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[Page 131]

Public Personalities
and Zionist Activists

 

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Eliyahu Orshanski

Eliyahu Orshanski, the great journalist, and one of the first researchers of the Russian Jews, was born in Ekaterinoslav in 1846. As all Jewish children, he learned in Cheder and since he was very talented he began to study Talmud at a very early age. At the same time he studied general studies and science. At the age of 18 he passed the Matriculation exams, was accepted at the University and studied Law, at first in Charkov and later in Odessa. He excelled in his studies and was offered a post at the University as teacher and researcher, on the condition that he convert to Christianity – which he declined immediately!

Eliyahu Orshanski

 

In Odessa, he began writing for the Jewish press in Russia, which just then began its first steps: “Dan” and “Yebreiska Biblioteka.” His articles dealt with the problems of the Russian Jews, their difficult situation and the various restrictions imposed on them. The Jewish press, even before Orshanski, indeed

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asked the government to change its anti-Semitic policies that were harming the Jews; however, the articles published used mostly a tone of supplication. Orshanski used a different method: He did not beg, but requested equal rights for the Jews. As a human being – he argued – the Jew is fully entitled to enjoy all the civil rights he deserves and no person or system can limit them or deny them; it is, therefore, the duty of the government to cancel all restrictions and limitations.

His many articles were based on material that he continuously collected, concerning the life of the Jews in the country. He proved, relying on a great deal of data, that the economic situation of the Russian Jews, their constant wandering from place to place, their lack of capital, their poverty etc. – all these were a direct result of the anti-Jewish legislation of the government and were not characteristic national traits. Orshanski proved that the Jewish merchant has introduced new methods of practicing commerce, (as free competition, short and fast turnover) and developed new lines of work in the agricultural industry and more – all that in contrast to the frozen monopoly and inactivity of the Russian merchant. Orshanski proved that the many government laws against the Jews were based on blind hatred toward the Jews, on the desire to limit their economic activity and exploit it for the benefit of the government and the defense of the primitive Russian merchant. These laws seemed to have come directly from the dark Middle-Ages and not from our modern times…

The Orshanski articles had a powerful effect: for the first time the voice of the Russian Jewry was heard – a strong self-conscious voice, a voice that dared criticize the many anti-Jewish laws and requested their annulment. The articles were based on the truth, were interesting and proud. This way of writing influenced the readers, who joined the struggle for the rights of the Russian Jews.

The articles were collected in: The Jews in Russia and Russian legislation concerning the Jews. These two collections provided for a long time valuable and important material on the economic and judicial situation of the Russian Jews, and a source of many essays, memoranda etc.

Orshanski lived a short life; he died at the age of 29. However, during the few years that he was busy writing he worked for the benefit of his people. His name will be remembered among the first to defend and fight for the rights of the Jewish people in Russia.

Orshanski excelled in the research of the Russian Civil Law as well.

 

Yitzhak Orshanski

Yitzhak, the brother of the well-known Eliyahu Orshanski, was born in 1851, studied medicine and specialized in mental health, and in this profession he reached fame in the medical world.

He participated in the Jewish press in the Russian language and was part of the community work in Ekaterinoslav. He represented the community vis-à-vis the authorities, and was a delegate of the Ekaterinoslav Jewish Community at the Conference of the Jewish Communities held in 1882 in Petersburg. There he met with the Minister of the Interior Ignatyev, who clearly informed him that the Russian government does not oppose Jewish emigration from Russia, saying: “The Russian Western borders are open for the Jews.”

He was appointed Professor at the University of Charkov – and soon after that he converted to Christianity.

 

Mechl [Michael] Maidanski

He was one of the famous and devoted community workers in Ekaterinoslav during many years. Was born in 1825 in Zaskavel (Wolhyn Region) and in 1875 moved to Ekaterinoslav. Soon he occupied an honored place in the life of the local Jewish Community. Always willing to help others, of an open heart and life wisdom – he reached an important position among the community workers in Ekaterinoslav and became a popular personality among the local Jews. For many years he was member of the management of the Great Synagogue (which actually served as the management of the community), as well as the representative of the Jewish Community in the City Council. He was also member of the management of the local Talmud Torah, the Jewish hospital and other Jewish institutions in town. He collected charity for various institutions in town and for needy people in neighboring localities and often represented the community vis-à-vis the authorities in the Ekaterinoslav District and at various conventions and meetings.

