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[Page 128]

Parties and Cultural Associations

 

In Memory of Kałuszyn[1]

By Y. Zerubavel[2]

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

kal128e.jpg Y. Zerubavel
Y. Zerubavel

 

A couple of decades have passed, years of death and destruction. Seas of blood flooded Polish roads, which once used to lead me to the small towns of the great Jewish community in Poland. And even those places which miraculously survived the storms of devastation that shook the thousand year's old foundations of the Jewish way of life in these parts – even these have completely lost their Jewish aspect, as if they never had any. Indeed, try to remind somebody today how a Jewish shtetl[3], even one as close to Warsaw as Kałuszyn, looked some two decades ago.

Already at the train station one could sense straight away that this area was abundant with Jews. It was the distinct Jewish excitement, especially on the eve of the Shabbat when people were rushing home from the big city and the surrounding shtetls.All and everything here was intimate, haymish[4], familiar, one's own: the language, the shouts, the calling to each other, the orchards and the trees, the agile men, the confused women, the gait, the attire, the conduct, the faces, the gestures, the nicknames – so peculiarly, specifically Jewish.

I often had to drop in to Kałuszyn, a stride from Warsaw, in the morning by train and on none other day than Shabbat. It was necessary to maximise the time for a visit: whether a conference with the committee, a party meeting to tackle local problems or, at times, to settle disputes, to report on the general situation in the party, and generally – quite an event – the arrival of a comrade from the Centre! He has to listen to everything and provide an answer to everything!
[5]בחינת תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות

In town they knew more or less, that the lector from Warsaw would arrive on the morning of the Sabbath. Nevertheless, one must not, indeed one would not want, arrive into town riding on a wagon or in a coach. No need to provoke or run afoul of the shtetl!So one took the trouble and got off the vehicle at the tchum-Shabbes[6] and continued on foot as if on a Saturday stroll, relaxing and catching a bit of fresh air. The intention was to avoid causing offence to the people who at that very hour were returning from synagogue.

Already at the railway station I have managed to find out from the comrades who came to welcome me about the problems that were worrying them and the committee.

I was usually led into a home of the Grodjitskis, one of the two “Shayes”[7] – during the earlier visits to “little” Shayele, later on to “big” Shaye.

At Shayele Grodjitskis, the “little one” I usually found his father-in-law, Reb[8] Mordechai Yehuda Domb, a pious man and a ben-Torah[9], who was also well versed in our secular affairs. If I am not mistaken, he was a Zionist of the Mizrachi[10] kind. Often we had a friendly conversation – free, unrestrained and due to our mutual respect (he, undoubtedly in order to fulfill the commandment of hospitality) we avoided getting into an argument, but rather sought to treat each other to a clever aphorism, an appropriate word, a novel idea.

The Shabbat meal I had separately with the younger generation, apparently in order not to inconvenience both the guest, as well as the father-in-law.

At Shayes, the “big”, Mishka Rachel's son, I was glad to meet the mother, a quiet, graceful Yiddishe mamma. She seemed to be privy to all our illegal activities and had to walk a tightrope between her two sons: one a Bundist[11], the other a member of the Poalei Tsion.She managed it tactfully, with understanding, with motherly tenderness, giving preference to “mercy” over “justice”.

I recall visiting Kałuszyn a few times: we had there a capable organization, which had considerable influence in the shtetl,played an important role in the municipal and social sphere, was active in the labor movement, in the youth movement, had its own theatre circle and was engaged in widespread cultural activity.

 

kal129e.jpg Banner
(Inscription on the banner reads: “Luxemburg” circle of the Kałuszyn Youth Org{anization} 23/3/1929.
[Partly hidden by the fold in the banner possibly reads: Borochov Youth].
Lower left – a portrait of D.B. Borochov – G.G.)

 

Kałuszyn comrades used to stage proletarian holidays and party celebrations with pomp, but also with taste and considerable scope, with a choir, orchestra and recitations; often they would put on dramatic plays. The halls used to be packed and it was obvious that the public relates to them with fondness and trust.

Kałuszyn had a body of Poalei Tsion activists, among them good speakers, mass orators sent from the Central Committee to serve the environs. Apart from the Grodjitskis I recall the names: Shtulman, Mitlberg, Finkelshtayn, Shapiro and Soroka.

Arrests and trials did not interrupts the activities of Poalei Tsionin Kałuszyn, on the contrary, they obligated and encouraged those left to continue the work of the ones temporarily removed.

I gave lectures in Kałuszyn on a variety of topics: political, literary and particularly on Eretz Israel.I was “lucky” in Kałuszyn – the entire shtetl,“kith and kin”, it used to be said, flocked to hear me. Standing on the stage I sensed that the audience listened with pricked up ears and comprehended what was said.

That, of course gave me satisfaction – the effort was not wasted.

It's worthwhile to sow, to plant socialist-Zionist seeds in fertile soil. And in fact, in time a beautiful yield had grown.

And then descended the Angel of Destruction and obliterated all and everything – uprooted thoroughly, not leaving a trace or a remnant.

I must confess: during my visits to Poland after the Shoah[12] in 1945 and 1948 I skipped Kałuszyn. I avoided in those years to visits the graves of relatives and cemeteries in general.

I was looking for liveJews.

My heart wept when seeing at crossroads signs with familiar names of shtetlsthere appeared in my mind's eye images of close and dear people.

But the train continued on its way, passing Kałuszyn leaving a fresh gaping wound in my heart.

It is still there.

There was a dear folksy Kałuszyn. It is no more. It will be no more.

Since then I often met in various countries, and I meet even now in Israel, comrades from Kałuszyn - from that formerKałuszyn. So we recall together now one, now another friend, an event, a celebration – and we get choked up.

Because Kałuszyn itself, our Kałuszyn – does not exist any more.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of לזכר קאַלושין, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Pseudonym of Yaakov Vitkin (1886-1967) one of the founders of the Poalei Tsion-Left, a socialist-Zionist party, a predecessor of the left-wing Meretz party in Israel. Return
  3. Yiddish for small town. Return
  4. Yiddish for cosy domesticity. Return
  5. The prophet Elijah will (return to) resolve the questions and problems (?) (I am indebted to a few of my learned friends for this approximate translation). Return
  6. Sabbath Limit (limit of 2000 cubits outside the town which an observant Jew should not pass on Sabbath). Return
  7. Yeshayahus. Return
  8. A respectful form of address. Return
  9. Literally “son of Torah”, meaning a man well versed in Scripture. Return
  10. Religious Zionist movement founded in 1902. Mizrachi is a Hebrew acronym of merkaz ruchani – “spiritual center” (“Mizrachi” also means “Eastern”). Religious Zionism is an ideology based on the synthesis of a Jewish religious and national outlook… and is dedicated to …the enhancement of Jewish religious life in the land of Israel, and the promotion of Aliyah (immigration to Israel). The National Religious Party is the representative of the Mizrachi movement in Israeli political life, and Bnei Akiva is its youth movement. (Based on Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary). Return
  11. A member of the Bund - Abbreviation of Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland; “General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia”), Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897 (Encyc.Judaica). Return
  12. The Jewish (Hebrew) term for the Holocaust. Return


