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[Page 117]

History of the J.N.A.V.1 Emunah
in Czernowitz

by Prof. Dr. H. Sternberg (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

Once upon a time. Like a fairy tail out of long forgotten times, the events of our student days come back to us. It's not that far back, but that epoch was so filled with events of dramatic tension and so rich in changes that we can hardly recognize ourselves. We want to reflect for a while and listen to those voices that take us back to our youth. We strongly feel the magic of the past. That which now appears futile and insipid to us, once made us happy and suffering that years ago, caused turmoil in our lives, how insignificant it was in comparison to storms we had to go through in riper years. It is nice and uplifting to think on the time, when we, like fermenting must, driven by a holy restlessness, stormed and raged, lost our way, stumbled and got up again, let no disappointment discourage us, and moved forwards untiringly. We even look back on our follies with a tolerant smile. In the flow of time, our life is a unique event and within the restricting frame of his existence, man is young only once. A man's love is for his own youth.

Because we were young, we considered ourselves and the events that affected us to be of great importance. One day in Czernowitz there was student unrest. Jewish students from various organizations fought over trivial rivalries. It went so far that the fights spilled out onto the street and presented a picture of Jewish discord to the hateful view of the non-Jewish population. Public opinion in the city credited the outbreaks to the temperament of youthful hotheads and even the chief rabbi, Dr. Rosenfeld felt obligated to sharply criticize their “un-Jewish behavior.” It didn't take long for the reaction. A group of students led by Werner (Wolf) Weidenfeld, decided to bring a new organization to life in order to effectively fight the appearance of student unruliness immediately in its own framework. The new creation was to avoid the designation “fraternity,” and instead call itself a “reading society” in order to stress its different character. They quickly agreed on the Hebrew name “Emunah” (faith) and on June 3, 1903, the Jewish National Academic Reading Society was “thrown open,” to use a student expression. The new society wanted to take in students who were tired of the empty formalities of student habits, both good and bad and of supporting customs foreign to them and who saw their goal in the fostering of national ideas. Only one concession was made to student customs in that one was allowed to wear a gold-violet-gold ribbon to show membership in the society. Since, however true enthusiasm encompasses everything beautiful and noble, the young students didn't only want to serve their people; the young sons of Alma- Mata also felt themselves drawn with the same love to the awareness of truth and they expressed the ideals that filled their souls with the motto, “for Judaism and science” (from the Festschrift for the celebration of the 50 semester anniversary, Czernowitz – 1928).

Today when world history has left Bukovina Judaism behind and this worthwhile part of our people was annihilated, we have gained the separation to see how well Emunah has remained true to itself in the sweep of time and what its contribution to the strengthening of the Zionist ideal in Bukovina was.

Emunah was created as a group full of idealistic striving. Its members found it beautiful and uplifting to fight against the tradition bound inflexibility in the circles of Jewish orthodoxy and on the other hand to set themselves against the earnest striving of the assimilated upper class for lasting values. They wanted to help with the building of Zion, but their numbers were small and the goal seemed unreachably far. To close your eyes to difficulties is only possible for youth. Hope is their privilege and optimism, their constant companion.

Now began that painstaking detail work that only those who were involved can measure. Regular meetings that lasted until after midnight alternated with the extraordinary at any hour. One had to deal with hostilities and resentment of all sorts, overcome material problems, achieve social goals, and seize the initiative in order to win success and in addition to Emunah, studies had to be kept up, activities that demanded total commitment. In order to reinforce its ranks, Emunah sought new members, laying more stress on intellectual and moral qualities than on surface qualities which at that time played a significant roll in student life. New recruits had to among other things, pledge with a handshake and an oath to always courageously support the Zionist ideal as defined by the Basel2 Program. It should be remarked that even at that time, the reader of Herzl's novel “Old New Land” didn't see the solution of the “Jewish question” in a Jewish homeland guaranteed by international law and their quiet desire was for a solution that far surpassed the diplomatic formalities of the official program. Not all would see the fulfillment of their dream.