Maidanski was among the first active members of the Hovevei-Zion movement in Ekaterinoslav. He participated in the Founding Convention of the “Odessa Committee” and traveled to Eretz Israel as a member of their delegation, which was headed by Rabbi S. Mohliver.

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He continued his activity in the Zionist Movement and participated in all its institutions. He was a devoted supporter of the revival of the Hebrew Language and his family was one of the first to use Hebrew in daily life. In all his activities he was devoted and energetic, until old age. He was loved by all Ekaterinoslav Jews, many of whom were indebted to him for his assistance in time of need. He was the type of a Jewish intellectual of the “old generation,” with years of life experience, who knew how to manage and act during the New Times as well.

In 1910 he died at the ripe old age of 85, after a full life of activity and deeds.

Mechl Maidanski

 

Chaim (Vitali) Levanda

He was the brother of the known writer Arie Levanda, born in 1840 in Minsk. He wrote articles about the Jewish society in the Jewish press in the Russian language and became famous after publishing his essay “The collection of laws and regulations concerning the Jews of Russia from 1649 to 1873” which was very helpful for the people who dealt with judicial matters concerning the Jews.

He relocated to Ekaterinoslav and starting in the eighties of the 19th century he was an active member of the Hovevei-Zion movement. He was one of the important spokesmen of the movement and represented it at various opportunities. He took part in the regular local community work as well, was a member of several of its institutions, represented it before the authorities, and was elected as its delegate to various conventions (for example the Convention of Rabbis in 1893). His public activity lasted over thirty years.

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Menachem Ussishkin

He was one of the world leaders of the Zionist movement. He was born in 1863 in Dubrovna, Mohilev District, his full name was Avraham Menachem Mendel. He went to live in Ekaterinoslav, after receiving in Moscow the title of Engineer and marrying Esther, the daughter of Sergei Faley, one of the pillars of the Jewish community in Ekaterinoslav. This marriage enabled Ussishkin to join the influential society in Ekaterinoslav and reach an honored place there.

As soon as he came to Ekaterinoslav he joined the Hovevei Zion association, which had been established there in the early eighties (of the 19th century) and was elected its head. Together with others – Mechl Maidanski, Avraham Harkavi, Chaim Levanda, Levinski, Baruch Spiewak etc. – he intensified the activity of the association and its influence in town increased. At Ussishkin's initiative, a Hebrew library was opened in Ekaterinoslav and the study of the Hebrew language was reinforced, by giving lectures and by establishing “Hebrew speaking circles.” He invited the famous Hebrew teacher Ch. A. Zuta to teach in Hebrew in the first modern cheder that he established – all this in addition to collecting funds for the Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel and other activities of Hovevei Zion (see on this subject the detailed article by Dr. Y. Klausner in this book).

By these activities he earned fame in the Zionist movement and Dr. Th. Herzl invited him in 1897 to the first Zionist Congress. He returned as a great supporter of Political Zionism and this influenced Hovevei Zion in Ekaterinoslav: since then, organized and systematic Zionist activity began in town. New members joined, Zionist Shekalim were sold, funds were collected for Zionist work, for JNF and for the Colonial Bank, Zionist and national literature was published etc. Ussishkin received from the government a permit to assemble a regional convention of Zionist leaders; there the foundation was laid of regular organizational work in the Ekaterinoslav and neighboring districts. In addition to introducing national content into the Jewish educational system, Ussishkin helped organize public events such as a children's parade on Lag Ba'omer, Chanuka festivities and others. These activities had a great effect on the Jewish population at the time. Lectures were given as well, on national and Zionist topics. His strong, leading spirit was felt in all these activities – he had a clear vision of the program he intended to carry out and was not afraid of difficulties. No wonder that the Ekaterinoslav District was one of the most organized and its leader Ussishkin was known and respected by so many.

He also succeeded in assembling a group of good and talented helpers, among them: Dr. Yakov Dolzanski, his brother-in-law Eng. Moshe Bruck, Baruch Toporovski, Shimon Stanislavski, Shlomo Breslavski, Yakov Berezovski and others. Loyal to Herzl's motto to conquer the communities, he suggested inviting Dr. Shemaryahu Levin, the well-known Zionist and great speaker, to be “crown-rabbi” in Ekaterinoslav. After an election campaign, Dr. Levin was invited in 1898 to occupy the position, and he immediately joined the active Zionist circles and acted to strengthen the Jewish national spirit in town.

