The Mizrahi Movement and Torah veAvoda
Yosef Kreizer (Haifa)
Translated by Esther Snyder
With awe and trembling I attempt to memorialize the great movement in our town, a movement with lofty cultural-spiritual and national ideals, which is the Mizrahi and Torah veAvoda movement in Lowicz. Together with the liquidation of the Jews in Poland, so also this movement and most of the idealists and fighters for its ideas were destroyed in the Holocaust, and are gone. Only a very few remained and they are now spread across the Diaspora and Israel.
There were two main stages in the historical development of this movement in our town: 1) the period when the movement came into being, 2) the period of establishment and enlargement.
|From right to left: Nette Golomb, Yaakov Morgenshtern, Y. Kilbert, Natan Libtraut, Shammai Solchevski, Pinhas Levin.
Sitting: Shlomo-Zalman Garshet, Meir-Simha Kolbo, Moshe Fisher, Mordechai Sendok, Yosef Kreitzer, Avraham Goldberg
We have no documents from the beginning of the movement on which we can base and describe its activities; what we do know is based on stories we heard at home and vague memories from our childhood.
In contrast, during the 1930s the period of expansion and the establishment of a youth movement called Tze'irei Mizrahi Torah VeAvoda this writer was one of the founders and molders of its character.
After the end of the First World War, when new, fresh ideas entered Jewish life in Poland and with the establishment of new movements and political parties, the Mizrahi movement was established in our town and many of the finest religious youth joined. At its head were: Shlomo Frankel, Ben-Zion Miadz'igorski, Leib Bialer, Yosef Atlas, Leibush Kreizer, Yaakov Fisher, Henoch Tahb, Yitzhak Meir Buch, Alter Finkelstein, Avraham Moshe Friedman and others. Even some from the learned families joined like Raphael Yaakobovitz, a gifted scholar, with a sharp mind, who later left Mizrahi and was appointed the head of the Yeshiva of the Rabbi from Skarnivitz who had settled in our town.
At the same time, a youth group was organized called Tze'irei Mizrahi which had many members from among the students in the Bet Midrash (Talmudic study hall), and also religious youth who worked and didn't only learn Torah.
Mizrahi started to organize cultural and social activities and also established a new school called Heder Hadash, was active in charitable work, and in the elections to the Zionist congresses. In addition to all this, Mizrahi also cooperated with all the religious institutions in the town, including the Yeshiva.
The movement had to deal with competition from the Aguda group in town and also external influences, such as the Bolshevik revolution, disrupted its plans and thus its activities decreased.
The movement no longer had a youth organization in the town and also its educational system ceased functioning. The main activities at this time were done together with the Zionists and included fundraising, elections, and expanding the movement among the Jewish community.
Here, I must mention an issue that concerned the town for several years and that was the matter of choosing the last Rabbi of the Lowicz community. After the passing of Rabbi Bezalel Biderman, zl, the town was divided into two factions: the Mizrahi-Zionist on one hand, and the Agudat Yisrael on the other. Each side struggled to choose a rabbi according to its viewpoint. Mizrahi, although it didn't have many members, its standing at the head of the struggle for the rabbinate added a moral validity to the choice.
The return from Eretz Yisrael of some members of the movement due to difficulties in absorption, was disappointing and was another cause of the decline in standing of the movement. In addition, the youth group ceased functioning.
This writer, who absorbed Mizrahi ideals during his youth in his parents' home and surroundings, made many attempts to organize the religious youth which succeeded several times. However, these attempts didn't last long because of the lack of leadership and also because the activities at this time were done mainly with the Zionists. Nevertheless, a strong core group remained which preserved the special character of Mizrahi in the town.
During the 1930s, a great turning point occurred in the Mizrahi movement with the founding of a strong youth organization across the whole country. Hapoel Hamizrahi that had been established in Eretz Yisrael influenced the religious-nationalist youth in the Diaspora and the slogan Torah VeAvoda (Torah and work) spread and introduced a new spirit in the youth groups. Agitation began and demands for a change in the ways of Mizrahi. The demands were expressed by the catchphrase, The path of Mizrahi until now was to place a mezuzah on a building built by others.
From now on Mizrahi must build its own building and put up a mezuzah. The Youth group adopted this slogan, Torah and Work. The clubs increased and institutions were organized: HeHalutz HaMizrahi; the girls organization, Bruria; a religious youth scout group called, Hashomer Hadati; training groups (hachshara); 'Yavneh schools, etc.
