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[Page 122]

Federations and Parties

 

About the Parties in Ostrolenka

With the appearance of Dr. Herzl in the “Jewish street”, echoes of organized political Zionism also reached Ostrolenka, where it found enthusiastic supporters for the idea of national revival. Only a few were captured by the Zionist idea, but they were very devoted. Who did not know Anszel Lew, Bialy and others like them in Ostrolenka? At every opportunity, they told young people about the great difficulties encountered during the first days of Zionist organization. They encouraged them to act, arguing that the many obstacles should be disregarded and that, to realize any new idea, one has to devote oneself unconditionally, heart and soul. Does the Jew in the Diaspora have a more exalted or more vital idea than the Zionist idea and Jewish revival? Their arguments were convincing. Not a small number of youths began to understand them. Zionist organizations in the city, such as K.K.L., Keren HaYesod and others, motivated many youths. Political parties and institutions from other streams also had a base of support in Ostrolenka. And every party had a loyal and dedicated staff, which did not work in order to receive prizes.

 

Poalei Zion (Z.S.S.)

Did great political and cultural work in the grim reality of Jewish towns in Poland, and in our city in particular. The library established by the party was a great blessing. The populace and the youth drew culture and knowledge from it. Dedicated visionaries, devoted heart and soul, were not lacking in our city. Every night, even in the winter cold (there was no wherewithal to buy wood for heating) members and community workers sat in the party's apartment on Lomza Street, spending many hours sorting books for the library, discussing current events and deliberating about the situation in Israel. Everything was done voluntarily and with enthusiasm. Who does not remember the community workers Motel Zutkiewicz, Berel Zabludowicz, Szafran and – May they live a long life! – the Lachowicz brothers, Arjeh Szperling, the writer of these lines, and others. The party and organizational work took up most of their free time. More than once, they absented themselves from personal matters because of their great devotion to things paramount to the party.

 

HaShomer HaTzair

From it, thousands of “organized” youths received “improvement” and a purpose for their small town, ordinary lives. From school age, the “nest” [local branch] provided them with education and knowledge, and bequeathed the Hebrew language to them. It became the major agent in establishing the Culture School in our city. With their attire, celebrations, trips and folk songs, the lively youths captivated hearts and brought relish to the hard lives of the masses in the small, poor city. Thanks to the movement, many of its founders and members, such as S. Margalit, Y. Chomont, C. Piaseczny, S. Goldsztejn, S. Chmiel and others, emigrated and live in Israel. Above all others, an outstanding man from the ranks of the people, who had a warm Jewish heart, led the “nest”: Pesach Hochberg, of blessed memory. It was he who took the trouble, strove and gave of his soul and his money for the movement. He regarded its young members as his own children. His house was open for meetings, celebrations, lodging for important leaders and counselors who came from the capital, Warsaw. There was no limit to his generosity and dedication. Who does not remember Pesach Hochberg, of blessed memory, on traditional Lag BaOmer [the thirty-third day of the period between Passover and Shavuot] trips, in the march to the forest and back through the city, at major conferences of the movement and at its meetings, where he demanded of himself and others limitless devotion to the Zionist idea. His contributions to the institutions in which he was an active member were made generously, out of great love. The heart aches,

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remembering this grand, big-hearted man, who did not get to emigrate and see the State of Israel, although he exerted himself so much on its behalf. May his memory be blessed and preserved in our memories, together with those of all our holy townspeople. We, the survivors, who live in the State of Israel, will not forget this man. Perhaps we reached a safe haven because of him.

 

The Bund Party

This party fought with fanatic obstinacy against every idea connected with “Zion”. It must be admitted that the Bund did wonders for the education of the populace and proletarian youth, endowing them with culture and knowledge. The Bund library was large and rich. It was open to the general public every evening, and many came to exchange books. It was an incomparable cultural site in the city. The Bund had devoted community workers, such as Aron Zusman, and – Long life to him! – Y. Gutman, who lives in Israel. They took pains and labored to strengthen the city, brought well-known lecturers, organized cultural fetes, etc.

