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[Page 141]

The HaShomer HaTzair Movement

When HaShomer HaTzair was established in Ostrolenka, we did not imagine that the birth of this youth movement would mark a great turning point in creating the image and ways of Ostrolenkan youth, in its integration into the redemptive Zionist action of all branches of the Working Land of Israel movement.

Like bountiful rain on thirsty land, HaShomer HaTzair burst with young strength into the soul of Ostrolenkan youths, in which there lay dormant a strong yearning for a change of the values of the depressing and withered life in the Diaspora. HaShomer HaTzair rallied the youth to a free Jewish life, to an upright Jewish stature and to a new life in society based on the principles of equality and justice in our old homeland. The movement awoke a new spirit in us. Possibilities in the great world were revealed by the continuous contact with the HaShomer HaTzair central leadership in Warsaw, and by frequent visits of its envoys to the Ostrolenkan “nest” [chapter]. It is impossible to write about the history of HaShomer HaTzair in Ostrolenka without mentioning the name of Pesach Hochberg, who was devoted to it with all his heart and soul. With limitless paternal love, he concerned himself with the success of the movement in our city. I will write separately about this wonderful figure.

With great respect, I attempt to put on paper the HaShomer HaTzair period in Ostrolenka and its spiritual light, which instilled great Jewish and humane values in us. This was a great and glorious period in our lives, one of unshakeable faith in the possibility of creating a better and more exalted life for our anguished nation.

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The establishment of HaShomer HaTzair is connected to two dates.

The first date is from 1924 to approximately 1926, under the leadership of Awigdor Eisenstein (my brother, of blessed memory). For him, at that time, HaShomer HaTzair had the nature of scouting, pure and simple, without a clear and consolidated political path. It made a very great impression on the lives of our city's youths, especially due to the external effects of its sporting activities. Before it succeeded in taking root in youth circles, however, a crisis broke out in Israel. This left such a grave mark that the nest's activities stopped. Confusion and helplessness reigned in the Zionist street in Ostrolenka. Those who left Israel began to come to Ostrolenka. The Bund immediately took advantage of the situation; nor did the Communists hesitate to plunge their hands into the pot. There was a feeling that all hope was lost. But we, a small group of HaShomer HaTzair senior members, about 17 years of age, could not reconcile ourselves to the situation. We, who had tied our personal futures to HaShomer HaTzair, and had hung all our hopes and ambitions on Eretz Yisrael HaOvedet [a Working Land of Israel] – we felt that our world had been destroyed. Because the nest had closed, we met in the street to consult about what to do. I remember the day that HaShomer HaTzair's fate was positively decided in our city, as a great day in my life and the lives of all my friends who merited being educated by the movement.

 

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Members of the HaShomer HaTzair “nest” [chapter] leadership in the '30s

 

It was on a Sabbath afternoon toward the end of 1927. Autumn had passed and winter was about to begin. A few friends, we strolled to the municipal park: Alter Malowany (the brother of Josefa, who is in Tiberias), Jehuda Chomont, Chaim Piaseczny, Eliezer Lachowicz and I. (There were other friends, but it is

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difficult for me to remember, and I ask their forgiveness.) While walking, we began to talk about our painful subject again. What will be? Someone said: “Take Rozan, a town much smaller than Ostrolenka, and it has a good nest. Krasnosielc is a tiny town, and it has a nest, too. And in Kolno and others.” We were all of the opinion that we must stand up and do something. Someone suggested: “Let's rent an apartment, contact the central leadership and begin.” Eliezer Lachowicz said, “There is a vacant apartment at my grandmother's. Let's rent it.” Someone asked, “And money…?” Another said, “Let's collect money among those of us who are walking and rent the apartment.” On the spot, we collected money for a month's rent, and the next day we had a HaShomer HaTzair nest. Our joy was boundless. It was as if we had been born again. Of course, we immediately contacted the central leadership in Warsaw, and they promised us a visit.