With the new members, a new spirit came into Emunah. It turned into a closed circle and took on a unique character. In the sense of its motto, the first task was the building of a new library. They collected books with the industry of bees. Those that weren't contributed were purchased with precious money, especially Zionist papers and works from Jewish history. The number of works of fiction increased constantly through outside gifts. The Emunah library was open to the public and soon books bearing the Emunah stamp were to be found in private houses in the city and even in the outlying areas, which led to unavoidable losses. Even the society's “hangout3” was open to non-members at certain hours. There was always plenty of printed material on the newspaper table, both foreign and domestic and the yellow envelope of the World was never missing. Many visitors were attracted by the intellectual atmosphere of the place. Members gave lectures which were followed by group discussion on a regular basis and students of the upper classes of the middle school were often there. Their zeal for learning was remarkable.

Emunah wanted to unite the Jewish students of the city through work on a common goal and they were successful in appending a study group to the academic society, but petty frictions hindered the work. To its regret, Emunah found it necessary to withdraw from the study group it founded after only a few months.

Soon, Emunah engaged in greater works. They wanted to provide a student home for poor students who came to Czernowitz. They were concerned because there was a group of students, the majority of whom lived from hand to mouth, seized on the idea of building a student home, for which the generosity of a patron or public funds would be needed. Again and again, their enthusiasm flamed up at the difficulties of the task. They planed, they discussed, they organized garden parties, whose income was intended for the high goal and when the God of Weather denied his favor and the rained out festival ended with a deficit, there were long discussions over how to make it up. Finally, the members of Emunah had to admit that the building of a student home went beyond their strength. With heavy hearts, they abandoned their plans. With the money they had already collected, they were for several years able to give stipends to deserving students. The committee for managing this stipend consisted of the brothers, Leo Kraemer, Gabriel Silberbusch and Israel Taubes. The work for the Zionist movement was zealously attended to. The student body was responsible for propaganda. Emunah repeatedly arranged for speakers for lecture evenings for the Zionist organization in Czernowitz and among the “wandering speakers” who propagandized for the Zionist idea in the Jewish settlements in Bukovina and bordering areas of Galicia were brothers4 Dollberg, Berl Eidinger, Hoenig, Leo Kraemer, Rim, Sachter, Schwitz, among others.

The leading Zionists in the entire world, and especially, the founder of the movement, Dr. Theodor Herzl were overwhelmingly loved and celebrated. Emunah honored itself by deciding to give to the greatest Jews of the era, the highest honor it commanded, honorary membership (convention decision of June 17, 1904). They then waited for Herzl's acceptance. Instead of that, they received the news of his death. In the memorial convention of July 17, 1904 brother Jakob Berger spoke about the personality of the departed one. With tears in their eyes, the audience pledged undying loyalty to the Zionist ideal.

The years until the outbreak of the war in 1914 were filled with fruitful work, directed both outwardly and inwardly. The members learned both Hebrew and Jewish history. Brothers Ludwig Chajes, Herman Glaser, Manfred Reifer Julian Silberbusch and Theodor Weisselberger worked with notable zeal to educate a proficient new generation. Emunah wanted to establish contact between the Jews of Czernowitz and leading Zionissts from outside in order to remove the local character from the Movement. The Zionist Seminar which was held for the first time in 1908 served this purpose. Among the speakers were well know figures like Salomon Schiller, Dr. M. Ebner, Prof. Winkler, Chief Rabbi Dr. Rosenfeld, Prof. Dr. Leon Kellner, Dr. M. Ringel, Dr. Ph. Korngruen, and Dr. V. Pordes. The service of Emunah for this seminar was generally praised. The annual Maccabee Festival had a special note. Among the speakers were Dr. Nathan Birnbaum (1908), Adolf Stand (1911), Rabbi Dr. Hoffmann (1919 and 1922) and Chief Rabbi Dr. Nacht (1924).

