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[Page 57]

Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life

Translated by Judy Montel

Edited by Warren Blatt

During the (long) period that lasted up to the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jews of Kielce had a monochromatic form: traditional Judaism with a Chassidic flavor. The Jews were noticeable in their garments, their speech, their faces. The holidays, celebrations of Mitzvah [commandments], and the visit of the Admo”r [the Chassidic rabbi/leader] to the city were attractions that changed the gray pace of Jewish life somewhat. Education of the children was in the hands of the “melamdim”, teachers. When they finished the “cheder” [primary school], the young boys would continue their studies in the study halls or in the “shtiblach” [small houses of worship]. Early marriages, eating at the table of the father-in-law, the blessing of sons – these were the foundations upon which the community was based.

Aside from individuals who were called “Daitchen” -- who broke the barriers and wore short clothing, or, in the words of the wits of those days: “who wore long underclothing and short overclothing”, and spoke in the language of the Gentiles -- the members of the community were in the main one unit. No foreign current had penetrated their lives; no strong wind blew through their homes. They had frozen in place, and lived their lives without changes or alterations. This life also had a special name: “Yiddishkeit”. This life was very clear and obvious to the eyes of everyone, and whoever went outside of its boundaries was a “criminal of Israel”, someone to pursue and whose life it was a good deed to embitter. A solitary rebel like this, whose spirit yearned for some space, for freedom, someone for whom the air of the study hall had become narrow and stifling, was forced to leave his birthplace, his parents, and to wander for great distances, or at the very least to the big city, to Warsaw or Lodz. That was the reality until the Zionist movement arose, which brought movement and changes of values to the Jews of Poland, and new cultural foundations arose instead of the ancient and old-fashioned foundations.

The First Zionist Association in Kielce

The Zionist Association that was founded in Kielce in 1900 concentrated within itself all those who were filled with one idea, one aspiration: to raise up the masses of Jews from their low material and spiritual level. Most of them, filled with the national idea, aspired to the renewal of the nation in its ancient homeland, in the land of Israel. They made up the core of the association. But there were those among them who aspired to renew the lives of the masses by a socialist revolution; some outstanding assimilated Jews, members of the P.P.S. [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, the Polish Socialist Party] joined the Zionist Association in the fist days of its foundation. Without having a field of activity in any other place, they hoped to gain access to the masses of the Jews and to influence them with their opinions and views. The association therefore had quite a varied composition; next to members of the intelligentsia, doctors, bank managers and their clerks, the veterans of the study hall, who peeked in and were caught, found a place; artisans sat next to merchants, the distinctions between one rank and another were blurred. Goodwill and friendship existed between the members.

This was the romantic period of the Zionist movement. The youth were particularly engulfed by a great enthusiasm; the vigor and fresh energies that beat in their hearts pushed them to activities. The Yiddish press, which then began to appear, spread the concepts of renewal among the boulevards where the Hebrew word was like a sealed book.

The Zionist Association also had several young women members. For the first time the daughter of Israel began to appear in public also, she, who up until then had remained at home. The verse: “All of her glory is a king's daughter within” [Psalms 45/14], ruled until then with extreme strictness in the houses of Israel. Songs of Zion which were sung in a chorus of men and women, lectures about various topics, lessons in the Hebrew language, in scripture and in Jewish history – all of these attracted the young heart to the Associations hall. There he found interest in life, beauty, education, a field of activity, there he acquired polite manners along modern lines, a feeling of self-respect, and the daring and courage to express his opinions. The debates awakened the intellect, gave opportunities for speech also to the shy, who suffered from stage fright whenever they had to express their opinions.