From among ourselves, we elected a nest leadership, composed of Members Shalom Margalit, Jehuda Chomont, Chaim Piaseczny and myself. (To be exact, it is difficult for me to remember at this time who else was part of the leadership.) When the revival of the nest became known in the city, youths streamed to us from all groups and ages, and we began to work. After a short time, the apartment became too small to hold such a great number of youths (about 300). Unable to function properly within the walls of the small nest, we turned to the committee of the Rightist Poalei Zion, which had a hall over Leszczinski's coffee shop. We asked them to let us use their hall for a short time and hold some of the nest's activities there, until we could rent a suitable larger apartment. We received a positive reply. Shalom Margalit moved over with his battalion (the Young Lions Battalion) to run battalion activities in the hall. Meanwhile, the longed-for visit from Warsaw took place. The name of the inspector was Szlamek Szytko (now Shlomo Elan, a member of Gan Shmuel). To this day, I have not forgotten Szlamek's visit. With his youthful tempestuousness, he won our hearts. He was a tall young man, from an assimilated family, about 18 years old. At a nest leadership meeting, he spoke to us in Polish, which was his mother tongue, and outlined for us a plan of action for the nest. His words were sprinkled with mischievousness and seriousness as one, as he lectured us on the role of HaShomer HaTzair among Hebrew youth. We were deeply impressed by his broad knowledge of painful and specific Jewish problems. After his visit, we felt a deep responsibility for the nest's fate. It seemed as though we had grown up all at once. With the strength of youth and great faith, we attacked the mission we were given.

 

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“Beniamin”, a group of youths at HaShomer HaTzair,
with the head of the group, Shalom Margalit (center, among those standing)

 

After a short time, we moved to a larger apartment in the center of the city, at Frenkel's, on Lomza Street, opposite Krymkiewicz's big house. According to the central leadership's instructions, we also established seminars for educators in the nest. A teacher named Abel, from Ostrolenka's Culture School (now a member of Kibbutz Ein Shemer), participated in the seminars. I remember that he lectured on the history of education and knowledge of the land [Israel]. I lectured about subjects from Hebrew literature, the history of Zionism and Hebrew history. (It is hard for me to remember who else was among the lecturers at the seminars.) We were blessed with success. We trained many educators, heads of groups and heads of battalions thanks to these seminars.

We made a great mark on the Jewish street in Ostrolenka. Youth groups in the city respected HaShomer HaTzair, as it instilled Jewish and humane cultural values in Ostrolenkan Jewish society. At our initiative, a new HeChalutz chapter was established in Ostrolenka, to which all senior members of HaShomer HaTzair from the age of 17 belonged automatically. We joined the committees of Keren HaKayemet, Keren HaYesod and the Working Land of Israel League. We were in the Patronage of the city's Culture School; almost all its students belonged to HaShomer HaTzair. We were also among the founders of the city's HaPoel, which became well-known in the entire region. In all the

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institutions mentioned, our representatives aroused respect and esteem because they fulfilled their roles with great responsibility and earnestness. A new type of Hebrew youth was created in Jewish society in Ostrolenka, possessed of cultural values and great ideals.

We went to summer farms for leaders and farms for younger echelons. We met youths from Rozan, Poltusk, Mlawa and others. We went to national conferences in Warsaw. New horizons opened before us. In 1930 or 1931, some of our members were at the conference in Warsaw for a Working Land of Israel. Ben Zvi from Israel – now its President and Shprinzak participated in the conference. Vandervelde and his wife also came from Belgium (he was then Secretary of the Second International). This was a deep experience for us. There was a great holiday at the nest when we presented a report on the conference. We relayed speeches of Ben Zvi and Shprinzak word for word. We also reported Vandervelde's criticism of the Bund for its negative attitude to Zionism. The conference remains in my memory to this day.