[Page 131]

Hallowed Names[1]

By Yaakov Zaydman/ Netanya, Israel

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

A shtetl of artisans and impoverished shopkeepers; a Russian school that is inaccessible to the children of the poor; cheders[2] with pointers and canes, and backwardness and darkness – that is how I remember my shtetl until 1905. Thereafter, everything changed… the first rays of light, a workers' movement, “Bund”[3], demonstrations, strikes, arrests; whips, but also singing… provocateurs-“pobitniks”[4], but also heroes, sacrifice and youth bursting forth from the cheders and yeshivas with warm hearts and open minds, and the lights began to glow brighter…

1917 – Dovid Bekerman, Alter Tcheladnitzky, Dovid Zylberman, Mendl Grushka, Pinie Grushka, Shloyme Velondek, Avrum Gluzman, Yisroel Raychnbach, Meyer Fishl Zorman, Yankev Kapote, Avrum Goldberg, Akiva Hendel, Shmul Altenberg, Pienknavyesh, and other tens of aware active people. They create an education association, a Yiddish library and then – political parties; there is movement – packed venues, lectures, political and literary gatherings, evening classes, and a drama circle under the direction of Yisroel Raychnbach. They stage Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, (Sholem) Ash and societal life blossoms.

1918-19 – a generation matures. My friends and comrades that I wish to recall: Yisroel Milgrom, Moyshe Goldberg, Shmul Ayzershtayn, Dovid Felner, Layvi Yitzchok Segalik, Berl Felner, Gedalye Skovronek, Moyshe Kraytman, Meyer Yagodzinski, Shayndle Zlota, Dvoyre Otzap, Henie Kapote, Zylberman – what a hearty, caring Jewish youth! The first sparks brought enlightenment and consciousness, the shtetl became different - cultural associations, trade unions, sport, advances in every field – until 1939…

…Treblinka, Maydanek, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau – where the ash and bones of our dearest are spread. The sparks turned into light and then everything went up in flames… Everything that was, is no more. Hallowed names – we shall never forget you.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of הײליקע נעמען, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Cheder - An orthodox primary learning establishment, where boys were taught the Chumash, the five books of Moses (Pentateuch). Return
  3. Bund - Abbreviation of Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland; “General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia”), Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897 (Encyc.Judaica). Return
  4. Pobitniks (Polish-Russian pobitniki from pobić to beat, to kill – elements recruited from the underworld by the tsarist police to break up strikes and demonstrations. Return


[Page 132]

From Chevres to Trade Unions[1]

By Moshe Frucht / Tel-Aviv

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The year was 1902 and in Kałuszyn then raged a plague. That same year the town also suffered from a huge blaze and the entire Koscielna Street (Church Street) went up in flames. Pious (respectable) people pointed out that this was the fault of the wreckers of (the house of) Israel and the “triaters[2] and chevres.

During chevre gatherings, those present used to take a swig of the hard stuff to get into the mood and break into Chassidic songs, but lately different tunes could also be heard.

The chevres, which were set up by common folk and tradespeople started to worry about labour and working conditions. Those that now toiled from dawn until night began to show signs of dissatisfaction and waited for someone to take them by the hand and lead.

The working day then lasted sixteen hours. Friday people worked only a half day in order to manage to go to the ritual bath (before the Sabbath), but paid dearly for this by working Thursday night, as well as Saturday night immediately after the Sabbath. The bosses were pleased, but the hired hands and home workers that belonged to the chevres muttered angrily - between the afternoon and evening prayers - about justice and fairness…

Kałuszyn was then a town with many factories and workshops. The manufacture of talaysim[3] occupied a few hundred families and the product was renowned everywhere. A former Kałuszyn resident Fayvish Zhelichover opened in Warsaw a big storeroom of talaysim and from there distributed them all over Poland, Russia, Lithuania and Latvia. In addition, the owners of the factories used to send travelling salesmen from shtetl to shtetl to seek out buyers in the houses of worship.

Another extensive branch of manufacture was second-rate shoe making. About a hundred workshops employing a thousand workers were engaged in the supply of boot wear to the military. Five hundred people were employed in the production of second-rate clothing that was sold at fairs.

Two big pelt factories owned by Alter Moyshe Gozhik and Shloyme Royzman each employed a hundred workers, in addition to two tanneries with forty workers each.

The wave of strikes that started in 1905 gradually also reached our town, and instead of the muted grumbling between prayer sessions people began talking loudly about demands, pro-tests and strikes.

It started among the shoemakers, tailors, brush makers and reached the talaysim makers of which I was one.

The sixteen hours working day still prevailed in the talaysim factories, and the pay for a bachelor was fifty percent of a normal wage. Irrespective of one's qualifications in the trade, it was customary to receive only half the wage until the wedding day. The first demands of the workers in our trade were for an eight hours working day and equal pay for single men.

The first big meeting of the talaysim workers took place in the home of Layzer Farber in the two rooms where our chevre used to worship and study (Scripture). Four hundred people packed the place. The speaker was Layzer Bilke, a worker in Yisroel Kozhech's factory, a tall, robust young man, who was the ringleader in all the revolutionary activities in Kałuszyn.

The meeting was deliberately called for the end of Shabbat - the time when workers were supposed to make up for the free half day on Friday - the intention being to abolish work on Saturday night. The meeting was actually a festive mlave-malke[4] with hot grits, but in the meantime, we also talked over issues.

Two resolutions were adopted: 1) to demand the introduction of an eight hours workday and 2) to abolish the custom of a half wage for unmarried men. Those present committed themselves to strike in case the bosses would not meet the demands. To ensure that there would not be any strikebreakers each of the attendees at the meeting swore an oath on a Torah scroll to stand by the resolutions. However, most were fearful of taking the initiative, so Layzer Bilke was the first to stop work and took his co-workers off the weaving looms. Then, workers from one factory went to another (to offer encouragement) until all the talaysim factories went on strike.

When the boss Shmul Zoyermilch and his three sons tried to prevent the stoppage, the strikers showed their determination by wrecking the warp. They also found other means against the bosses that would not give in to their demands. They found the travelling salesmen in all the towns and shtetls where Kałuszyn talaysim were being sold and sent them home in disgrace…

The leading hand in all this was the above-mentioned Layzer, who became quite re-nowned with his brave deeds.

For many years, the town constabulary maintained a hands-off attitude in the shtetl, but because of the strikes, a special police officer was sent by the authorities to restore order. In-deed, he proceeded to cause all sorts of trouble, interfere with the strikers and rebels. One night Layzer put a sack over the blighter's head and left him lying beaten up. This brought the district police chief into town on a show of force.

