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[Page 143]

The Hebrew Corner

Yisrael Otiker

English Translation by Thia Persoff

Even as children, we grew up in a communal and educational atmosphere that stimulated us to be involved in political activities. Echoes of the Russian Revolution had penetrated our world and filled the air with the great hope of returning to Zion and rebuilding our land. Even we, the children, saw ourselves obligated to do something ….

I remember well the experimental “sagas” of local youth organizations even before we knew of the national movements and their approach. So, for example, we established a youth movement for boys and girls in the Jewish-Polish school. It was named Flowers of Zion (later, the name was changed to Children of Zion) and had its own articles of association and program (based on three principles: Zionism, socialism, and Jewish religious ethics). This organization included about 150 children, mainly from the upper grades of the primary school. It had groups and their commanders, regiments and their commanders, the supreme command, etc. After school, we marched in order to the activity area, Mount Krestova (our regular club …). There we would read about the courageous history of Israel, the wars of Bar Kokhba and the Maccabees, the renewed Land of Israel, the Guard, the pioneers, and more. We organized and managed the activities ourselves until one day we caught the attention of the school's administration and were called in front of them for an explanation. This resulted in our having to go “underground.” Not long after, our movement dissolved anyway with the establishment of a Youth Guard cell and Young Pioneer branch in our town. The development of the other kind of youth group – for extension courses and discussion of ideas, what we called in Russian kruzshak – did not go so well.

[Translator's Notes: In Hebrew, Flowers of Zion is Pirchei Tsion, and Children of Zion is Bnei Tsion. The Guard (in Hebrew, Hashomer) was a group dedicated to guarding the life and property of Jewish settlements.]

During Passover 1924, a few of us boys of the age before bar mitzvah established a club that we named the Cornerstone. Its main aims were to establish the use of the Hebrew language in everyday speaking, the study of Hebrew literature and history, the geography of Israel, the development of friendship and brotherhood, and the observance of good manners. We invited Libchik Feldman to be our advisor and worked intensively for a few months, getting together during every free period we had to read and converse in Hebrew. Our group included Shmuel Pozner, Matityahu Pundik, Yone Frenkel, Yosef Handelman, Tovye Troshinski, the writer of this chapter (these last two are in Israel now), and possibly someone else. The activities lasted only half a year and stopped in the fall, when most of the members left for out-of-town schools.

[Translator's Note: Cornerstone in Hebrew is Even HaPina.]

A much larger and more basic activity took place in the fall of that year (1924), when 20 boys and girls got together to found the Hebrew Corner, a movement that continued intermittently for a few years and left its mark on the life of the town's young people.

This time the members were older, their ages 16 and 17 (and one or two who were much younger), and the organization had a more serious character. The first meeting was held at the home of Miryam Horovits (Manya, who is now in Haifa, Israel), in an atmosphere of earnestness and commitment to do what was necessary. A board of three was elected: Tsvi Fisherman (chairman), Yisrael Otiker (secretary), and Miryam Horovits. (Fisherman left the country after a while. Today he is in Israel. Manya and I carried on with the group's activities until the end.) Some of the most active members were Ayzik Hofman (Zunya, now in Israel), Duvid Vinokur (who perished in Kremenets), Kopel Korn (now in Israel), Rachel Otiker-Feldman (who perished in Kremenets), Rachel Koka-Otiker (now in Israel), Malke Feldman (Maliusia, who perished in the Diaspora), Rivke Feldman, the sisters Pole and Chaike Kucher, the sisters Beyle and Rachel Senderovich (all these are in Israel), and a list of other young people. About 30 people were in the group, and the number of steady attendees was 10–15.

Most of the participants were active members of the Youth Guard, Young Pioneer, and Pioneer. Others were not affiliated with any movement. An atmosphere of intimate friendship and camaraderie prevailed within the group's framework. (A group of friends who later left the Youth Guard movement to join the Communist Party and were active in the region and the vocational guilds temporarily participated in our organization's activities.

[Page 144]

But note that even they did not succeed in ridding themselves completely of Hebrew and Zionist influence and would sometimes come to borrow a Hebrew book or newspaper …) At first, we met almost every evening, then three or four times a week. We did not have a permanent clubhouse but met in three different places: at Miryam Horovits's home in Frantsishkanska Street (mostly outside on the veranda, in the moonlight); in a corner room at our home, near the Lyceum in Tshatskigo Street (and again, mostly outside on benches at the foot of the giant Lyceum buildings); and the third, a spacious place, Mount Bona, at the Dzievitsa Rock, with the forests at their feet. When pressed, we met at the nearby Vidomka and Krestova.

