However, in past generations, in the period of nationalist awakening, new funds were added, result of the times.
In the last quarter of the previous century, Jews "Hovevey Zion" (who cherish Zion) got up and started to go to Eretz-Yisrael, as individuals or in small groups. They bought land and set up agricultural settlements with the few means at their disposal, and with the assistance of benefactors. It was mainly a central-European immigration, and the Jews from Lithuania were prominent among them.
In Jerusalem too, people started to leave the walls, among them Jews originating from Lithuania, one even from Yurburg, who set up house at the Nahlat Shiva neighborhood (founded in 1869).The idea of settlement in Eretz Israel gained momentum in the countries of the Diaspora, but a joint national effort was required to achieve this lofty goal which a single individual could not achieve.
In these days Dr. Benjamin Zeev Herzl formulated his idea of the foundation of a Zionist Federation. And indeed, in 1897 Dr. Herzl convened the Congress of the Jewish representatives in the world, mainly "Hovevey Zion", in Basel (Switzerland), and the Jewish Federation was founded. This was an important historical event. Among those invited to the Congress was also Prof. Herman Shapira from Heidelberg (Germany), who proposed the establishment of a national fund, whereby land would be bought and prepared for settlement. Every Jew had the right to lease land for agricultural settlement for 49 years. Those who settled on the land were not allowed to sell it, for the land belonged to the national fund for ever. The proposal was enthusiastically accepted at the Zionist Congress; and indeed the national fund was founded in 1901 and called "Keren Kayemet Le'Yisrael" (The Jewish National Fund). We, who come from Yurburg, should be interested to know who this Prof. Herman Shapira who proposed the establishment of the national fund, was - let us provide some information about the history of his life.
Zvi Shapira was born in the small town of Arzwilky, near Yurburg, and he was a very gifted child. When he was three years old he could already read, at the age of four he studied Mikra and Gemara and at the age of eight he was already well versed in Talmud. While he was still a young boy he became a licensed Rabbi. After a while, the lad was appointed Rabbi at the small town and he became famous. However, the young Rabbi was not satisfied with his life, and one day, perhaps on one of his visits to Yurburg, where he was at home, he happened to find a book on mathematics and discovered the magic world of science. From that moment he found no peace. On his wanderings through Russia he did not find what he was looking for, until he came to Germany to drink from its source of knowledge and learning. Shapira went without food and slept on a bench in Berlin and later on in Heidelberg, where he studied and made progress at astonishing speed and obtained the rank of Professor of Mathematics. Nevertheless, he did not forget his origin; he took an interest in the "Hovevey Zion" movement and published articles about Judaism and Jewish nationalism. That is how he was discovered by Dr. Herzl, who was impressed by his personality and invited him to the first Zionist Congress (1897). Thus the young Shapira, who was at home in Yurburg, put forth his proposal at the Congress to establish the Jewish National Fund, the national fund for the purchase of land in Eretz Israel (1901).
When the Jewish National Fund was established, Jewish consciousness underwent an upheaval. The fund gave them hope and they felt that by donating to the National Fund they became partners in the grand national project. It was not hard to understand for a Jew that the land - the promised land - was in the hands of strangers and that without the land there simply would not be any building or settlement. Therefore the first priority was to redeem the land which would be the foundation for the national home.
The Jews of Lithuania, those from Yurburg among them, lent a faithful hand to the project of the National Fund. It is not known when the Jews of Yurburg started their activity on behalf of the National Fund, but we may presume that it was immediately after the establishment of the Fund, and from the time of the Balfour Declaration (1917) organized activity increased. An action committee composed of the representatives of all the parties and organizations in Yurburg was set up. There were volunteers too - "crazy about the idea" - who joined the activity and made it the center of their life. The main attraction of the fund was its popular appeal and the modest demand of all layers of the population, sort of "everyone gives according to his heart".
Especially the children were enchanted by the National Fund, for to them it was not an abstract idea, but a real one, and we all know that children love action. Indeed, this activity on behalf of the National Fund was a sort of competition, a positive "match of brains" - the more the better. The National Fund's manners of operation suited everyone - old and young - and we will name a few here.