When Meir Simha Klavo, son of the Rabbi, came to our town, he joined with this writer and renewed organizing the religious youth in the ranks of Mizrahi, this time with success. Now, many of the sons of important Hasidei Gur joined the movement.
Sitting from the right: Mendel Levin, Yosef Kreitzer, Mendel Albeck.
Standing: Shlomo Hendels, Abba Brand
In addition, the long time I spent in the shtibel, and my close contact with my classmates influenced them and they all joined the movement and became active in it. Although the center moved from Zadonska Street to Broverna Street, Mizrahi started bustling with activity there were classes in Bible and Talmud, lectures, talks, parties and also a prayer group, minyan. In a short time the club expanded, the girls' group, Bruria began and many of the best girls from religious families in town joined. Also, a club of Hashomer Hadati was organized. Initially only boys from the yeshivot and heder joined. They weren't in volved with external symbols like uniforms, or street marches, etc. but maintained a great internal educational program.A training group, kibbutz, of Hehalutz Hamizrahi was established on Zadonska Street. There was a welcome mutual influence between the kibbutz and the club. Members of the kibbutz who didn't live in our town, used to come to the club and help out with its activities. In return, members of the club helped the kibbutz to organize its activities and even went there incognito to assist with the work.
The writer of this article was also the secretary and treasurer of the kibbutz for a long time. In the beginning of the renewal of the movement, only two people were responsible for its activities: Meir Simha Klavo who was the head of the club and I was its secretary. Then, many other new members became active, such as: Mendel Levine, Pinhas Levine, Moshe Fisher, Mendel Albeck, Yitzhak Finklstein, Benyamin Zayda, Avraham Rosenberg, Yisrael Abba Brand, Shlomo Hendels, and others.
Here, I must mention my dear friend Moshe Zlotshover zl, who was both a friend and a teacher to me and from whom I learned much about Jewish religious thought. There was also a mutual influence between us - each one learned from the other. Although he was born and brought up according to the principles of Agudat Yisrael, he joined Mizrahi Hatzair. He wasn't active in political matters, rather he had a deep spiritual side that contributed much to the ideological atmosphere in the club.
Special mention goes to the brothers, Mendel and Pinhas Levine. Pinhas was involved for many years in training the youth, while it was immediately apparent that Mendel was suited to be one of the heads of the club. He was very energetic, motivated, clever, could make fine distinctions, and when he was convinced of the correctness of a certain matter knew how to fight for it. After Meir Simha Klavo left our town, and when I immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, Mendel was made head of the club. In addition to internal cultural and organizational activities, the branch of Torah veAvoda cooperated with other institutions in town, such as: fundraising committees, social institutions, etc. Also in the social organization, Literarishe Geselschaft that was organized in town, whose leader was Yehiel Zayda, our club was represented. In the administration that was established with representatives from all the organizations, participated Meir Simha Klavo and Yosef Kreitzer, whose voices were also heard.
In 1931, elections were held to the community committee (Vaad HaKehila) in town, and Mizrahi appeared for the first time as an independent party. It was a courageous step that not many clubs in Poland dared to do. Our list won moderate success. Yosef Atlas and Hershel Shidlo were elected to the council, and to the management were elected Leibush Kreitzer and Yaakov Fisher.
In the elections to the 18th Zionist Congress, the list of the Mizrahi movement won a victory by gaining more votes than any other list in our town. Leib Bialer was chosen as a representative to the congress that was held in Prague.
The movement devoted time to building its own fund called, the Project for Building a Religious Eretz Yisrael. For two years the fund succeeded exceedingly well.
With the begining of our fundraising activities, a number of prominent figures in Mizrahi visited our town, including, Rabbi Sh. Brot Matomshov zl and Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum, among the founders of Mizrahi. In both cases, large assemblies were held in the Ehas theater, which created a good atmosphere for the success of the project.
Progress was made also in the sphere of aliya. The first one from the local club to go to Eretz Yisrael was Moshe Fisher. Although, our member Mordecai Sandak immigrated before him, he didn't travel with a certificate of a pioneer and wasn't sponsored by the movement. Moshe Fisher was the first to undergo all the procedures of a halutz, a pioneer. He had done physical and spiritual training in the Alkish group/kibbutz in Zaglambia and his aliya was the first from our club. In the farewell party that the club held for him, the hall was full to overflowing with members of the movement old, young and lads. After him, the next to make aliya with a pioneer certificate was Yosef Kreitzer.
During all the years, the movement's clubhouse was situated on Brobarna Street and consisted of one large room. All the activities were done there, including Tze'irei Mizrahi, Bruria, and Hashomer Hadati. There was a synagogue there, the minyan of Mizrahi and a library.