One person who guided us and great influenced our work was Libchik – Arye Feldman (who perished in Kremenets). Some of us who had known him previously and knew him to be very knowledgeable and a deep thinker immediately suggested that we invite him to be our mentor. He worked with us with strong dedication all through the years.

Libchik was a man with a religious-Jewish outlook and an idealistic worldview, but he had a respect for the Hebrew workers' movement, recognizing its place in the struggle for the nation's revival. Uppermost in his outlook on life were the search for sparks of beauty and morality and constant striving for spiritual and moral elevation.

With his large treasury of knowledge, Libchik prepared us for spiritual struggles in Judaism, opened the gates to universal thinking for us, and brought us into a labyrinth of philosophical questions.

How did we occupy ourselves in those evenings at the Hebrew Corner? With Kabbalah and Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Hasidism, the Rambam and Rabbi Sadye Gaon, and Carlyle and Bukharin. Those discussions were accompanied by reading and study. We delved deeply into general and modern Hebrew literature. I cannot forget our discussion of Bialik's “The Pool,” which lasted a whole night and into daybreak … (More than once it happened that daylight surprised us in the midst of discussion and, disappointed, we had to leave, each one to his workplace, questions left unresolved and unsolved …)

In the early period, the Corner held parties that were open to all young people, published a wall-newspaper called Echo from the Corner, and worked to disseminate Hebrew language and literature. In the later years, we were involved more with functions within the framework of the club.

[Translator's Note: In Hebrew, Echo from the Corner is Hed Hapina.]

Also, the number of regular members decreased. As it happens, “crises” visited the life of our club, ideological and social crises; in some periods, there was a noticeable slowdown in activities, though the club picked up and renewed its functions and continued so for five years, from fall 1924 to early 1929. For many of us, this club was not only a precious corner for young people, but also a serious school in which to learn the problems of society and the world.

 

The ORT School

Munye Katz (Haifa)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

Kremenets was always a craftsmen's city, a center for the small townships and villages in her vicinity. Assorted craftsmen worked there: tailors, shoemakers, hatters, metalsmiths, tinsmiths, barrel makers, tile makers, bookbinders, glaziers, jewelers, watch repairers, barbers, butchers, water carriers, porters, and road workers. Topping them off were producers of cigarette holders. Their products were distributed and used throughout Russia.

Craftsmen worked in a primitive system. The craft was family property and was passed from father to son. But with the general advance of industry, there arose a need for advanced vocational education.

[Page 145]

The ORT organization, which was formed to aid the productivization of Jewish young people, found itself in Kremenets, a town where Jews were usually seen as workmen – a fertile area for its activities. With the active support of Chayim Ovadis, Fishel Perlmuter, Kroyt, Yisrael Margalit, Meir Goldring, the architect Rozin, Moshe Trakhtenberg, Ratshiner, Vaynshtok, and others, ORT was a center for community activity.

Chayim Ovadis was the mover and shaker behind the project. As the owner of an industrial plant (a large foundry, later turned into a flour mill), he recognized the importance of manual labor. Out of allegiance to his people, he saw the plant as his life's work.

In the early days of its existence, the ORT vocational school was housed in a small, unfit building on Vishniovtska Street. In spite of the difficulties, the number of students was large, and to the first two classes – metalsmith work and lathe turning – were added classes for mechanics and welders and a sewing class for girls.

The administration, under the leadership of the engineer Dekelboym, received supplies and tools from the center in Warsaw. Institutions such as the City Council, the Community Council, the Lyceum, and the vocational education board of the Polish Cultural Bureau were also supporters. That much help made it possible to offer education to poor young people, but the school was supported in part by tuition and even more so by the sale of the products of the students' work, which became well known in the area.

kre041.jpg
Figure 41. Group of ORT Students

 

[Page 146]

The Kremenets Newspaper

Yisrael Otiker (Kibbutz Na'an)

English Translation by Steven Wien and Sari Havis

As we recount the story of the weekly newspaper Kremenitser Shtime, we must look to the past for the circumstances that preceded its establishment and publication.

We were young at the time, and the atmosphere of the time did not allow us to be sheltered in the beautiful worlds that are part of youth; it required action from us on behalf of the Jewish masses.

