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[Pages 186-189]

“You Know Hebrew,
Why Don't You Go to Eretz Yisrael?”

By Yitzchak Orez (Aires)

Translated by Judy Grossman

My father Chaikel passed away in Dusiat when I was two and a half years old. My brother Dovid-Leib was nine months old at the time. I heard about the cause of my father's death from Dr. Koslowski, to whom I went for a checkup when my uncle Shimon-Abba came up with the idea that we should all immigrate to America.

In 1915 we were in Linkuva. I was then eight and a half years old. It was during World War I, when we were evicted from there. I remember that we left Linkuva on the first day of the month of Iyar, and walked with our grandmother day and night. We tossed around in wagons until Kupishik [Kupiskis], and along with all the other “bezentzes” [refugees] we lay in the fields in the open air about five nights until the eve of Shavuoth!

The deportation decree came out in May 1915 and it applied to all the Jewish inhabitants of most of the Kovno [Kaunas] region. “The Kuziai [a village in the vicinity of Siauliai] Libel”, in which a small group of Jews was accused of assisting the German enemy, served as the Czarist tyrants' justification for implementing the cruel deportation. Within a few days, two hundred thousand Lithuanian Jews were uprooted from the places where they had lived for generations.[1]

Some fellows from Kupishik came and invited us to come with them and find shelter in the synagogue and the bathhouse. Among them was a tall, strong fellow, who drove us in a wagon to the train station at the edge of the city. On the way my grandmother said to him: “We have a relative in Kupishik by the name of Shimon-Abba, and he is a musician.” “And I am his son,” said the fellow and brought us to their home. That was one miracle. And the Lord also produced a second miracle for us. On the way we discovered our wagon, laden with our things: thirteen pillows, two comforters and a copper bowl. We had left this wagon with the municipal clerk in Linkuva, in the belief that when things calmed down we would return there. “It's yours? Take it,” said the Gentile who was pulling the wagon, and we paid him five rubles.

In my uncle's home there was an instrument hanging on the wall – cymbals. I remember that we lay on the floor and hit the cymbals again and again with our feet: Bom! Bom! Bom!

We were there for six weeks. My grandmother wanted to continue on, to Russia, but my uncle Shimon-Abba said to her: “Why should you go to Russia, when your property is in Dusiat? Take a wagon and go there.” I learned that my father had been the manager of a brick factory there and was considered a rich man. We returned to Dusiat, and my brother and I ate yamim [“days”] at different families' homes, but mostly at the home of my uncle Yudel Aires.

I had already learned Hebrew in Linkuva, and when I reached Dusiat I was already fluent in that language. In Dusiat I studied with the melamed Avraham-Moshe and not at school. I learned Hebrew from the prayer book and the Talmud, and from them I also learned about Eretz Yisrael.

One day I encountered Yitzchak Poritz and he said to me: “Yitzchak, you know how to work, and you also know Hebrew. Why don't you go to Eretz Yisrael? Why should you think about America?” I told him that I really did want to go to Eretz Yisrael. Yitzhak added: “You don't have anything to lose,” and he registered me with Hechalutz.

The Hachshara in “Der Reiter Heif

Three weeks later I was told to come to the Hechalutz central office, and they attached me to “Der Reiter Heif“, which was a summer hachshara group. There were four males and four females (one of whom was Nechamka Shapira from Kovno). I remember the face of the owner of the farm, a Jew who rode very well on horseback. On the first day he asked me if I knew how to plow. I answered him with pride: “I didn't study in a gymnasia, but I know how to plow,” and he sent me to hitch the horses and plow. It was a large farm, the horses were scattered in the fields and wandered back and forth, and I wondered how I would hitch them in pairs. I hitched two horses and began plowing, but immediately saw that the soil was not suitable for plowing. I went back and told him: “Send the Gentiles there…” These words of mine apparently were a sign that I really did understand the work.

I discovered that Daniel Zeif had recommended accepting me to this farm. The gymnasia students in the group jumped at the opportunity to get someone who knew how to plow, and added me to the group.

On Sunday they sent us to load the wagon with hay, using a pitchfork, and that requires strength. Michke Baron's statement that the Gentiles respected a Jew who knew how to work is correct. And I can say proudly that we worked. And how we worked!

The work ended at Succoth, and in the meantime it was learned that the owner of the farm had not paid Hechalutz for our work, and we were instructed not to leave the farm. We remained there, but didn't receive any food, and the women went to their acquaintances in Kovno to get food.

Daniel Zeif wrote to Memel [Klaipeda], asking them to find other work for the group, and only two of us remained on the farm, but again without food. The farm owner had two daughters, Gitka and Sonka, and as soon as they “smelled” that only two men remained on the farm they immediately showed up. That was good for us: when they ate we also ate with them.

