by Sholem Lisogursky, Montreal
Translated by Janie Respitz
It is known that the Bund and other revolutionary parties played an active role in Zhetl in the years 190405. They wrote a nice chapter in the general and Jewish revolutionary worker's movement.
However, my memory does not go that far back as to be able to provide details of the movement in its early years.
I know only one thing. Despite its success, the Bund in Zhetl did not manage to leave behind deep roots from which a movement could grow. In short, it can be characterized like this: it played a significant role, but disappeared, not leaving behind any traces of a party, except for a few splinters, in other words, a few, not well organized individuals like: Khaim Kaplinsky, Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Yehoshua Avsyevitch who did not lead and Bundist activities.
In the cold winter nights of 1926, Rokhl Yezyernitsky, Yosele Mendes' granddaughter, had the idea to organize Zhetl's working youth in a new organization called Youth Bund Future. Although another organization was not lacking in Zhetl. They thought and did.
According to her initiative, with help from the Bitne Yeshiva boy Moteh Velvl, later a functionary in the central committee of the Bund in Warsaw, and Matvei Bernshteyn, Youth Bund Future was created in Zhetl.
The founding meeting took place at the home of Noyakh the twisted, namely Rokhl Yezyernitsky's step father.
The following members were present at the founding meeting: Abba Vanyshteyn, Rokhl Yezyernitsky, Yitzkhak Lisogursky, Risha Sovitsky and others who I don't remember.
The agenda was short: constitute and continue with our work. A presidium was elected with the following members: Yitzkhak Lisogursky chairman, Rokhl Yezyernitsky secretary, Abba Vaynshteyn treasurer. It was also decided to begin a recruiting campaign.
After the founding meeting everyone threw themselves into the work with their youthful energy in order to recruit new members of which I was the first victim.
The organization grew very quickly. A little later, Binyomin Kaplinsky joined the organization and would become the spiritual leader of the Bundist party in Zhetl.
Later on Eliezer and Mania Shapiro joined. In short, the organization already numbered in the dozens and ran diversified cultural and educational programs for youth.
This was a new worry for the police. They had no idea what type of creature the Bund was. They assumed we were like the communists and began to persecute the Bund and all its organizations including: Youth Bund Future, SKIF, and the Cultural League. The police were the first to arrive at all announced and unannounced lectures, checker's evenings and other events. This would often result in the arrest of a few members who they assumed were the leaders and speakers.
After some intervention they would always release those detained.
Education in a Leftist Marxist Spirit
The Bund in Zhetl raised a Marxist, aware youth which we could be proud of today. Unfortunately, very few have survived. It is worthwhile to mention the suspicions of the police were not far from the truth.
The Zhetl Bund was educated in a spirit of leftist Marxism and did not always fit within the limits of the Bund program.
I remember when a certain functionary from the Central Committee of the Bund said the Bund in Zhetl was a faction.
Opposing the Second International
Another episode is important to mention as it characterizes the mood which ruled the party in Zhetl.
In 1931 when the Bund was discussing joining the Second International, the Zhetl Bund protested in writing. The leader of the Central Committee, H. Erlich felt it was necessary to respond in the Bundist organ Naye Folkstzeitung (New People's Newspaper) with these words: Before me lies a letter that is larger than the town from which it was sent. The letter is filled with shouts of anguish, protest and rebellion!
When the Bund, after long discussions joined the Second International, the party as well as the youth organization in Zhetl split.
However, the Bund in Zhetl continued to exist and run activities until 1939 when the Red Army arrived in Zhetl. This is where the rich in content chapter of the Bund ended in Zhetl.
Seated: Risha Sovitsky, Mordkhai Bernshteyn, Rokhl Yezyernitsky
Standing: Shimshon Novogrudsky, Yitzkhak Lisogursky, Shimen Levoronchik, Abba Vaynshteyn
Talking about the Bund in Zhetl we cannot forget to mention a few honest personalities who are no longer alive, for example: Binyomin Kaplinsky. He was a rare individual, a brilliant intellectual; perhaps one of the few in Zhetl. He did not have a personal life. He gave his entire being, talent, energy and young life to the idea.