The National Fund stamp was already printed in the first year of the fund's establishment. It was a small stamp, light blue with a Star of David and it had the name "Zion" on it. This small stamp, printed in millions of copies, had tremendous propaganda value and was very popular. "We too have a stamp" -said the children. The stamp also turned out to be an important source of income for the National Fund. We still remember our stamp collections, which we collected as children in albums or copybooks, and which served as important study material for becoming acquainted with places and people in Israel. And this is what we sang:
Let's stick on stamp after stamp Boys and girls - Redeem the field, the crop, And let the forest grow
The teachers recommended collecting the National Fund's stamps, stressing their educational value. At present, the small Zion stamp, first issue, is a rare and important item for collectors of Judaica, and is worth a lot of money.
The blue box. One of the most efficient educational and financial tools, of interest to young and old, was the National Fund box, called according to its color - the blue box. The box was born in 1904. The man responsible for the box and, as a matter of fact, for the Zion stamp as well, was the first President of the National Fund, Yona Kramanetzky, Dr. Herzl's faithful assistant, an industrialist from Lithuania. Interestingly enough, the "inventor" of the box was a Jew called Haim Kleinman. When Kleinman heard of the establishment of the National Fund, he made a small box and put it on his desk at the bank where he worked as a clerk. The result was astonishing. All those who came to Kleinman's office, put coins into the box, fully aware that they were helping to redeem the land of Israel.
When Kleinman told the National Fund heads about his box and his successful experience in collecting donations for the Fund, they liked the idea.
Since then, the blue box became an asset and the national symbol of all the Jewish communities. And thus sang the pupils:
A box is hanging on the wall The blue box Each penny put inside Redeems the land
Those who come from Yurburg remember the box very well. We may safely say that the National Fund box could be found in almost every Jewish home. Some Jews took care to put a few pennies in it every day, others added coins when the volunteer pupils came to empty the box. The pupils of the Yurburg Gymnasium, as well as members of the youth movement, carried out the task of emptying the boxes. Sometimes women too would volunteer for this task. On emptying the boxes a receipt with a drawing would be given. The boxes would usually be emptied once a month or once every two months. A few couples were needed each time to empty the boxes.
The National Fund boxes were placed in offices, shops and sch oolrooms. When the boxes were emptied, written information was handed out as well as pictures explaining the National Fund's activity and its achievements in Israel, in the purchase of land and settlement. From this publicity material everyone understood why they were donating and what was being done with the money; this information created a feeling of joy and trust in the National Fund.
Activities at the synagogue. The National Fund used various opportunities for obtaining donations on behalf of its activities. All circles in the community took part in the synagogue actions - both secular and religious. We would like to mention two actions on behalf of the National Fund, which were the custom at our community and revived a new tradition.
Calls to the Torah. During the calls to the Torah it was customary to donate a sum of money "to he who blesses" to the worshippers, such as , for example, the man who married off his son or daughter, or the man who had recovered from an illness etc. It is interesting to note that it was Dr. Herzl himself who started this custom, when he was called to the Torah, on the Sabbath after the establishment of the National Fund.
Herzl blessed the National Fund and promised to donate a sum of money to it. After him, David Wolfson was called to the Torah, and he too blessed and made a donation to the National Fund. By the way, Wolfson was elected second President of the Zionist Federation after Herzl's death. He comes from a small town in Lithuania.
Another custom of the National Fund was " The action of the bowls", which were placed at the synagogue before the "Kol Nidrei" prayer. Members of the National Fund Board or volunteers sat next to the bowls, at the synagogues. It was a new tradition - and the Jews donated . . . the religious Jews were happy that with their donations the land was also being freed for the erection of synagogues and Torah institutions in Israel.
The books of honor. Already in the second year of the National Fund's establishment the first edition of the "golden book" was prepared, in which people are registered who are active on behalf of Zionism and the Jewish communities. Those who register their friends in the "golden book" donate to the National Fund. It is said that when Dr. Herzl's friends wanted to register him as the first person in the "golden book" he rejected this outright and wanted to register Prof. Zvi Shapira, the man who invented the idea of the National Fund, as the first person in the book. At the time of registration, Prof. Shapira was no longer alive. A few months after the First Zionist Congress, he volunteered to go on a publicity campaign in Europe to explain the essence of Zionism and the National Fund - he caught pneumonia on the way and died.