At the same time, it was decided to establish a school called, Yavneh. It should be noted that there was no Jewish school in the town, except for Bet Yaakov the school for girls run by the Aguda. There was a yeshiva of Rabbi Maskranovitz, ztl headed by Rephael Yacobovitz, zl. And, of course, there were one room schools, heder. But a whole school where the pupils studied religious and secular studies didn't exist.
At this time, the movement expanded and a building with six rooms was rented on Zadonska Street. Three rooms were used as schoolrooms and three were for the use of the movement. In 1935 I made aliya the movement reached its peak of development. Many activities were held in all parts of
the town, many members went to training (hachshara), and the Shomer Hadati enjoyed an extraordinary growth.
Hashomer Hadati led by Avraham Grossman (the stepson of B.D. Miedzigorski), David Fisher, Yitzhak Hendels and David Kreizer (today one of the prominent members of Kibbutz Yavneh in Israel), grew so much that there weren't enough counselors to lead them. Then something interesting happened, sort of help from another place. A group of girls from Gordonia left their movement for religious reasons and joined Hashomer Hadati. Among them were a few counselors who were very helpful to our movement.
This situation continued until 1937. In that year, there was some decline in all the Zionist youth groups including ours. The political situation in Eretz Yisrael and the limit on certificates for aliya caused this decrease.
Members who spent years in training groups yet couldn't receive certificates returned home very disappointed and caused despair and disappointment in the clubs. As far is known, only two organizations remained active and they were, Hashomer Hadati and the Shomer Hatzair.
The activities of Mizrahi and Tze'irei Mizrahi were reduced as in the other Zionist movements. From the spacious quarters we returned to the one room at the end of Zadonska Street, near the marketplace, and thus matters continued until 1939
The end of the Mizrahi movement in Lowicz was due to the end of the lives of the Jewish community in the city. These words shall be a modest monument to those who cannot be forgotten.
This is a remembrance to some of the prominent and influential activists (G-d should revenge their blood) in the movement, including Mr. Leibel Bialer, who lives with us in Israel.
He was the head of Mizrahi in our city. He was also a Talmid Hacham well-learned in Torah, a gifted speaker, who led the Zionist Mizrahi activities in our city. He was a popular leader whose enthusiastic speeches influenced everyone who heard him. He was totally devoted to the movement.
Ben-Zion was also one of the founders of Yavneh in our city and one of the most active during all of its existence. He was one of the leaders of the community and active in its institutions, however, his deepest devotion was to Mizrahi to which he devoted his whole life.
He was learned in Torah and secular studies. As an official of the Jewish National Fund, he viewed his function as holy work and was totally devoted to it. He was loyal and had integrity. During the fourth Aliya he came to Eretz Yisrael but had to return due to lack of acclimatization. He continued his activity in Mizrahi and worked very hard for the JNF and other Zionist activities.
He was a Talmid Hacham, Hassid and enthusiastic Zionist, all together. The members of Aguda viewed as more dangerous than the other Mizrahi members and opposed him vigorously because in his debates with his opponents he was able to quote the sayings of the Sages, Hassidic stories and the words of great Rabbis to justify his religious Zionist viewpoint.
When he became an adult he left the Hassidism of his father which was Gur and became a hassid of the Rabbi from Astrovski, zl and one of his greatest admirers.
As much as he loved Torah and Hassidim, his love of Zion and Mizrahi was even greater. When the Histadrut of Mizrahi was established in the city, he whole-heartedly joined it and was responsible for spreading its ideas among the Hassidim. He was active in the movement his whole life. He was a member of the Community Committee, as a representative of Mizrahi, dealt with community affairs and also other matters. He was a member of the Committee of the Kupat Gm'h (charitable society) in the city, a member of Hevrat Shas and also gave Torah lectures.
He was one of the figures in our community whose character united both Torah and work (Derech Eretz) and was among the first members of Mizrahi in our city. He was a Torah scholar who later became known as a poet. Every lecture or speech he gave was weighty and important. Leib was chosen to be a representative of Mizrahi at the 18th Congress in Prague. When he returned from the congress, he spoke at an assembly held in one of the largest halls in the city. His speech left an indelible impression. He lives today in Israel and is one of the senior administrators in the Religions Ministry.
He was a respectable merchant in town, deeply immersed in Hassidism and one of the regular congregants of the Sochotchiver Shtiebl. Although he was occupied with his business, he found time to deal in public affairs.