I was then a member of the “little Bund” and together with the adult comrades of the party[5] we youngsters prepared ourselves to the chief's visit collecting stones for the opportune moment…

The sleigh carrying the chief sped into town following a squad of Cossacks on horseback and holding naked swords. After the Cossacks rode past Oyzer's teahouse and just as the sleigh appeared, Layzer Bilke jumped out from the lane and the road filled with thousand strikers. The chief, surrounded by the crowd stood up frightened in the sled and warned that if he were killed someone harsher would succeed him. Layzer in front of the throng demanded that the chief return to Mińsk-Mazowiecki, the county's capital. The sled, indeed, made a turnaround and sped off. The crowd was jubilant.

The celebration did not last long. What the authorities have not managed to succeed on their own, they tried to accomplish with Jewish renegades. They brought in from Mińsk gangs of “pobitniks” - toughies, criminal street fighters that were expelled from their hometowns to the county seat to be under police supervision. The pobitniks were let loose on the town. Together with the police and soldiers, they went from house to house with a prepared list, dragging out strikers, beating them up and taking hundreds of them to jail in Mińsk.

A ditty was then in vogue in Kałuszyn: “all the strikers were already killed off”… However, the revolutionary activities in town have continued, speakers still used to be brought in (from the major towns) and they would stand up at the pulpit and talk, their faces covered in disguise. During the shimenesre[6], lookouts were placed at the windows and doors of the house of study to prevent people from leaving after the service and as soon as the prayers were finished, the speaker began his speech and the worshipers were forced to listen to a chapter from Karl Marx… Once, in the course of such a talk someone provocatively exclaimed that soldiers were approaching and the crowd (in panic) smashed all the widows and doors and escaped. Next day the Bund restored the panes and paid for the damage.

Layzer Bilke the hero eventually had to flee to America, but the memory of him remained with everybody who lived through those eventful times.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of פון חבורות צו פאראיַינען, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961.
    Chevre (association, society) in this context means a loose quasi-religious association of employees or self-employed people of the same or an allied branch of manufacture. Return
  2. Corruption (with sarcastic intent) of theatres. Return
  3. Talitim - Prayer shawls. Return
  4. Melaveh Malkah - (Hebrew: מלווה מלכּה, lit. “Escorting the Queen”) is the name of a meal that is customarily held by Jews after the Sabbath. The intent of the meal is to figuratively escort the “Sabbath Queen” (the traditional metaphor for Shabbat in Jewish liturgy) on her way out via singing and eating, as one would escort a monarch upon his departure from a city. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  5. Bund - Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897. “Little Bund” was its youth auxiliary movement. Return
  6. Shmone Esre - the eighteen blessings that are said in the three daily prayers. Return


[Page 136]

The Righteousness of Revolutionaries[1]

An episode from 1905.
Dedicated to the memory of my martyred brother, Mayer Shtulman

By Boruch Shtulman /Buenos Aires

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

I was then seven years old and these events, like everything that happens at a young age, became embedded in my memory.

My father z”l[2], the head of the rabbinical court sat with his two assistants, Noah, the son of Reb[3] Mordchele and my brother-in-law Yechiel Mayer being busy learning [4]. On that day there were no cases or questions pending[5], since the shtetl[6] was in a state of revolutionary ferment. No one was outside, apart from the “strikers”, as they were then called.

Suddenly the door opened and three tall fellows walked in: Avrumtche Gelibter, Yosef Dobzhinski and Layzer Bilke. The latter straight away fired a shot from a revolver into the ceiling, after which the court assistant Reb Noah fainted. My brother-in-law Yechiel Mayer became confused, and I and my brother Mayer, still a toddler, looked on with curiosity. The only one that remained cool was my father z/l.

My father stood up: “What is your request, people? Is this a Jewish way (to behave) - shooting?” One of the three, Avrumtche Gelibter, then came forward and proclaimed: “In the name of the Revolutionary Committee we came to demand that you hand over the money that the bourgeois deposit with you prior to a Din-Torah[7]

My father then pulled open the desk drawer and said:

“Take a look, my dear Jews, in this drawer there is a lot of money”. At that he began to take out small bundles wrapped in red shawls and pointed: “This small packet with one hundred roubles belongs to a needy orphaned girl, a legacy from her parents. The other shawl with two hundred roubles is a dowry of a poor bride, whose groom threatened, that until the dowry is deposited with the Rabbi, he would not show up under the chuppa [8]. All the other packets also belong to poor orphans, brides and widows. And concerning the bourgeois – as you call them – they truly deposit large sums, but all in promissory notes”.

My father did indeed take out from the drawer notes for thousands of roubles deposited by Jewish timber merchants to cover transactions, and said: “So, if you want, take the money belonging to the destitute brides, widows and orphans. As for the promissory notes for large sums of money – you can also take those, but (clearly) they are of no value to you”.

Silence fell in the room and lasted a few moments. Then the same spokesman, Avrumtche Gelibter declared: “Listen Rabbi – from poor orphans and widows we won't take, although we need money badly”. He looked up to the ceiling and said that the following day they would send someone to repair the hole made by the revolver. They then left shouting: “Long live the revolution”.

After they were gone my father said to the two assistants: “You see? (The righteousness of) a Jewish soul should not be underestimated – even their way includes compassion for widows and orphans. Thus they merit God's forgiveness”.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of דער צדק פֿון רעװאָלוציאָנערן, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Of blessed memory. Return
  3. An honorific. Return
  4. The study of Scripture. Return
  5. Pertaining to Halacha, or Jewish law. Return
  6. Small town. Return
  7. A religious court case. Return
  8. Wedding canopy. Return


[Page 138]

Maskilim in Kozhenits Shtibl[1]

By Elyahu Kaplan / Rishon Letsion, Israel

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

It happened before 1910, in the Kozhenits shtibl, the venue of which at that time was close to the Beis-medresh[2], (in a room donated to the Kozhenits Chassidim by Shloyme Wasertreger[3]), that from among the lerners [4] and worshipers a group of maskilim got together:

Laybl Rozenfeld – a good lerner, wise and modest, day and night studied in the Kozhenits shtibl, and although not from a Chassidic family, he was in essence, Chassidic and devout; Pesach Kaptsan – a bright young man, good with texts, as well as a tinkerer – he used to make little manikins for Shavuos[5], swords for Tisha B'av[6], little baskets for the lulavs for Sukkos[7], flags for Simchas Torah[8], dreidls for Chanukah[9], rattles for Purim[10] – all this he did for free, as gifts for the “urchins”; Yankev Kaptsan – a failure at every occupation (that he tried), but with a sharp mind - the outside world did not concern him, nor food, nor clothing - but day and night he was immersed in thought and lerning; Yankl, Hillel's (son) – he too was into lerning, but only out of fear of his father - he used to like to set up and participate in “funny acts” and a game of cards. All the above were the obvious ones, but around them also a number of other young men. Stealthily they brought in the “Hatsfira”[11], as well as a book from the “Sfarim Chitsonim”.[12]

When the Kozhenits Rebbe, of blessed memory, came to Kałuszyn for a few days and the people in the shtibl worshiped ecstatically, someone found concealed near the stove a piece of the newspaper “Hatsfira”. An alarm was raised, there was a great tumult and shouting, and the piece of paper was set alight[13]בפֿני כּל עם ועדה. Since then the fellows were looked upon with greater suspicion: it was noticed that they wore polished boots, their payes [14] were somewhat shortened, they wore some sort of thin kerchief around their necks, and the visor of their hats appeared smaller. All that was not in accordance with the Jewish Way and one could hear grumblings that the culprits should be thrown out of the shtibl.

