As Rabbi Y. L. Hacohen-Maymon relates in his memoirs concerning the history of
the Mizrakhi Movement, when Rabbi Reines was in Svintsyan, he was
very active in the Return-to-Zion Movement. In those days he was in contact
with the representatives of the Return-to-Zion Movement: Rabbi Tsvi Kalisher of
Teheran and Rabbi Gutmakher of Gridits in connection with the founding of the
Association of Yeshivas in Israel, whose center was then
Frankfort-on-Oder. Rabbi Reines suggested practical ways in which to realize
the thoughts of the Diaspora.
It is not a coincidence that there were in Svintsyan at that time, that is the 80's of the previous century, active fund-raisers who were collecting money for the Jewish settlements in Israel as well as very generous donors. This characterizes the high level and uniqueness of the kind of people in our city and their approach to the real problems of the time.
Today it is difficult to evaluate to what degree Rabbi Reines symbolized the Jewish community of the city. In fact, it was a reciprocal influence.
We find a letter very characteristic of Svintsyan in the archives of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem written on the 4th of October 1885.
The letter reads as follows:
To the Famous, Honored, Glorified Rabbi Meyerson, who seeks good for his people, our teacher to whom we are obligated--peace and blessings!
Enclosed please find 62 rubles that I have put aside donated from our city of Svintsyan for the purpose of the settlement in Erets Yisroel and we would appreciate it very much if your eminence would give this money to the treasurer, Ignats Bornshteyn, and treat it in the same way that you treat other funds that come to you for the same purpose from different places. In addition there is the sum of 50 rubles for secure bonds which I will try to gather as soon as possible.
Many people in our small city liked the suggestion that the honorable and wise Mr. Meyerovitz published in the pamphlet about planting vineyards. Three or four people (among which I am one) were found who wanted to plant three or four vines in their names, but we didn't know how to go about it. I don't know if this suggestion has already been acted upon or not, and it awaits the approval of the esteemed organization.
With Respect and Admiration
Nakhman Gurvitz - Svintsyan
Several days before the holiday of Passover, the wealthy, venerable, Mr. M. G. Gurvitz returned to our city from his trip to the Holy Land, where he had lived for 4 months.
Indeed, he didn't travel only to visit the land, our holy land but also to place a corner stone there for a settlement for several Jewish families and he bought 5,000 dunam of land. Then he was happy to return home.
The whole community turned out to give him an honorable welcome, including the great scholar Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky. The community gave Mr. Gurvitz a letter of appreciation and blessing from all of the community leaders of the city.
The heart of every person in the city was full of happiness when they heard his excited report about the holy land.
After the holy Sabbath, all of the community leaders got together in the house of the philanthropic sage, Mr. M. G. Gurvitz and all of them gave him their blessings. One of the schoolteachers of our city, Reb Sholom HaLevy Epstein, gave a speech, in excellent Hebrew, about the land of Israel to all those assembled. His words came straight from his heart and went straight to the hearts of his audience.
A. D. Lintufsky
Mitskun and Bunimovitch also traveled to the land of Israel with M. G. Gurvitz of Svintsyan as representatives of a group of rich Vilna Jews, The Lovers of Zion, who were in connection with the expert on the legality of the immigration and the settlements, the engineer Papirmayster of Rishon L'Tzion, concerning the buying of land.
The following well-known enlightened men of Vilna were also in touch with this group: Kapelnitski, Rabinovitch, and Shlosberg. According to the correspondence it seems that the latter also sent the requested sum: 15 thousand rubles to the delegation in Yaffo via a bank in Riga which was connected to that erstwhile settlement.
The purchased land is in the Sharon Valley on both sides of the Kaneh River. The Biblical dictionary describes the Kaneh River as follows: The river is the border between Ephraim and Menashe (Joshua 16:8, 17:8). It is the largest tributary of the Yarkon River, whose source is in the hills of Ephraim in the Valley of Makhmatot (a city on the border between the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim, which is today called Khirbat Tanat, and is located approximately five kilometers southeast of Shkhem).
The river stretches about 30 kilometers to the west to Jaljilya in the land of Israel and 7 kilometers further from there through the Wadi Eshkar, until it joins the Yarkon River near Al-Makhmar. This is the area of Hertsilya-Kfar Saba.