Rokhl Yezyernitsky the founder of the Bund in Zhetl, had an unsettled nature, full of life, energy and combativeness. She was always searching for the truth, and by the way, never found it. In 1928 she left for America and a few years later came back to visit Zhetl. She returned to America and after a few years returned to Zhetl. She then moved to Baranovitch and live there until the Nazi occupation. She was taken to a forced labour camp Kaldichev. Here too she was restless and with a few others organized an escape from the camp. This action was successful but unfortunately some of them were captured by the Germans, she was among them. They were all tortured to death.
Abba Vaynshteyn (the Palisade) was very handsome and honest. He was devoted to the party in Zhetl. He lived in a difficult economic situation and got the proletarian disease, tuberculosis, and died a natural death in the summer of 1931.
His funeral which was organized by the Bund was the first of its kind in Zhetl.
Malkeh Mayevsky was a very interesting type filled with promising talents, one of the most devoted activists in the Bund in Zhetl. She died in her own bed in 1935, in her blossoming youth.
Eliyusha Shapiro was raised in comfort, far from the Jewish spirit. After his father died the family was in a difficult financial situation and this is what probably brought him to the Jewish socialist worker's movement. While still a student at the Polish high school he became an active member in the Bund youth organization.
Later, as his awareness grew together with his revolutionary temperament he no longer found his place in the Bund and together with many others threw himself into the work of the underground revolutionary movement.
At the beginning of 1933 he was arrested and after a year in jail he was released. After his release from jail he proceeded with his medical studies but he still was dissatisfied. He struggled on two fronts until a third front opened for him.
This was 1936 when Franco's fascists attacked the Spanish republic. His fighting character did not allow him to sit quietly. He tried every way possible and finally made it to the Spanish front and fell in a courageous battle against Spanish and international fascism.
Everything I have written here is based solely on my memory. Therefore, I ask everyone who reads this to forgive me for any inaccuracies.
by Lize Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Chanukah 1930 the Zionist activist Avrom Langbart called a meeting in the building of the Tarbut School. He explained to all the women gathered that in all other towns and cities they have organized bazaars for the Jewish National Fund and we must create a women's committee and begin this important work. As the first commissioner of the Jewish National Fund bazaar I feel it necessary to mention a few people who were very active in the work for the Jewish National Fund: Dvoyre Gorodaysky, Soreh Kaplinsky, Asneh Gertsovsky and Yoel Tcheplavodsky. They were among the first founders and carried out this work year after year. More activists joined in later years but unfortunately I do not recall their names.
Every member of the bazaar committee took it upon himself to work a street. He would go from house to house explaining the importance of the Jewish National Fund. The youth in Zhetl were always enthusiastic about Zionist work and now their main job was to collect goods. The collection lasted from Chanukah until Passover. During the winter evenings, girls in Zhetl would do handwork which was sold at good prices at the bazaar. Many business owners in Zhetl gave us antiques.
From right to left: Polkeh Leybovitch, Efraim Klin, Binyomin Leybovitch
Second row: Yisroel Kogan, Leyb Kohen, Zelik Orlinsky, Hirshl Rabinovitch, Mordkhai Rozovsky
On the first interim day of Passover we brought all donated items together in the movie house in Lobenske's gate. The opening took place that evening. The entire town participated in this celebration. For this celebration we invited the song director from the Hebrew high school, Bernholtz, who greatly impressed the audience with a beautiful performance. Avrom Langbart gave a beautiful speech. After all the speeches the well known Zionist activist Feyvl Epshteyn cut the ceremonial ribbon of the bazar exhibit.
With great interest the crowd began to buy the items. Everyone felt an obligation to buy. The event was very successful. Everyone was excited. It felt like a holiday. This lasted throughout the interim days of Passover.
We also organized a lottery. The women's committee bought inexpensive items and the children, with outstretched hands, attacked the lottery like bees. There was such a rush, all we saw were children's little hands outstretched with money.
The youth also had a great time. They would dance and grab something to eat. We used this opportunity to ask the parents of the children who attended the Tarbut School to donate food for the buffet. This is how we arranged a free kosher buffet for Passover.
As you can see we raised money for the Jewish National Fund in various ways, as we sang and danced. We ended with the singing of Hatikva as dawn broke.