Those who visit the main office of the National Fund in Jerusalem may see the many editions of the "golden book" with lists of names, among them from Lithuania and Yurburg as well.
Two special books of honor were dedicated to children - the Bar-mitzvah and Bat-mitzvah book - in which boys and girls who reach the bar- and bat-mitzvah age are registered. A photograph of the boy or girl may be added to the registration.
Children were registered on their birthday in the "Children's book" -the book for children from birth to the age of bar-mitzvah.
All those registered in the books of honor receive an illustrated certificate as a handsome souvenir. The school pupils too were in the habit of registering their teachers and principals in the book of honor, at the end of the study year or other events.
Donations at special events. Immediately after the establishment of the National Fund, Menahem Usishkin, one of the leaders of Russian Jewry - Lithuania too at the time - writes as follows: "I call on you, my brothers, to carry out a difficult and tiring task, however of grand and noble purpose - the redemption of the Land of Israel for the People of Israel .. . no opportunity should be missed, no social meeting, no party, at each and every joyful occasion, money should be collected to win hearts for the National Fund." The Jews of Russia and Lithuania responded to Usishkin's call and donated many "kopeikot"( a kopeika = a cent, 1/100 of the Ruble). Donations by Russian and Lithuanian Jews in the days prior to World War I amounted to 62.5% of the total donations of Jews all over the world on behalf of the National Fund. Usishkin asked for "Kupaikot", i.e. cents, so that everyone, poor and rich, could take part in the national target of redeeming the land of Israel. The cent too, said our wise men, is very important, for one cent and another together make a large sum".
Dr. Herzl, who was very enthusiastic about the idea of the National Fund, set a personal example on how to use every opportunity to raise funds. Once he was at a party with friends. At a certain moment he got up, took his hat and passed it along, asking for a donation to the National Fund - and the participants donated very generously. . . .
This custom of donating at every festive occasion existed at each Jewish community, and in Yurburg too. At every festive occasion - wedding or bar-mitzvah - the member of the National Fund board appeared and organized a donation. Sometimes he brought along a few blessings from people who blessed the person celebrating the event. The blessings were printed on special forms of the National Fund. Sometimes such forms were sent by mail, and, by the way, there were even forms of condolences. . . .
The National Fund board in Yurburg did not only collect donations at existing events, but also initiated and organized special cultural-social events, whose income was dedicated to the National Fund.
The board also asked to donate a certain percent of various events organized by organizations in Yurburg to the National Fund. The organizations did not always agree, and often there were "quarrels" on the subject.
The board's actions were usually respected - it consisted of distinguished organizers, but some considered them "a nuisance".. . .The Keren Hayesod (Jewish Foundation Fund) - We must mention that there also was a committee in Yurburg active on behalf of "Keren Hayesod" ("The Jewish Foundation Fund"), the national fund of the Zionist movement, established in 1920. "The Jewish Foundation Fund"'s purpose mainly was to finance the needs of the "emerging state", such as immigration, absorption, building, settlement, security, health, education etc. Wealthy people usually donated to this fund, which was a sort of official fund, according to their means. The "Jewish Foundation Fund" committee in Yurburg raised considerable sums, for the Jews of Yurburg lived up to their reputation. . . .
Yurburg had the privilege of counting among its residents a number of faithful Zionists who did an excellent job on behalf of the national funds. We should mention the name here of one of the activists, Avraham-Yitzhak Kopolov, the father of Emanuel Kopolov, who lives in Rehovot and is a member of the executive committee of the Society of Yurburg. A.I. Kopolov was active on behalf of the national funds for many years and he was the official representative of the National Fund and the Foundation Fund; he was dedicated and devoted to the Zionist ideal, launched campaigns and urged for action: he represented the National Fund and the Foundation Fund at meetings and national conferences and was greatly respected and admired for his devoted and tireless effort. Kopolov's activity contributed a great deal to the national funds and was a great honor to Zionist Yurburg.