The reception of the erstwhile Rabbi of Svintsyan, Rabbi Moshe-Avigdor Amiel, now the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, and the reports of this occasion in the Israeli press, 1935.
HaYesod, 21 Teves 1936:
On the occasion of the reception for the Chief rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, our teacher, the great Rabbi Moyshe Avigdor Amiel:
Rabbi Sh. Y. Zevin
Today is a holiday for Tel-Aviv. Today Tel-Aviv welcomes its first chief rabbi, the great scholar Rabbi Moyshe Avigdor Amiel.
Rabbi Amiel is a well-known rabbi and not new to our community. For 30 years he's been affiliated with the rabbinate in important communities in a variety of places in the Diaspora. He has already succeeded in becoming quietly famous as one of the best rabbis and not necessarily because in his affiliation with the rabbinate of important communities.
Rabbi Amiel is among those who honor the place where they are, not one of those whom the place honors.
Svintsyan, Groybe, and Antwerp received more from Rabbi Amiel in terms of fame and publicity than he received from them.
In the city of Svintsyan, a suburb of Vilna which was always important in the rabbinic world of Lithuania--Russia, there could always be found great rabbinic scholars, Rabbi Y. Y. Reines, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, whom it welcomed in his first rabbinic position (1905).
The fact that the young rabbi of only 22 was selected to such an important position made, at that time, a great impression on the rabbinic world.
In Svintsyan, he founded a large yeshiva in which more than 100 bright students studied under him.
While in Svintsyan, he took a test in secular studies and received his license to be an official government rabbi.
In 1907, he was called by Baron Ginsburg to be a candidate for the office of Chief Rabbi of Petersburg. This was before Rabbi Dovid Katzenelboygen, of blessed memory, was selected, but there was opposition to him [Rabbi Amiel] because of his young age. Then Baron Ginsburg said: Rabbi Amiel has the kind of fault that I myself would wish to have.
Rabbi Amiel participated in all the world meetings and conferences of the Mizrakhi Movement that took place after the war [WWI] and was among the keynote speakers in all the conferences. His speech at the last Lucerne Congress also made a strong impression, and even many of the non-Jewish newspapers of Switzerland lauded and praised him. Rabbi Amiel spoke a fluent and rich Hebrew, but he is also comfortable in the following languages: English, French, German, Russian, and Polish.
Rabbi Kh. F. Tkhursh
The city of Tel Aviv is happy and excited about the coming of its new rabbi and teacher. A festive reception was held, sponsored by the representatives of the community, the mayor's office, public institutions, great rabbis, and community leaders. This showed how great is the admiration of a variety of people in Tel Aviv for this important man: His reputation spread in the Jewish world at large during the course of several decades, in institutions of Torah and morality, in institutions of [secular] learning, in our community organizations in Israel, and in the Diaspora.
His devotion to yeshivas, the teaching of Torah to young children and yeshiva boys;
Traveling to publicize the redemption of Israel through the spirit of Torah;
Active dedication to erecting quality institutions to benefit our people and our country;
Communal Hebrew activities—these are the golden pages of this spiritual person:
Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, may he live a good, long life.
He came a great distance from the city of Svinstyan in Poland to the city of Tel Aviv. Svinstyan is a symbol. The famous Rabbi Reines of blessed memory developed the idea of continuity in the Mizrakhi Movement. From this grew the person who promulgated the teachings of Rabbi Reines and then became the famous rabbi in this miraculous Hebrew city.
The first rabbi of Svinstyan developed the great idea.
The second stood as a leader to those who carried out the concept. And it was an honor that he truly had earned this man who encompassed in his soul the burning flame of Zion and was totally devoted to action, this man who stood at the forefront of the rebuilding of the nation. He is the most suitable to stand and supervise the complete redemption as it is expressed in the motto: The Land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel!
This is not the place to go into all of the details of the glorious, glowing personality of this multi-faceted beautiful human being. Suffice it to say that the great rabbi and scholar, Rabbi Amiel, is known as one of the greatest rabbis in the world and is one of the most talented rabbis of this generation. He has earned himself a wonderful and glorious reputation in the world of Torah scholarship, and he is held in high esteem both by the Mizrakhi and the Aguda as well as by the Jewish community in general.
He came from the city of Svinstyan in Poland to the city of Tel Aviv. [He came] from the city in which Rabbi Reynes, of blessed memory, was teaching about and promulgating the ideas of the Mizrachi, a return to Zion and the building of the nation on its own land according to Torah and its commentaries.
Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky, the head of the Jewish Judicial Tribunal in Svintsyan
from 1886 to 1905, did not depart from the usual, well-trodden path of love of
Zion in the city.
Rabbi Rozovsky took part in the first Zionist Congresses and was elected to the Culture and Education Committees of the Congress.
Together with Rabbi Reines of Lida and Reb Leybele of Vilna, Rabbi Rozovsky of Svintsyan led the struggle against the fanatical rabbis of Khaim Oyzer Grodzensky's group, which branded political Zionism as being of the Shabbetai Tzvi sect. The latter led an anti-Zionistic near riot in the name of religion.
Rabbi Rozovsky was among the first to be involved in the founding of the religious Zionist party Mizrakhi. At the fourth Zionist Congress, he and Rabbi Reines and Rabbi Nisenboym establish the fund Exiled from the Holy Land of Israel, and were very active in the area of Zionistic activities.
The organizations: Zionist for Zion, Youth for Zion, and The Resurrection were active in the city among the young people. There were many educational and enlightening activities, courses in Hebrew, cultural events, collection of money for the fund to buy land in Israel.
The following are some confirmed documents and letters from Svintsyan, which can be found in the archives of the National Committee:
Thursday, the 7th of Teves 1911-- Svintsyan, a suburb of Vilna
To the Central Committee of the Zionist Organization
Dear Sir:In addition to this detailed letter about the state of Zionism in the city, we find a variety of letters from [the Zionist youth groups] Zionistic Zion and The Resurrection concerning financial problems and reports from the youth of the city to the central office of their area in Grodno--under the guidance of the well-known Leyb Yafo.
In answer to your letter of the 15th of Kislev, we are able to answer the question that you put before us. The answers are as follows:
1) There were 40 bonds in our city in the 13 years after the Congress and 40 in the 14th year.
2) In the 15th year after the Congress, we received 5 booklets of bonds.
3) In the year 1908, after the Congress, we received 5 booklets of bonds. In our city, in 1908, collected for the Jewish United Fund the sum of 24 rubles and 57 kopecks (9 rubles, 57 kopecks from charity boxes; 15 rubles from [selling] marmalade) and in the year 1908, we raised the sum of 58 rubles (38 rubles from charity boxes and 20 rubles from sales). In addition to this, we sent the sum of 106 rubles, 50 kopecks for the benefit of the JUF to be included in a golden book memorial list of deceased.
4) We sent money to benefit newspapers in Kushta.
5) There are approximately 8 active Zionists in our city.
6) There is Zionist publicity in our city. In the course of the last 2 years, there were general meetings. We met in a private synagogue.
7) In general, there was no extreme opposition to the Zionism in our city (except for a small group of fanatics, whom we don't count). It was possible to make our city a completely Zionist city. If an orator or a good organizer were to visit our city, he would be able to influence the citizens of our city (and also the young people) with the force of his personality. Our people respond with love to the work being done in the Land of Israel. Our people participated in the buying of land in Israel. Cultural work will continue to be done among the youth, including the teaching of Jewish history twice a week to groups of young boys and girls. The Zionists took an active part in Talmud Torah Institutes. We circulated Kadima, the publication of our organization. We are trying to gain subscribers for our daily Hebrew newspaper. In our city, we receive these newspapers: HaZman , HaMelits, HaTzefirah, HaOlam, Razsvet, Moledet V'khinukh.
The 10th Zionist Congress, made a big impression, especially because of the environment of peace that was created during it. According to our opinion, it was necessary to pay special attention to elevating the Zionist ideas among the general population.
Concerning the money that our organization was supposed to bring in, we are requesting that the Central Committee reduce the amount.
Indeed, we give the work of the Central Committee much respect, but the income of our organization is small. Most of the Zionists in our city are people from whom it is impossible to get a large amount of money. We will send 5 rubles in the near future.
In conclusion, we send blessings to the new Central Committee and wish them success in their work for the redemption of our people and our own land.
[Written] with the blessing of the local committee in Svintsyan
Postcard 1: Dear Sir: I simply ask you to send us, at the address below, clear addresses to which we can send money and letters. We will shortly send you 15 rubles and 15 kopecks collected by 31 members.