I remember, at the first meetings of the members of the Association, while the chairman read aloud the agenda to those gathered and turned to them with the question: Does anyone have something to add to the agenda or want to change it, there was silence in the hall. No one was willing to open their mouths, fearing their words would become subject to scorn and mockery. The chairman, who spoke Polish, spoke to their spirits and called to their hearts, that they should speak as they wished, express their opinions, not be ashamed, not be too humble, speak in the language they knew. Every one of those gathered had the right to speak and must use that right. Here there would be no regime of demagoguery. Matters would be settled by majority vote. Every question needs to be clarified and analyzed from all angles and everyone must participate in this clarification and express his opinion. With much effort, the chairman succeeded in extracting some words from one or two people, and encouraging them, and even they spoke with a stammer, with illogical connection and incomplete sentences.

However, when they began making the first steps in debating the issues, in the battle of ideas that arises of its own accord in any gathering of comrades who come together for any purpose, activity or endeavor, people slowly got used to participating in negotiating and arguments. From meeting to meeting, the number of those raising their hands to request the right to speak grew. Before a short time had passed the members had adopted the form of speech openly, everyone tried to appear in public and make an impression in his manner of speech, his knowledge, in his victory over his rival. Everyone already knew the parliamentary rules and would verbally demand his right to express an opinion. Sometimes, the chairman had to cut off the list of speakers since the meeting had gone on for too long.

At the meetings and sessions, over time, people also learned to listen patiently to the views of their opponent, not to stop a rival and not to interrupt his words. In the beginning it was hard for many of the members to unlearn their habit of speaking when others were talking. In the study hall, when a gabbai [synagogue manager] was being chosen, those who spoke in public would gather; no one could stop his spirit and not speak, when his friend was expressing himself. The words would cross, get confused. In the mixture of voices it was impossible to understand the opinion of everyone. However here, in the Zionist Association, the members adopted polite manners. From this point of view the Zionists were very active in the area of adult cultural education.

The founding of the Association was accomplished after a difficult battle against inner and outer obstacles. The rule of suppressing human liberty and free speech, which existed in those days in the country of the Czar, in the days of the Russian hangman, the Minister of Interior Pelwa, took on a most terrible form. Founding organizations and associations was considered a most heinous crime. It was impossible to legally found any sort of association, whether political, social or cultural. This left only one avenue, which would allow people to get around the police, and this was – to found the association under the camouflage of religion; that is to say, to rent a hall which would formally function as a house of worship. The authorities did not get involved in the area of religion and would allow the opening of synagogues and “cheders” [primary schools] for the children of Israel with no limitations. And indeed, in every small town, synagogues appeared and grew like truffles and mushrooms. Every Admo”r had a “shtibl” where he and his disciples and admirers prayed. They were opened without any unusual difficulties. The authorities did not intervene in religious matters. Once in a long while a sanitary committee was sent to oversee the sanitary conditions, which were required of every building in which people gathered; but they paid no mind to their internal affairs.

However, because of this particular point, it was difficult to obtain a hall for the Zionist Association. The Chassidim were frightened of the new movement, the Zionist movement, whose goal was, in their opinion, to destroy their marsh, and they did everything they could and used every means to sully their reputation in the eyes of the religious masses. And they announced: “The Zionists are rebels, irresponsible delayers of redemption, “Shabtai-Tzvi-niks” [i.e. adherents of the 17th century false messiah who later converted to Islam, Shabtai Tzvi] of a new sort, corrupters of youth, distracting from the study of Torah, and other negative remarks. They had one goal – to suppress the movement at the start of its growth, to cut its wings, not to allow it to develop and flourish. Their first act was to decree excommunication upon any landlord who would be willing to rent out space to the Zionist Association. However, this excommunication had no effect. A landlord was found in the city, Chaim Kochen, a tinsmith by trade, who was not influenced by the fear of the Chassidim, did not depend upon them and who leaned towards Zionism in his heart; he arose and rented them an apartment. As I mentioned above, the apartment was rented as a synagogue, and thus it was registered with the police.