We must also mention that the Zionists in Yurburg were responsible for setting up the "Herzl" Jewish Gymnasium, in a small town such as Yurburg. In its first year the gymnasium was Yiddish, but the Zionists turned it into a Hebrew nationalist -Zionist gymnasium. We recall the names of some people who should be praised, such as: Weinberg, Rikler, Shahnovitz, Simonov, Perlman and others, who undertook a heavy burden and maintained the cultural institution which granted cultural values to Yurburg, and educated its youth to be Zionists and fulfill the Zionist dream. Blessed be their memory!
Youngsters active on behalf of the National Fund. - The youngsters in Yurburg showed a sense of duty and obligation towards the National Fund. They were taken in by the targets and activities of the National Fund and were happy to assist on its behalf. Indeed, the youth movements fought for their place in the activities, to show their devotion. Members of Maccabi, Hehalutz, Hashomer Hatzair, Hanoar Hamizrahi and Beitar all worked together for the National Fund - until the latter split from the Zionist Federation and established its own fund, the "Tel Hai" fund (1929), whose aims were different from those of the National Fund. In Yurburg they did not take part in the activities on behalf of the National Fund. The members of the sports club I.A.K in Yurburg did not take part in the National Fund's activities, nor did the Yiddish circles who were active in the "Mendele" library and read the "Volks- Blatt". They did not identify with the Zionist aims and did not donate to the national funds. The Yiddishists -Volksists laughed at the naive Zionists who believed they could set up "a Jiddische Meluche in Palestina". They also libeled that the funds' sums did not reach their targets . . . and scorned Menahem Usishkin, the National Fund head, under whose leadership the valleys in Israel and other areas in its mountains were redeemed. However, the majority of the people rejected the Volksists' lies and enthusiastically embraced the activities on behalf of the National Fund. The arguments with the anti-Zionists merely unified the youngsters, sharpened their feelings and strengthened their wish to increase their actions in order to realize the Zionist dream.
Holidays and festivities at the youth clubs. In the wake of the activity on behalf of the National Fund some holidays and festivals were created and renewed and the youngsters observed them with gusto at their clubs. One of these festivals was "the 19th of Tevet Day" - the day of the National Fund's establishment - which became a happy festival day at the clubs. Towards this day the clubhouse would be decorated with pictures and slogans such as:
Redeem the land
For the land will not be sold forever
Come to the land and plant
Those who donate redeem the land - those who till the land bring it to life
As they sang along, they became ever more enthusiastic - and they started to dance the Horah - till they had no force left.. . .
Tu be Shvat (15th of Shvat) - The festival of nature in Israel - was mainly celebrated by children and youth. On that day they would pin a label with a blossoming tree depicted on it to their clothes - in return for a donation for the planting of trees. Outside, as always in Yurburg, the winter is cold, the streets and houses are covered in snow, and here come the youngsters, merrily carrying their labels, to remind us that today the almond tree is blossoming in Israel and hundreds of children and youth are going out to plant trees in the mountains, singing -
Tu be Shvat has come - to celebrate the fruit
Tu be Shvat has come - to plant and build ----
Two opposites - the cold and icy Diaspora, and the warm and blossoming Land of Israel. Due to this difference in climate, Tu be Shvat was almost forgotten, however, something was kept in our tradition - to arrange a meal and bless the fruits of the Land of Israel. It was impossible to obtain fresh fruit from Israel in Yurburg, therefore one was satisfied with dry carobs, at least to get a taste of Israel. The carobs were bought in the stores and thus the carob became the symbol of Tu be Shvat in the Diaspora.
The children were very interested in the trees and forest, finding them truly refreshing. Every child was acquainted with the pictures of the Ben-Shemen forest, planted in the name of Herzl (1908), after his death. Herzl himself managed in his lifetime to serve as a good example of a man who attaches importance to planting in the Land of Israel. When Herzl visited Israel (1889) he planted a cedar in the yard of farmer Broza at Upper Motza. After a while the cedar was maliciously uprooted and a pine-tree was planted in its place. It may be seen at the "Arza" park. Youth movements planted groves and forests, such as the "Hashomer Hatzair" forest in Mishmar Ha'emek, "Gordonia" at Ginossar etc.