One day the owner of the farm came up to me and asked: “Why go to Eretz Yisrael?” Here, the farm is yours; take it and manage it.” I asked him: “Who wants me, you or your daughter Sonka?”…

In the meantime, Nechamka Shapira and his daughter Gitka became close friends, and Gitka joined Hechalutz. The owner of the farm came to some kind of an arrangement with Hechalutz, and instead of money he gave them potatoes, which were immediately sent to the hungry pioneers.

The Hachshara in Yaken

I returned to Dusiat and three weeks later I was called to Memel, and from there I was sent to the Yaken farm. I arrived in December 1924, and I was there for eleven months.

There were twelve of us there: four girls and eight guys, among them two Itziks: Itzik Eins [one] and Itzik Zwei [two]. The owner of the farm, Heitman, was a German. His workers worked just for food. He had four carriage horses and “milch ferd“ [nickname in Yiddish for work horses]. I was summoned there as an expert, and I was one of the managers. It was a cold winter, and more pleasant to remain in the stable to deal with a horse that refused to get up. I chose Daniel Zeif to help me, and in this way both of us stayed in the stable for three days and cared for the horse. Afterwards that horse was sold for meat.

I remember a skirmish on the farm with a Gentile, who spoke disparagingly about the Juden [Jews], and I became enraged and hit him with a whip. He complained to the farm owner, and when he interrogated me I told him that I would beat that Gentile again if he dared to repeat what he had said. I “permitted” him to call us “Zionists” and “pioneers”, but not Juden.

My big day arrived, and I was promised a certificate,[2] but on condition that I received the manager's recommendation. He threatened me saying that if I left the farm he would take the horses from the group.

But without horses the group would have nothing to do there!

Geller from the Hechalutz central office came there, and I recall that he brought the farm manager a box of cigarettes, which the latter showed off! After negotiating for a while they agreed that another man would come in my place, and I would teach him the work. The replacement came three weeks later. I trained him in the work, and another three weeks went by.

Later on I heard that my replacement didn't stay, and the horses were taken from the group.

Hachshara in Yaken

“Yaken was the most glorious of the hachsharot”
Right to left: (-), (-), Daniel Zeif, Rochke, Itzik Aires, Budnitzky
(from the Hechalutz Central), (-), (-), Dodke Krost, Moshke Gurwitz

 

The group in winter …

Itzke Aires – extreme left

I am now reading the book “There Were Pioneers in Lithuania” and recall those days: what didn't they do to train the pioneers for life in Eretz Yisrael, for physical work, for harsh conditions! They even taught them how to darn socks...

As for me, I didn't agree to darn socks, or to peel potatoes…

We pioneers were really all like brothers, and I am sorry that politics ruined things.

The book didn't say much about the hachshara in Yaken. And Yaken was the most glorious of the hachsharot!

To Eretz Yisrael with Feigitzke

And my dear Feigitzke Pores remained in Dusiat in her parents' home and waited for me, Moshe-Itzke, her fiancé. Feigitzke had already been waiting for me for a year and a half, and I kept postponing my arrival week after week. When the certificates arrived I approached the Hechalutz central office and they agreed that I also take Feigitzke to Eretz Yisrael with me, but on condition that I show them a ketuba [marriage certificate]. The wedding took place in Dusiat. Michke Baron also remembers. It was on a Friday. The chupe took place in the early evening, and after it came the feast, and at lunchtime on the Sabbath we ate again, and almost all the residents of the shtetl were invited guests. On Saturday night, after the Sabbath, we had klezmer music and dancing.

The wedding took place on December 25, 1925, and we had to hurry and leave Lithuania, because I was supposed to report for army service on January 1.

I went to Kovno on Sunday, and hurriedly brought them the ketuba.

Taking leave of the “olim” [immigrants] to Eretz Yisrael
Yaken Group, Memel, 14.3.1925

Right to left, standing: Dodke Krost, Yehudit Roznikowitz, Itzke Zlibatzki, Itzke Aires (Orez)
Seated: David Peikes, Yentke Arbeiter, Yoske Zak, Sara Druker, Moshke Gurwitz
Bottom: Meir Sardzinski, Miryam Landsman, Aba Abelewitz

Yitzchak Orez: Moshke Gurwitz was a communist and died in a prison in Kovno.

 

Footnotes

  1. [5] Chasman, Rafael. The Rise and Fall of the Jews of Independent Lithuania in Lithuanian Jewry in Pictures and Notations, 1959 Return

  2. British permit for immigration to Palestine. Return

 

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