah And Service” Movement

Miriam Elyash, Tel Aviv

Translated by Gila Schecter

In 1927, I left Belz and headed towards Krakow to study in the “Bait Yaakov” Seminary. As it is known, the atmosphere in Bait Yaakov was anti-Zionist, whereas I was already “infected” with Zionism.

Already, in Belz when I was 14, I joined the “Gordonia”. My teachers and my guides in Zionism were Aharon Reuven Meir, of blessed memory, and his future wife, Chanehla, who should live a long life. While I was studying in Bait Yaakov in Krakow, I would secretly attend Zionist meetings and hear lectures given by well-known Zionist lecturers. To be frank, I didn't find any new discoveries in their words until one day, I happened to incidentally receive the “Torah and Service” newsletter. And then a new world was revealed to me: Religious Zionism; Zionism with roots, which was based on the Torah teachings.

In Gordonia, in Belz, we were taught foreign teachings, German poetry (Goethe, Schiller, etc.), and unfortunately very little Jewish teachings. Whereas in Krakow, with the influence of “Torah and Service”, I found my path. Shortly after, in 1928, I returned to Belz. I was not active at first. My father, of blessed memory, Rabbi Benzion, passed away at that time and I wasn't emotionally available for public activities.

Under the influence of Dr. Bernstein, the ambassador of The Jewish National Fund, who came for a visit to Belz, I returned to action. A JNF committee existed in Belz then, which had representatives from all of the Zionistic parties. I was added onto this committee, although I did not represent any party.

A branch of “Torah and Service” did not exist in Belz at the time. I signed up as a member of this party in Sokal. This news traveled to the movements headquarters in Lvov and they took great interest in this: A young lady came especially from Belz to Sokal, a distance of approximately 20 kilometers, to join the movement's branch there. In Lvov, they were so excited about this that Yaakov Rosner, the leader of Torah and Service in Eastern Galitzia, contacted me. He informed me that there is a group of young men in Belz who are aspiring to open a branch of Torah and Service, and he advised me to speak with them. Shortly after, I had a meeting with these young men- Isaac Mautner, Shmuel Shpindel, Isaac Teller, Roth, and others, and we founded the branch. The oldest amongst us was Lieber. He already had a family; he was a father of two children. The first meeting took place in the late summer of 1930. A while later, the second meeting took place, and we invited Yaakov Rosner to join.

We named our branch “The Young Eastern Pioneers”. At first, I was the only woman member of the branch. I came from a big city, and I had been active before then. I attended mixed meetings and again I did not feel awkward to be part of a branch that was all male. But the men felt uncomfortable meeting with me… after all, they just left the benches of the Beit Midrash. Within a few months, a number of women joined our branch: the sisters Etti and Temma Rosen, Rivka Roff, and others. New men also joined.

The oldest amongst us, Lieber, was the chairman of the branch, and Roth, Schpindel, and Teller switched off as secretaries.

Later on, our branch founded Bnei Akiva in Belz. There were two groups that together added up to twenty members. The counselors were Moshe Hadari and Mirel Ziefert.

We managed culture activities; we learned and taught Tanach (Torah teachings) and Hebrew. We collaborated with the “Unity” Party and others in Zionistic activities.

There were a number of young men amongst us who acquired great and deep knowledge in Judaism through solitary learning. They were the ones who took responsibility for the cultural activities in the branch. From time to time, a lecturer from Lvov would pay us a visit. When a lecturer would come from out of town, it was a big event and we would all go to the train station to greet him.

We had our own club: At first, we rented a room from a Gentile near the cemetery at the edge of town (out of fear of zealots plotting against us). Later, we had our own club in the center of town by the courthouse.

“Torah and Service” had approximately sixty members; and Bnei Akiva, approximately twenty.

During this time, this branch was not small, and it was represented in all of the movement's conferences that took place in Lvov.

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