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[Page 66]

The Pioneering Youth Movements

Aba Botvinik

Translated by Shmuel Winograd

With trembling hands I approach the writing of these words about Rakov, our hometown, which was -- and is no more. My heart is filled with memories, of institutions and people, of children and young men, who dreamt of migrating to Eretz Israel and of joining the builders of the homeland, but whose wick of life was extinguished in the springtime of their youth. May these words serve as a memorial candle to the souls.

In 1924, in the beginning of the fourth Aliyah [wave of migration] to Eretz Israel, a branch of “HaHalutz” [a Zionist pioneering movement] was established in the town, and signaled the beginning of a strong pioneering Zionist activity. Teenagers left their fathers and mothers, severed all their connections, and went to various training camps, and prepared themselves to 'ascend' [migrate] to Eretz Israel. I was but a lad then, and fascination with the pioneering spirit caused my heart to beat with excitement. For whole evenings, I would walk on Zaslavi Street, near the home of Shmuel Pozhneik the Haberdasher, the meeting place of “HaHalutz”. More than once I stood under the window, straining my ears to hear the songs of Eretz Israel which were sung by the members of the “HaHalutz” club, and whose echoes filled the air. With all my young heart I yearned to see them dancing the Horah, and to listen to the notes which came through the walls of the house, till late at night: “El yivmeh ha'galil” [God will build the Galilee -- a Hebrew song]... “El yivneh ha'galilah”... “El yivneh!”... “El yivneh!”...

“HaHalutz HaTzayir”

That was the time that the idea of founding the “HaHalutz HaTzayir” [the Young Pioneer youth movement] was born. A dozen lads gathered at the home of one of us and we decided to organize. Our instructors, members of (the older) “HaHalutz” were: Moshe Mochanov, Ya'akov Botvinik, and Menasheh Manshevitz z”l. Young people from all walks of life flocked to us. The evenings, as well as the Sabbaths and the Festivals, were devoted to studying the issues facing Eretz Israel and Zionism, and the meeting would end with singing and dancing. And lo, a collective for training would-be immigrants to Eretz Israel was set up in the nearby village of Michlova, at Rivlin's large sawmill, and we, the members of the “HaHalutz HaTzayir”, had the task of taking care of their food. We would get up at four o'clock in the morning to bring them their foodstuff. How envious were we when we saw those pioneers working, and how impatiently did we await the day when we, too, would go out to work the fields to prepare ourselves for Eretz Israel.

[Page 67]

Here is the place to note the praiseworthy cultural and organizational activities of H. Abramson, during the relatively short period (around 1925) that he lived in Rakov, after his marriage. He gave many lectures on the, then, current issues in the lives of the Jews in Poland and in Eretz Israel, and devoted much of his time to the rehabilitation of the famous library.

Meanwhile, the migration to Eretz Israel continued, and in a short time, Moshe Mochanov, Aba Botvinik, Avraham Schneider, Hayim Abramson, the Birger family, and more, migrated there.

The night that the Birger left is particularly engraved in my memory. It was a wintery Saturday night. As we were returning to the town, having bid farewell to the migrants, we were 'welcomed' by a group of Poles shouting scornfully: “Damn Jews, to Palestine!”. These shouts reminded us, once more, of our humiliating situation in Poland, and of the truth of the Zionist message.


rak067.jpg [36 KB]
Our friends' migration to Israel,
H'Chalutz Rakov, August 6 1932



The members of “HaHalutz” and of “HaHalutz HaTsayir” were harnessed to the practical work of raising money for the Jewish National Fund, the Keren HaYesod [a fund for supporting Jewish settlements in Palestine], and the League for Working Eretz Israel. Sundays were devoted to going to the various houses and emptying the boxes of the Keren Hakyemet L'Israel. True, we were insulted at times, and were even thrown out of some of the houses, but as a rule we were received well, and were encouraged by the Jews of the town. I still remember the following incident: One Sunday, I entered the home of Rabbi Polak z”l and found him engaged in a din-Torah [judging according to Jewish law] surrounded by the litigants, and the house was chaotic, full of shouting and yelling. I excused myself and left.

[Page 68]

Rabbi Polak z”l rushed outside after me, and invited me to return to the house, saying that he always followed the rule: “Be respectful of emissaries of mitzvah [good deed]”. I emptied the box, and the rabbi gave an additional donation, above and beyond his usual donation, as a 'compensation'. This story is typical of Rabbi Polak z”l, who was devoted, heart and soul, to the Zionist cause, and was a willing supporter of any Zionist activity in the town.

The “HaShomer HaTsayir” Club

The “HaShomer Hatsayir” [a left leaning Zionist youth movement] Club [literally 'nest' -- Ken in Hebrew] of Rakov was established in 1928, at the initiative of Shmaryahu Rolnik (now living in [the kibbutz] Ein Shemer) and the writer. In a short time we got together over a hundred young men, of all ages and from all walks of life, who were attracted to the ideology and principles of “HaSomer HaTsayir” and to the nature of its activities, which were like those of the Scouts. We had our share of amusing situations. It happened, more than once, that parents came to the Club, searching for their children, and we had to hide them. On the other hand, there were parents who encouraged their children to join us. We conducted extensive cultural activities, whose starting point was the education of the youth in pioneering Zionism. The Club participated in all the Zionist activities in the town, and took upon itself all sorts of tasks. Some of our comrades left for the 'training collectives', to prepare themselves for 'ascending' to Eretz Israel. To our sorrow, only a few of them succeeded in fulfilling the dream of their desire, most of them remained in the town and perished with the destruction of this holy community.

During the same period, the Revisionists [a right-wing Zionist political party, headed by Jabotinsky] established a branch of its youth movement, Beitar, in the town.

The “Tarbut” School

As was mentioned above, the “HaHalutz HaTsayir” and the “HaShomer HaTsayir” youth movements were the main 'work force' of the Zionist institutions. But within a short time they transformed themselves, from being merely the 'auxiliary force' of the Zionist movement, into being an important factor in the social-cultural life of the town, first and foremost by our support of the “Tarbut” school. We conducted a hard and prolonged struggle with the 'religious circles', who had established a religious school, which often deteriorated into a brawl; but, in the end, the “Tarbut” school became the best school, and the most sought after school, in town.

A branch of the “Tarbut” [culture] movement was established, whose aim was to support the school financially and in other ways. The chairman of the branch was Mr. Ya'akov Bampi z”l, and Mr. Avraham Schneider was its secretary. When Schneider migrated to Eretz Israel, I took over the position of the secretary, until I, too, migrated to Eretz Israel. We conducted various activities: explaining the importance of Hebrew education for the young generation, organizing lectures and fundraising parties whose profits were given to the school, and establishing a theater group which put on shows. Some of the teachers and principals of the school are with us here, in Israel: Mr. Issar Kalatsky and his wife Rachel Wolfowitz, Mr. Shalom Holivski )living now in the Ein HaShofet kibbutz), and the teacher Levinsky. Among the more active members of the “Tarbut” branch, we can count David Greenholtz, who is living in France, Mr. Pittle Berenstein z”l, Baruch Kozlovski -- now of Ranat Gan, and Shmuel Rubinstein-Avni -- now of Ra'ananah.

[Page 70]


rak070.jpg [30 KB]
Hashomer H'Tza'ir, Rakov, April 10, 1933
Photography M. Lejbovitch

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