By Benyamin Yoeli (Yevalavsky)
February 1917 Russia. World War I is raging in full force. Nesvizh is located about 40 miles east of the front. In Petrograd, the capitol, a revolution. The Czar is deposed. A temporary government is in place. The chains of the czarist regime lifted. Slogans of freedom and brotherhood are heard all through Russia.
The Jews are breathing a sigh of relief. In a stroke were all restrictions against the Jews lifted. The old Jewish proletarian parties were resurrected again: Bund", The Proletarian of Zion (Poalie Zion) are the ones who put their hope in realizing the socialist dream in Russia as a solution for the Jewish problem. This was their rational for rejecting the Zionist idea and the recognition of the Hebrew language as the Jewish national language. The assimilated inteligencia and the masses of underdog workers flocked to these parties since they were discriminated socially and had no national conciseness. The Zionist movement was also awakened at this time, coming out of hiding. Zionist chapters were established spontaneously in all the Jewish localities attracting mostly a concentration of middle-class educated youth.
About one month after the beginning of the revolution an assembly was called by the brothers Moshe and Abraham Tzudick who were influenced by veteran Zionists Benyamin Isenboud and Shlomo Levin. The meeting took place in the Dekatzavim synagogue. Most of the youth from the Russian schools and some refugees from the areas of Brisk and Bialistock, who came into the city, participated.
Benyamin Isenboud, Shlomo Levin and Moshe Tzudick were the prominent speakers. It was decided to establish a Zionist association and name it Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) (Tze'irei Zion).
The name wasn’t original, since even before the war there was a Zionist movement by this name in Russia, and in the beginning of the revolution many chapters reopened in Russia. The elected committee came in contact with the movement’s center and accepted its authority. Representatives and counselors from the center often visited in the chapter. There were discussions and clarifications on the relationship between Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) movement and the general Zionist movement. Differences surfaced slowly. The Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) in Russia organized as an autonomous organization called Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) popular fraction as a part of the Zionist organization.
It started its activities in the village by renting a club and establishing a public library. The seed for the library was a collection of about 1000 books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian from the Zionist library, established in 1898. In 1905 the Russian authorities shut down the library, and the book were stored in sealed boxes by the police. Some Jewish and general publications from the Art and Literature Association that existed until the war were also brought to the library. As time passed, more books were purchased in Odessa, Moskva, and Minsk. Since Jewish press was not prevalent in the city and few read newspapers (Jewish or otherwise) the library contributed immensely to increase the Zionist awareness among the members of the association. It served to widen their horizons in respect to Zionism, the settlement efforts in Eretz-Israel and world Jewry in general.
In the library one could have found volumes of Jewish publications in Hebrew and Russian: Voschod [ascent in Russian], Rasvit [the dawn in Russian], Ha’olam, H’poel H’tzair, H’shilowach.
To the youth active in the association, a treasure of books on Jewish subjects (they didn’t dream existed) was unveiled. Now they had the opportunity to read about and to discover the Zionist movement and the land of Israel they longed for since their days in the Cheder [a Torah school for small children]. For the first time they could learn about chapters in the history of Zionism from Shivat-Zion to their time. That is how many learned about the struggle for Jewish work, the fight of the Boazim [from the Hebrew name BOAZ meaning Landowners] against Jewish work and Jewish labor, the revival of the Hebrew language and the beginning of the settlement in Eretz Israel. Clearly this literature had influenced and formed the ideological thinking of the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion).
Standing: Yakov Androsyer, Avram Tzudik, Chanah Grons Yoeli, Aba Sheshevsky, Mordechai Karpech
The association distributed the Shekel, collected donations for the National Fund and held information meetings, mainly in the main synagogue. It also actively participated in the election for city council side by side with the general Jewish block, while the Bund joined the social democratic Russian party.
On May 1st the association participated in a large demonstration by all the Jewish and Christian parties and public bodies. The association gathered under the red flag next to the national flag and carried Zionist and general banners calling for the land of Israel for the people of Israel", "long live the free republic", and national rights to the Jewish nation. The first the meetings took place in Russian, since it was easier for the youth to articulate themselves in this language. Very quickly though, the influence of the national spirit, and opposition to assimilation prevailed, and the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) started to conduct meetings in Yiddish.
The level of activity increased in 1917 as the elections for the general convention of Russian Jews and the Russian general assembly approached. The election quarrel among the parties was very strong. Many gatherings and assemblies convened and plenty of propaganda was disseminated.
Three months later, in February of 1918 the city was taken by the Germans. The association increased its activities. A new Hebrew school was open. It was named the Chlenov Public Hebrew School and was located in the Market [de-shuk] Synagogue, in the women’s wing. About a month later it was moved together with the library and the club to the Rosenberg High School were it remained for many years. The initiative for the school came from a Jewish soldier, a Hebrew teacher from Lodz’, Moshe Melnik. He happened to come to the city after its conquest by the Germans. He suggested to the association to open a school under his directorship, and his offer was accepted. A committee including Benyamin Izenbod, Israel Rabinovitz, Enshel Potzepovsky and Aharon Apshtein dedicated themselves to the management of the school, to get furniture and to determine the tuition. They also conducted amateur plays and held flower sales to help in maintaining the school. For several years Melnik the teacher, would duplicate material on a hectograph machine and distribute it to the students due to a shortage of books.
