« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 41]

The Zionist Movement in Ekaterinoslav
The Time of Hibat Zion

by Dr. Israel Klausner

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A.

The pogroms that, beginning in 1881 have struck the Jews of southern Russia like an unexpected storm did not spare Ekaterinoslav and surroundings. In July 1883 the pogrom in town lasted two days. In the fall of the same year and then in 1884 and 1886 pogroms occurred again, albeit in a somewhat smaller measure. These pogroms, as well as the attitude of the authorities caused panic and a desire to flee from the country, and confronted the Jewish population with the problem of emigration. The Jews of Ekaterinoslav and the Jewish villages around it sought to immigrate to Eretz Israel and settle there, and in 1884 they sent a delegation to Eretz Israel to explore the possibilities of settlement.[1]

In the month of Shevat 5654 [1884], an Association of Hovevei Zion with the aim of supporting the emigrants was founded.[2] It was at first a small association; however the number of members soon increased. Binyamin–Zvi Sheinfinkel, the secretary and general leader of the Association in Ekaterinoslav, wrote in early 1885 in reply to questions asked by Shaul Pinchas Rabinowitz (SPR), the secretary of the Hovevei Zion Association in Warsaw that the Association had more than 200 members, almost all from the poorer classes; their monthly income was about 40 Rubles, yearly about 500 Rubles. Of the donations for the settlement of Eretz Israel collected on the eve of Yom Kippur, Avraham Harkavi sent to the editorial Board of the newspaper Hamelitz 136 Rubles. The number of members grew steadily and it was hoped that well–to–do people will join as well, especially after the central committee of the movement would be founded.[3] As part of the festivities in honor of Moses Montefiore, held all over Russia and throughout the Jewish world with the occasion of his 100th birthday on 7 Marcheshvan 5645 [1884], the Ekaterinoslav Association held a festive banquet as well, during which many new members joined and about 100 Rubles were collected.[4] At the beginning of 1885 the Association decided to send 100 Rubles to the management of Hovevei Zion.[5] On 17 Adar 5645 [1885], B.Z. Sheinfinkel wrote to the management that the number of members was 400, most of them from the poor classes but there were also some “average Balei–Batim” [“house owners”, well–to–do]. According to his estimate, the annual income of the association was at least 600 Rubles.[6] The list of 51 Associations at the time and their income, recorded by SPR, stated that the Ekaterinoslav Association had 400 members with an income of 1,200 Rubles per year.[7] In another article, published in the newspaper Jüdische Presse (1885, No. 11), probably by SPR as well, the income is estimated as 1,500 Rubles. This was an exaggeration. During one year and a half, from the Katowice Conference to the end of April 1886, the Ekaterinoslav Association sent a total of 404 Rubles.[8] In that year it was decided to convene small assemblies of Zionist organizations in neighboring districts, and the Ekaterinoslav Association joined the associations of Rostov and Bardiansk, that were scheduled to assemble in Rostov.[9] In the Hovevei Zion convention in Druzegnik in the month of Tamuz 1887, the Ekaterinoslav Association was represented by B.Z. Sheinfinkel.

 

B.

Farmers in the Jewish colonies in the Ekaterinoslav district and the other southern districts, who witnessed the repeated pogroms, desired to make Aliya to Eretz Israel and settle there. They hoped, that the “well–known philanthropist” [the Baron Edmund De Rothschild] or the Hovevei Zion organization would help them achieve the goal to settle in Eretz Israel. The Magid [preacher] of Chaslawitch, R'Yehuda–Zvi Yevzerov, who traveled in 1866 and 1867 through the districts of Ekaterinoslav and Tavira as a delegate of Hovevei Zion encouraged the people in their aspirations to make Aliya. He told his listeners, that Hovevei Zion will help: any settler, who has 1,000 Rubles, will receive from the organization a loan of 1,500 Rubles.

Some of the Ekaterinoslav Jews joined the Aleksandrovsk organization. Delegates were sent to Eretz Israel, but one of them spoke ill of Eretz Israel and by his influence some members left the association. Those who remained, however, intended to realize the plan of buying land in Eretz Israel before Pesach 5648 [1888]. Nine members from Aleksandrovsk ordered 11 plots of land and seven members from Ekaterinoslav ordered 5 plots. There was still need of members who would be ready to invest 70,000 Rubles. At this point the Association addressed the Hovevei Zion management, asking help in finding additional members–settlers. The management gave them an address: B.Z. Sheinfinkel, Ekaterinoslav. Additional members were not found and the deal was called off.[10]

[Page 42]

C.

Slowly but surely, the Ekaterinoslav Hovevei Zion organization grew and developed. In 5647 [1887] the number of members reached 700. Between January and October that year, the association sent 500 Rubles to the central treasury of the organization; on Yom–Kippur eve 5648 [1887], 164 Rubles were collected and sent to Dr. Y.L. Pinsker; it sent 50 Rubles to a family from Caucasia who went to Eretz Israel, and 25 Rubles to a young man (Levitas). In private houses there was not enough room for the assemblies that took place, therefore the Association decided, as did other similar associations, to build its own synagogue, Ohel Moshe [Moses' Tent] in honor of Moses Montefiore, which would serve as a place to hold the meetings, as well. This opened the way for intensified activity and also provided some more funds.