The head of the Zionist Association and its founder was Dr. Perelman, a community activist and a man of tremendous energies. His secretaries were his brother-in-law Paradystal, a bookkeeper at the branch of the Commercial Lodzer Bank, Wolman, manager of the whitewash kilns “Kadzilna” of the Ehrlich brothers. Among the most active members I will mention Mendel Elencwajg, a delegate to the third Zionist Congress, Ajzik Zylbersztajn, Berel Moszenberg, Dawid Dyzenhaus, Mosze Kinigsberg, and the banking brothers Nowak.

From the day that they acquired the apartment the Zionists began working intensively. Besides the direct Zionist work: selling shekels, shares of the Colonial Bank, collecting money for the land of Israel, they began developing a wide sphere of public relations: holding lectures balls for entertainment. They arranged a reading room and small library in their apartment.

kie060.jpg [36 KB] Zionist association committee in 1917
Zionist association committee in 1917

Sitting from the right: N. Kajzer, Ch. Waksberg, D. Rozenberg, C. Piekarski, Sz. Kajzer.
Standing: Dajbuch, D. Goldblum, P. Kalichsztajn, M. Zajde and N. Rotenberg.
Second Row: M. Krakauer, Fridman, Z. Kalichsztajn, C. Waksberg, N. Finkelsztajn, Sz. Kajzer

During the meetings they would set watches in order to avoid danger to those gathered. In the hall there was a Holy Ark, a table for reading the Torah. On Sabbaths and holidays the members would worship there as a community. Some of them would leave their prayer shawls there from week to week.

And then, one evening, during a members' meeting, the watchman alerted those who were gathered that the Pristew (police officer) with several policemen was standing in front of the courtyard and speaking with the landlord about a society of revolutionaries which had found a place in his house, and he had come to see what they were up to. As soon as the members heard this they stood up and wrapped themselves in their prayer shawls, which were stacked on top of the ark, and picked up their prayerbooks. One of them stood in front of the ark and sang the Czarist anthem: “Borza Caria Charany” – “God, Keep the Czar, etc.”. Those present sang it in chorus. All this was done in a flash. When the Pristew entered accompanied by the policemen and heard the anthem, they all stood at attention and saluted, in honor of the Czarist anthem. And thus they stood at attention, not moving a muscle, until the singing of the anthem was over and the cantor continued reading Psalms, and the assembly after him with out paying any attention to the police representatives, who were standing by the door puzzled and amazed: “Kremoloniki” (revolutionaries) singing the Czarist anthem and wrapped in prayer shawls are standing there and praying. Their minds could not comprehend such things. Finally the Pristew turned to one of those praying and asked: “Today is not a Sabbath and not a holiday; what are you holding here?” Then the chairman approached him and explained that in honor of the death of one of the famous rabbis, who had lived in the middle ages, a memorial service was being held here, as was customary, and at this opportunity they pray for the welfare of the monarchy. The Pristew looked suspiciously at those present to begin with; but when he saw the ark and the other implements of worship and nothing suspicious appeared to his eyes, and besides that, he had heard all of those gathered singing the anthem in chorus, he was totally convinced that the informers had misled him. The Pristew was satisfied with the demand that they show him the permit for the synagogue. And when his demand was met, he left with his escorts to the heartfelt joy of the Zionists.

The Zionist movement conquered the hearts of those who frequented the study halls, artisans and intelligentsia, who had an affinity for Judaism and its hopes in their hearts. However, over time there began to be changes in the make-up of the Zionist Association in Kielce. The unified body began to split and divide. At first, the various streams acted in concord; the contrasts between them were not so great that they prevented cooperative efforts.