 

HaPoel

The HaPoel branch existed for years. Its young members purchased wind instruments with their own meager funds and founded an orchestra (they had a permanent conductor), bringing happiness to the city's life and to nearby towns. There were also sporting activities, such as soccer competitions, etc.

 

Keren HaYesod and Keren HaKayemet

At the head of our city's Keren HaYesod committee stood an outstanding man: Mr. Bialy, of blessed memory, who owned a sawmill. He was a Torah scholar and, in his unique way, devoted to the Zionist idea. He exerted himself and visited the city's inhabitants for annual fundraising. Although in poor health, he never complained of weakness. His always worked joyfully. Among the devoted active members were Pesach Hochberg, Zalman Gorzelczany, Efraim Chmiel, Zabludowicz and – Long may he live! – Icchak Rapaport, who lives in Israel.

The parties – not all of which were mentioned in my list – their community workers, people and loyal members, stimulated public life in the pleasant town of Ostrolenka.

Everything was destroyed, ruined and burned by the bitter enemy, may its name be erased. As for us, those who grew up and were educated in that city – nothing is left but to safeguard its memory forever in our hearts.

Yehuda Yitzhaki (Chomont), Haifa

 


The Founding of the
General Zionist Organization “HaTikva”

When Ostrolenka's inhabitants began to return to their city during the World War I years of 1916-1917, the first municipal library (which later became the largest library in Ostrolenka), named for Y.L. Peretz, was founded in the home of Joska. It had no party or political character. In time, they rented a place on Goworowskie Street, at Awraham Rozenblum the Carpenter's, and the library was moved there.

On one of the intermediate days of Passover, at the time of the annual gathering (annual gatherings usually took place on holidays), a sharp disagreement was revealed between youths with Zionist views and young people who tended toward Bundism (as is said, the parties were still “in their diapers”). The main reason for the conflict was that the Zionists hung a picture of Herzl in the library, greatly offending the supporters of Bundism. This was the beginning of a rift among the youth. The factions also divided the library between themselves. The Zionist youth established a general Zionist organization called HaTikva, and a separate library of the same name.

The administration of the Zionist organization, HaTikva, included the members Icchak Rapaport (Chairman, now in Israel), Szlomo Benedon (Secretary), Josef Wonszak (Assistant to the Secretary, now Israel), Berel Zabludowicz, Mosze Aron Sojka, Szejna Czapnikiewicz, Rachel Benedon and Alter Grynszpan.

Yosef Wonszak, Tel Aviv


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Dates and Personalities
in the Zionist-Religious Parties

In approximately 1918, the Tze'erei Mizrachi party was established in Ostrolenka. The founders and first members of the administration were Dawid Kaspi- Sarniewicz (Israel), Eliezer Skrobacz (Israel), his brother Herszel Skrobacz (may God avenge his blood) and others. Activities were held by the funds (Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael and Keren HaYesod): distributing shekels, Pentateuch study courses and evening classes in Hebrew under the instruction of the teacher, Jakow Filar. Other cultural activities were also carried out. From time to time, speakers, such as Rabbi Rapaport, Rabbi Hager, Rabbi Icchak Pines from Bialystok and others, came to instruct and guide the activity of these religious youths.

 

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HeChalutz HaMizrachi in Ostrolenka

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It was located in the New Market, at Alter Szlomo the Baker's (I don't remember its former location, which was also in the New Market).

In about 1922, the Mizrachi party was established. The founders were Reb Efraim Chmiel (Chairman), Dawid Kaspi-Sarniewicz Zalman Gorzelczany, the teacher, Michel Sarniewicz, Dow Chacek, Chaim Drezner, Izrael Wylozny, Chaim Rozonowicz and others. We also organized a special prayer minyan at the Yavneh School apartment in the study hall courtyard, where I was a teacher. Dow Chacek was the Torah reader and led the Musaf prayer on the High Holy Days. Reb Efraim Chmiel led morning prayers and the shofar [ram's horn] blower was Dawid Sarniewicz. The Yavneh School later belonged to the Mizrachi, and existed because of it. When the school moved to its home on Cyganska Street, the Mizrachi moved there, too, and next to it HeChalutz HaMizrachi and HaShomer HaDati. Together, they became known for organized cultural Zionist and Torah activity. They sent pioneers for HeChalutz HaMizrachi hachshara [training program for settlement in Israel]. A few succeeded in completing their preparation and emigrating to Israel. But we were not satisfied with this. We fought for significant representation in all municipal matters, too. We also fought with Agudat Yisrael, which was established some time after Tze'erei HaMizrachi (in about 1923) to “save” the souls of young religious people captured by this “heretical” party. Among the first founders of Agudat Yisrael were Reb Chaim Pinczas Gingold (who was later made Chairman of the Ostrolenka community), Mosze Noske, Lazer Mintz, Lejbel Mlynarzewicz (the son of Awrejmel Giszes) and other fanatical Gur Chassidic young people.

