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[Page 383]

My Father's Agony and Ecstasy
When Organizing the Mizrakhi

by Matisyahu Prawda

Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski

In my memory, Czyzewo remains a shtetl of hasidic shtiblekh (small prayer houses) and Zionist organizations. The youth were brought up with a life purpose, with ideas to campaign for a better tomorrow for the Jewish nation.

The youth organization, which after 1929 was extremely active, was not created with ease, because most of the Jews of Czyzewo were hasidim and simple religious folk, who held that one had to wait for the arrival of the Moshiach before emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. Yet, the Zionist cause was nonetheless being instilled in many young Jewish minds and partly amongst the older generation as well.

My father, Yekhiel Asher Prawda, from the Aleksander hasidic sect, was one of the first to create the religious Zionist party “Mizrakhi.” By doing this he induced the wrath of the hasidim. Their anger was so strong that he was forced to stop praying in the Aleksander shtibl. This was harsh punishment for my father, similar to a kheyrem [being shunned]. Yet, all of this did not scare him away from his Zionist activism. With even greater fervor, he delved into the work of proponing the Zionist cause to religious youth.

The greatest satisfaction of his work was his opponents' slow transformation into the Mizrakhi camp. He saw this as a manifestation of recognition and comprehension of the Zionist cause, which was the purpose of his life.

When it came to the Sejm [parliamentary elections], he was tirelessly active. On shabes, in the big besmedresh, before the Torah reading, he got up and delivered a sermon in which he attacked the Agudas Yisroel[1] for supporting Pilsudski's list # 1.

He and the Zionist Berl Gozshaltshany, a merchant, stubbornly fought the tendency of endorsing the government party.

The Rabbi held with the Agudas Yisroel, who also called upon the Czyzewo Jews to vote for the Pilsudiski slate. The Rabbi was against the idea of religious Jews going against the government. On that same shabes, someone reported to the police commissioner that my father spoke against the government.

In the midst of the heated fight, the commissioner entered the besmedresh searching for my father. The Jews standing near my father, threw a talis (prayer shawl) over him so the commissioner wouldn't find him.

Afterwards, he was forced to go into hiding for an entire week because the commissioner threatened him with severe punishment. We were very frightened then, knowing that the commissioner was a very strict and brutal man. Once, during a wild holiday celebration, he cut someone's hand off with his sword.

The following week when his wrath calmed he ceased searching for my father, who again delved into his work of proponing Zionist ideology to young and old.

In 1933, the youth organization Hashomer Hadati was created in Czyzewo. In 1938, as a member of the Hashomer Hadati, I made aliya to Israel. The words of Zalman Belfer, “Hold a plowshare in one hand and a gun in the other; fight for your own country,” accompanied me.

czy385.jpg [58 KB]
Four rows of young Mizrakhi members

First row: Meltser, Rabinowitch, Radtshkowski, 2 brothers, Chaim Grade, Vollmer, Grosbard, Belfar.
2nd row: Eybishets, Eliahu Gura, Eliahu Zilberstein, Yisroel Yitzhak Lev, Avrom Berl Lyubeltshik, Balender, Kitai.
3rd row: Tselniker, unknown, Balyender, Starkowski, Kitai, Zusman.
Last row: Kahan, Moltsman, Belfar, and a boy fun Staker shoemaker


Translator's Footnote:
  1. Ultra Orthodox political party. return

[Page 395]

I Say Goodbye to the Shtetl

(On the day of my departure to Eretz-Yisroel)

by Gerszon Gora / Czyzewo

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

…And all went. In that gray dawn, everyone got up, sneaked on foot, step after step, with only one thought - to accompany the first emigrant sent out from the shtetl [town] to Eretz-Yisroel.

Jews with great silver beards went who had soaked Eretz-Yisroel with their tears for dozens of years and were transformed into an eternal source of longing. Middle-aged Jews, preoccupied Jews, apprehensive Jews went whose every bite of bread was dunked in tears. Every day for them was a day to create the world. In the very

[Page 396]

early dawn, they also sneaked onto the highway that led to the train station with beating Eretz-Yisroel hearts, accompanying their first son, their first pioneer to Eretz-Yisroel. And the young went, stormed, those who had waited for such a long time with beaming faces in the moment, those who always had a very spirited ardor and fervor for Eretz-Yisroel, had to hide in the deepest recesses, not even being able to dream, to quiet their thirst, they had to watch how others who craved Eretz-Yisroel emigrated in groups, hordes. They also stood at the train station.

[Page 397]

All, all came along, giving their last respects, their fervent feelings, with the first [migration of the] swallow, with the first Orthodox emigrant who had the honor of going with the flag of the Torah in his hand to their deeply beloved Eretz-Yisroel.