The treasurer of the bazaar was Feyvl Epshteyn. Every year he would send large sums to the Jewish National Fund central office and we would receive many thank you letters which unfortunately were lost in the ghetto.
This small town Zhetl, had lots of energy to collect money for national causes. Now the town has been completely silenced and only graves have remained from the holy, exuberant, Jewish Zhetl.
by Sarah Gal Begin (Jerusalem)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Every year, during the interim days of Passover, all of Zhetl would spin. From early in the morning until midnight they would hustle and bustle for the Jewish National Fund bazaar in the Tarbut School. Children would swindle a few pennies from their parents for the lottery with the hope of winning something although the lottery was 2/3 empty in order to bring in more money.
Every evening they would dance until dawn. The Yiddishists could not control themselves and they too would come dance and pay the few zlotys toward this unblessed cause…the Polish intelligentsia would also come. They hated the Jews, but they did enjoy having a good time dancing with a Jewish girl. They would mainly buy things at inflated prices. The bazaar ended with the singing of Hatikvah which everyone listened to with respect, even the Yiddishists and Poles.
The bazaar began very differently in 1938. We did not know if we should even prepare.
From right to left: Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Avrom Langbart, Soreh Kaplinsky
Standing: Dovid Zelikovitch, Libe Zhukhovsky, Yitzkhak Rabinovitch, Levit, the teacher Hadassah Bril, Mayrim Lusky
This time the normal quarrels between the Hashomer Hatzair and the Poalei Zion about their booths did not take place as there was already the smell of gunpowder in the air. Poland was at war with Czechoslovakia. The following Zhetl young men had been mobilized: Zvi Kaplinsky and Zvi Eliyahu Rayzhes. All night wagons went to register at the township. The mood was oppressive.
At a meeting of the Jewish National Fund's board of directors which took place at Avrom Langbart's, they decided to organize a bazaar and not break the tradition. The following belonged to the board of directors at that time: Avrom Langbart, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Yosef Khlebnik, Leybke Mnuskin, Hillel Borishansky, and Soreh Gal.
The principal of the Tarbut School, Pergamenik, was also invited to the meeting. He participated in all Zionist events in town and was loved by the youth.
We approached the work with great energy. We worked all night at Mariashke Senderovsky's and sent the school graduates to collect for the lottery. We wanted to make up for lost time as we awaited news from the front. The walls of the hall echoed with song in order to chase away the heavy mood.
Feyvl Epshteyn's large samovar stood ready as it did every year but without enthusiasm.
Yet, the bazaar opened with a parade for the victory of the Poles who had captured Shlonsky Tchechisnksy.
All those mobilized came on furlough. No one was missing. Therefore the opening of the bazaar was joyful like every other year.
The bazaar was our saviour. It helped improve the mood in town. We enjoyed ourselves more than in other years and we made more money than ever.
Our joy disappeared very quickly. However, no one would imagine that this would be the last Jewish National Fund bazaar in Zhetl.
Everything was silenced forever. Zhetl was orphaned of her dear residents.
Only the few survivors who are spread throughout the world will eternalize the history of Zhetl for future generations.
Collected by Soreh Gal Begin
Translated by Janie Respitz
The First Jewish National Fund bazaar in Zhetl
Thanks to the initiative of the JNF Brigade a women's committee was organized in Zhetl to hold a bazaar in the first interim days of Passover to raise money for the Jewish National Fund. Mrs. Lize Kaplinsky has been chosen commissioner of the bazaar. Haynt (Today), 17.4.1930, From All Around Poland.
Tuesday, the first interim day of Passover, the opening of the bazaar took place in the large hall of the new cinema. This was the first bazaar organized by this especially appointed women's committee.
The commissioner of the bazaar was Mrs. Lize Kaplinsky. The bazaar occupied three rooms. Particularly impressive was the handwork section.
During the four days in which the bazaar took place every last item was sold. The baazar was visited by practically the entire Jewish population and some of the Polish population. Haynt (Today) 6.5.1930, From All Around Poland.