The Jewish population in Poland suffered tremendously in those days. The tax system was especially aimed at forcing the Jews from their positions and destroying their sources of income. Vicious competition was often accompanied by assaults and pogroms, which took place with the support and encouragement of the country's official institutions. We rebelled with all our being against the essence of exile and life in the Diaspora, but we loved those wretched, persecuted Jews and saw ourselves, the younger generation, as responsible for their fate and as mandated to support and encourage them.

[Translator's Note: In the original text, the following quotations from Kremenitser Shtime are in both Yiddish and Hebrew, with the Hebrew in parentheses following the Yiddish.]

In its opening article, the Kremenitser Shtime wrote:

“The way of Jewish life is full of obstacles. Desperation and indifference prevail among all the people. Many find themselves helpless, and the slope of our life descends and drops very fast. We return to the same position and situation where we stood hundreds of years ago, in the darkest of the Middle Ages.

“We, the members of the more enlightened people, without any bias of camp or party, see it as our holy obligation to preserve the correct path of the Jewish masses and to fight in the war against desperation and degeneration that has spread among us.

“Life in the provincial town has its own unique problems. Newspaper publications in the capital cannot depict and describe the various hues and shades of life in provincial towns. Therefore, we come forward to try to establish a platform whose role will be to serve as a spokesman, to describe various public, cultural, and economic problems of Jews in our places, a platform that will reflect life and will call for action and activity.”

[Page 147]

kre042.jpg
Figure 42. Newspaper Clippings
from Kremenitser Shtime

[Headlines include “Life in Kremenets and Environs,” “Lyceum Auditorium – B. Bakst – 'Bar Kokhba,'” “The Levant Fair in Tel Aviv,” “Lyceum Auditorium – Friday – Kol Nidre,” and an obituary for “Nachum Sokolov, of blessed memory.”]

[Page 148]

These lines, which we copied from the editorial board's opening article in the first edition, relate the various causes and motivating factors that brought us, inexperienced young people, to such a venture as the publication of a local newspaper.

The first attempt to publish the newspaper in our town was by Moshe Gershteyn, of blessed memory, who was a civic activist. He was formerly a Bund member. In February 1929, he published a newspaper of four pages with the help of Neta Shtern, Leyb Rozental, Yakov Shafir, and the writer of these lines.

Afterward, there were repeated trials and experiments with single publications, dedicated mainly to mutual and social help in the community and other social institutions. Thus, in April 1930, a very diverse newspaper with six large pages was published with the support of the Benevolent Fund. Another newspaper published in November 1930 was dedicated to the problem of abandoned children and the orphanage.

Two editions were also published in 1931, on January 4 and November 11, again with the Benevolent Fund's support.

The participants in these ventures were the same group of people. They also participated regularly in the newspapers published periodically in Rovne and in Lutsk. These newspapers were available in town and were welcomed because they reflected mostly local life.

But one day, we decided that those alone were not enough and that there was a need for a more permanent platform that would speak directly to our townspeople and describe specifically local phenomena that required some clarity and reaction. The “deciders” were three young men: Neta Shtern, the writer of these lines, and another member who from the beginning opposed and gave up on the whole matter. Since then, we have reminded ourselves more than once that our “final hour of decision” was on one of those long nightly trips to Mount Bona in autumn 1931, when we talked a lot about the lives of Jews and their problems. We saw the newspaper as a very important instrument, an opportunity to reach every Jew in the city, and we were determined to execute this decision even if the older businesspeople in the town mocked our “inventions.”

We approached one of the veteran printer owners in town, Volf Tsvik, a Jew who was prudent in business matters. He took to our ideas and suggestions and, in fact, expressed his willingness to join our venture as a partner, with the condition that we share any losses evenly with him. We drafted a very detailed contract, and we signed it as the “second party.” We sat in V. Tsvik's house, pragmatic and serious, as was appropriate for people who were going to open a corporate business. But once we left, we both laughed and began shouting, struck by the realization that we had finally established a foundation for publishing the newspaper.

We decided to draft a group of staffers and participants. First, the brothers Leybke and Aleksander Rozental joined; both were veteran writers for other newspapers. Leybke Rozental, who lived in the center of the town, provided a room in his apartment for the newspaper. That room served as the center for a long time and was always crowded with people writing, editing, proofreading, and so on, and with people who just came to find out what was happening with the newspaper.

Meir Goldring, who was the head of the Zionist Organization and one of the most prominent people in town, accepted official responsibility for the newspaper and helped in its editing and organization. Other regular participants joined us: Yakov Shafir, Shlome Fingerut, Libchik Feldman, Dr. Meir Litvak, Dr. B. Landsberg, and others. A short time later, Manus Goldenberg joined us and contributed his dynamic editing to the newspaper until he immigrated to Israel. My sister, Rachel Otiker, and Yehudit Rozental (L. Rozental's daughter, who married N. Shtern and today is in Poland) worked with us on the editorial board and in the newspaper's administrative department.