He came to Eretz Yisrael in the fourth aliya and although he didn't acclimate and returned, he continued working for Mizrahi and community affairs. He was a member of Community Committee from Mizrahi for two terms.
He was a Hassid of Grodzisk, a Torah scholar, kind and refined. His pleasant ways made him liked by others. He wasn't born in our city but married the daughter of R' Hanoch Levin, zl, who was the son-in-law of the famous musician R' Shlomo Aharon Shtift, zl. After Shtift died, he took over managing the large business. Although he was occupied with business matters he studied Torah regularly and also dealt with community matters. He was one of the active and devoted members of the Mizrahi and was a representative of the movement in the Community Committee.
Haim Hirsh Hendels
He was a Torah scholar, enlightened and of a high cultural level. Hendels was a lover of the Hebrew language and even though he was not a professional teacher, he gave lessons in Hebrew language and literature.
He was learned in history and ancient and modern literature. He spoke modestly and acted with humility. He was involved in religious circles and intellectual, non-religious groups.
He was a devoted and loyal friend of the Mizrahi movement and contributed much time and effort to the youth in lectures and Torah lessons.
One of the early members of Mizrahi in town who didn't leave the movement despite all the changes that occurred. He was a Jew full of Torah and wisdom. At the time of the establishment of the Mizrahi movment in town, he was a teacher in the new school that was founded, called Heder Hadash New School, whose goal was to teach Torah and general knowledge.
In later years he left Lowicz and moved to nearby Bolimov where he worked as a sexton and shohet (Jewish ritual slaughter) for several years. He succeeded in fulfilling his dream of making aliya to Eretz Yisrael and was hired as a cantor and shohet in the settlement of Nehemia in the Jordan Valley where he passed away in 1939. Two of his sons, Arye and Moshe, live in Israel and a third son, Akiva, lives in Australia.
David Yeshaya Brand
He was part of the younger group of the Mizrahi veterans. Despite being occupied with business affairs he found time to devote himself to the movement. There was never an activity that he didn't participate in with devotion whether it was fundraising, elections, school, cultural activities, etc.
He was a successful merchant in Poland, one of the leaders of the economy and also dealt with public affairs. He was one of the leaders of the Jewish community and Mizrahi. He came from a Hassidic family where he absorbed Jewish principles and later modern culture.
After the Holocaust, he was one of the leaders of the last remnant of the Jews in Poland. Today he lives in Canada.
He was a Torah scholar and Hassid Gur from the large and veteran Zaida family in our city. Although he was both a member of Mizrahi and a Hasid of Gur, everyone accepted him.
At the end of his life, he was sorry that he couldn't have made aliya to Eretz Yisrael because of his illness. His daughter lives in Israel.
Yisrael Yonah Monet
He was a man who fulfilled the saying, Be pure with your G-d. He accepted the Mizrahi ideas with warmth and without restrictions and followed all its ideals. Although he prayed at the Gerer Shtiebl and sometimes was chastised there, he remained loyal and devoted to Mizrahi.
P. Zelcovski, Advocate
Translated by Esther Snyder
The image I have of my city, Lowicz, which is engraved deeply in my heart and memory, was full of extraordinary romanticism. The Bezura River that surrounded it, the scent of the earth that rose from the nearby fields in autumn and spring all these entered my soul and became an inseparable part of it.
Against the romantic background of the city where I was born, a new generation of Jews grew up in Lowicz youth instilled with nationalistic feelings and ideas. This was the first generation that made a firm decision to leave the ghetto and create an atmosphere of emancipation, both national and personal. Emancipation was the antithesis of the oppression of many generations during hundreds and thousands of years. The parents of these youth continued to live their traditional life, almost without change, as their ancestors had. The old generation still wore their traditional long clothes, always with hats on their heads and the women with wigs. Black and other dark colors were the norm, a symbol of identification with life in the Jewish ghetto that lacked sunlight and fresh air.
On the other hand, the young generation had a strong urge that could not be repressed, similar to a spiritual cataclysm that forced them to release and exhibit their spiritual and physical strengths and to increase the intensity of their lives. As a result, most of the older generation of Lowicz continued to visit and seek the counsel of Rabbis, to pray in the synagogues and Batei Midrash (study halls) with no innovations or revolutions. However, the youth began organizing into various political and sport movements, almost all based on Zionist ideas. There were, however, also other organizations.