It should be mentioned that quite an important part of the Ostrolenkan community was observant and ultra- Orthodox. In the city, there were many societies of friends who sat and studied Torah together, such as Chevra Torah, Chevra Tehilim, Chevra Mishnayot, Tiferet Bachurim, etc. These societies also had their own prayer minyanim. In our city, there were also charity-benevolence institutions, such as Linat HaTzedek, Hekdesh for the poor and for hospitality for visitors from outside the city, charitable funds, etc.

The fact should be noted that Mendel Gedanken, at first a religious Zionist, became an outstanding general Zionist and, as such, was appointed head of the community.

I want to mention here a Mizrachi adherent,

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Zyskind Zusman, a fine Jew, a community worker, a Torah scholar and a pleasant man. He worked on the municipal charity fund and was among the assistants and advisors of Reb Efraim Chmiel, one of the first administrators of the fund. In partnership with Symcha Pianko, he had a beer brewery. He was killed by the Nazis, together with his family (he left behind a son in Israel, Szlomo Zusman, and a daughter in Argentina – May they live a long life!), and most of the people mentioned above.

Reb Eliezer Eli Zusman (the brother of Aron Zusman) will be remembered favorably. After his marriage to the daughter of Reb Mosze Noske Tejtelbojm, he became an active member of Mizrachi and one of the Yavneh School's honorable supporters. He was active in organized and financial projects of the Mizrachi and of the Zionist Federation in the city.

David Kaspi (Sarniewicz), Tel Aviv

 


HaShomer HaDati

When I returned home from the Lomza Yeshiva for the Succot 1933 holiday, I found a HaShomer HaDati group already in the city, organized by Gorzelczany and the brothers Cwi and Szlomo Skrobacz. I was asked to lecture on the afternoon of the holiday, before the members of HaShomer HaDati. HaMizrachi and HeChalutz HaMizrachi people also attended. This was my first lecture in public (except for my Bar Mitzvah sermon …). Since then, I became interested in HaShomer HaDati and was its head for a few years.

 

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HaShomer HaDati members at a Counselors' Conference

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In 1938, the number of HaShomer HaDati members had already reached 120. The “nest” leadership consisted of the Dancyger brothers, Wajnsztok and Chaja Crempach (who emigrated to Israel after the Holocaust and passed away in Tel Aviv). Among the heads of the groups were my brother, Jehuda, and my sister, Rachel (now in Israel), Mosze Gerber (now an attorney in Montevideo), Mosze Serok (now a clerk in the Jerusalem municipality) and Gedalja Gorzelczany (who emigrated to Israel through the Youth Aliyah and was killed in Israel). HaShomer HaDati's “nest” developed diverse educational-cultural activity: it conducted classes in Hebrew and Judaic studies, sports training and camping; a Hebrew library was established, a wall newspaper was published, and plays and public appearances by the dramatic circle were held. During the last years, HaShomer HaDati took first place in collecting money for Keren HaKayemet. The nest moved to a large hall, enabling it to hold activities for groups and for large crowds. The members participated in summer camps and went to hachshara [training for settlement in Israel] programs, but only a few succeeded in emigrating to Israel. With sorrow and pain, I mention these one hundred youths, who were enthusiastic about Torah and work, sang the song of revival and took the first steps toward salvation and redemption until the ax man rose up and cut them off – May God avenge their blood!

Chaim Chamiel HaShomer HaDati, Ostrolenka

 

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