One of the members, who used the name Hamabit [the onlooker, the observer] wrote a complaint in the newspaper Jüdishes Volksblatt (published in Petersburg by Alexander Zederboim), arguing that the Association was not doing enough. The Association – asked the Observer – existed several years, and what did it accomplish? Did it help the Jews in Eretz Israel? The same “observer” also replied, explaining that the Association cannot really do much: the members are few, most of them of low income; it was true that here were several rich families in town, but these kept to themselves. The only ray of light that the observer saw was the synagogue Ohel Moshe.

Avraham–Yakov Bruck, member of the Ohel Moshe committee, replied. It was true, he said, that at the beginning the Association was weak, but in time it strengthened and grew to 700 members. Bruck thought that the sums collected and transferred to the settlement of Eretz Israel were not to be underestimated, and hoped that the building of the synagogue would indeed help further the activities.[11]

Ohel Moshe did help. The Hebrew teacher Zvi–Hirsh Maslanski, who came from Pinsk to Ekaterinoslav in 1888, brought a true spirit of life to the synagogue. Together with Chaim Levanda, brother of the writer I. L. Levanda and with the writer Shimon–Yehuda Stanislavski he made Ohel Moshe the center of Hovevei Zion.[12] The idea of settlements in Eretz Israel spread in town, not only among the lower classes but also among the rich and enlightened. In the month of Tevet 5649 [1889], the Magid of Chaslavitch, R'Yehuda–Zvi Yevzerov visited in town. The newspaper Hatzefira reported that a large audience came to listen to his beautiful sermons, and that his words had a deep effect on the enlightened, who decided to support the settlement of Eretz Israel. The community gave him a present – a silver cup with an inscription.[13] Maslanski, who became more and more respected for his influential speeches, often spoke at Ohel Moshe. He gained the respect of young people as well, following his establishment of the Benei Zion Association in town. Zvi Maslanski spoke at the celebration of completing the writing of a Torah Scroll by the donations of the Ohel Moshe members, and on that occasion the Hovevei Zion members collected money for the support of the Yisud Hama'ale colony in Eretz Israel. He spoke on other occasions as well – for example eulogies for Rabbi Eliashberg from Boysk (5649) and R'Shmuel–Yosef Foenn (5651). The Benei Zion Association that he founded in 5651 [1891] developed beautifully. When he left town in 5653 [1893], the Hovevei Zion group presented him with a letter of thanks, where they expressed their appreciation of his activity.[14]

In 5649, the Hovevei Zion Association in Ekaterinoslav sent money to the central committee, but did not participate in the Vilna Convention – perhaps because the invitation arrived too late. Several groups in the South received invitations too late, and therefore participated only partly.[15] In the founding assembly of “The Association for supporting Jewish Farmers and Craftsmen in Syria and the Holy Land,” with the permission of the authorities, as well as at smaller meetings prior to the official meeting in Iyar 5650 [1890], three delegates from Ekaterinoslav participated: Avraham Harkavi, Michel Maydanski and A. Perl.

Michel Maydanski participated in a trip to Eretz Israel of a group of people under the leadership of Rav Shmuel Mohliver. After they returned from the Holy Land, Rav Mohliver, Maydanski and Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz reported to the Odessa Committee on the situation of the colonies and of their own activity. As candidates for the Executive Committee of the Odessa Association in Jaffa they proposed Z. Tyomkin, I.A. Ben–Tovim and Y.M. Pines, and their candidates were accepted.

 

D.

The longing of the Ekaterinoslav Jews to establish a settlement in Eretz Israel did not cease. The Poltava Hovevei Zion Association began realizing a settlement program by lottery, and some of the Ekaterinoslav Jews bought lottery tickets through Zvi Shimshelewitz. However, the plan did not succeed and had to be cancelled.[16]

[Page 43]

In 5650 [1890], when in Russia a movement for Aliya and settlement began, the Ekaterinoslav Jews were among the first to organize on a large scale. About forty middle–class families from Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk formed an Association by the name of Tzemach David with the purpose of establishing a settlement in Eretz Israel. In the spring, they sent two delegates to “explore the land;” later, in the fall of that year they sent another two, among them the rich I.S. Dolnik. Another Association, of rich people, was founded in Ekaterinoslav on the first of the month of Sivan 5650, with the purpose of buying jointly land, manage it during five years through administrators and then make Aliya and settle on the land. This association was founded by six people, among them Mordechai Ben Hillel Hakohen; it was supposed to include only twenty families, each contributing 5,000 Rubles. They named the association Agudat Achim [Brothers Association]. Six months later, a delegate of the Association, Nemirovski, was sent to Paris, asking the Baron Rothschild to lend them money to buy the land, but Rothschild was reluctant to help the rich. The Association then sent Nemirovski to Eretz Israel to buy land. He contacted the engineer Y. Seidner and together they looked for land. When he returned on Passover 5651, Nemirovski proposed to buy for the Association 60,000 Dunams, but he soon received a message from Seidner that he bought 120,000 Dunams in the Golan Heights, soil of better quality and that he intended to sell it. He went again to Paris and persuaded Rothschild to buy the entire plot and sell parts of it to the various associations.