The publishing of scientific works was unquestionably, the greatest service of Emunah. Thanks to the special efforts of brothers David Taubes and Theodor Weisselberger, the collected papers of Dr. Nathan Birnbaum (Mathias Acher) were released to the public (1908). In 1909, a yearbook followed (ordered by J. Taubes). It was put out by publishing house Lamm in Berlin under the title, “Home Coming, Essays of Jewish Thinkers.” The preface was written by University Prof. Kellner, an honorary member of Emunah since 1909. Contributions were made by E. Mueller, Daniel Pasmanik, N. Birnbaum, Max Rosenfeld, S. Schiller, Adolf Strand, Leon Kellner, David Tritsch, S. Rappaport, Ignatz Schipper, Meier Balaban and Martin Buber. Brothers Dr. Berger, Glaser, Dr. Schwitz, Rim, J. Silberbusch, the Taubes and Weisselberger brothers deserve special mention for their efforts in publishing the book. Emunah could be proud of the impact of the book abroad. A Berlin review said; “No one who is concerned about the problems of Judaism should miss this book which refreshingly lifts itself above the insipidness of ordinary literature. On April 11, 1912, Otto Warburg wrote “The collected work, Homecoming from your valued organization gave me real pleasure.” In 1912, the brochure “Jewish Consecrated Hours”, a selection of the most beautiful sentences written by Prof. Kellner about the emotional impact of Jewish customs, appeared in Czernowitz, published by Emunah.

Also, Emunah didn't stand to the side when it came to the political activities of the Jews in the city. Its members belonged overwhelmingly to the followers of Prof. Kellner and he, supported by Dr. M. Ebner and Dr. M. Fokschaner, brought a people's movement to life, the “Peoples Council” in order to create an unsoiled atmosphere in Jewish public life. Many Emunah members worked in the party organ of the same name (edited by Dr. A. Robinsohn.

Even the Zionist organization needed reform. The District Committee which at that time set the agenda was lacking in initiative and zeal. At the state conference (1910) Emunah forced the retirement of Chairman Weissglas and helped to get Prof. Kellner elected. Since Kellner had to dedicate his energy to the great People's Council movement, the Zionist organization was “rudderless.” Again, it was Emunah which registered a complaint with the Action Committee. The Committee dispatched Dr. Korngruen to direct a reorganization. At the Emunah convention which Dr. Korngruen attended as a guest, the Zionist State5 Organization was created. Dr. M. Ebner was made president, vice president was the unforgettable member of Emunah, Dr. Theodor Weisselberger who in 1941 was sent by the Russians to Siberia. There Dr. Weisselberger died the death of a martyr.

By and by, Emunah members obtained key positions in the Zionist State Organization which they filled with know-how and diligence. While the political work was handled by Dr. Ebner, all the practical work was accomplished by those men who received their Zionist education in Emunah. Dr. Klinger and Julian Silberbusch directed the Palestine Office. Brothers Dr. L. Chajes, Friedmann and Dr. Schmelzer worked for the Jewish National Fund. Work for Keren Hajessod was in the hands of Dr. Reifer. Dr. Glaser stood at the head of the Culture division.

The Jewish students started a fight for the recognition of their nationality at the university. They no longer wanted to be counted with the Germans because of their German mother language. Emunah was in large part responsible for the final victory.

The “unholy” summer of 1914 arrived and Bukovina, bordering on Romania and Russia became a theater of war. A large part of the Jewish population fled to the western end of the monarchy. In devastated Czernowitz, there was no place for academic organizations. Many members of Emunah were in the field and the number of those who died performing their duty was great. Outside of the heavily effected homeland, the Emunah brothers contacted each other. In Vienna where many had found refuge and where many brothers in the service took leave, there were numerous conventions. Brother Reisner collected addresses of the members in order to establish postal contact. Money flowed in for the needy and Zionist literature found its way into the trenches.

With the collapse of the monarchy in 1918 Emunah like other academic organizations had played out its roll. The activity that followed under Romanian rule can only be described as an attempt to put a stick in the spokes of the rolling wheel of destiny. The attempt was courageous, but it was doomed to failure. The idea of political equality for Jews under the new rule was dead. The situation became markedly worse from year to year.