The association also initiated a Hebrew kindergarten, but it did not need any help from the community since it supported itself from tuition. The activity of the association did not cease after the Germans left the city, in December of 1918 and the return of the Bolsheviks. The school and the library continued to operate and the language of teaching continued to be Hebrew.
In honor of the Purim holiday the committee published a humoristic paper, Dar Magen’Davider Hamentoush [The Star of Hamentash]. It was read in a party that took place two weeks after the holiday, because of the eruption of the Polish revolt.
When the city was conquered by the Poles in 1919, the association was invigorated to action. The social interaction increased among the members. New courses were established: Geography of Israel, history, and literature combined with Saturday night get-togethers. The association also published four issues of Kadima written by hand by the members. Newspapers such as "Hapoel Hatzair and Kuntres (The Pamphlet) were obtained from Palestine.
In March 1920 democratic elections for the community council were held. The association ran as an independent party. Other parties were from the members of different synagogues, Poalei tzedek [charity organizations] and merchants. The Zeirei Zion list won four seats when it obtained the largest number of votes. The extra votes were assigned to the General Zionists with four seats out of 23 which chose the Community Council. [The extra votes concept occurs in proportional voting, where so many votes allot one seat. When there are extra votes that can't lead to a seat, they are not simply thrown away, but combined with the votes of another party to afford them a seat accorkng to the minimum number. Thus, if it takes 100 botes for a seat, and a party got 180, those 80 botes are not lost, but combine with another party according to pre-election agreements to give that other party a seat, if, forexamplem it had 20 votes]. The representatives were Benyamin Isenboud, Zalman Shifres, Benyamin Yavelevsky-Yoeli and Israel Rabinovitz. The members of Young Zion on the council took an active roll on the committees and together with the General Zionists they became the most influential element on the council. After Shifres made Aliah to Eretz Israel, Moshe Melnik filled his position.
The events at Tel Chai on the 11th of Adar and in Jerusalem on Passover 1920 caused deep tremor. That is when the idea to organize and get ready to go to Israel ripened. After a discussion, a committee was selected. The members of this committee were supported by some veteran Zionists. About 20 members signed in to make Aliyah, and the committee had them sent for medical examination to approve the ones suitable. In June, the region organized a conference of Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) with the participation of a Shaliach from Eretz-Israel, Lipman Levinson. He described the grave situation in the land of Israel and told about the beginning of Arabs organizing against the Aliyah and Jewish settlement. He called the youth to come to Eretz Israel immediately in every way possible because the land is in need of thousands and even tens of thousands of pioneers. The two delegates to the conference, Shifres and Shteinhoise-Ben-Artzi, who were also on the Aliyah list, came back and related the words of the messenger from Eretz-Israel. It inspired the people to get ready to go no matter what. In the mean time the war took a turn, and the Polish army pushing east and arriving to Bobroisk, had to retreat along the entire front due to Russian attacks.
In light of this development it was decided to leave the city before it fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the city were at the time members of the organization of former residents of Nesvizh from the United States. Dr. Mogilansky and Landa gave financial assistance to those who could not pay their own way.
On the 20th of Tamuz (July 6, 1920) a large memorial service was held to mark the situation in Eretz-Israel and the departure of the Aliyah group. Shteinhoise-Ben-Artzi and Elisheva Kaplan-Eshkol spoke with fervor. Two days later, on 8 July 1920 in the yard of the school and in the club of the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) many gathered together with members of the General Zionists, the messengers from America, parents and relatives to say farewell to the first group of pioneers. Boris Misel and Dr. Mogilansky spoke and in the name of the Chalutzim answered Moshe shteinhoise-Ben_artzi and Shifres.
That evening a group of 13 pioneers departed on wagons to Horodzay, escorted by a large crowed of people.
The Aliyah of the group left a vacuum in the activities of the association. Prior to the departure of the pioneers, others also left to continue their studies or immigrated to America. A handful of activists remain to work in the library and the school committee. The association decided to establish a youth organization to serve as a reserve for the party. And so it was, at the call of the party, many youth did come forward and joined the organization. The active people then were Alperovitz Yehuda, Yosef Brazin and Baruch Poteshnik. The cultural activities were guided by the chairman of the association Benyamin Yavalesky-Yoeli.
The youth organization was intended to be unaffiliated with a political party, but as time went on most of its members joined Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion). In 1920 the international movement of Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) became devided. Some established the Mizrach Association of the Zeirei Zion party. The association in Nesvezh joined Mizrach Association that had its central office in Warsaw. Only one member of the leaders of the association, Binyamin Eisenbod, did not join the party but remained close because of his activities in the school committee. The association, whose members belonged to Tzeirei Zion (not just Z. Z.), in cooperation with veteran Zionists Yoel Rosovsky and Baruch Shmoshkovitz was active for the National Fund, Keren Hyesod, established a chapter of He’chalutz and then in 1922 established the sport organization Maccabi.