The representatives of the Tzemach David association, who came to Eretz Israel in Elul 5650, bought from Yehoshua Chankin 11,000 Dunams in Emek Chefer [Wadi Hawarit]. They intended to found a colony by the name of Tzemach David. However, it turned out that the land had not been in the possession of Chankin, and it was later sold to a Greek. In Sivan 5651 1891], Chankin proposed to Tzemach David to buy land in the Valley of Jezreel [Emek Yizre'el]. I.S. Dolnik gave Chankin a check of 90,000 Franks as well as a private loan of 1,000 Pounds (about 35,000 Franks) for one week. Other associations invested money as well, for the purchase of land in Emek Yizre'el. In the summer of 5651, as the prohibition of Aliya and purchase of land became effective, Chankin as well as the Hovevei Zion executive committee in Jaffa went through a serious crisis. Chankin had used Tzemach David funds to buy land in Hadera and could not return the loan, since the Hadera people had not paid him. Neither did he return the private loan that he had received from Dolnik. One hundred families in Ekaterinoslav feared the loss of their money. In the beginning of 1892 Dolnik traveled to Istanbul and met Chankin there, but he could not save the loan. The purchase of the land was cancelled.

 

eka043.jpg

 

Part of the agreement of dividing the land purchased in the Golan Heights [names and areas]:

Thursday 28 Tamuz 5656 [1896]

Twenty three families possessing 493 Desyatin [1 desyatin = 2.7 acres] which equal to 5916 Dunams of land in Syria (Golan and Bashan), bought by the Paris Committee for the Society Agudat Achim Ekaterinoslav.

Below are the twenty three families and the land

Evidvarski 50 desyatin Huberman 10
  Geiger 25
Reshawitz 10 Kizneshker 15
Vedvedovski 30 Gabrilowitz 25
Kalamatzev 30 Goldfein 20
Levinski 30 Riedak 10
Sulemenke ? 20 Pindros 13.5
Spector 25 Laydaske 15
Kossotzevske 25 Kremer 10
Raletzkaren ? 30 Kantzewitz 20
Wishnay ? ??  

[Page 44]

In the summer of 5651, a group of 20 families from Ekaterinoslav, who made Aliya and lived temporarily in Jaffa, sent a delegation to Trans–Jordania. In Russia, the occupation of these families was farming and cattle growing, and they desired to continue this occupation in Eretz Israel. The delegates returned and announced that it would be worthwhile to purchase the land that they had seen, and the Baron's administrator Ottowjecki tried to help.

As mentioned before, Rothschild had taken upon himself to buy from the Agudat Achim the large area of 120,000 Dunams in the Golan Heights, since the association did not need such an extensive area and was looking for partners. When the restrictions on Aliya were made public, almost all members left the association. Seidner found a buyer for part of the land, 25,000 Dunams – the Shavei Zion Association in New–York. The Hovevei Zion association in England bought 10,000 Dunams. Other settlement associations on Russia – Byalistok and Homel – have shown interest in purchasing land in the Golan Heights, but there arose a problem in registering the land in the name of the buyers. The Baron tried to obtain from the authorities permission to buy and sent his representative, Eliyahu Scheid, to Istanbul for that purpose, but with little success. The government did not allow immigrants who were foreign citizens to settle on the land. In the spring of 5653 [1893] Scheid went again to Istanbul, paid a great deal of money and succeeded in many of the Baron's assignments, but did not obtain the annulment of the settlement restrictions for new immigrants. Still, 300–400 families of immigrants were allowed to settle on the land they had bought. Scheid hoped that he would be able to overcome the restrictions and announced his victory. The “Eretz Israel Committee,” founded in Paris by the Baron, with the purpose of selling land to the associations, was out of work since the associations have been dissolved and new ones have not been founded. Agudat Achim and Shavei Zion in New–York and Hovevei Zion in England convened in Paris on 20 Tevet 5654 and decided to demand from the Baron to promise that the prohibition would be cancelled in six months, and if this could not be achieved then the land in the Golan will not be bought. Shavei Zion and Hovevei Zion in England cancelled their purchase. Only the Ekaterinoslav Agudat Achim remained; it could not abandon the deal because it had invested 40,000 Franks as an advance deposit and naturally it did not want to forfeit it.