The young men felt that they were being watched and began meeting clandestinely in my home. Our house stood at the end of town, and from there the men used to go out into the fields one by one, with a book hidden in the clothing. They used to walk till the signpost pointing to Lemantowo (?), and there they used to read and reread for hours.

At that time the Kołbiel Rebbe arrived in Kałuszyn to take up residence. He rented the front dwelling of Dovid Ruzhe, and in the court where there used to be military barracks, a venue was made to worship, lern and hold forth. It opened a new source of Torah[15] and Chassidus. However, the Haskola reached even there.

The sons of two of the Rebbe's close associates, synagogue elders and beadles – Hershl, Chaim-Aaron's and Chaim, Mayer-Yedidye's – Chassidic, erudite young men, with curly payes began to keep company with the maskilim of the Kozhenits shtibl. Also, the latter used to attend from time to time the Kołbiel Rebbe's court and so a friendship evolved. The young followers of both, Kołbiel and Kozhenits, began to frequent our home. They used to walk together in Dmoski's woods outside town, and there debates and arguments took place, at which I was present and listened to. I tried to be helpful – deliver a book or a letter - and was gradually accepted as an insider.

The keynote speakers at their deliberations were always Laybl Rozenfeld and Yankev Kaptsan. The talks were about Spinoza[16], Moshe Hess[17], Pinsker[18], Frishman[19], and others. In the woods the discussions were free, without hindrance. If, however, the debates were continued in the shtibl – there were always on the table a few tomes of Holy Scripture to give the appearance that the men were busy lerning.

Once on a winter's Friday night after my parents, the bakers went to bed early, exhausted from the week's toil, a group of about twenty young people got together around the fire place in our warm house. Among them were also two young women (one of them my father's sister Miriam). This was a gathering of the chevre [20] maskilim.

A small kerosene lamp was lit in the room and everybody sat around a stranger who was dressed in European clothing[21] and who spoke quietly and softly with a pleasant voice, using a lot of Hebrew expressions. All listened in suspense and swallowed his every word. A general conversation followed his talk – about Eretz Israel[22], Hebrew versus Yiddish, nationalism versus assimilation. The guest answered all questions politely, rationally and with conviction. All were very pleased and tried to speak among themselves in Hebrew using the Ashkenazic pronunciation[23].

The maskilim fellows asked me on that Friday not to disclose to anyone about their gathering and the guest, the stranger… And so I kept the secret all these years. I am telling it now because I consider it a privilege to have been in the company of the first maskilim in our town.

 

kal139e.jpg Members of one of the first cultural groups
Members of one of the first cultural groups

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of משכּילים אין קאָזשעניצער שטיבל, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961.
    Maskil, pl.maskilim – Enlightened ones – followers of the Haskola - (Hebrew: השכלה; “enlightenment,” “education” from seychl - שכל “intellect”, “mind”). The Jewish Enlightenment was a movement among European Jews in the late 18th century that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew, and Jewish history. (Wikipedia).
    Kozhenits (Kozienice, Poland) - is the name of a Chassidic dynasty founded by Rebbe (Teacher) Yisroel Hopshtayn (1737-1814) known as the Kozhenitser Maggid (itinerant preacher). (Based on Wikipedia).
    Chassidic Judaism - from the Hebrew: Chassidus, meaning “piety” is an Orthodox Jewish religious movement. (Based on Wikipedia).
    Shtibl – literally a “small dwelling”, but used for a small synagogue/congregation, often of the followers of a particular Chassidic rebbe. Return
  2. House of study and/or prayer. Return
  3. Wasertreger in Yiddish means “watercarrier”. Many people in those days were known by their first names and occupation. However, it is possible that Shloyme's surname was indeed, Wasertreger. Return
  4. In Yiddish lerner means learner (student), but in this context it means a “scholar” – one engaged in the study, by discussion and explication, of the Talmud {A record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs and history. (Based on Encyc.Judaica)}. Return
  5. Shavuos (Hebrew: שבועות, lit. “Weeks”) is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). It commemorates the anniversary of the day the Ten Commandments were given to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  6. Tisha B'Av (Hebrew: “the Ninth of Av,”) is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  7. Sukkos (Hebrew: “booths”), is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October) and lasts seven days. The word is the plural of sukkah, which is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. During this holiday, Jews construct sukkot where families eat their meals. Another observance of the festival is the daily (other than on Shabbat) waving of the four species, one being the lulav - a closed frond of the date palm tree. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  8. Hebrew: “Rejoicing with/of the Torah,”) is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. It falls on 22nd (outside of Israel 23rd) day of Tishrei. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  9. Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Chanukah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar. The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on Chanukah. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  10. Purim (Hebrew: “lots”), is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews. (Based on Wikipedia) Return
  11. Also transliterated in English as “Hazefira” – “The Dawn”, one of the first Jewish (Hebrew) newspapers in Europe, published during the years 1862-1927 (1862-1931 according to other sources) with intermissions.(Based on Encyclopedia Klalit “Izreel”, Izreel Publishing House Ltd., Tel-Aviv, Israel 1951). Return
  12. “External Books” – not part of the Jewish Scriptures (e.g. The Book of the Maccabees). (From various internet sources). Return
  13. בפֿני כּל עם ועדה “In the presence of the entire people and congregation”. Return
  14. Hebrew: פאות literally translates into English as corners, sides or edges; in the context of Judaism, it is particularly used in relation to the head and face, denoting side locks. Chassidic Jews wore distinctive long curled payes. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  15. In the narrow sense – Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses; in the broader sense - Jewish biblical and rabbinic literature. Return
  16. Baruch Spinoza (1632 –1677) was a philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin. He is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment. (Extract from Wikipedia). Return
  17. Moshe Hess (1812 1875), born in Bonn, Germany was a secular Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of socialism and a precursor to Zionism. (Extract from Wikipedia). Return
  18. Leo Pinsker (1821-1891) was a physician, a Zionist pioneer and activist, and the founder and leader of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement. He published the famous pamphlet Auto-Emancipation in which he urged the Jewish people to strive for independence and national consciousness. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  19. David Frishman (1861-1922) was one of the first major writers of modern Hebrew literature. Born near Lodz, Poland, he began as a satirist, and moved on to write short stories dealing with the theme of Jews coming into conflict with the mores of traditional Jewish society. (ref: http://www.darcheinoam.on.ca/geniza/doc2003/frishman.html). Return
  20. Depending on the context it could mean “gang”, “bunch”, “friends” – here it rather means “society” or “association”. Return
  21. Meaning he was NOT wearing the distinctive East European Jewish orthodox garb. Return
  22. The Land of Israel. Return
  23. Ashkenazic as distinct from the Sephardic pronunciation.
    Ashkenazic Jews are the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe and their descendants. Sephardic Jews are the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The word “Ashkenazic” is derived from the Hebrew word for Germany. The word “Sephardic” is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain. Sephardic Jews have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels and one Hebrew consonant, though most Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic pronunciation now because it is the pronunciation used in Israel. (Extracted from Judaism 101 - www.jewfaq.org/ashkseph.htm). There is also a difference in stress between the two pronunciations. Return