Most of the youth strongly desired an education. However, the difficult economic situation was an obstacle. At that time, education was considered a luxury that few could afford. There was only one elementary school for Jews in the city, in which the language of instruction was Polish, but the school gave only a basic education. The high schools, separate ones for boys and girls, were government run only a small number of Jews studied in them. In a class of 50 or more, there was only one Jew and often none at all. In addition, there was a municipal commercial school but it did not grant a matriculation certificate and thus could not pave the way for a higher education and entrance into the university. Under these conditions, only a very limited number of the Jewish youth in Lowicz were able to reach the university.
When I started my studies in the university, in 1926, there were already a small number of academicians in Lowicz, who had received their High School diplomas before me.
The Jewish doctor, Dr. Yaakobovski, lived on Podzchena Street. He was a tall, handsome man with a Semitic visage. His wife, who was very sociable and sympathetic to the Zionist idea, opened her home to the youth and public leaders. Many important leaders,
such as Jabotinski and Greenboim, visited their home during their stay in Lowicz. Often this atmosphere led to initiatives such as organizing an evening for the Jewish academic house in Warsaw. Tragically, later on, Dr. Yaakobovski paid dearly for these activities and his nationalist devotion he was one of the first victims of the Nazi terror in our city. He died in the beginning of 1940 after being cruelly tortured.
In 1922, there was an increase in the number of Jewish academicians in Lowicz. In this year, a number of boys and girls completed their studies in the state gymnasium and received their diplomas. I still see them clearly in my mind today, wearing red and white student caps. These Jewish students did not wear the university hats for very long. Just one year later, when anti-Semitism among the Poles intensified, the Jews were prohibited from wearing these hats and only Poles were allowed to do so. This was a period of Shturm and Drang. The hostility of the Poles against the Jews intensified. Everyone felt that a solution must be found for this burning and painful problem and that they could not sit by passively. The academicians, with an almost religious zealousness like their fathers', but with a different reason and compulsion, debated day and night trying to find a solution for the Jews and also their personal distress. They considered various options; some saw their salvation from the surrounding hostility in the framework of universal humane activities and movements, such as Socialism. The more extreme ones cooperated with the Communists and worked in the underground with their youthful devotion and exuberance.
On the other hand, some other academicians devoted their best efforts to the struggle for the rights of the Jewish people in the diaspora and also for the establishment of a homeland in Eretz Yisrael. The academicians were the initiators of the sports movement and organized the Maccabiah. Differences of opinion were very sharp the sentiments were strong, the mood was stormy and the atmosphere was like a beehive.
At the same time there was a large intelligentsia in Lowicz, which although hadn't acquired a formal higher education, sometimes displayed progressive thinking and a broad autodidactic education. They studied independently and acquired knowledge through libraries and lectures. A club of the Jewish intelligentsia was formed on Zadonska Street (Die Literarishe Geselleschaft) and its leaders were: Yehiel-Meir Zelberberg, my sister Regina, Avraham Wartski (for many years) who now lives in Haifa. There were many, many dear, sensitive people with Jewish and humanitarian souls whose names I can't remember, but whose faces and actions I remember today as if a living movie still existing that will never be forgotten. These people took an interest in everything, almost without distinction, arguing about Kant and Spinoza, about Cubism and futurism, about the giants of Jewish literature and the leading foreign writers. They even reached and were amazed by the Indian author Rabindranath Tagore, of course translated into Hebrew, Yiddish or Polish. After the club closed at midnight the stormy debates continued in the new square (Der Neue Mark) by the light of the moon, and sometimes the police intervened when their voices became too loud.
I graduated high school in 1926, together with Fishel Rosenkrantz and we both started the university that same year. In the coming years others joined the academic ranks including the Wolf brothers and Yehuda Leshchenski, Zevek Rosental and his sister Mina and a boy named Sheinfein. I want to say a few words about this young man. He never expressed his opinion about a public matter, was diligent in his studies and through great efforts became a physician. Although he came from a very poor home, his character and ambition helped him to succeed.
This generation of students lived without the illusion of their fathers. The anti-Semitic animal grew and searched for prey. The atmosphere in the university was depressing and intolerable. The hooligans ran wild on the street and in the city and people were often afraid to leave their homes. In 1931, the writer of this article was accused of allegedly beating a pregnant Polish woman in Lowicz. The woman was a neighbor of the Leshchenski brothers and she, despite her pregnancy, wanted to organize a small pogrom. When that didn't succeed she falsely accused me. I was acquitted. This was yet another year when a Jew could find only limited justice in the courts. When the government passed to more extreme anti-Semites, justice for Jews was unsure and doubtful. All my academic friends took an active part in my trial, and it became a sensation in the city.