And the train station had a new appearance. The first time in the shtetl, such solemnity, such a crowd. So the young celebrate, demonstrate and the older ones stand calmly, hiding their joy inside; everyone together clings to their “only one” from whom they need to separate within a few minutes.

And I confess in full that never, never would I have known that such a hidden thirst of the soul for Eretz-Yisroel had nested in all of the assembled escorts in the train station as I saw and felt in the last minutes before my parting from them, from my birthplace on the road to Eretz-Yisroel.

An old ancient Hasid, the most respected one in the shtetl, stood next to me. He pressed my hand at the last minute before my departure. However, he quietly whispered with his dried up lips and two streams of tears flowed from his mild eyes - his last parting words:

- Remember! Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker in Palestine - remember, it should, God forbid, not be the opposite. “One who sins in the king's palace is not equal to one who sins from afar.”

He immediately became quiet. However, he continued to firmly press my hand. And in the noise of the over-crowded train station I heard the beating of his heart. Here [also] stood near me a young man who for all his life

[Page 398]

had engaged in prayer, in Hasidism. He pressed my hand firmly and asked me like a child:

- For the sake of God, you should mention me at all of the graves of the righteous, give kvitlekh [notes to Hasidic rebbes asking for Godly intervention] for me and give charity for me.

Thus they said goodbye to me one after the other, heart after heart, soul after soul and each one of them a flowing spring of love and longing. Joy bubbled in each heart that they had lived to send the first comrade from their shtetl to the Holy Land, to Eretz-Yisroel.

The chairman of the young men, who had gone through all of the birth pangs of the organization and had been able to see its intense blossoming and the joyful harvest, drew near to me. He also pressed my hand. He also said goodbye to me sincerely. He also had something to remind me and tell me:

- Remember! You are traveling to our holy land, to build, to create. Remember to build up the ruin of the Jewish spirit, to create more of a “paradise” there and “Vineyards of the Law,” increase the ranks of the young and, mainly with self-sacrifice for our idea, to strengthen the faction of workers.

And the emotion in my heart bubbled up like an ocean.

These were the last minutes of my parting with such a warm incandescent environment. Now, I needed to become a community spokesman for my comrades, carry with me all of their requests and strivings, begin to fulfill my task, my mission as the first one from the entire shtetl who had the honor to emigrate.

[Page 399]

I am weighed down with feelings. All of the parting words of the best ones in the shtetl always swim in my memory. “Remember, Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker…” “One who sins in the king's palace is not equal to one who sins from afar…” “With self sacrifice for our idea…”

I was overburdened; how difficult it was to leave all of the dozens, dozens of stormy hearts and alone, alone take their requests and fill them! How difficult it was to part with all of those who were warm, closest and in a minute leave them.

However, time does not know of sentiments. The large railroad clock struck the dawn hour:


In minutes the engine will pull you, [shoot] a slingshot for hundreds of miles.

Spontaneously, an echoing song tore out of everyone's throat.

[Page 400]

A dance.

Hand on shoulder with “Purify Our Hearts” ringing as in the most solemn days of the shtetl.

The train stopped for only two minutes.

One minute.

We were still dancing.

Tears immediately started to flow from dozens of eyes: that enthusiastic young Hasidic man cried; every old, grey Hasid cried. All of the escorts, young and old, cried and, there at the train-wagon window, hot tears also trickled. Fathers, mothers and sons cried.

The train was already on its way. However, the last words of the old, grey Hasid still rang in my ears:

“Remember, Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker.”

Gerszon Gora
Czyzewo - Warsaw Adar 5694 [February or March 1934]

The First Buds of Communism

by Yitzhak Gora/Tel Aviv

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This was at the end of 1918. At that time a change occurred in my life that marked the beginning of a new road: together with other Hasidic young men of the Gerer shtibl [one room synagogue], I joined the Paolei-Zion [Workers of Zion – a Marxist Zionist political party] that began to organize in Czyzewo a year before.

[Page 400]

In the leadership were then found: Dovid Jabka, Nisl Ratman (Rimacz), Itshe-Meir Kszeckower, Avraham-Hershl, the son of the furrier, who the Poles later shot because of the ostensible accusation that he had deserted from the front.

I was 16 when I

[Page 401]

was drawn into political activity for the first time. We rented a room for our premises from Yisroelik Milner for the Paolei-Zion organization where we were located for two whole years.

Those years have materials to fill a many-paged volume. For me, as for dozens of other Hasidic young men, new worlds, new needs and new dreams were opened. The greatest dream was to travel to Eretz-Yisroel.