With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky - Svintsyan in the Province of Vilna
Postcard 2: Dear Sir: In addition to the sum of 15 rubles and 50 kopecks, I ask that you acknowledge receipt of the money.
With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky - July 2, 1913
Postcard 3: Svintsyan the 24th of Tammuz
We are very curious about the fact that you did not receive the 50 rubles and 50 kopecks, money for the benefit of the organization that was sent to Lifa in Grodno. It's been 2 weeks since we sent the money and you repeatedly write that you haven't received anything from us.
We request that you check into this matter and let us know when you receive the money.
With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky
The previous 3 postcards were mailed to this address: Grodno, Mr. Jack--stationery store.This answer was received from Grodno at this address: Zalman Svirsky--Svintsyan
Postcard 4: The money was received, but we didn't know its purpose. July 13, 1913
During the period from 1905 -
1913, the head of the Jewish Judicial tribunal in Svintsyan was Rabbi Moshe
Avigdor Amiel. Since he was in the city, he was very active on behalf of the
Zionist cause. From Svintsyan, he was sent as a delegate to the Zionist
Congresses. He also took part in the Mizrakhi convention in Amsterdam. He
became more aware of his abilities, the ones which enabled him to become the
Rabbi of Antwerp in 1913.
Shortly thereafter, he visited the land of Israel and settled in Tel Aviv. There he held the position of Chief Rabbi of the city until his death in Tel Aviv in 1945.
By a short overview of all of the original institutions of the Enlightenment in Svintsyan, from the Lovers of Zion Zionism to the time of the First World War, we have given the more civil side of the story. The workers' and proletariat's side of Svintsyan deserves its own chapter:
The social unrest and workers' problems, which surfaced in Tsarist Russia after the assassination of the Tsar, did not bypass our city. The various new [political] movements and parties that arose among Jews in that period also reached us.
[For example] S. R., S. D., Anarchists, Folkists, just plain Socialists, and especially the Bund, whose theorist and one of its founders was Arkady Kramer, born in Svintsyan in 1865.
The strikes, demonstrations, and revolutionary struggles in the year 1905 also encompassed the workers in the workshops and factories of Svintsyan.
The Jewish workers along with Gentile workers took part in illegal community gatherings which took place outside of the city and in the woods.
Sashke, the Russian Pope's son, led one of these communal demonstrations in 1905. The bailiff's daughter, a teacher in the municipal school, led the school children in the demonstration in which Jewish workers also participated.
Illegal Jewish workers' gatherings took place in the synagogues. In the years 1904 and 1905, there was organized in the city a Jewish Defense organization. It was led by the student Julian Brumberg, the son of the leather factory owner. Shmuel Sarsky led the tobacco workers. Fayvke and Avraham Gertman led the shoemakers. Ritsman and the yameld led the tailors.
The intellectual circles led the work of the Enlightenment. Miran Taraseysky, Sonya Epstein, the daughter of Tavroginsky, and others were active organizers. They were always in contact with the center of the Movement in the city, with the Russian progressive circles.
Inspections, searches for illegal literature and weapons were the results of both the open [legal] and the illegal activities in the city.
The response to all of this was a strengthening of the underground activities of the unfortunate and exploited classes and also an increase of emigration to Western Europe and across the ocean.
This situation lasted until the First World War.
Arkady Kramer, Founder and Theorist
Arkady Kramer was born in Svintsyan in the year 1865.
His father, Yoysef Kramer, was a teacher in the Circle School (a district school) in Svintsyan. He was both a member of the Enlightenment Movement and a religious Jew as well. He also taught children in his home.
After teaching, Reb Yoysef used to study a page of Gemara for his own edification. He also studied physics and geometry. In addition, he also very much enjoyed reading a book of secular literature.
Reb Yoysef gave the same education to his children, with whom he enjoyed taking trips outside the city in his free time. During these outings he would talk to them of everything and got them interested in the plants and flowers of the fields and woods around Svintsyan.
Pati, Arkady's wife, mentioned these things in her memoirs when she wrote of her husband and his family.
Arkady was the youngest of six children in the family. While he was still a child, two of his sisters were studying in Petersburg and a brother was a student in the Teachers' Institute in Vilna. And little Arele grew up in poverty and privation, because his father's salary as a teacher [in the Circle School] (23 rubles) and his earnings as a teacher of little children [in his home] barely covered the necessities of life and the tuition for the children. The family lived in poverty.