Initially, in the first few years of the Russian rule, police and undercover police broke into the clubhouse, and searched the library. They were suspicious and were looking for communist literature. They demanded to receive a catalogue of the books with a Polish translation. In those years the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for lending books only.
Initially, in the first few years of the Russian rule, police and undercover police broke into the clubhouse, and searched the library. They were suspicious and were looking for communist literature. They demanded to receive a catalogue of the books with a Polish translation. In those years the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for lending books only. [This paragraph was a repeat of the last one on page 102.]
In the early years, the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for loaning books. Meetings and lectures took place in rooms at the school without approval of the authorities. But for a public lecture the council did provide a request with a signature of Yoel Rosovsky, who represented the party for the purpose of dealing with the authorities. Later on it was announced by the center that a chapter was established and its legal status was obtained. The secret police continued to investigate and checked from time to time the ideological direction of the party, and whether communist elements had joined. They did this mainly to scare the members and as a deterrent.
The party suffered a great shortage of members for public action. Most of the old timers, except for Binyamin Yavalasky left the city. One immigrated over the ocean or went to Eretz Israel, another married a bride and moved to another city. For these reasons the party could not carry the responsibility for managing the library and the Hebrew school. The Tarbut chapter that was open in the city assumed these responsibilities.
New members came to the party, from graduates of the youth unions, which were active especially in the Zionist Socialists union and then Freihiete [Freedom in Yiddish], H’chalutz [the Pioneer], the National Fund, Ha’poel, in the professional association established through the initiative of the party with the permission of the Non-Professional Workers association in Warsaw that was under the influence of the party.
In 1925 the Association joined the merger of the Zeirei Zion Z. S. with the Polei Zion (Right) Party and since then carried the name Workers of Zion. The consolidated party established a network of schools Shul-colt with Yiddish as the teaching language with a wide range of study of the Hebrew language and its literature.
The Yiddish school was planning to build a new building, and for that they needed help from the supporters. The influence of Zionist ideology, and the fact that there were no leftist parties, facilitated the teaching of Hebrew and the Bible in this school. It also contributed to the fact that there was no anti-Zionist propaganda in the school. This helped members of the party to join the efforts to manage and support the school. With the influence of the party a new chapter of the Scout Union was established, and most of the members came from the Jewish school.
This cooperation with the leftist’s non-party circles for the Yiddish school impacted also the establishment of a unified list for the city council elections in 1927. The list managed to get 4 seats, among them a member of the party, Binyamin Yavalavsky-Yoely that was the secretary of the inspection committee.
The party also initiated in 1933 a chapter of Ha’oved with about 25 members of varied vocations. Their purpose was to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel.
by Shlomoh Damesek
From his book The Sun Rose There Too Tel Aviv, 1960
When I speak about the loyal few, the guardians of the Zionist movement, I must mention the loyal members of Poalei Zion (The Workers of Zion) in Nesvizh, the group that stood on guard during the difficult years and continued its work in the underground—with great danger and with splendid devotion.
This group congregated in the home of Hazel Herzog.
Hazel Herzog was the grade school teacher and was a central figure in the Poalei Zion movement in our town. She was sensitive and inspiring. All her life she devoted to the movement (she passed away in her early forties). For the movement she sacrificed everything she had - her personal happiness and all her spirit and soul. Hazel Herzog worked relentlessly for the poor and homeless in our town even in her last days when she was ill, weak and near death.
In the days of the pre-communist government of Alexander Kerensky, Hazel’s home served as the underground center to the small group of loyal members of Poalei Zion including: Goldah Halperin the teacher, Moshe Arkey Shkolnik the talented tailor who had a keen sense for music, (he also loved the Yiddish literature and folk songs), Itzhak Chalavsky from Kozimir, an intelligent young man and delicate, Berl Lipovsky, Idel Prinsky and others.
Abraham Machtey suddenly appeared from time to time in Hazel’s home, bringing to the loyals information from the central committee of the party. He would work vigorously for a period of time, leave an impression, and disappear again.
The influence and accomplishments of this small loyal group, who gathered in the home of Hazel Herzog, led to the development of, after the revolution, in the days of the Karenskey government, the multi-member association of Poalei Zion in our town. It also launched the Bar-Borochov Yiddish school where the teaching of the Hebrew language took top priority.
Many of the sons and daughters of the poor of our town received their education in this school. In the management of this school were three of the old-timers: Moshe Arkey Shkolnik, Berl Lipovsky, and Goldah Halperin. Joined them later from the youth group were: the teacher Yosef Raven, Katriel Greenbalt and his older sister, Leible Isenbud the honest businessman who did much for the establishment of the school, Idel Landa, Idel Prinsky and more.
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