 

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“Laor”, a group of young girls, at HaShomer HaTzair

 

I remember one other highly impressive conference in Warsaw. This was the Eighth National Conference of HaShomer HaTzair, which took place in the winter of 1930. Bialik appeared at this conference and captured all our hearts. The conference opened in the hall of the Conservatory in Warsaw. The envoys from Israel who participated in the conference were Emma Lewine, Awraham Rawicki, Ben Ami Gordon, Jakow Hazan and others. Icchak Greenbojm was also among those who greeted us. We drank in their words thirstily, and with devotion and the joy of youth we reported all these deep experiences to the nest's members. Thus, from nest to nest, a new image of Hebrew youth was created, proud and erect, imbued with the knowledge that it had been appointed to fulfill great and lofty missions in the life of the Jewish people which was being renewed in our land.

The nest's development was also greatly influenced by visits of leading personalities to the city. I remember the visit of Moshe Breslavsky (from Naan). With the fullness of our lungs, we breathed in the atmosphere of the Land of Israel and his song, Rabbi Dovidl from Vasilkova, which he taught us. Nachum Ben Ari from Ein Harod also visited our city and participated in a fete we arranged on the 11th of Adar, in memory of Trumpeldor. How proud we were of him, one of Trumpeldor's friends …

Icchak Greenbojm's visit, when he was a representative to the Polish Sejm, made an unforgettable impression on us. His visit symbolized Jewish honor, which had been raised from the dregs. Among the visitors to the nest was Icchak Hillel Grabie from Mlawa, Jechiel Harari – on behalf of the central leadership, Awraham Lipsker and Awraham Moskowicz. Among those who stayed at the nest for more extended activity were Sender Bachrach, Yakov Eitan from Beit Alpha and others.

In particular, I wish to stress that all events in the nest, its creativity and activity, and all incidents related

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to Zionist activity that occurred in the area – all these began and ended at the home of Pesach Hochberg, of blessed memory.

 

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A group of senior youths of the HaShomer HaTzair nest in Ostrolenka

 

With reverence, I attempt to write about the memory of Hochberg and his home. He was Chairman of the fund that redeemed and purchased the Holy Land for the Jewish people. It pained him with all his heart when someone failed to finish emptying the charity boxes in our region, for whatever reason. Anyone who failed could not look Hochberg in the eye. He would be furious, emanating reproof. It was as if this failure caused Hochberg personal pain and great sorrow. For Hochberg, Keren HaKayemet was a purpose in life, a lofty and holy ideal. The “Hochberg spirit” adhered to all Zionist parties that participated in Keren HaKayemet activities. We all admired and respected the man, despite his angry outbursts at meetings. We knew this came from his constant concern that the holiness he attached to the Fund's activity should not be desecrated, God forbid. He was the father of HaShomer HaTzair. His large, spacious home belonged to the movement. For every envoy who came to work at the nest – Hochberg's home was his. We felt warmth in that home. The relationship of his wife, Sara-Rywka, toward us was like a mother's. The housekeeper behaved as if her only function was to serve us. It was so natural and simple. We were connected to that home, which was always at our disposal. It was the committee-house and center of all Zionist work activity. When any personality visited the city, his first stop was the Hochberg house. Hochberg loved the HaShomer HaTzair movement with all his heart. He believed with all his might that a Shomer member was a man of truth. Therefore, he demanded more Zionist activities from us than from any other party, and was proud of our accomplishments. The nest's flag stood in Hochberg's home, in an important corner of its large room. Anything required for the nest's long trips – various utensils and the like – could be found at the Hochberg house. He concerned himself with all the little and big things for the nest. His ambition was strong to emigrate to Israel, but he did not realize his dream. The impure hands of the servants of the great enemy subdued him. May his memory be blessed. Alas for those who were lost and will not be forgotten.

 

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Members of HeChalutz emigrate to Israel in 1934
(in the center: Pesach Hochberg)

 

We will remember the HaShomer HaTzair movement in Ostrolenka with glory and heartbreak. We drank from its springs with the warmth of youth. We will remember all those who did not realize their dreams of emigrating to Israel, the land of great hopes. Our sons after us will remember our deep ties to the region of our childhood and youth, the Jewish Diaspora in Poland, the great contribution of Polish Jewry to building the Land of Israel, and the Jews of Ostrolenka among them.

Hanan Eisenstein, Ramat Yitzhak

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