From year to year the sky darkened, the sun and the heavens clouded. The animalistic predator raised its head and threatened total annihilation. And surely, in 1939 the Nazi troopers entered Lowicz. The youth sought shelter and salvation, dispersed in all directions, but few survived.
I sometimes dream about the new square, about the fields called Kostka, about my friends and companions who were so close to me and with whom we argued but loved. Among them I formed my spiritual character they were a part of my world that was happy and beautiful.
It was all destroyed and is gone.
Yehezkel Lipski (Israel)
Translated by Esther Snyder
I don't have the facts nor the talent to describe this wonderful page in the history of our town. This is not a matter of Hashomer Hatzair or any other movement, organization or institution, etc. Each one of these and all of them together were signs and expressions of what was once in the hearts of boys and girls in the streets of a Jewish town surrounded by a sea of hate in various forms and frameworks in every generation.
People had dreams old and young. These dreams, already at the beginning of the twentieth century, although in different forms, were all based on the desire and yearning to break out of the dark alleys of the town and go out into the air and freedom, to the whole world.
In the broad expanses of the new world in North America you can find colonies of former residents of Lowicz from the years before the First World War. These were people who came to America alone in irregular ways. In the major cities of Australia a relatively large colony of former Lowiczites was established, who reached that country in an unorganized manner in the period between the first and second World Wars. The Shomer Hatzair, like the other movements, which appeared suddenly in Lowicz, was only one of the catalysts or channels that served those who emigrated to Eretz Yisrael.
Lowicz was no different then from other towns in Poland. The Jewish youth searched for an outlet, a way to express themselves. Many activities and organizations were established and flourished in our town as in others. They included groups for the study of literature or history, sports and gymnastics, and various youth movements. Concepts and ideas were heard, absorbed and formulated about social revolutions, homeland, aspirations to civilization and culture, etc. Everything felt closed in and there was a desire for room to expand and develop.
The best of the youth whether studying or working was organized. There was a spirit of renewal in the air. The sounds and echoes of new lives reached them from afar, as seeds that the wind carries which then land and sprout in the earth, which was thirsty for prophesies, dreams, hopes and ambitions for a better, freer world. All these were vague, undefined thoughts and feelings actually sub-conscious but they had their influence.
Against this background, youth groups were planned and organized including Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Betar and others. All of them were united by one yearning: making aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Hashomer Hatzair also desired to change human values and this was the greatness of this movement at that time.
It is tragic that these organized movements, including Hashomer Hatzair, didn't succeed in creating an atmosphere of thronging and flowing of pioneer youth to the training (hachshara) centers, before they left for Eretz Yisrael. Not all of those who were enraptured with the ideals of the youth movements understood the real meaning of hagshama fulfillment. Many of them dropped out and found other more realistic and easier solutions to their needs.
However, the movement such as the scout movement of Hashomer Hatzair merely by the fact of its founding and during the period of its existence throughout its changes, developments and difficulties, was the best and healthiest group as to its definitions and missions about the steps toward the best fulfillment in a person's life.
Let us remember with admiration our friends who were active in the movement, were devoted to it and sometimes sacrificed their future and themselves to its ideals, with the exuberance of youth.
Mordechai Lipski (Tamir), Tel-Yosef
Translated by Esther Snyder
I would like to recount some memories about sports activities in our town, in which I was especially active. I remember interesting events and unforgettable experiences organized by Maccabi, which was the only organization that was active in sports in Lowicz. The very idea of sports and the desire to have such activity was a revolutionary concept among the Jews.
Most of the activities of the Jewish community concentrated mainly on religious institutions, political matters in the many political parties and youth movements, cultural events in clubs, libraries, lectures and performers. Organized sports activities were unusual and the need for it was not really understood by the older generation; however, it was enthusiastically accepted by the younger generation that searched for change and innovation in the life of the Jewish community.
The activities began with organizing soccer teams by a few boys who collected money to buy a ball, and later soccer shoes and uniforms. We practiced and played soccer in the fields and on any available lot. We walked out of town on Shabbat to find a plot to play in. We awaited the moment when we would feel ready to compete against non-Jewish teams.
After a period of practice among ourselves, we gained confidence that we really were ready and able to compete with other teams. With apprehension and much enthusiasm, we participated in our first competition. It was not only our first test of our team but also that of the whole Jewish community of Lowicz. For the gentile community our appearance symbolized Jewish participation in general and not only in sport. We also felt that we were representing not only sports, but also that we were representatives of the whole Jewish community. Therefore, all the Jews accompanied us to the competition with the blessing that we would win, although with little hope or belief that we could.