From right to left seated: Yehoshua Lusky, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Feyvl Epshteyn, Shaul Kaplinsky, Yisroel Pergamenik, Lize Kaplinsky, Gotesdiner, Khaim Levit, Avrom Langbart
Standing: Frida Beshkin, Feygl Dvoretsky, Yakov Borukh Kaplinsky, Yakov Indershteyn, Dovid Zelikovitch, Leybl Mnuskin, Tzalia Mashkovsky, Mordkhai Abaranak, Henie Gertzovsky, Nakhman Gal, Nokhem Shoykhet, Mire Volfosky, Henie Rashkin, Libe Likhter, Tzile Zernitsky, Rivka Grin, Eliezer Rozenfeld. Standing last two: Henie Shalkovitch, Yudis Berman
Commemorative Gathering for Herzl in Zhetl
Thanks to an initiative of the Jewish National Fund committee, a commemorative gathering was organized on the 20th of Tammuz in memory of Dr. Herzl. Hyant (Today) 5.8.1930 From All around Poland.
An Event for the Keren Hayesod (The Jewish Agency) in Zhetl
The general secretary of The Jewish Agency, Dr. Shapiro, came to Zhetl. He gave a lecture on Saturday in the old House of Study. The masses who came to hear him were very excited. Many thanks to the energetic participation of the following members: Eliezer Rozenfeld, Yerukham Izraelit, Shaul Kaplinsky, Nakhman Gal, Khaim Levit, Zvi Gertzovsky, Yosef Butkovsky, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Zaydl Ovzarovitch and Yosef Berman. The event was a great success. Haynt (Today) 21.7. 1930, From All Around Poland.
A Meeting of the League of Workers in the Land of Israel
A general meeting for the League of Workers in the Land of Israel took place here. The following were elected to the new board of directors: Yitzkhak Kohen chairman; Yitzkhak Rabinovitch treasurer; members:
Golda Leybovitch, Rivka Tinkovitsky, Yitzkhak Leyzerovitch and Dovid Zelikovitch. Haynt (Today) 2.6.1931, From All Around Poland.
The Second Jewish National Fund Bazaar in Zhetl
Sunday, the second interim day of Passover, in a packed hall in a celebratory atmosphere, the second Jewish National Fund bazaar opened in Zhetl with the participation of the delegate Mrs. Leah Virdovitch from the Land of Israel. Mrs. Lize Kaplinsky opened the evening in the name of the women's committee and handed over the chair to Avrom Langbart who delivered an informative speech. He welcomed the many local organizations and institutions. After reading many telegrams with greetings, the next word was given to our guest Mrs. Leah Virdovitch who movingly described Jewish life in the Land of Israel. After the orchestra played Hatikva Mrs. Virdovitch was given the honour of cutting the ribbon. The celebratory closing of the bazaar took place when Passover ended. Disregarding the crisis, the bazaar, thanks to Mrs. Virdovitch was a colossal, moral success. The money raised, according to the Zhetl's proportions, exceeded all expectations. Haynt (Today), 30.4.1931, From All Around Poland.
About TOZ Activities in Zhelt (Translator's note: TOZ is the Polish acronym for the Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population).
On the 1st of February, the Local TOZ board of directors organized a dance in the Tarbut School to raise money to feed Jewish school children in Zhetl. With a bit of support from the TOZ central office in Warsaw and a minimal subsidy from the local city hall, the local TOZ division feeds around 400 children in Zhetl's Jewish elementary schools. More than fifty percent of these children receive their food at no cost. The remainder pay 5 groschen. Recently the food distribution suffered from a lack of funds and had to stop this service. The dance evening to raise money for feeding the children had warm resounding reverberations through the entire local population and raised proportionally, a good amount. TOZ board of directors, Haynt (Today), 17.2.1936.
The Cleaning Campaign of TOZ
As in all other towns and cities TOZ ran a cleaning campaign.
The campaign began with an assembly with speeches by: Dr. Vinik and the teachers from Tarbut and Tzisho schools. Over a period of one month, a sanitation patrol went through the town to become familiar with the sanitary conditions of the Zhetl population.
The campaign ended with an impressive procession from all the schools through the streets of town.
Moment, May 30th, 1938.
The General Protest Strike in Zhetl
Tuesday, on the 17th of the month, all the workshops were controlled by the strike committee. All the workshops were on strike including the Matzah bakeries. On Tuesday at 10 o'clock, in the locale of the professional union a Moscow took place in which workers from all affiliations participated. The Moscow ended with the singing of the International. Dos Naye Vort (The New Word), 22.3.1936.