Hadasah Rubin's poems received special attention. (Today she is in Poland, and not long ago her poems were published in a Yiddish book called Mein gas iz in Pener [My Street Is in Pener.]) She was a talented poet with the promise of a bright future. She later belonged to a group of young authors called Young Vilna. Her poems, which were published in various literary publications in Warsaw and Vilna, received many accolades. But she was first published in the Kremenitser Shtime.

[Page 149]

kre043.jpg
Figure 43. Editorial Board of Kremenitser Lebn [Kremenets Life], 1934

Sitting (from right to left): (1) Yisrael Otiker, (2) Manus Goldenberg, (3) Chane Goldenberg-Horovits, (4) Meir Goldring, (5) Dr. Binyamin Landsberg.
Standing: (1) Shlome Fingerhut, (2) Leyb Rozental, (3) Aleksander Rozental, (4) Moshe Gershteyn, (5) Goldberg, (6) Neta Shtern

The newspaper also served as the first means of publication for other young people who engaged in literary or scientific work. Its various editions contained literary works as well as memoirs, sad documentaries and historical works mainly about the past, and daily articles about everyday life. Much of the material that was published in the newspaper was later picked up by other publications.

Ideologically, the newspaper expressed the labor Zionist spirit and aimed to be a progressive publication, but it had a generic tone and aimed to be an open platform for anyone. Those who flip through the newspaper will find the words of Communists, revisionists, religious Jews, etc., and polemics on pivotal political issues, etc., because it was the sole platform in town.

Our mailbox was always full of correspondence, and writers, both young and old, suddenly discovered their writing skills and wanted to be published. More than once, people came on foot to the center and demanded their “right,” but more than a few of these pieces were published in the famous “basket.” But we frequently encountered expressions of great interest and persevered in publishing them.

We had no lack of worthless material that sometimes hurt the newspaper's image. For instance, following the example of other principal newspapers, we were forced to publish sensational serial romances to “pull in” readers, and it happened that we published a serial romance called “The Secrets of Mount Bona.”

[Page 150]

The content of the romance was local, complicated, and convoluted. It was “suspenseful,” as romances are, and its merit … was like that of other romances. After a short while, we decided to stop publishing the romance in the middle (even though many readers scolded us and demanded to know the outcome of the romance …). Most of the editorial board members were of the opinion that such material should not be published. Other incidents that raised a little bit of argument, but generally the atmosphere in the editorial board reflected a responsible, serious attitude toward the publication of news and articles. A group of about 10 to 15 people coalesced around the newspaper, the best of the best people in the areas of community and culture, who persevered in caring for the newspaper throughout its existence.

The newspaper had correspondents in most of the neighboring towns, and it was commonplace there. (The newspaper usually printed 1,000 copies.) Once there was an attempt to establish a branch of the newspaper in neighboring Rovne, a town with a large Jewish population. But the experiment was not successful, and the newspaper continued to be prevalent mainly in Kremenets and its surroundings.

The first edition of the Kremenitser Shtime appeared on October 2, 1931. From August 1932 until February 1933, two weekly newspapers appeared: the Kremenitser Shtime and the Kremenitser Vochenblatt (with the cooperation of the Yiddish newspaper in Rovne). Internal arguments and disagreements among the editors were the cause of the appearance of these two newspapers. They split for a short while, but after a few months, the newspapers merged and continued as one local newspaper named Kremenitser Lebn. The newspaper continued to appear weekly until the war began. It held a prominent place in the civic and cultural life of the city's Jews.

[Translator's Note: Kremenitser Vochenblatt means Kremenets Weekly Newspaper, and Kremenitser Lebn means Kremenets Life.]

Finally, a friend who is currently editing the “Book of Kremenets” told me that, while looking for material about the town, he went to the National Library. The librarian there informed him that he had some very interesting material and handed him several issues of the Kremenitser Shtime. The friend became agitated and, for hours, paged through those issues that the newspaper staff worked so hard to bring to the National Library of Israel.

And today, when we flip through the archived copies that we have, a bitterness takes hold of us. Was there any way to know then, while editing the newspaper, that in such a vast, lively and Jewish community the day would come when these issues would serve not only as archival material but also as a memorial to the entire Jewish congregation?


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