In the breadth of Russia, in the meantime, new winds began blowing; winds of liberty began penetrating every corner, even to those places cut off from others. After the assassination of Interior Minister Pelwa, who had organized the riots against the Jews of Kishinev, and after the outbreak of war with Japan in the Far East, in 1905, there arose throughout Russia a strong liberation movement. Various parties arose at that time, each with its own “Credo” and program. Each party built its own platform. Then it was time for things to come apart in Kielce as well. Paradystal and Wolman and all those who followed them were swept up into the P.P.S. and battled for the cause of Polish national liberation. They and their wives founded a Polish school for Jewish Girls, which introduced the ideas of the assimilated Jews into the homes of Israel. Young artisans, influenced by the doctrine of Socialism that began spreading in the Jewish street, couldn't sit together with the bourgeoisie. Some of them cut off their contact entirely with the Zionists and became Bundists, Social Democrats, and they conducted a war against Zionism. Some of them did not distance themselves entirely from Zionism. However, their ties with Zionism were weakened to the same extent that the liberation movement progressed across Russia. There were others who joined the “Poalei Zion” movement, S.S., and others. Some of them were later prominent labor activists and active artisans, like Judel Gutman, Josef Goldszajder, Szmuel Lajchter, the Strawczinski brothers and others. They did much in their energetic work to raise the level of the artisan from its lowly economic and social status.

[Page 62]

In these days of the disintegration of the Zionist Association, many remained in it who were committed to the idea of national renewal in the land of Israel, whom the general current of the liberation movement did not succeed in sweeping away in its waves. Dr. Perelman moved to Sosnowiec. In his place, Mosze Piekarski came to live in the city, an outstanding Zionist, who did not leave his position as the chairman of the Zionists of Kielce until he moved to the land of Israel after the First World War. The Zionists then concentrated in their new apartment. The bankers, the Nowak brothers, gave them an entire house, in which there was a synagogue called “Sha'arei Zion” whose gabbais [managers] were Szmuel Lewartowski and Nachemja Ostrowicz (may God avenge their deaths), and a committee house for the Zionists. There was also a charity organization that was sympathetic to Zionism and among whose membership were several outstanding Zionists, which found a home there for a synagogue and an office for its work. The “shamash” (beadle), Zelig Grosfeld, who was known among the people of Kielce as “Zelig Paczke”, was the caretaker of the house, and he had an apartment there for his family. This beadle was a fanatic Zionist. He fought fiercely against those opposed to Zionism. When the awful rumor arrived regarding the death of Dr. Herzl, Z”L, a great sorrow spread among the Zionists. With a lowered head and depressed spirit, they would walk through the streets, as if the wreath had been snatched from their heads. Those on the other side, who opposed Zionism, showed their joy in public. One of the assimilated Jews, his name was Littauer, went out to the market place and announced in a joyful tone in a group of people: “Herzl is dead! There is no more Zionism!” Zelig the beadle, who was among the listeners, could not listen with a quiet spirit to the blasphemy coming out of the mouth of this man, went over to him in a fury and treated him to two slaps on the face. This event was a subject of discussion by everyone for a long time.

This action by a simple beadle, who so drastically and obviously, in the public eye, was zealous over the honor of the Zionist leader, raised his stature in the eyes of the Zionists who remained in that camp and they kept him in his office until the end of his days.

This was the beginning of the Zionist movement among the Jews of Kielce, as it was etched in my memory. Over time, young forces came up and they kept the flame of Zionism from being extinguished. After the First World War the movement grew and flourished until it was nearly part of the common culture.

The “Ivriya” Association

Together with the political Zionism of Herzl Z”L, there was also a movement that arose in Zionist circles to restore the Hebrew language to popular usage, and to turn it into a living language that would be used not only for writing but also for speech.

For this purpose an association was also founded in our city in 1906 called “Ivriya”. The regulations of the association required its members to use the Hebrew language in conversation, in buying and selling, in debates, and in general to make an effort to adopt the language to the extent that the members of the association would become fluent in it in such a manner that they could express their opinions, their thoughts and ideas freely without difficulty or stammering. To achieve this goal, the association needed to hold lectures from time to time, conversations of the members in Hebrew, to organize trips to public places and speak Hebrew out loud, in order to demonstrate the renewal of the language to the outer world as well, to do public relations for it, to attract new members to the ranks of the association.