[Page 140]

The First Zionists[1]

By Yankev Mendl Got'helf / Paris

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

At the age of five – in 1905 – when I was attending the cheder [2] of Shemaya, the melamed [3], and he, my teacher, was escorting me home during the winter nights – I already sensed that things were happening in town: strikes, flags, cossacks…[4]. This was the doing of the Jewish workers' movement. There weren't any Zionists then in town.

In our house lived Shloyme Chashes[5], one of the revolutionaries. In his room the Cossacks conducted a “boydek chomets”[6], removed from the dwelling all papers, even pen and ink. They suspected that those items contained the entire secret of the rebelliousness…

I grew up with the puzzling impressions of those turbulent years, studied in the cheders of Laybush, “the cossack” and Tsalke, the melamed. Afterwards, I lerned [7] in the Gerer shtibl [8]. There sat also three young men – Chaimke Avromke's, Shmul Shoshe's and Noske, and lerned “mashmurim”[9], so as not to interrupt the study of Scripture – “study by day and at night”.

All week I studied with the Gerer people, but on Sabbath I used to worship in the Kozhenits[10] shtibl. It was from there that someone led me to a circle of maskilim [11] and the first Zionists in Kałuszyn.

When I was about twelve I was approached in the Kozhenits venue by Shloyme Layb Felner and invited by him to come on a Friday evening to the Porisov[12] shtibl. I went there and met a group that was studying Tenach[13] – “The Bible”. Laybl Rozenfeld was the “forlerner”[14], the listeners were – Nosn Otsap, Mechl Shayman, Mordche Yehuda Domb, Velvele Malach, Avrohom Malach, Mendl Grushka and Alter Tcheladnitski.

Shloyme Layb's invitation to me had a purpose: to draw me into the circle in which he shared with a passion his thoughts about Eretz Israel and Zionism. He was a maskil and the pioneer of the Zionist idea in Kałuszyn. My father used to joke: “you, Moyshe Layb will lay in Eretz…”[15]. I too, began to ponder under his influence, the question of Eretz Israel and Zionism.

This group of maskilim among which were the first Zionists in town coalesced around my brother-in-law Ruven Engel the baker, an uncle of the renown gaon[16] Reb[17] Shimon Engel (Reb Shimele of Zhelechov). In 1912 Ruven went to Eretz Israel and during World War I, after the expulsion by the Turks[18], returned to Kałuszyn. The progressives used to go to him for a chat about the news, maskilic ideas and Eretz Israel issues. Ruven worshiped in Kozhenits shtibl and the Kozhenitz Rebbe used to say about him: “Ruven is walking a knife-edge”.

Some time towards the end of World War I Ruven said to a circle of maskilim: “the war would not end without a revolution – but I will not live to see it”. As it happened, the same week the consumptive Ruven passed away.

Ruven used to debate with incisive arguments which he would prop up with appropriate quotations to prove that he was right. Once after a discussion, Ruven took a book to my brother's home when he was already asleep, and left it opened on the right page, so that Boruch, Avrohom Itzchak's[19] could see what was written there…

After his death, Ruven - the maskil and Eretz Israel Jew - was greatly missed by all the enlightened people who had loved to listen to him.

Notwithstanding their progressivism as maskilim and Zionists, both Ruven Engel and Shloyme Layb Felner maintained warm relations with the Chassidic elements in town. I remember the fervor with which Shloyme Layb took part in the celebration when Reb Chaim Yosl, the scribe completed a sefer[20] for the Kozhenits shtibl. The Ayzershtayn band volunteered to provide music. (Moyshe Ruven: “do you mind if we earn a mitzvah?”[21]). Shloyme Layb was in charge of “selling letters”[22]; persons named Avrohom “bought” an aleph (for “A”) and each Yankl – a yud. There was no lack of enthusiasm (for the project).

Shloyme Layb Felner's son Avraham did indeed go on aliya [23] but, unfortunately was forced to return after he came down with malaria.

Although Shloyme Layb was surrounded by many children and always had to worry about eking out a living, his thoughts were nevertheless directed towards Eretz Israel. They, Shloyme Layb Felner and Ruven Engel were the first Zionists, the pioneers of the movement in Kałuszyn.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of ערשטע ציונים, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961.
    Zionism is the international Jewish political movement that originally supported the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jewish People in Palestine. The area was the Jewish Biblical homeland, called the Land of Israel. Since the creation of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily as support for the modern state of Israel. (Wikipedia). Return
  2. An orthodox primary learning establishment, where boys were taught the Chumash - the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch. Return
  3. A cheder instructor. Return
  4. The term Cossacks is applied to specific martial communities of various ethnicities living in the southern regions of Eastern Europe and Russia. (From Wikipedia). They were used in tsarist times to suppress anti-government riots and protests, and were notorious for their ferocity.
    In the 17th century during an uprising against the Polish kingdom Cossacks killed thousands of Jews and devastated many communities. This is known in Jewish history as the massacres of “Tach 'V'Tat” (which is the transliteration for the Hebrew years (5)408 and (5)409 {1648-9}. (Based on www.innernet.org.il/article.php?aid=187). Return
  5. Could also mean “Chashe's” or the son of Chashe. Return
  6. “Perform the ceremonial removal of leaven from the house on the day before Passover”. (U.Weinreich, Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary, Yivo, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1968). Used ironically for a thorough search. Return
  7. Lern - study, by discussion and explication, of the Talmud {A record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs and history. (Based on Encyc.Judaica)}. Return
  8. Literally a “small dwelling”, but used for a small synagogue/congregation, often of the followers of a particular Chassidic Rebbe– in this case of the followers of the Ger movement, a Chassidic branch centered in the Polish town Gòra Kalwarii, or Ger in Yiddish; rebbe – leader of a Chassidic movement. Chassidic Judaism - from the Hebrew: Chassidus, meaning “piety” is an Orthodox Jewish religious movement. The movement originated in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. It tends to focus on the role of the rebbe as a spiritual conduit of God. It is not one movement, but a collection of separate individual groups with some commonality. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  9. A method to increase the study of Torah (Scripture) - even at night. Students would sit on duty in rotations - one group studied from the time the stars came out until midnight while the other stood watch, and the second from midnight until dawn. (Ref: ariemonzon.com/). {Mashmurim – “משמורים – (from the root “to guard”?)} Return
  10. Kozhenits (Kozienice, Poland) - is the name of a Chassidic dynasty founded by Rebbe Yisroel Hopshtayn (1737-1814) known as the Kozhenitser Maggid (itinerant preacher). (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  11. Maskilim (sing. maskil)Enlightened ones – followers of the Haskola, the Jewish Enlightenment. (Extract from Wikipedia). Return
  12. Porisov (Yiddish for Parysów, a town in Poland) is the name of a Chassidic branch founded by Rebbe Yehoshua Osher Rabinowicz. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  13. The Tanach (Hebrew: תַּנַ”ךְ) is the Bible used in Judaism. The name is a Hebrew acronym formed from the initial letters of the Tanach's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah (“Teaching,” also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (כתבים - “Writings”) - hence TaNaCh. Return
  14. One who used to read the text aloud and provided explanations. Return
  15. Eretz means land, country (the Land of Israel) and also – earth, ground. Return
  16. Genius, gifted person. Return
  17. An honorific. Return
  18. On Passover Eve of 1917 the military governor of Palestine, Jamal Pasha, issued an edict ordering the expulsion of the … Jewish residents of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. (www.ybz.org.il/). Return
  19. Boruch, the son of Avrohom Yitzchak; However, since there is no comma separating the names in the original – it could also mean Boruch Avrohom, the son of Yitzchak. Return
  20. Literally – book, scroll; here refers to a Torah scroll. Return
  21. Perform a commandment, do a deed for the sake of Heaven. Return
  22. Every Torah scroll has 304,805 letters, and must be written on parchment with a quill and ink by a pious scribe. It takes months to complete, since each letter must be written perfectly. (www.chabad.org/). It is customary to raise money for a Torah scroll by “selling” letters. Return
  23. Literally “ascending” - the Hebrew word for immigration to the Land of Israel. Return