Lag Beomer (33 in the Omer count) was another historical festival, the day on which students had a good time in the fields and forests. The trip to nature brought forth longings to return to life on the land and forest in our country.
Yurburg's activity on behalf of the National Fund was very much respected at the National Fund's central board in Kovna. The author of this article had the honor of representing the youth movements at the National Fund's central board in the last years before he went on Aliyah to Israel (end 1938). As member of the central board he had the opportunity to watch Yurburg's activity on behalf of the National Fund, compared to other cities and small towns. When I perused the monthly reports, I was happy to note Yurburg's achievements, which were praiseworthy. When I drew the attention of the central board members to Yurburg's achievements, they would say - "but of course, Yurburg has many good Zionists . . . "
The central board members were right. The majority of the Jews in Yurburg were Zionists and did an excellent job for the National Fund and the National Foundation Fund; Yurburg brought up pioneers who looked towards Zion - however, regretfully, due to fate, only a few managed to go to Israel - the others were lost there, they and their hopes.
The National Association of Lithuanian Jews planted a forest at the "Martyrs' Forest site in the mountains of Jerusalem - a memorial forest to commemorate former Lithuanians, who were murdered in the terrible Holocaust.
Our organization, The Society of Yurburg In Israel also planted a special grove, in the Modi'in area, to commemorate the Yurburg martyrs, a kind of living memorial to the community that no longer exists. . . .
* A number of daily newspapers appeared in Yiddish in Lithuania, s.a. "Yiddish Stimme" (Jewish Voice), a General Zionist newspaper; "Das Wort" (Davar) a Zionist newspaper supporting the working class in Eretz Yisrael; "Letzte Naies" (Latest News), a general evening paper; and there was a paper for the orthodox as well, in Yiddish.
The Folks-Blatt preached Folkism ideas, ideas of a popular, liberal, Yiddishist and anti-Zionist Jewish party. The Folks-Blatt was distributed in Yurburg as well, among the I.A.K. members of the communist Jewish circles, there was no legal newspaper in Lithuania, but rather bulletins which were published and distributed underground.
According to the Folkist outlook the diaspora countries, Lithuania among them, are not a temporary place but rather a permanent residence; our forefathers lived in Lithuania for hundreds of years and here ("do" in Yiddish) Jews would live forever. The way of life of the Jews in the Diaspora should therefore be strengthened, the Yiddish language and culture should be encouraged, and thus neither Zionism nor Hebrew, idle dreams according to their outlook, would ever be realized. The main struggle should be directed towards achieving national autonomy for the Jews in Lithuania, as it existed at the start of Lithuanian independence and was taken away a few years later. In fact, the Zionists too fought for achieving national autonomy in Lithuania, as essential to the proper physical and spiritual existence of the Jewish minority. National autonomy was not seen as opposed to Zionism, which meant concentrating the Jewish people in its historical fatherland and reviving its culture and Hebrew language.
Shana Tova Greeting
Association of the Yurburg Library Named Mendel
Wishing to all members, teachers, a "Good Signature"
(to be written in the 'Book of Life').
In fact, in the years when the Jews received national autonomy in Lithuania, this was mainly due to the pressure of the Zionists and they, the Zionists, were its leaders. As long as Zionism was not realized and the people dwelt in the diaspora they had to fight for a proper Jewish life from the economic, cultural and social point of view. However, the Folkists and the Jewish communists as well saw everything with "Doikait" (here and now) i.e. in the daily life of the Jews in the Diaspora. From this point of view the Folkists angrily fought Zionism which squandered the people's energy and money.