Then Enmunah experienced a “rebirth” and at the same time, the Zionist State Organization was reactivated. For the 15th anniversary of Herzl's death, they printed a “Herzl card,” a first work of the artist B. Reder, a young member of Emunah, the proceeds from which were donated to Safa Iwria (Hebrew school). In a narrower focus, lectures were held about the state of the Movement. Emunah held a yearly Maccabee celebration and on every November 2, a commemoration of the Balfour6 Declaration. The masses that attended these events were a silent demonstration (the only kind possible) against the political pressure in the city and the state. The material need of a large part of the student body necessitated the construction of a student home and a cafeteria, especially since the student home built in the pre-war years (with Jewish donations) was closed to Jewish students. Brother Jakob Pelzel was the worthy leader of these institutions. In December, 1927, Dr. Weizmann came to Czernowitz. The Jewish population demonstrated their love for him and Emunah offered him an honorary membership which he accepted. The members of Emunah were happy again. On June 30, 1928 Emunah celebrated its entrance into the 51st semester of its existence. The celebration took place in the normal student manner, but there was one notable difference. In the temple, a memorial service was held for the dead members. Chief Rabbi Dr. Abraham Mark gave a powerful sermon on this occasion. Also, the “work of the present” got its due. In the organization for the dissemination of the Hebrew language brothers Dr. H. Sternberg, Dr. Glasser and Dr. J. Mann were active. In the Jewish sports movement Emunah brothers Dr. L. Chajes, Dr. Schmelzer, Schlomo Gottlieb and Engineer Jacob Sternberg made special efforts. Dr. Schmelzer stood at the head of the State Association for Jewish Sport in Romania, founded in Jassy. In the aftermath, much “detail work” was accomplished by Emunah. The attempt to organize the Jewish students should be mentioned. Their active part in a boycott of German films, earned Emunah a reprimand from the rector of the university. Members of Emunah helped to found “Hechaluz schel hanor hazioni.” Brothers Liquornik, Weiss, Wolf, Rauchbach and Korn used the certificate of this organization to emigrate to Israel. At the same time, brothers Garin (Gruenberg) Klipper, Schleien, Birkenfeld and Steuer were successful in using student certificates to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). In Israel, they found, already in full activity, brothers Schlomo Gottlieb, Berl Engler and Engineer Jacob Sternberg. Together with them, brother Garin initiated an action to rescue the Aliyah7 candidates still remaining in Czernowitz. In 1936, the Romanian government decreed the dissolution of all Jewish fraternities. Emunah, whose members “remained at their posts” until the last days vanished from the radar. There were only former Emunah brothers. A considerable number of those who survived the catastrophe of the next ten years found their way to Israel. Here they made contact again. The first great national meeting in Israel, organized by brothers Engineer Garin, Horowitz and Dr. J. Taubes took place in 1950. Dr. Brueek, Dr. Ehrlich, Friedmann, Dr. Schmelzer, Wolf and others gave worthwhile suggestions in their papers. The most important thing was re-establishing connections among members.

On July 4, 1953 Emunah celebrated its 100th semester anniversary in Israel in the normal way. In serious and in gay conversations the participants reviewed the history of their organization in their “minds eyes.” On this day they counted 64 members in Israel, 56 scattered throughout the world and of at least 48 remained only a painful memory. The Czernowitz Emunah belongs to the past. It continues to live in the hearts of the members who will nurture their loyal thoughts until their last breaths.

Written by: Dr. H. Sternberg (Tel Aviv)

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1) JNAV, An acronym for Jewish National Academic Organization. I believe that “National” in this name refers to the fact that Jews in the Austrian Empire were seeking the same political recognition and rights that other ethnic groups such as Germas, Ruthinians and Ukrainians had.Return

2) Basel Program: The first World Zionist Congress was held in Basel Switzerland in 1897. The Basel Program was the set of goals agreed upon at this congress. The key aim can be stated as, “To create for the Jewish people a homeland in Israel secure by international law.” Return

3) Hangout: Probably similar to our fraternity houses, only no girls, less drinking and a more scholarly atmosphere. The German word is “Bude.” Return

4) Brothers: The author uses the expression “Bundesbruedern” or the acronym “BB.” A literal translation would be “league brothers” or “alliance brothers.” I'll just use “brothers.”Return

5) State: State refers to the whole of Bukovina. Return

6) Balfour Declaration: When the British cabinet in 1917 made the decision to support the formation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, this intention was conveyed in a letter from Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild. Return

7) Aliyah: To “make Aliyah” is to emigrate to Israel. Return

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