Translated by Jerrold Landau
The First World War ended. Poland returned to life. The weaving factories of Ruzhany were burnt down during the war, and those that were not burnt lay idle, since the Russian marketplace for textiles was no longer available. The hide factories continued with their work, but the majority of the Jews did not earn their livelihood before the war from these, but rather from the weaving factories that lay idle.
Commerce and labor were virtually the only branches of livelihood in our town, but the Polish authorities assaulted the economic status of the Jews in the country. The status of the Jews was weakened through heavy taxes and through the enabling of the gentiles to take control of the commerce and labor. Even without this, they would have been weakened. The marketing possibilities for the merchandise of the Jews shrank, and their market area became constricted. Only a few of the merchants were able to earn a sufficient livelihood from their work. The rest lived from hand to mouth despite their great efforts, business talents, and diligence.
Their sons and daughters ambled idly through the streets of the town, without work and empty of Torah, since only a few of them were accepted to the high schools, and even those with great difficulty. Commerce had already betrayed their parents, and they had no hope to build themselves up in that area. There were also very few chances of being accepted into labor-based jobs. The heavy taxes that were impoverishing their parents demanded that they find their own independent means of existence, but there was none. This was a circle of cruel spells from which there was no exit, so they searched for means of immigration. Since only a few of the locked doors of the world were open to them, the youth wandered about the streets of the town idle and with nothing to do.
The farmers of the settlements of Pavlova and Konstantinova also came down from their greatness, as we learn from the letter of David Pinski, the emissary of Hechalutz and member of Givat, who visited Ruzhany and its settlements in 1930.
-- -- -- During those days, things have been most difficult for me here. I am already tired of the traveling and the wandering. Now, when I am en route, I am looking at the fields: the farmers are plowing, planting, and hauling fertilizer. I feel a pain in my heart. I am now wandering around here as an emissary. A great deal of agricultural work is taking place. It is hard for me to look at the poverty and difficulty that I find in every city and town, and even more difficult for me to look at the youths walking around idly, wandering about outside with nothing to do. In every place I hear the same refrain: it is a depression, there is no work, there is no end to the sea of tribulations.
I arrived in Ruzhany on Friday. The members of Hechalutz were waiting for their confirmation in Hachsharah, and in the meantime, they were wandering idly about the city. The town had declined and was dead. A deathly silence pervades the market in the middle of the day. The youth are leaving the city and searching for a place to which to immigrate.
I heard that there are two Jewish agricultural settlements near Ruzhany. I was happy to hear about this, and I asked my friends to take me there. I wanted to see the fields of the Jews, and Jewish agricultural work. I went there, and along the way I saw farmers hauling fertilizer, plowing and planting potatoes, but I did not meet one Jewish worker along the way. I entered the village. The settlement was founded approximately 100 years ago, during the time of Nikolai I. It had dilapidated houses that were liable to fall down. There was a dilapidated house of worship in the middle of the settlement. I met one Jew who was standing next to an empty potato pit, covering it. An official of the I.C.A. [Jewish Colonization Association] passed by in a wagon. I asked the Jew if the I.C.A. was helping them to any extent. Absolutely no help, was the response. The farmer began to complain, The earth is poor and of inferior quality, the harvests are scanty, the prices are low, and it is impossible to maintain oneself. I looked in the yards. Gentile workers were hauling fertilizer and picking potatoes -- clearly doing all the work. The Jew was not working. He was looking for auxiliary sources of income. Before, they used to work a bit in commerce. Now, due to the tribulations of the times in the midst of the depression, they await money from America. The cultivation was very primitive. There was no concern for ensuring a variety of crops. They did not plant flax, for one needs to invest a great deal of manual labor in that crop, and since the family members do not work in the field and one must hire workers, it would not be economically feasible to do this. Agriculture is not for Jews, agreed one farmer, It is for gentiles. They are born as farmers, and can earn their livelihood from this. -- But you were also born a farmer, I asked him. Indeed, but our needs are greater, agriculture is not for us.
I remembered our old settlements in the Galilee. How great are the similarities. Here too, the youth leave the settlement. Here too, it is strange labor, and there is despair and lack of faith. I did not gain any satisfaction from my visit to the settlements. I returned to town dejected and disappointed...
At first it was a charitable fund. Anyone in need could receive an interest free loan for a security pledge, and sometimes without one.
Later, the bank was set up. One of the first founders was Pepirmacher. A special emissary from the central banks in Warsaw passed through various towns and set up bank branches. He also visited Ruzhany and authorized the new branch. Pepirmacher's brother Reuvke was the accountant of the bank. Shmelke Stires was his assistant. The bank was opened in the Shulhauf Lane in the house of Finkel the baker (Der Piaker). When Reuvke left Ruzhany, Yaakov Kaplan was appointed as treasurer. He also served as a member of the directorship. From that time, Simcha Rozenschein served as accountant. His assistant was Yaakov Asher Rabinowich, and the bank emissary was Yitzchak the son of Eliahu Rodcki the tinsmith.
First row, standing right to left: Yaakov-Asher Rabinowich, Shmuel Hirsch Stein, Yaakov Kaplan, , Yaakov Michel Leib the shoemaker, Zelig Rudetsky, Yom-Tov Leviatan, , , Yitzchak Epshteyn, Simcha Rozenschein.
Second row: Yitzchak Wilensky, Yoel Epshteyn, Moshka Kaplan, Meir Guber, Nachum Fineman, Avraham Katzman, Tzvi Lerman, Moshka Guldin.
From among the founders of the bank we must mention Mordechai Karpels, Berl Chwojnik, Moshka Michels, Aharke Gamerman, Yaakov Michel Leb the shoemaker, and Hershel Lerman. Later Katzman, Szereszewski's son-in-law, also joined.
The bank provided great value for impoverished Ruzhany, even though it was only able to give small loans during the early years. The bank continued to develop after the First World War until it became quite large. With the economic depression that aflictd Ruzhany after the birth of the State of Poland, the bank assisted several of the merchants in no small manner and kept them from bankruptcy.
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