[Page 141]

In the Beginning [1]

By Yankev Palma

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

“Chaim Dovid Zylberman's Library”

That was how the library was called, but in fact, it was a communal library and the only one in town. A group of friends established it towards the end of the first decade of the present (20th) century: Dovid Bekerman, Laybl Rozenfeld, Alter Tcheladnitzky, Dovidl Zylberberg, Mayer Ring, Brontche Helman, Shmul Altenberg and Chaim Dovid Zylberman.

Since it was impossible to receive approval from the tsarist authorities, the library existed “legally” as a private commercial enterprise under Chaim Dovid's name and found a home in an attic in the house of Layzer Zylberman, Chaim Dovid's father.

The funds to purchase new books were derived from donations, from the incoming secu-rity deposits and mainly from literary evenings organised by the group during holidays. Such soirées took place in the course of a few years with the participation of Avrom Rayzen[2], Ven-drov[3], Hillel Zaytlin[4], Nomberg[5], Kipnis[6], Der Tunkeler[7] and others.

There were two entrances to the loft of the library. One was overt, the basement entry from the town's main street that was known as “Vitke's cellar”. It was used by people, whose parents did not object to their reading of books. The majority, however, used the entrance from Layzer Zylberman's backyard. This was “accessible” from the Zielona Street, which for eight months of the year was deeply covered in clayey mud. To navigate the street in darkness (in order not to be seen, books used to be exchanged only at nighttime and the streets then were without lighting) one had to perform complicated near-acrobatic stunts. People used to jump from one stone onto another, with some losing the balance, escaping barefoot and leaving their shoes in the mud.

Because of the unsafe approach and no lesser danger of being found out, people used to exchange books among themselves. There was also a sort of group exchange - between the young people of the shtibls[8]. The library knew its “clientele” and used to treat them with patience, advice and forbearing if a book was torn or even burned when the parents caught out the borrowers. The losses were covered jointly in such cases.

The very serious elderly people in their holy war against the “extraneous books” have only whetted our curiosity and appetite for books. The public appeals coming out of the various rebbes' “courts” and the clamour of the “heavies” (Chassidic fanatics) ignited our boyish fanta-sies. It seemed to us that the writing in those “extraneous books” is printed not with ordinary type, but surely with charmed symbols, all sorts of demons and magic signs. Imagine the sur-prise when on opening such a forbidden book we discovered the same alephbeys[9] as used by the melamed[10] Avrom Boruch.

The esteem in which our library was held and the influence that it exerted on our genera-tion cannot be overestimated. The popular booklet by A. Litvak[11] “A velt mit veltelech”[12] changed completely our long-held beliefs about the Creation. We became acquainted with the elementary facts about astronomy, inertia, gravitation and the fact that not the sun circles the earth, but vice versa. We found out that apart from the four elements: earth, water, air and fire there are many other. All these “discoveries” caused common sense to get the upper hand over faith.

With the study of history of culture at “Bernstein's[13]folk universities” began a new chapter in our worldview and put an end to our speculative “enlightened” introspection and to our seeking a rabbinical permission from (the writings of) Maimonides to shave off the beard.

Thus, our library was the school and university of the generation before the Great War.

In 1916 the “Chaim Dovid Zylberman's Library” became the basis for the larger town li-brary of the “cultural society” that extended the activities of the pioneers of culture in our town.

 

The First Underground Meeting of Shtibl Youth with Shloyme Chashe's from “P.P.S. Lewica” (in 1913)[14]

The workers' movement in the bigger towns had already recovered from the blows it ex-perienced in 1905 and re-established “workers' exchange” (finding labour opportunities) and (venues) for undercover meetings and started to recruit “propaganda cadres”. There, school students served as the reservoir for these cadres, whereas in the shtetls our “Jewish universities” - the yeshiva and shtibl youth provided the “manpower”. Indeed, from among the latter were those that met for the first clandestine meeting with the “Leftist” Shloyme (Chashe's) Yelen. Among the attendees were Yisroel Manchemer, Simche Finkelshtayn, Yosef Karmazin, the writer of these lines and a fifth person whose name slipped my memory.

Some time earlier thin booklets written on cigarette paper began to appear in Yidele Zaygermacher's little shop together with leaflets that used to end with a lot of “Long live!” This happened after “comrade Karol”[15], a mysterious tall young man with a blond forelock, used to suddenly appear in town, only to also suddenly vanish. People in the know used to relate that though the son of a very wealthy man he would not ingest anything other than bread and tea.

Covert meeting with the participation of comrade Karol used to take place on the Sab-bath in the “Yarkutzk forest” or the fields between the “glinki” (loam?) and Dembovitch's brew-ery. Karol helped to organise the first strike of the girls, makers of stockings, whose fathers dragged them by the hair back to work. Karol under the name of Karolski later joined the S.D.K.P.L. and subsequently went to Russia.