In the winter of 5655 [1895], Scheid obtained in Istanbul permission to bring 200–300 families from Russia to Trans–Jordania. Settlement associations from Romania, England and America, as well as the members of Agudat Achim began preparations to establish colonies. The Ekaterinoslav association convened on Chanuka 5656 [1896] and decided to name their colony Achva [Brotherhood]. 15 families intended to make Aliya before Passover or right after the holiday and settle in the Golan. Soon after that decision, news arrived about pogroms by the authorities and the neighbors. 23 members of the association, who had bought 5,916 Dunams, gave on 28 Tamuz 5656 power–of–attorney to a member of the association to go to the Golan and manage their estates. He was asked to build a home for himself and for another family. Several other families from Ekaterinoslav went as well to settle in the Golan. Their situation, however, was difficult, since in July 1896 an order was received in Damascus from Istanbul to evict all the Jewish settlers. Scheid managed to achieve in Istanbul an annulment of the decree, but new settlers were not allowed to join or new houses to be built. The settlers left the place in despair. The Ekaterinoslav people returned to their town very depressed and caused panic among the other members. The settlement in the Golan ended in a great disappointment.[17]

 

E.

In 5650 [1890], the Association in Odessa was founded. This opened up a possibility to act legally in favor of settlement in Eretz Israel. The Ekaterinoslav people participated in the activities of the Odessa Committee, were present at their meetings and contributed to their budget.

One of the most active and devoted was the senior member Mechl Meidanski. Dr. Shemaryahu Levin described him in his Memoirs:[18] “A wonderful type of a learned Jew of the old generation, full of Torah and all the other ‘seven sciences’.” The Odessa Committee elected him, for his activity for the society, a “member of honor,” together with Rabbi S. Mohliver, K.Z. Visotzki and Moshe–Leib Lilienblum. In 5656–5659 [1896–1899], he was the deputy of the Association in Ekaterinoslav. At the time of the crisis in the movement, when Aliya was stopped and purchase of land was cancelled, Mechl Meidanski was among those who did not withdraw. Although he was not a writer, he published an article in the newspaper Hamelitz, where he encouraged the people not to be afraid of obstacles: every new movement has to make some sacrifice because of lack of experience.[19] Meidanski collaborated with the young members, and when Menachem Ussishkin relocated to Ekaterinoslav he found in this man a friend and supported him all the way.

When Ussishkin came to Ekaterinoslav in 5651, the Zionist activity in town was intensified. He tried to attract the intelligentsia to the movement. During his visits in town, even before he settled there due to his marriage to Faley, the daughter of the engineer Sergei Pavlowitz (Shemarya ben Feitel), he assembled three meetings of educated people, with the aim to establish a national association for the study of the Hebrew Language, Jewish history and matters concerning

[Page 45]

the Yishuv [settlement] in Eretz Israel. More than fifty “Diploma holders” participated in these meetings. It was decided to build a synagogue named Ohel Ya'akov, where they met every Saturday night and discussed the problems concerning the Jewish people. On Chanuka 5652, one of the members spoke about Chanuka and Ussishkin spoke about Pinsker.[20] Ussishkin founded in Ekaterinoslav a small association for the settlement of Eretz Israel, by the name Hatikva [Hope]. He was a member of Benei Moshe, a secret section of the Hovevei Zion association, and was the one who introduced Avraham Harkavi and Zvi–Hirsch Maslanski to the movement. Ussishkin also founded in town a committee with the aim to publish booklets in Russian on Jewish national topics. This series of booklets published works by I.L. Levanda, Dr. L. Kantor (the life of Don Yitzhak Abarbanel) and S.I. Stanislavski from Ekaterinoslav (about Moshe Hess).

The collaboration between Ussishkin and Meidanski was extended over several areas. In 5652 [1892], when they established a fund for the benefit of laborers in Eretz Israel, the two announced that they, together with four other townspeople, will donate 536 Rubles a year to the fund.[21] At the general assembly of the Odessa Association, in 5653, Ekaterinoslav was represented by Meidanski and Ussishkin. They participated in the consultation concerning the establishment of a National Library in Eretz Israel. The members signed a memorandum, in which the Hovevei Zion members were called to support “A central national library for our nation.” The first signatories on the memorandum were M. Meidanski and M. Ussishkin.[22] They did not go to the convention of the Merkaz Ruhani (Mizrahi), but one of them – by their choice – was elected as the aide and consultant of Rav Mohliver, head of the Mizrahi. The younger of the two filled the position.

In 1892, beside Meidanski and Ussishkin, we find Levinski, Chaim (Vitali) Levanda, Z.H. Maslanski, Avraham Harkavi and S.I. Stanislavski. They signed a telegram to Rabbi Tzadok Cohen (Kahn) in which they expressed the condolences of Hovevei Zion in Ekaterinoslav at the passing of Michael Erlanger.[23]

In the third general assembly of the Odessa Committee the delegates from Ekaterinoslav were M. Meidanski and Engineer M. Bruck.

The number of members of the Odessa Committee in Ekaterinoslav and their contributions were: 1890 – 227; 1892 – 79, 607 Rubles; 1893 – 154, 987 R.; 1894 – 157, 1357 R.; 1895 – 149, 957 R.; 1896 – 118, 860 R.; 1897 – 139, 933R.