The enlivening spirit of the “Ivriya” Association was Kino, Z”L, Anszer's brother-in-law. He later moved to settle in Israel and acquired a stone house on Yavne Street. He held to the philosophy of the “Poalei Zion” movement, was a talented speaker and author, and defended his views vigorously. He published a number of articles in Polish in the local newspaper, “Eko Kielcke”, “The Kielce Echo”, the journal of the progressive Poles, in which the author attempted to base his Zionist outlook from the viewpoint of socialism. These articles of his started a debate with the Polish-Jewish author Balmont. He reacted to Kino's articles with a string of articles entitled: “Zionist Dwarves in Marx's Clothing”, in which he attempted to contradict the ideology of the “Poalei Zion”. This author, an obvious assimilationist, determined that the moment that socialism was realized, and the reins of government would be in the loyal hands of the people's elected representatives and exploiters and exploited no longer exist in the social sphere, there will no longer be any place for anti-Semitism, the question of the Jews will cancel itself out, since social equality will reign in the world. Anti-Semitism is the fruit of competition; the dark forces of an acquisitive society, who want to continue the old system of government encourage it, in order to distract the hatred of the exploited for their exploiters in a different direction.

Kino was active in the “Ivriya” Association. He was fluent in Hebrew and would lecture in it regarding all matters which were of interest in those days and about which people wanted to hear. Another who stood at his side in the dissemination of the Hebrew language among the youth of Kielce was a young man named Frydland, Kligman's brother-in-law. He was from a family of Chassidim and rabbis, and he had a chassidic enthusiasm and also great devotion to the matter of restoring the Hebrew language to popular usage.

Every Sabbath afternoon all of the members would go out to the city park for a stroll. They would walk in couples. Every couple chose a topic for conversation. If a difficulty in expressing a concept arose in mid-conversation, they would turn to the couple passing them with a question – and immediately the difficulty would be resolved, and the conversation would continue as it had earlier. The conversations, the questions and answers were conducted in a slightly raised voice, so that others would also hear, and become interested in learning and knowing Hebrew in writing and speech. The Hebrew speech of the strollers indeed made a positive impression upon elders and youngsters, men and women, who had made a habit of strolling in the city park on Sabbath afternoons. Christian walkers also stopped when they heard the sounds of a language they were not used to hearing and asked what it might be. They received a comprehensive explanation about Zionism, its purpose and aspirations and about the training of the generation to be ready for the lofty role standing before it: the renewal of the people in its homeland, in the holy land, and restoring the Hebrew language to fluency among the youth, the language of our prophets, a language holy also to Christians.

Among the members of this association, the most active ones besides those mentioned above were also Mosze Kalichsztajn, Fiszel Lewi, Dawid Rozenberg, Mendel Elencwajg, and others, who participated in the meetings, but did not take an active part in the debates, the discussions. They were, to an extent, acted upon and not actors.

Culturally, the “Ivriya” did much to broaden the horizons of the veterans of the study hall; it introduced new ideas in the hearts of the young people and stirred many of the older generation from their apathy. Aside from their chief goal: restoring the popular use of the Hebrew language, they also had another educational goal – including youth in the sphere of activities that refine the soul, which chase away boredom and foreign tendencies. These activities were, to be sure, not complete; they were only an introduction to broader activities that came later as the circumstances and times changed. They created a foundation upon which later the establishment of the Hebrew school was based, which will be mentioned in later chapters. The “Ivriya” took the Hebrew language out of its holy place and made it a tool for every day use, for ordinary matters. Not “the holy tongue”, as it was called earlier, but simply “Hebrew”. The Hebrew newspapers began the process of secularization of the language: “HaMelitz”, “HaTzefira”, “HaShachar” and others; however, they did not have the power to make it a living language the way the “Ivriya” did. Associations like “Ivriya” did much to make Hebrew a spoken language like any other.