At the same time, we were fully aware of the need to personally arrange our own futures. I traveled to Warsaw where I found work in a chocolate factory. I did not have the chance to become a great craftsman, so the earnings were small and finally I let a cousin who wrote from Eretz-Yisroel convince me that this was a bad trade there and I succeeded in learning the building trade. I then threw myself into carpentry.

Forty years have passed since I traveled a long, difficult road. I have been in many countries, met thousands of people, lived through painful and joyful times. When I remember my past, my life, my work, I come to the painful conclusion that I have forgotten many important moments. It is as if an invisible power has covered everything with an impenetrable veil. However, the encounter with the communist leader Amsterdam has been preserved in my memory. He possessed a wonderful power toconvince and transport the youth of that time who yearned for action to mutiny and revolt.

[Page 402]

It seemed that we were joining a new era – an era of active revolutionary struggle that would solve the Jewish problem in anti-Semitic Poland. There awoke in me the will to struggle for respect and the Jewish national rights of the Jewish people on one side and for the victory of socialism on the other.

I became a communist.

In the beginning of 1923 I traveled back to Czyzewo.

Dovid Jabka was then the only person with whom I spoke and I told him about my communist beliefs. Dovid Jabka was already an intelligent young man and understood that the worker needed to struggle for his interests. However, he did not want to give up his Zionist ideals to which all of the Czyzewo young clung.

I poured out everything I had heard and I heard a lot from Amsterdam and from other leaders in the then communist movement. I described for him the great scope of the movement that would conquer the world and solve the Jewish question, just as it was being solved in the Soviet Union, where Jews were in the regime and all over, as equals.

This had the effect of captivating and intriguing him. The illegality, the daring impressed us and Dovid was persuaded and began to help me stir up others.

The Jewish youth in Czyzewo then had an inclination to theorizing; they were open-minded in their ideological opinions and had a wide choice

[Page 403]

in setting off in the direction of Zionism and socialism. The Zionist organizations were splintered and, therefore, over the course of two months, it was easy for us to organize 120 young people and convince them about the truth of the communist idea.

We came with something new that resonated with the storms of the wider world and it showed that we understood them better than others. However, the conspiracy, the danger stirred up everyone, which gave us the halo of martyrs for a great thing.

I stayed in contact with Warsaw and Bialystok and received the illegal literature, appeals, brochures and circulars that were sent from the central committee of the party.

The 120 young people among whom also were found Hasidic young men and daughters from esteemed members of the middleclass were organized into 12 circles, secret, conspiratorial.

In the circles we would read the illegal brochures about the concentration of capital that accelerated our own death, about the tax system and the development of technology. The boys and girls understood very little of this, but in spite of this, they listened with anticipation and swallowed the words and concepts, which took root in their brains.

Moshe-Leib Blajwajs and Ahron Weter belonged then to the lively activists. However, there was a shortage of leadership elements.

How We Celebrated the First of May

A great demonstration took place earlier in the forest. The mood was earnest,

[Page 404]

a holiday [mood]. There were discussions and songs were sung. It was our first celebration of the 1st of May.

Later, one by one, we went to the market, moved among the peasant wagons and unnoticed laid the cigarette paper appeals and brochures among the sacks. The peasants could not understand very much from those papers. Yet, among them there were those who were impressed by the rise of the young in the struggle against injustice. They also were embittered by poverty and this was expressed through us. It grew. However, later others came and made use of the same bitterness against us, against the Jews in the shtetl. The result was that later the famous pogrom came.

I sobered up a lot earlier. I was infected by Trotskyism, felt Stalin's pettiness and saw signs of anti-Semitism in the party. At a meeting in the forest I gave a speech in which I said that I was disconnecting myself from a communist movement that lets itself be led by Stalin. I urged sympathy for Trotsky.

Many applauded when I finished speaking. Sixty young men stood up and announced that they were going with me.

At that time I did not let myself be carried away. The disappointments cooled my revolutionary enthusiasm and, therefore, I did not rush to run carelessly on the ice of the illegal work. I looked for the goal and saw that it was still far away and, meanwhile, it was being used by charlatans. In my

[Page 405]

respect for the honest revolutionaries, however, I saw how they were tools in the hands of those who aspired to power and a career.

The other communists who went with me also understood it this way and little by little sobered up until we finally became active members of the halutz [pioneers preparing for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] movement in all its

[Page 406]

shades, with more effort and faith that here we would complete our down payment. We saw everything more clearly, what was happening in the world, looked at the Jewish wounds and felt the new responsibility for our people.

Later, the sobered up communists gave a great deal of youthful energy and youthful fervor to various Zionist organizations.


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