The publication of Herzl's book, “The Jewish State” made a strong impression on the Hovevei Zion movement in Russia. A group of Hovevei Zion, who came in the summer of 5656 to the General Assembly of the Odessa Committee and heard from prof. Z. Belkovski about the contents of the book, decided to publish a new edition of “Auto Emancipation” by Pinsker, as a “supplement to Herzl's activity.” The group included M. Meidanski.[24] I. Buchmill, who was sent by Dr. Herzl to Russia, to campaign among the Jews to go to the Congress, visited Ekaterinoslav. Ussishkin, who at first was of the opinion that the Congress will not bring any advantage, later changed his opinion and supported Buchmill. Meidanski became a political Zionist and was devoted with all his heart to the activity of the Zionist Organization. Ussishkin traveled to the Zionist Congress and served as secretary for Hebrew. The First Congress heralded a new era for the Zionist Movement, as well as for Ekaterinoslav.


Footnotes

  1. A letter from Leib Rubin, one of the founders of Yesud Hama'ala, 10 Elul 5644 [1884]. Yesud Hama'ala Archives, in the National Library in Jerusalem. Return
  2. As related by Avraham–Yakov Bruck of Ekaterinoslav, in Jüddisches Volksblatt, Petersburg, 1887, No. 44. Return
  3. A letter from the Association in Ekaterinoslav to SPR, no date, before the convention of the Katowice Conference, the SPR Archives, in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Return
  4. Hamelitz, 1884, No. 88. About the festivities see also my book “From Katovice to Basel” (The Movement for Zion in Russia, 1), Jerusalem 5722 (1962), pp. 396–398. Return
  5. SPR Archives, a letter from the Association from 5.1.1885. Return
  6. Ibid. a letter from 17 Adar 5645 (1885). Return
  7. The list in the Droyanov Collection, Central Zionist Archives, 9/41. Return
  8. List of Associations in “Writings on the History of Hibat Zion and the settlement of Eretz Israel,” A. Droyanov, Odessa 5679 [1919], Vol. 1, No. 441. Return
  9. Ibid. No. 491, in a memorandum from 19 Elul 5646 [1885]. Return
  10. The sources are mentioned in my book (see above), 2, Jerusalem 5725 [1965], pp. 142–143. Return
  11. Jüddisches Volksblatt, 1887, No. 39, 44. Return
  12. Z.H. Maslanski, in his Memoirs (his Writings, 3, New York 5689 [1929], p. 7). Return
  13. Hatzefira, 1888, No. 284. Return
  14. Hamelitz, 1889, No. 2, 272; 1891, No.5; 1893, No. 76. Return
  15. My book (above) 2, p. 381; Droyanov Collection, No. 64, in a letter from M.L. Lilienblum to S.Y. Fuenn, 1 Av 5649 [1889]. Return
  16. My book (above) 2, pp. 242–244. Return
  17. My book (above) 3, pp. 23, 28, 65–68, 123,164, 178, 183, 278–279. Return
  18. Memories of my Life, Tel Aviv, 5699 [1939], 3, p. 185. Return
  19. Hamelitz, 1892, No. 155–157. Return
  20. Letter of M. Ussishkin to Yehoshua Eisenstadt, Moscow, 26 Marcheshvan 5651 [1890], Y. Eisenstadt–Barzilay Archives, in the CZA, file 38. Letter of M. Ussishkin to Asher Ginsburg (Achad Ha'am), 4th day of Chanuka, in Benei Moshe Archives, ibid. Return
  21. My book (above), 3, p. 208. Return
  22. Ibid. p. 202. Return
  23. Hamelitz, 1892, No. 221. Return
  24. My book, 3, p. 350. Return


[Page 46]

Ekaterinoslav Jews
in the First Aliya and Second Aliya

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

  1. Mordechai Henkin, born in 1861 in Ekaterinoslav. Made Aliya in 5641 (1881), with the last of the BILU movement. He worked as a farm laborer in Gedera and later settled in Gedera, owner of a farm.
  2. Yitzhak Henkin, born in 1860 in Ekaterinoslav. Made Aliya in 1887 and joined his brother Mordechai. Worked as a farm laborer in Gedera, later moved to Rechovot and then settled in Hadera, owner of a farm.
  3. Gitel Henkin, born in 1817 in Ekaterinoslav, made Aliya in 1886 and joined her son Mordechai in Gedera. She was an active community worker in that settlement.
  4. Yitzhak Leib Toporovski, born in 1866, made Aliya in 1886, joined the founders of Rishon LeTzion and settled there.
  5. Rostovski Yakov, born in 1860 in the small town Bolshoy-Tukmak and lived in Ekaterinoslav. A member of BILU, worked with the BILU members in Mikve Israel and later became a merchant.
  6. Kalman Hoffman, born in 1874 in Ekaterinoslav, made Aliya in 1895, worked as a carpenter, then established in Yaffo (Jaffa) a foundry, which is functioning to this day.
  7. Shmuel-Moshe Spektorov (Ben-Shemesh), born in 1878 in Poltava, resident of Ekaterinoslav. He made Aliya in 1905 and settled in Petach-Tikva. During WWI he was arrested by the Turks, sent into exile to Damascus, and died there.
  8. Yakov Kantorowitz, born in Kleck, resident of Ekaterinoslav, made Aliya in 1905, was a farm laborer, studied carpet weaving at the Bezalel School of art and became instructor in several schools.
(From: Encyclopedia of the Founders and Builders of Israel by Tidhar, and private sources).