Thus writes Ozer Finkelstein, one of the leaders of Folkism and among the editors of Folks-Blatt: - "Each penny Jews spend for the [Jewish] national funds (Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemet, Kapai) goes down the drain. The pennies that are spent do not even achieve constructive goals for Eretz Yisrael, but find their way to the pockets of the Zionist officials ..."*
Others wrote in the same spirit as Finkelstein: Yudel Mark, Dr. Mandel Sudarski, Esther Elyashuv, Helena Katzkalas and others, they were totally opposed to Zionism and its achievements in Eretz Yisrael. Many Jews in Lithuania and in Yurburg, who read the Folkist-Blatt, adopted the Folkism ideas.
There was constant dispute between the Folkists and the Zionists, but it became much more marked in the days prior to the municipal elections and community council in Yurburg. The two blocs - Zionists and Folkists- wanted to be on the town council, together with the Lithuanians and exert their influence on municipal matters so as to see to it that the Jews would not be discriminated against in the budget for development of the residential areas and that a heavy municipal tax would not be imposed on the poor population. And indeed, the Jews who were elected to the municipality made every possible effort on behalf of the Jewish minority in Yurburg. That is how we know that Shimonov, the Zionist, was put in charge by the municipality of providing assistance and relief to the victims of the terrible floods which plagued Yurburg.
At the Jewish council in Yurburg there were always loud discussions about the distribution of the budget. The discussion was usually about matters of principle. For example, when members of the community council demanded that money be given to the Hebrew Gymnasium, the Folkists -Yiddishists were strongly opposed, claiming that the Hebrew Gymnasium educated towards Zionism and aliyah, and that Hebrew was being learned there, an unnecessary evil. The discussions often broke up and the meetings were halted. After a while a compromise would be reached when the Yiddish school in town received a grant from the community council.
Thus the discussions and debates continued every year until the bitter end. None of them realized that the ground was burning under their feet and that the rope was being tightened around their necks - and that the murderous enemy was lurking at a distance of merely 9 kilometers from Yurburg.
Before we end the story of the ongoing debate of the Zionists with the Yiddishists in our Yurburg - we remember the last chapter of the life of Yudel Mark, the ideologist of Yiddishism and partner to the idea of Folkists at the time.
It so happened that Yudel Mark was saved from the bloody events in Lithuania and emigrated to the U.S.A., where he tried to promote Yiddish and Yiddishism. However, to his and our regret there was no demand for Yiddish in the U.S.A. Yiddish papers were closed down for lack of readers and Jewish - Yiddish schools that existed before were closed down for lack of pupils. All his efforts were in vain. Mark accepted the Jewish historical verdict. When the State of Israel was born a sparkle of affection for our country and hope for our people lit up in his Jewish heart.
One day Yudel Mark got up and went to Israel where he received a warm welcome, befitting a most important linguist of the Yiddish language. Here in Jerusalem, our capital, he built his home and joined a team researching the Yiddish language at the Hebrew University and also worked as the editor of the Yiddish encyclopedia. Talking to former Lithuanians in Jerusalem he speaks Hebrew and his face glows with happiness . . . he is glad that many people in Israel still speak Yiddish on a daily basis and that Yiddish is being learned at a number of schools to understand the history of our forefathers. How astonishing - in Israel, the new, Zionist country, books appear in Yiddish and there are Yiddish newspapers and a Yiddish theater etc., Yudel Mark had never dreamt this. The circle comes to a close and the dispute of the past is left behind. In the national Pantheon Yiddish will be kept as an important national cultural asset which the people of Israel created in the Diaspora.
When Yudel Mark was asked to participate in the memorial service for the Lithuanian martyrs at "Yad Vashem" he spoke in moving words in his juicy Yiddish about the destruction of Jewish Lithuania.
However, Mark did not have the good fortune of a long life and he was unable to finish his creative work in Israel. He died in Jerusalem and was buried in the Land of Israel. At a meeting commemorating the Jews of Lithuania in Jerusalem, the writer of this article eulogized Yudel Mark, the great humanist who loved the people of Israel. In the history of Lithuanian Jews Yudel Mark occupies a place of honor.
The bitter dispute between the two outlooks on life -Zionist and Folkist - ended in tragedy. The "war of languages" ended and there was reconciliation with the new historical reality created in Israel. It is a great pity that all this happened after millions of Yiddish speakers in Europe were lost, including in our Lithuania and Yurburg, our hometown.
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