The little shop of the brothers Yidele and Shloyme Zaygermacher was a meeting place (for politics) and a venue for down on luck young kest[16] -husbands, who have squandered the dowry and had to rely on their wives for their and their children's upkeep and who cursed their bad luck day and night. Here also used to gather young men from the shtibls - the ones with trimmed side-locks and beards; teachers offering private tuition as well as “intellectuals” and former “strikers” from nineteen-o-five[17]. Also here people chatted about Purishkevich's[18] speeches in the Duma (legislature); Stolipin's[19] intentions involving the use of the “Black Hundreds”[20]; the Polish anti-Jewish boycott, et cetera.

The atmosphere used to warm up when the conversation turned to intimate Jewish is-sues, for instance Itchele's Sabbath-eve feuilletons, explicated with reference to the Parsha[21] of the week, every dot and tittle of which the group would learn by heart. Exceptionally heated used to be the discussion about the feud between Dovid Frishman[22] and Hillel Zeitlin[23] and surreptitiously the talks would touch on reforms - should the Latin alphabet replace the Jewish one and even circumcision was debated - no subject was out of bounds.

In the brothers' basement dwelling was housed the archive and there we would exchange brochures from which we derived “expertise” in world-socialism and in the one and only cultural language Esperanto.

The supervisor and person responsible for this undercover treasure was the younger brother Yidele, a lean, short youngster wearing a pair of glasses secured by black laces about his ears, with shoulder-length hair held around his head with a roller. A starched collar with a little bow and high shoes with laced up bootlegs compensated for his short stature. Yidele was the one that from behind his spectacles could spot and select the right people who could be trusted with “conspiratorial stuff” - a booklet or a leaflet. He was being very careful and would not engage in long conversations. His was also the initiative of organising the clandestine meeting one summer evening beyond the “Warsaw Bridge”, at the first tree to the left, in a deep sloping ditch amid tall grass near a swampy meadow. This was the venue of our first secret meeting with the left-winger Shloyme (Chashe's) Yelen.

We five yeshiva youth came on time to the designated venue and had to wait for the “comrade” who showed up a bit later in accordance with the rules of underground activity. In the descending darkness, we could make out a silhouette with a hat pulled down low over the face. He approached, said the password, sat down and began without further introductions: “Comrades”. He then proceeded to explain Concentration of capital, Evolution of technology and Unemployment. He used as an example the two tanneries in town - the one of Shloyme Royzman (“younker”) with modern steam engines, the other of Yitzchok Layb Goldshtayn with primitive manual labour - the former swallowing up the latter. He talked about the proletariat being the majority that was being exploited by a few individuals, and then talked some more about Expropriation, Revolution, Socialism and Liberty.

The new “torah” stimulated the intellect, but did not arouse the emotions. The reason perhaps was because the tanners, shkotzim[24] with their high jackboots appeared to us like dogcatchers and their ferocious expressions evoked fear rather than empathy and commisera-tion with their lot. The speaker made even less of a hit with his assault on Judaism, apparently not taking into consideration his “audience” and their attachment to the faith-based way of life prevalent in those days.

The first to come out against the speaker was Yisroel Manchemer. He wiped the floor with him; next came Simche Finkelshtayn, who recently came back from the yeshiva. Our “rabblerouser” became confused and the meeting ended in failure.

Nevertheless, his words about labour, exploitation and poverty made an impression on us and made us think. We began to read books, broaden our knowledge. (Yisroel Manchemer used to supply us with books from Chaim Dovid Zylberman's library). Later on, we found our spiritual and political niche in the Jewish labour movement.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of אין אָנהייב, an article in “Safer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Avrom Reyzen (Abraham Reisen) (1876 - 1953), Yiddish writer, poet, and editor (Wikipedia). Return
  3. Vendrov Zalman, penname of Dovid Vendrovskiy (1877-1971) - Soviet-Russian writer in Yiddish (Based on the Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia in Russian -http://www.eleven.co.il/?mode=article&id=10885&query=) Return
  4. Hillel Zeitlin (1871-1942) was a Yiddish and Hebrew writer who edited the Yiddish newspaper Moment, among other literary activities (Wikipedia). Return
  5. Nomberg, Hersh Dovid (1876-1927), Yiddish essayist and short story writer (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/). Return
  6. Kipnis, Itsik (1896-1974), Yiddish fiction writer, (www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx). Return
  7. Yosef Tunkel (1881-1949) was a Jewish. writer of poetry and humorous prose in Yiddish commonly known by the pen name Der Tunkeler or 'the dark one' in Yiddish (based on Wikipedia). Return
  8. Literally - a small dwelling, but meaning a small house of worship/study with a more tightly knit group of members. The shtibls were breeding grounds of modernity and secularism among the young. Return
  9. Jewish alphabet. Return
  10. Instructor in a religious primary school. Return
  11. A. Litvak - (1874-1932), pseudonym of Chayim Yankl Helfand, socialist, Yiddish writer, translator, and editor (http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Litvak_A). Return
  12. Loosely translated as “Of big things and small” (?) Return
  13. Aaron David Bernstein (1812, Danzig - 1884, Berlin) was a German Jewish author, reformer and scientist. His book “From the field of natural science” (1856), later repub-lished under the title “The people's natural science books” (1880), was frequently re-printed and translated into nearly all the languages of Europe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Bernstein). Return
  14. Polish Socialist Party-Left-Wing - subsequently merged with another left wing party S.D.K.P.L. (Social Democracy of the Polish Kingdom and Lithuania) to form the Com-munist Party of Poland. Return
  15. Polish version of Karl or Carl. Return
  16. Keep offered by a family to its new son-in-law to enable him to continue his (reli-gious) studies without financial worries (Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary by Uriel Weinreich, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New-York, 1968). Return
  17. 1905 - the year of the first (failed) Russian revolution. Return
  18. Vladimir Purishkevich (1870-1920), was a Russian politician before the Bolshevik revolution, noted for his monarchist and antisemitic views (Wikipedia). Return
  19. Pyotr Stolypin (1862-1911) served as the leader of the 3rd DUMA-from 1906 to 1911. His tenure was marked by efforts to repress revolutionary groups (Wikipedia). Return
  20. The Black Hundreds was an ultra-nationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century. They opposed any retreat from the autocracy of the reigning monarch. The Black Hundreds were also noted for extremist russocentric doctrines, xenophobia, anti-semitism and incitement to pogroms (Wikipedia). Return
  21. Section of the Pentateuch read on the Sabbath. Return
  22. (1859-1922), Hebrew and Yiddish writer and editor, literary critic, translator, and poet (http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Frishman_David). Return
  23. Hillel Zeitlin (1871-1942) was a Yiddish and Hebrew writer who edited the Yiddish newspaper Moment, among other literary activities (Wikipedia). Return
  24. Plural of sheygetz - Gentile boy or youth. Return


[Page 145]

The First Sprouts [1]

By Akiva Hendel / Haifa

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

Social and community activity in Kałuszyn began at the time of World War 1 following the entry of the German army. Today this sounds like a contradiction in terms, and quite unbelievable that after all that happened during the Second World War, after all the unspeakable cruelties committed by and in their name, anything positive in our lives could be associated with the word Germans. However, it is a fact that the ousting of the tsarist authorities from Poland by the German army brought with it a breath of fresh air. Trade unions, cultural associations, political parties were established and social activities began in the shtetls of Poland. Over time, these multiplied in form, as well as in substance.