The Campaign[1]

by Dr. Shemaryahu Levin

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Everything was new for me in Ekaterinoslav. When I was offered the post in Grodna, I was warned to keep silent. However, when I was offered the post in Ekaterinoslav I was specifically told to speak up. This gave me courage, and the new place made me feel alive. My friend Menachem Ussishkin took me to Ekaterinoslav several weeks before the elections, and the town was in turmoil. The residents of the town were divided into conflicting factions. I don't think that even the US is as agitated during election of president as was Ekaterinoslav during the election of the appointed rabbi. All were swept into the dispute – not one remained neutral. Even the Christian residents of the town showed interest in the election. The two daily Russian newspapers in town took sides as well: the more conservative one supported the old rabbi and the liberal one supported my candidacy, except for just one fault that they discovered – I was a Zionist. The attitude of the Russian press toward Zionism was, in general, either total disregard or overt hatred. The liberal newspaper in town had to take my side, for one simple reason: the other newspaper favored the other rabbi. As I was reading the Russian newspapers – many articles, Editor's Opinion etc. – about the role and function of the appointed rabbi in the community, I wondered: would we be allowed to interfere in the matters of the general population the way they meddled in our affairs… <> The former appointed rabbi, a graduate of the Vilna Rabbinical College, had many friends and supporters. He was a fine and honest man of good qualities.

[Page 47]

Yet, as many of his friends, students of Rabbinical College in Vilna, he was missing one little thing: the deep inner feeling for the office of rabbi, for Judaism and its problems. He was soft-hearted and guarded, and was not inclined to delve deeply into any matter. He was apprehensive of social movements – theirs or ours. He was of the opinion that social movements are superfluous and that a person can easily live out his years without them. The well-to-do in town, as well as he Russian authorities, considered him an exemplary rabbi. He was, in truth, a kind man, very liked socially, and was considered one of the best players in town of the “Preference” card-game. He had one more group of supporters in town: the new “conversos” in Ekaterinoslav – the Jews who have converted to Christianity. The town was “blessed” with a great number of converts, especially in the upper layer of the social echelon: there were about twelve converts among the Jewish lawyers alone. There was no comparison, of course, between these “new Christians” in Ekaterinoslav and the conversos in Spain, whose hearts were a source of deep tragedy and a target of deep hatred: openly they were pious Catholics, but secretly they were Jews. The life of the Ekaterinoslav converts was much simpler: all they had to do was change some data in their birth certificate or passport – and this minor change led them over all the obstacles and limitations by which the Russian laws had restricted the course of life of the Jewish intelligentsia. As a matter of fact, however, these Jewish young people have not changed much after conversion: their Jewishness has not diminished and their Christianity was not enhanced, and it was difficult to say who was more offended by this situation: the Jews or the Christians? Yet, there was one barrier that they could not break: the social barrier. The Russian high society has not accepted heartily the new converts: a change in the passport is not enough to bring about a change in relationship between people. Years later, when I became close to some of the Russian intelligentsia, I understood that it was not because of hate that the converts have not been accepted; it was due to the feeling of contempt towards these weak-minded, unfaithful, traitors.

So it happened, that all these converts, being detached from the Russian high society, remained, either by choice or by pressure, within the same social milieu that they had been before conversion; unwillingly they were concerned with Jewish matters. The entire group of converted lawyers supported the former rabbi – and no wonder: as long as Jewishness, in their mind, was expressed only through religious commandments and prohibitions – which they did not observe even when they were part of the Jewish people – adopting another “religion” was easy: there was almost no change. However, when Jewishness acquired the aspect of a national vision – as it indeed happened in those days – the question arose: can a nation be the object of exchange, of conversion?? This would seem immoral or corrupt even in the eyes of a person who was not blessed with a fine and sensitive conscience.

The proud man, who was ready to reject the insult, who openly declared war on the traitors, was Menachem Ussishkin, the great Zionist. He demanded publicly that the Jewish society not allow these converts to meddle in its affairs. He argued: we cannot stop those people from adopting immoral ideas, but we can indeed stop them from casting their influence upon our community. The battle was quite easy, because the most respected families in town had been offended. Ussishkin was not a man of compromise; when the honor of his nation was at stake, he fought bitterly and energetically, without minding his manners too much. Following all this agitation, the group of converts gave up, for fear of the new national movement, its leader Menachem Ussishkin and the new rabbinic candidate, who openly declared that he was a Zionist.