The Situation of the Zhetl Library
Four years ago, when Zhetl experienced a fire epidemic, the large public library with more than 4000 books went up in smoke, except for hundreds of volumes in Hebrew and Polish. With great effort, we succeeded in reopening the library.
It is already a year that due to various reasons, the library is locked again. It is therefore just and fair on the part of the higher intelligentsia in town to take interest in the cultural situation of Zhetl's youth.
Moment, June 24th, 1938.
Interest Free Loans
One of the most important institutions here in our town is without a doubt, the Interest Free Loan fund. In these bitter present times the fallen shopkeeper and the artisan have no other institution to turn to for help.
With the participation of all the members, an annual meeting took place recently in the House of Study,
which was opened by A. Langbart. The following board of directors was confirmed: Chairman A.H. Langbart. Vice chairman D. Shepetnitsky. Treasurer Nakhman Gal. Board members: Moishe Vinakur, Z. Bernshteyn, Busel, Lidsky, Peskovsky and Benyaminovitch. Moment. June 30th, 1938.
Rabbi Zalmen Saratzkin Takes Over the Rabbinate in Lutzk
At this time, our beloved rabbi, the esteemed genius Rabbi Saratzkin, may he live long, left to take over the rabbinate in Lutzk.
For a long time other cities tried to take away our rabbi. We always resisted and many times succeeded to convince him to remain in our town.
This past year the Jewish community in Ostrov invited our rabbi, may he live long, to take over their rabbinate. Meanwhile however, the government annulled the regulations of elected rabbis in Congress Poland, and as the communities were at the end of their cadence, the government no longer allowed the election of new rabbis (meaning, until a new Jewish community council was elected). The situation now made it impossible for our rabbi to take the position on Ostrov.
The strong will and unanimous decision of the entire Jewish community of Ostrov outweighed the official difficulties and they asked our rabbi for a deadline to find an exception. Our rabbi accommodated their request and gave them a deadline of half a year (Until just before Purim).
Their intervention did not bring any positive results and our rabbi extended the deadline. This was a great loss for Ostrov and a big win for us.
Meanwhile, Lutzk invited our rabbi to take over the rabbinate in their town, and immediately to that end he received an official appointment. (Lutzk had a new Jewish community council). They did not receive valid approval from our rabbi as long as the deadline with Ostrov had not been reached. This week ended with no results for Osatrov to hire our rabbi. Therefore, our rabbi, may he live long, gave his agreement to Lutzk and has left for Lutzk to take over this rabbinic position.
Our esteemed rabbi has not left us for good. He will remain in Lutzk until after Shavuot due to the previously arranged visit of the state president in Lutzk. The he will return to Zhetl and remain until the end of the summer. However, the mood is very stressful and it is hard to get used to the idea that our beloved rabbi, may he live a long life, will be leaving us. With Ostrov we had a grain of hope that at the last minute we would succeed in keeping him, but now our chances are weak. Until it is an actual fact, we still want to hope! Z. Leybovitch Dos Vort (The Word), vol. 245, 13.6.1929.
The Campaign for the Council of Yeshivas in Zhetl
Due to the initiative of our rabbi, the esteemed genius Reb Yitzkhak Raytzer, may he live long, the esteemed genius Reb Zvi Khurgin, Z. Leybovitch and Sh. Rabinovitch, the work of the Council of Yeshivas strengthened. They carried out the Harkat Tevet(Evacuation) with great success. Those who participated in the evacuation were: Rabbi Mayrim Berniker, Reb Yakov the ritual inspector of kosher meat, Reb Yitzkhak the cantor and ritual inspector, Reb D. Izraelit, Reb Y. L. Khlebnik and others.
I strongly wish that other Orthodox activists of our town would take into consideration the terrible situation of the Yeshivas and undertake this work actively. Dos Vort (The Word), vol. 332, 20.2.1931.
In our town, thanks to the initiative of our local rabbi, Rabbi Yitzkhak Raytzer, may he live long, and the esteemed Rabbi Khurgin may he live long, the work for the Council of Yeshivas was reorganized.