Although we lost that first game, we realized that we were capable of competing. The rival team that won realized that they played against Jewish boys who fought for the ball, and proudly represented the honor of the Jewish community. We continued practicing and playing. We played against teams from the surrounding towns. Our ability and confidence grew and we proved that we could also win. We gained experience and prepared for more serious meets. One day we received an invitation to play against the soccer team of the Army that was stationed in Lowicz, Division 10 (PULK 10). We knew that this time we had a serious rival. Now, the matter of prestige was more important than in other games. We decided to strengthen the team by adding three players from Maccabi of Lodz, whom we invited especially for this game. The expectation and the anxiety of the local Jews were great. A large crowd gathered for the game Jewish fans of our team and gentile fans of the Army team. I was privileged to participate in this important game and I remember our victory over the Polish until this day. We left the field very excited about our victory and the Poles were angry. The Jews dispersed accompanied by a shower of rocks thrown by the Poles. They also threw stones at the members of our team. We were used to this reaction by the Poles every time we played a game no matter if we won or lost.
The sports activities expanded in Lowicz with the acquisition of a hall that was used especially for this purpose. We also acquired sports equipment such as parallel and high bars, springs for athletics and boxing equipment. New members joined Maccabi and the hall was crowded every night with activities and visitors.
Many supporters and players joined, mainly among those who had completed their service in the Polish army. Moshe Shmelz was the head of the Maccabi activities in town.
Despite the fact that he himself was not an athlete, he was totally devoted to organizing activities and dealing with financial matters. The income came only from small change that was collected from the members without any institutional support.
A field was bought ahead of the summer's activities, which included new sports, such as gymnastics headed by Leshtzinski who was still living in Warsaw. We also set up a volleyball team. The most active member of our club in all areas was Shlomo Shrager. He was slim and handsome, full of energy and initiative, and had limitless devotion to the members. He cultivated a group of boys and youth who were prominent in their sports ability he nurtured and took care of them. Shlomo Shrager was also the boxing coach and was influential in developing the physical fitness of the Jewish youth. One of the achievements in our sport activities was competing in light gymnastics tournaments between three towns: Lowicz, Gombin and Kotno. How great was our joy when we returned with the winning trophy.
The local branch of Maccabi in Lowicz attracted not only sportsmen but also, in time, became a center for all Jewish youth. For the 20 30 year olds it was a social meeting place, especially for those who hadn't found their place among the other youth organizations and political parties. Who doesn't remember the annual gala balls that were held twice a year: in the summer on the Maccabi field, attended by masses, with a special band, and even those from neighboring towns came to take part in this gala event. In the winter, the Purim Ball was held in one of the large halls in town. These two events were the main source of income to cover the expenses of the sports activities throughout the whole year.
The sports activities, the physical training, the development of stamina and the ability to withstand a rival awakened in us the confidence to stand up against anti-Semitic hooligans and to respond to every blow or insult. We began to respond by throwing stones after every competition, and in case of fights we knew how to hit and fight back. Our national pride grew and we walked with our heads held high. We should mention and emphasize two instances: one instance occurred when a crowd gathered on Zadonska Street near a Jewish store. A Polish hooligan insulted a Jewish woman. Shlomo Shrager happened to be passing by and he immediately started to beat up the hooligan. Although he was stabbed in the chest he continued fighting the ruffian. Shlomo's appearance and reaction served as a model how we ourselves should act.
The second instance happened one night when we were gathered in the sports hall practicing boxing, guided by Shlomo Shrager. Suddenly, we heard wild shouts and the breaking of windows. We understood that it was an anti-Semitic demonstration where the hooligans were breaking things, hitting and looting. Shrager immediately gave the command Everyone should grab an instrument or tool and run after him into the courtyard. The demonstration was nearing our yard; crowds were marching, including the clergy, while wildly shouting against the Jews. We stood close to the walls of the entrance into the courtyard and Shlomo guarded the gate. The hooligans approached shouting loudly, and soon were near us. Three of them broke through. At that moment, Shlomo succeeded in closing the gate and we attacked the three ruffians. They received such a tough beating from us that they certainly remembered it and felt the results for a long time. The next day, the police patrolled the area to keep it orderly. The Jews feared going out at night. However, young, strong, plain men stood freely around the Maccabi club in order to protect the Jews from anti-Semitic acts of violence. We organized into small groups armed with clubs and walked around the streets in order to protect the Jews against attacks by Polish hooligans. In this way, we formed a core group of Jewish power for self-defense.