* * *

My circle of friends was not very large, but all were fine people – every one of them a special personality. I shall describe some of them, as they are etched in my memory. The oldest in the group, and yet seemingly the youngest, was Mechl Maidanski, famous among all Russian Jews as one of the smartest and most active community workers. He was already eighty when I met him, his head as well as his beard white as snow. However, from this “winter-body” a pair of eyes shone, fresh and full of vigor and summer-light – eyes that would suit perfectly the youngest. These eyes in the white head made everyone wonder – was this an optical illusion, or was it the white hair that was fooling the onlooker? In any case, these eyes were a testimony

[Page 48]

of a young soul. He was alert, always active, worthy of the envy of young people; a wonderful type of an “enlightened Jew” of the old generation, full of knowledge and wisdom. He had accumulated a long experience over the years and he knew how to use it in his many-sided activity. Above all that, God has blessed him with a great sense of humor: for every situation he had a story to tell, or a joke. Everybody liked him, Jews and Christians alike. The Russians – if there was no specific law to forbid it – considered an honor to have this Jew, Michael Vladimirovitch, on their committees, and even the government would look for his advice, especially in matters concerning Jews.

This man had been an enthusiastic Hassid in his youth, and at times even served as assistant to the Rebbe. What made him leave the Hassidic world and begin working for the community? He did not like to talk about this matter – but it was certain that he did not keep in his heart any animosity toward his former world. His character was such that he could not hate anybody: his constant feeling of contentment and optimism were a barrier to any feelings of hate. Since he was one of the beadles [Gabay] of the synagogue, I had a chance to meet him every day. The Synagogue Committee was considered the leading body of the community; three members were in the committee: the Gabay, who was also the chairman, the “learned one” and the treasurer. According to the Russian law, the rabbi's status was above the committee; however the rabbi was content when the committee did not act “above” him. Mechl Maidanski was the “learned Jew” of the committee; years ago he held an important position in the Hibbat Zion movement and when Herzl founded the political Zionist Organization, the old Maidanski walked side by side with the young members and participated in the Zionist work. As time passed, we became very close friends.

The most honored and most influential in the Ekaterinoslav community was Moshe Karpas. He was an “American” type. Full of energy and initiative, he did not fear innovation; he did not consider tradition an obstacle – not even religious tradition and faith – and shaped his life by his own strength and talent. People of his nature feel that all they have earned was by their own labor and they did not owe thanks to anybody; therefore they rise to the highest degree of self-confidence.

Moshe Karpas, who in fact was the leader of the community and had the power to restrict or enhance its activity, was one of these unique types of persons. His life had begun in poverty, and by his own efforts he managed to become one of the great figures in the flourishing metal industry. He possessed that special quality which made him suitable for community work and he devoted his talents to rebuilding the Jewish Community, from top to bottom, to serve as example for other communities. In his extended travels, in Russia and in other countries, he collected relevant material from the Jewish communities and presented his own community with plans, ideas, inventions and ways to rebuild the various communal institutions, in particular the charity institutions, in the spirit of the new times and the new needs. He generously provided from his own means, but always sought the advice of his assistants and invited the best professionals to the meetings. When the subject of discussion was education or other cultural questions, he modestly stood aside and did not intervene; his knowledge in Judaism and general education was insufficient, but he was blessed with a natural intelligence, a sharp and logical mind and an honest spirit.

Another type entirely was Ussishkin's father-in-law, Sergei Pavlovitch Paley. Shemarya had turned into Sergei and Feitel into Pavel. Feitel Paley still belonged to the old Hassidic world; his son Shemarya received in his childhood a true Jewish education, and only after his marriage and after he was a father of two children did he change his ways and went to study – first high-school and then the Aristocratic Institute for Road Engineers – and returned from Petersburg named Sergei Pavlovitch. His children were raised and educated in the Russian culture: they did not know one word of Hebrew, and not even Yiddish. Grandfather hardly understood his grandchildren, and the grandchildren did not understand grandmother at all. I am mentioning this, in order to show how fast the generations in Russia changed. There are two generations between grandfather and grandson, but, culturally speaking, each generation opened a new era,

[Page 49]

a new “beginning.” Yet, short periods can establish only unstable cultural structures; one cannot build a fort out of thin toothpicks.

Sergei Pavlovitch managed his father's businesses – a flour mill and a modern sawmill, with advanced machinery. Since he was an only son, everybody regarded him as the head and owner of the big business enterprise. He was a completely honest man, but he stood by his opinions and was not one to give in. He was short and thin and had strong bones – not an easy task to break them! A cynic and doubter by nature and inclined to be pessimistic – his friends did not believe that he could do good and useful work for his fellows. However, influenced by Ussishkin's strong character, Sergei Pavlovitch became totally involved in the community affairs and even a little in Zionist matters. He lacked Karpas's largesse and Maidanski's optimism, but he was very helpful with his analytic mind and his sharp logic. By his quick wit and strong control he forced his fellows to weigh carefully every matter and calculate every decision. It was not an easy responsibility, but mandatory in every public or political organization.