Until he was 12 years old Aron (Arkady) lived with his parents in Svintsyan. He attended the Circle School and graduated.
Arkady used to say what a milestone it was in his life when he graduated the school in Svintsyan and began to prepare himself to go to Vilna to take the entrance exams for the gymnasium. That's when his first pair of new shoes were made for him. They were made big so that he could grow into them. He also got a new hat, so big that his head got lost in it. He was not very happy with these items, because everyone in the school in Svintsyan made fun of the way he dressed since he never had a pair of shoes that were whole or a presentable garment.
In his impoverished condition, Arkady concentrated on his studies. He lived in a corner of the hovel of one of his poor uncles and subsisted on packages that his mother, Sheyndl, used to send him from Svintsyan. Some time later, he also earned a bit of spending money by giving private lessons.
Arkady got his political training in Petersburg as a student in the Technological Institute attaching himself to the Polish S.R.F. Proletariat, which was a sister party to the Russian party called The People's Will.
In the year 1889, he was arrested for his activities in this illegal party and was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 2 years [parole] under police supervision. His family had recently moved to Vilna, and Arkady joined them there.
In spite of police supervision, Arkady did not cease his political activities. [In fact] he soon became the leader of the Group of Jewish Socialist Democrats in Russia. This group theoretically and practically created the political framework and impetus that led to the founding of the Bund under the name: General Jewish Workers' Bund (1897).
Arkady Kramer was the central figure of the financially successful pioneer group which gave the first Jewish Socialist workers' movement, the Bund, its soul.
We know that in the 70's and 80's of the 19th century, there already existed small Socialist circles of Jewish workers, but it was necessary to form the authoritative framework which would encapsulate their ideals and create the Jewish Socialist Mass Movement.
When Arkady began working among the Jewish masses, he never imagined that he was doing not only important Socialist work but also important Jewish nationalistic work which Zionism had awakened among Jews and which was also appreciated in Bundist circles.
The Bund adopted a nationalistic Jewish program which expressed itself in the Bundist Organizations form. Certain important issues presented themselves to this group of Jewish Socialists, for example: 1) the question of language, 2) Jewish disenfranchisement, 3) the individuality of the Jewish workers who labored in small workshops.
At that time, the general Russian Socialist-Democratic Workers Movement strongly protested against complicating the workers' question among Jews and also against the special Jewish content.
In spite of the fact that Arkady worked with the general Movement--The Russian S. D. Party--he also showed himself to be an accomplished Jewish theorist. He was a man of the people with an acute sense of reality, so he dealt with the demands of the time and made the Bund an important organization for Jewish intellectuals as well as the tailors and shoemakers and other Jewish artisans.
In the Jewish artisans, the Jewish intelligentsia saw folk masses of whom it hadn't known before, and they placed themselves at the head of this class in order to defend their Socialist and nationalistic interests.
Aron Kramer, Arkady, the Russified son of the Svintsyan proponent of the Enlightenment, Yoysef Kramer, was one of those who recognized the Jewish masses and placed himself at their service in their daily struggle.
Arkady developed rich political activities for the Party and became the backbone of the Bund. In addition, Arkady was considered one of the most prominent figures of the Socialist Movement at that time in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania.
Arkady took part in International Socialist Congresses (Amsterdam, Bern, London and so on).
The founder of the Bund was always the honored chairman of the presidium at all the Greater Polish conferences of the Party.
During the First World War, he stayed in France, where he worked as an engineer (on the French subway system).
In the year 1921, he returned to the cradle of the Party--to Vilna. He once again became active and was the Party's elected representative of the masses in the Jewish community of the city.
He worked as a teacher of mathematics in the Jewish Technological School and in the Vilna Jewish Teachers' Seminary. (He died on Sept. 20th, 1935 in Vilna.)
13. The main objective of the Jewish National Fund was to buy land from the Arabs in order to build more settlements in Israel. Trans.
14. A land measurement used in Palestine and Israel equal to .22 acre. Trans. Back
15. The First Immigration was between 1882 and 1904. A.H. Back
16. This used to be the capitol of the Ottoman Empire. Trans. Back
17. This was an elementary school. Trans. Back
18. Aron was Arkady's Yiddish name. Trans. Back
19. "Bund" is translated as "organization" but is generally known as the "Bund." Trans. Back
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