Since the last district conference in Baranovitch, we carried out the last evacuation over the last months, which was very successful. We also successfully carried out in our town the event of Torah portion Yitro, thanks to the rich in content and influential speech which the local rabbi, may he live long, gave on the Sabbath, before the reading of the Torah, to a packed House of Study, encouraging the crowd to take an active role in the enterprising work for the good of the Council of Yeshivas in general and event of Shabbat Yitro specifically. He also explained the importance of Torah learning in general and
especially these days, when ignorant people are frolicking in the Jewish street and we see the sad results this has brought about and therefore we cannot dismiss the strength of Torah. The speech left a great impression, calling for great excitement in the holy work of strengthening Torah study. The crowd responded warmly with donations to the Council of Yeshivas.
In the name of the Council we would like to express gratitude to our local rabbi, may he live long, for his successful activity for the good of strengthening Torah, and thanks also to the managers of the Houses of Study who helped carry out these events.
It is our deep wish that the community activists, who until now did not partake in this work, will take into consideration the situation of the Yeshivas and help with this work. Dos Vort (The Word), vol. 337, 27.3.1931.
Last Sabbath, the Polonker rabbi, the esteemed Reb Shabsai Alpert, may he live long, visited our town. Saturday afternoon this important rabbi gave a rich impactful sermon to a full House of Study about the importance of strengthening Torah study in this day and age.
This sermon left a great impression on the crowd, arousing great excitement for the holy work of strengthening Torah study and especially for the good of the situation of the Council of Yeshivas.
Immediately after the holy Sabbath, at the home of our revered rabbi, a meeting took place of the most important wealthy men with the participation of the Polonker rabbi, may he live long, on what means were needed to strengthen the work of the Council of Yeshivas. Thanks to his influence and his devotion and self participation together with the most important members of the Council like: Moishe Tentzer, Yoineh Leyb Khlebnik, Aron Zvi Langbart, Yitzkhak Kaplinsky, Shmerl Markus, Yiroel Elkhanan Pikelny, Yitzkhak Ari Kogan the cantor, Shaul Shalkovitch, Meir Yehuda Shifmanovitch and Khaim Kantarovitch, they succeeded in raising a lot of money.
In the name of the entire town, and specifically the local council, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Polonker Rabbi, may he live long, for his beautiful and thoughtful sermon with which he instilled in us spiritual pleasure. Dos Vort (The Word), vol. 417, 7.10. 1932.
The Apolitical Unification of Akhdes (Jewish Worker's Association)
To Zhetl's Jews!
Sunday, elections will take place for our Jewish community council.
Remember Jews, these are not elections for the Sejm (Polish parliament), or city hall, where everyone supports the party or organization which defends his economic interests. No! This is a Jewish religious community council, which must concern itself with how we live according to the laws of the Torah and we must ensure we have our Houses of Study, rabbis, ritual slaughterers, ritual baths, places of learning for our children in a Jewish traditional spirit, hospitals, orphanages with kosher kitchens and other Jewish philanthropic institutions.
Until now we handled our own spirituality; now through a decree we must entrust a special committee which we will now choose.
But to whom will we entrust our spirit? Our holy Torah for which our ancestors spilled rivers of blood? To whom will we pass on the education of the next generation? To those who do not themselves attend a House of Study, who have a program to disturb our entire tradition and who will, God forbid, ruin the Torah and tear our children away from the ancient Jewish tradition?
If you place our Jewish community in the hands of those parties whose leaders in the big cities have already proclaimed the program of past Hellenists: A) Not to learn Torah, B) Not to circumcise their sons, C) Not to keep the Sabbath, should we entrust our souls to them? No! The election to the Jewish community council is not a class struggle, rather a fight for the religious character of Jewish public life.
Everyone, who within him still has a spark of Jewishness, will certainly stand in our ranks and give his voice to the list of five who still pray at the House of Study, Jews who have a firm desire to defend our traditional positions, Jews, who will take into account the difficult economic situation of our town not encumbering it with big taxes, Jews, who live with us, suffer with us and feel with us.
Therefore, Sunday, June 24th, every Jew votes! No one is permitted to stay home, and you must vote for the list of Akhdes 5.
The election bureau of Akhdes.
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