In 1934, I left the town of Lowicz together with my family and came to Eretz Yisrael. At that time the sports activities were at their height. At the party held for me by the sports people, they expressed their desire and ambition also to come to Israel. I traveled to Israel full of hope that most of the Jews of the town would soon come, most of the youth would join me and here in Eretz Yisrael, we would continue our sports activities. However, it was destined that after a while all in the town would be liquidated and destroyed, and this Jewish community that was lively, aware and full of warmth, would be crushed and we would not be able to do anything but erect a monument and recall fond memories from those bygone days.
I continued my sports activities here in Eretz Yisrael, continued to cultivate what I had learned in Lowicz, and to do my part in organizing sport in Israel, and now my sons also are active in sports.
Yitzhak Baum (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Esther Snyder
My path to Zionism wasn't much different than that of my friends in those days.
I was educated in the way of Hasidism and tradition, by my teacher Dardaki and the yeshiva that was founded on Zadonska Street and headed by the strict principal, Lazer Baruch Zayde. He introduced a progressive system of giving grades, report cards, promotion from one grade to another and exams by town scholars.
In this small Jewish town there was no future for the maturing youth. Secular studies were not an option, they were considered almost like conversion. The family viewed studying a profession as unacceptable, thus the only possibility was to help out in the family business or to be idle. We were dissatisfied with this life. Some of us had the courage to leave this town that lacked any outlet or interest for us. Slowly we were pushed out of the religious camp because of our modern attitudes. The elders were unable to understand the soul of the maturing youth.
The first time I appeared at prayer services wearing a short-jacked suit, I was thrown out by
the Gur Hasidim who viewed this as assimilation. This act gave me the last impetus to leave the religious community.
In the early 1920s the Zionist youth movements started organizing in Lowicz. The first one was Hashomer Hatzair. The best of the youth joined. After that, another youth movement was organized, called Hashahar - Brit Trumpeldor, headed by Menashe Atlas. I was part of a group of boys who liked sports and we all wanted to join one of the youth movements. Two groups negotiated with us Hashahar headed by Atlas and Hashomer Hatzair led by Yeheskel Lipski. We couldn't decide which one to choose. We considered the type of administration, the uniform, the roll calls, the marching and formations, and finally decided on Hashahar Betar. Those were beautiful times for us. At that time the Zionist movement wasn't as yet so divided. The three Zionist youth groups in our town worked together harmoniously: Hashomer Hatzair led by Yehezkel Lipsi, Gordonia led by Shlomo Rosenkrantz, and Betar led by me.
Our patrons were Mr. Abraham Wartzski and Mr. Bialik Eizner. The day of Lag B'omer was celebrated together and we marched out into the forest and back in formation throughout the town. The residents of the town were proud of the organized youth. I won't forget the Shabbat eves that were organized together with the three youth groups. We discussed matters on a high cultural level.
The ashes of my relatives, acquaintances and friends were dispersed in the crematoriums of Treblinka, Maidenek and Aushwitz. Only a few of them survived. I left the town in 1929 and traveled to Argentina as a station on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Now, when I remember them, I think how much this wonderful youth, vibrant and fresh, ambitious and believing, as they were in our town, could have contributed to the revival of the Jewish nation and the building of Eretz Yisrael. History will judge those guilty of the annihilation of millions in the countries of the diaspora.
May my brief memories in this Yizkor book serve as an immortalization of those wonderful Jews of Lowicz, for future generations.
Tova Gross (Savir), Ramat-Hashofet
Translated by Esther Snyder
I joined Hashomer Hatzair when I was twelve years old. My path in the movement and the path of the movement itself were not easy. The Polish youth were poisoned with anti-Semitism and harassed all our activities and hikes. My dear parents were not pleased with my participation; it negated their world view and way of life. Girls especially met with the negative attitude of their parents to activities outside the home. I was in a rebellious stage and sometimes had to run away from home. In the Hashomer club I found warmth, understanding, friendship, a quiet corner, mutual help, friends and satisfaction in my life.
There were many youth movements in our town. They were a true reflection of the different layers and levels in the Jewish community in Poland and in each city and town.
The activities in the youth movements enriched the lives of the youth and added variety to the things we received in school and at home. The experiences of the youth organized in the youth movements were abundant.
The traditions that I absorbed in my town, in my parents' home, in school and in the youth movement all served to determine my way in life. I came to Eretz Yisrael and joined Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair. Today I live in the country in Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet.
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