The Zamir Society

The renewal movement among the Jews of Poland was not limited to narrow areas, its aspirations were rather far-reaching, its goal was to instill new content in the lives of the masses, to broaden their horizons, to take them out of the spiritual ghetto that fettered both their bodies and souls. Among the authors there were also those who demanded a change of values. Instead of the tendency that existed among Diaspora Jewry to develop only the spirit and moral values, there needed to be an opposite directive, developing the body and aesthetic values. There was a demand to weed out the view that the main point was the world to come from peoples' hearts, the view that this world is secondary and should not be given too much attention. They believed that the renewal of the nation could only occur if it covered all areas of human culture, literature, art, social and economic sciences; all of these would inject new currents of blood into the frozen limbs of Polish Jews, straighten their bent posture, their circle of vision would broaden – and then they would be worthy of redemption.

There arose, therefore, a movement among the Jews of Poland to further aesthetic values in the masses and to improve their taste in this way and arouse a sense of beauty in them. This movement did not pass over the Jews of Kielce. While societies were being founded in the large cities for this purpose called “HaZamir” [The Lark], many of the youth in Kielce also desired to found such a society in our city. The Zionist Youth was especially active in this area. Dr. Gerszon Lewin was invited to Kielce, a well-known personality in Warsaw as an author, lecturer and a doctor. He lectured on Hebrew literature in general and about art in particular at the local theatre. He brought quotes from the works of Jewish authors and demonstrated that their content shows the eye of an artist, and determined that there are artistic works also in the spoken language. If in the plastic arts -- in painting, sculpture and carving -- the Jews do not have a firm place, on the other hand, in the art of the voice, in song, music, also literature, the Jews have superior talents. And we must develop these arts and they will infuse a spirit of ecstasy and joie de vivre in our gloomy worlds and improve our reputation also in the eyes of other nations. His lecture was fruitful. Several days later the inaugural meeting was set up to which men and women from all circles were invited, from those who aspired to introduce light and life to the Jewish street. At that meeting, the “Zamir” society was founded.

In its regulation book it stated that its goal was to develop an aesthetic sense and taste among the masses of the Jews by developing the various branches of art among them: song and poetry, plays, lectures about artistic subjects, reading literary works. Because the task of the society was educational and cultural, it declared itself to be unaffiliated with any party. A committee of twelve people was elected, among them Zionists, regular intellectuals, laborers. In general, anyone who had a spark of talent for singing and playing was later added to this committee. The committee members immediately began to work in the areas they had chosen.

kie065.jpg [36 KB] - The Dramatic Circle of 'HaZamir'
The Dramatic Circle of “HaZamir”

Two battalions from the Russian army were stationed in Kielce, and they had a military band. The conductor was a nationalist Jew. The officer's uniform that he wore gave him a special importance. This conductor volunteered to organize a Jewish choir and orchestra from among the members of “HaZamir” which would be able to appear in public concerts. The talented members of the local youth found a place and opportunity to develop their talents more fully. In a large and roomy hall, which was called “The Viennese Hall”, which was rented for “HaZamir”, young men and women rehearsed the art of playing and singing. From time to time they held concerts, in which the musicians performed playing wind and string instruments; soloists appeared who were received enthusiastically by the audience; young men and women singers were immediately noticeable singing folk songs to the audience. The audience learned to distinguish between the different vocal parts and to recognize the “soprano”, the “alto”, the “tenor”, the “baritone” and the “bass”. They became understanding and expressed opinions about the vocal arts and singing.

kie066.jpg [33 KB] - The Committee of 'HaZamir' Association at a farewell ball for Mrs. Elbaum who was moving to the land of Israel
The Committee of “HaZamir” Association at a farewell ball
for Mrs. Elbaum who was moving to the land of Israel.

Among those present: Chairman C. Piekarski, Asst. A.J. Wilner, M. Elencwajg,
A. Wargon, G. Rembiszewski, Jakob Jakubowicz, H. Herszowicz, the “Zamir”
conductor, J. Rozen and Mrs. Elbaum

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