I will now relate about this development at that time in Kałuszyn.

 

Establishment of the First Public Library

After the arrival of the German military, a group of progressive youngsters came up with a plan to establish a Jewish public library. The group used to gather almost every Friday in the home of comrade Zylberman. After the idea began to look realisable, more people joined the group.

The first job was to find the money to buy books and to find a suitable place. After we acquired some funds and were to embark on the purchase of books, the “language issue” sprang up. Some insisted that mainly books in Polish should be bought since according to them the main aim of the library ought to be “the Europeanization of the masses”, which can best be achieved in Polish. Others held that we should begin mainly with Yiddish books because first of all the library should acquaint the “broad sectors with the Book” and through reading reach a “higher stage of development”. This however, could only be achieved in the vernacular, in the mother tongue and via Yiddish literature.

Each faction mobilised its adherents for the gathering of the group that was to determine the issue. An overwhelming majority decided in favour of Yiddish. The supporters of Polish felt slighted and rejected any further collaboration with the group.

We elected an executive consisting exclusively of Yiddish supporters - the comrades Rochl and Pinchas Chroshtchitski, Dovid Bekerman, Akiva Hendel and others. Thanks to their dedication the library, including a reading room was soon opened in a modest, but nice venue. The number of readers grew steadily. The library, being the sole cultural institution in the shtetl kept developing and those who left due to the languages controversy now returned to take part in the activities.

The library was in those days the only source of enlightenment in the general backwardness of the shtetl.

 

The Founding of a Children's “Home”

Life was hard. Unemployment kept rising due to the restrictions imposed by the German occupation authorities. Incomes were meagre and a few hundred children walked around poorly dressed and barefoot. Winter was approaching and their survival in unheated homes was uncertain. They needed help, and someone floated the idea to establish a temporary children's home, at least for the duration of the cold weather so that the children could spend a few hours of the day in a warm dwelling and a homelike atmosphere.

Funds were needed to obtain warm clothing and shoes and so we organised a poppy sale. One bright morning “couples” appeared on the streets of the shtetl. The pious people grumbled: “What? Lads and lasses are showing up together in public”! They grumbled, but did not dare to interfere and the venture was a success. We purchased what the children needed and opened the Home. This gained us the sympathy of the common folk in Kałuszyn.

 

Establishing a Workers' Kitchen

Life became progressively harder and the number of unemployed increased. Many were actually starving. We wanted to do something to alleviate the hardship and decided to launch a kitchen so that the needy would get a nourishing meal cheaply. A large sum of money was required to rent premises, acquire furniture and utensils - money that we did not have. We requested access to the kitchen on the synagogue property that used to service the yeshiva students at the time when the school still existed. Soon the trade union that recently came into existence got permission to use the facilities for a workers' kitchen and we commenced providing meals. However, we struggled without the necessary funds and every day we wondered whence assistance would arrive. It did come from an unexpected source.

The religious establishment in town suddenly realised that they made a mistake in allowing the apikorsim[2] into “the holy of holies”. The “eminences” asked for negotiations, demanding that we vacate the premises and get off the synagogue grounds, promising to provide another venue with the appropriate facilities. We agreed and soon moved to the new spacious premises. They also promised help in the upkeep of the kitchen, but reneged. In desperation, we had to resort to all sorts of “pranks” and mischief in order to force them to fulfil their obligations.

The kitchen existed for quite a while and eased somewhat the hardship of the needy inhabitants of the town.

These were the first buds of organised social life in Kałuszyn. It later blossomed into libraries, cultural associations, trade unions and political groupings.

The pioneers of those early years went to the four corners of the world. New activists took over and continued the work, until the Nazis destroyed it all.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of די ערשׁטע שׁפּראָצונגען, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Non-believers, heretics. Return


[Page 147]

The First Poppy Sale [1]

By Eliyahu Kaplan / Rishon LeTsiyon

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

In the year 1917, a distress call came from Kołbiel[2] that nearly the whole shtetl went up in smoke. Among those asking for help were the comrades of Poalei Tsiyon[3], at the time the largest grouping in Kołbiel.

The Kałuszyn Poalei Tsiyon was then a strong organisation, which assisted materially and spiritually the fraternal groups in the surrounding towns. At that time, after the break-up of the cultural association we took over the large premises with all the facilities - a clubhouse, a reading room and a big library (I was the librarian, and I remember that the membership was about five hundred). As soon as the request came, we put to use all our energy and organisational resources in order to assist our comrades in Kołbiel. We commenced the activities with a sale of poppies for the benefit of the survivors of the fire. It was the first poppy sale in Kałuszyn.

It was a novelty in those days for the community in our town. Our conducting the action on a market day compounded the strangeness. The busily occupied shtetl Jews looked on in astonishment and the peasants who came to the market from the villages were even more nonplussed…

We approached our task with energy and devotion. Wearing fancy ribbons, couples took on the town. For the first time the shtetl witnessed such “nuisance” - young men and maidens out in public together. The elderly were amazed and young children ran after them.

The success was unexpected - everybody gave - Jews, Gentiles, even the Rabbi and even (may we be forgiven for mentioning in the same breath!) the priest… Not one dwelling was left out. A few times we had to empty the full bags. Some people were not content with giving pennies, but donated bigger sums. All the money went to the comrades in Kołbiel.

After the poppy action, we arranged two performances for the same purpose - one in Kałuszyn, the other in Mińsk-Mazowiecki. We had our own native performers, as well as quite a good choir. Berish Altenberg and Dovid Klezmer were good conductors. We had a few solo singers, like Esther-Laya (the Pinsk native), Tema Dembovitch and Sara Furer. Yosef Zylbershtayn, Yankev Hersh Zylberman, Rochl Domb and Yitzchok Otzap were the actors. The two performances were a great success, artistically and financially. I will never forget our arrival in Mińsk-Mazowiecki and the warm welcome for our comrades. The whole town was agitated and all tickets were sold. The venue was packed to the rafters and many had to stay outside.

The following day, we - excited and joyful - were given a grateful send off by the people of Mińsk and an equally tremendous welcome by the comrades of Kałuszyn.

Thus, we assisted our people of Kołbiel and, at the same time, made a few more strides in advancing social and cultural life in Kałuszyn.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of דאַס ערשׁטע בלימל, an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. A little town south-west from Kałuszyn. Return
  3. Poalei Tziyon meaning “Workers of Zion” was a Movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers circles founded in various cities of the Russian Empire about the turn of the 20th century (Based on Wikipedia). Return

 

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