Several worthy young people belonged to this circle as well. The most interesting among them was M. Bruk, another son-in-law of Sergei Paley, a young engineer, with a natural sense for social work. He was a Zionist as well; however, in contrast to his brother-in-law Ussishkin he did nor limit himself to Zionist work alone, but was active in all social institutions and enterprises of the community. He cared in particular for the commercial assistants and status of the craftsmen: he organized them, helped them establish co-operative societies and set up study courses in Jewish matters and general knowledge. He was a committee member in many important companies, and served mostly as secretary. He really enjoyed his social and public activity.

The Ekaterinoslav community was of a democratic structure. Public opinion was strong, since a great majority of the members were involved in community affairs. The activity was supported by the two Russian newspapers, which devoted space and interest to the needs and problems of the Jewish community. True, they did this out of necessity, rather than sympathy, since most of the subscribers and readers were Jews – although the Jews were only about one third of the town's population. The Christian population consisted of many simple laborers who worked in the iron industry and the advanced railroad, called “Ekaterininskaia” and of many Russian middle-class (bourgeois) families. Neither the workers nor the middle-class people have reached the stage of reading newspapers, while the Jews were educated and surpassed them culturally. This extensive preoccupation with reading newspapers may have had its roots in the Jewish heritage: “the people of the book,” for centuries dedicated to the pages of the Talmud, as they were uprooted from these pages they adopted the newspaper page…

In Ekaterinoslav I was attracted, for the first time in my life, to charity work. One of the important undertakings of the community was to care for its needy and poor, forbidding them from going from house to house for hand-outs. It was not an easy task, however. Many of the well-to-do people were not ready to give-up the custom of giving charity directly to the hand of the needy, and the poor people, as well, protested against this new system. They did not accept the clear explanation and evidence that this system – joint collection of charity and just distribution after a thorough survey of their situation – will improve their state. They did not want – argued the poor people – an “allowance” set up and given to them by the community treasurers; they preferred to put their faith in God and relay on the good hearts of the good people: they preferred begging from door to door. However, the new regulation was ratified and begging was terminated in Ekaterinoslav.


Footnote

  1. Dr. S. Levin served in Ekaterinoslav as Rabbi appointed by the authorities [“appointed rabbi”] in the years 1898-1904. In his book “Memories of my life” Volume 3, published by Dvir, Tel-Aviv, he devoted a large amount of space to this period. We present here excerpts from pages 172-176 and 185-190. Return


[Page 50]

Impressions from a Journey[1]

by A. L. Levinski

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

… And after several hours I arrived in the big town Ekaterinoslav. The Dnieper and the iron bridge that stretches over it and leads into town, is like an introduction to a good book: a wonderful sight, joy to the eye and heart, a wide river with several islands, like a small sea. Ice covered it and gave it a multi–colored shine, like polished crystal under the rays of the sun. Raise your eyes to the East, North and South and you shall see river, and river, and river. And over it, at a terribly great height, a tri–level iron bridge: the first level for the “iron wagons” [the train], over it for carts and horses, and the top level for pedestrians. All this, from the bottom level to the top, is connected by a maze of nets and lattice–work, held together by wedges, loops, bolts and chains; a wonderful and magnificent sight. This bridge is one of the most beautiful structures in our country, as the Dnieper is very wide here, and the bridge is about two verstas. We look and are amazed by the talent of the builders. We wonder how money, made of thin paper, unable to carry any weight and issued by a weak regime, could have build such a marvel. Not only that – with their wisdom the builders determined in advance how much money to spend for every column, how much for the support piles etc. and how much for their own pockets!! They understood the secrets of money and so they have built a beautiful structure in Ekaterinoslav. And if this is really like an introduction to the town, I must tell you, that the introduction is perhaps better that the book itself… True, the town is beautiful, very beautiful; beautiful in particular is the street called Prospect, which goes from the railway station to the City Park, and from there it turns like the Greek letter Delta to the mountain until it reaches Potiomkin Park. On both sides of the street are rows of oak trees and in the middle the road for horses, like the famous street “Unter den Linden” in Berlin. That street is very beautiful, but the town in general is like a simpleton who tries to be the first in the parade, a poor tailor who got rich and does not know how to beautify his house and decorate his rooms – and is wasting his money on things he doesn't need; and things that are really necessary one will not find in his house.

So is this entire town: from behind the stove he went to become a king. From a simple county seat like any other county seat – without commerce and without energy – it became a center of the lumber trade, iron and coal. From a town whose greatest merchants traded in wheat and other grains it became a commercial center for several millions, from a town without even one factory it suddenly became “a little Sheffield” – beautiful and rich, not knowing how to get more beautiful and proud. What it did, it did for itself, and not for the multitude of guests who began to visit. The guests knew only that since Ekaterinoslav became important, the wagon fare rose, as did the rent and the restaurant prices. And this was not enough – that it turned into a city of lumber and iron, of sawmills and foundries, with thousands of workers and employees of the main offices of the railroad company “Ekaterina,” the ministers and accountants and other important employees of the County Seat….


Footnote

  1. From the article “Impressions from a Journey.” Works of A. L. Levinski, pp. 125–126 Return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Binny Lewis
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 27 Jan 2018 by JH