Ussishkin played an important role in the elections of the first Duma (the Russian parliament) as well. He

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was one of the first to request a Jewish National Block in order to ensure a Jewish delegate from the Ekaterinoslav District. In spite of the opposition of the assimilated Jews, the Zionists succeeded, a Jewish block was organized and the attorney M. Sheftel was elected delegate to the first Duma.

After 15 years of fruitful work, in 1906 Ussishkin relocated to Odessa, to serve there as chairman of the Hovevei Zion “Odessa Committee”. In 1919 he made Aliya to Eretz Israel and served as the head of JNF [Jewish National Fund = Keren Kayemet LeIsrael], in addition to his other activities. During that time many important land acquisitions were made. He died on 12 Tishrei 5702 [3 October 1941].

(On his work and his importance for the Zionist movement – see The History of Zionism and general literature about him).

Menachem Ussishkin

 

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Baruch Spiewak

Baruch ben Shmuel Spiewak, one of the most devoted community workers in Ekaterinoslav, was born in 1866, in the small town Samila, Kiew District.

When he relocated to Ekaterinoslav, he became involved in commerce and at the same time he took an active part in the Zionist work in town with the Hovevei Zion movement, as one of Ussishkin's loyal assistants. He devoted himself in particular to extending the use of the Hebrew language, and to organize and support the first “Modern Cheder” [lit. “improved Cheder”] and other local cultural activities. Spiewak's Zionist activity increased with the advent of Political Zionism. As a reward for his constant work for the movement he was sent by the local Zionists as their delegate, to various conventions and to the 7th Congress.

Spiewak took part in the committee for the aid of the victims of the 1905 pogrom and ten years later in the committee for the aid of the refugees who arrived to Ekaterinoslav during WWI. He devoted himself to cultural activity and sought to introduce the study of the Hebrew language to the schools for refugees, which were opened by the Aid Committee. His Zionist work was intensified again during the February 1917 revolution, when new opportunities arose for legal activity. Spiewak was one of the leaders in the struggle for broadening and strengthening the Zionist ideas among the Ekaterinoslav Jews.

In 1922 he made Aliya to Eretz Israel, where he continued his public and Zionist activity. He was one of the founders and supporters of “Ohel Shem”.

He died in 1932.

 

Moshe Bruk
(1868– 1920)

Moshe ben Shmuel Bruk, one of the exceptional leaders of the Ekaterinoslav community and the Jews in Southern Russia, was born in 1868 in Ekaterinoslav to a wealthy and respected family. As all children he went at an early age to the Cheder, and at the age of 13 he enrolled in the local school. At home he continued to study Hebrew language and literature and was fluent in Hebrew. After graduating from High–School he began the study of chemistry at the “Politechnicum” [technical college] in Riga. He was a member of the Jewish students association “Anatolica,” whose chief aim was to enable close contact between the Jewish students. The Association organized lectures on Jewish topics, parties etc. Bruk took an active part in the activity of the Association, gave lectures and for several years was its chairman. He was a talented speaker and excelled in his warm relationship with his friends.

After completing his studies in 1892, he relocated to Ekaterinoslav, where he married the daughter of S. Paley and so became the brother–in–law of M. Ussishkin and A. Yakobson. Bruk was at first not attached to the Zionist movement; however, influenced by Achad–Ha'am, who visited Ekaterinoslav several times, and Ussishkin, he joined the movement. His preference, however, was general Jewish public activity; he was a devoted follower of the method of “gegenwarts Arbeit” [working directly, face–to–face], and the idea of “conquering” the communities was close to his heart. Accordingly, he dedicated all his energy to working within the many institutions supported by the community and was soon recognized for his talents and devotion. He was one of the initiators and founders of new public institutions, as: a society for the aid of the poor, which enlarged yearly its area of work; a society of mutual credit, which he headed for many years; institutions for the aid and support of the craftsmen and others. Thanks to his personal qualities and his managing ability, his peers elected him as chairman of the institutions that he had founded. He was known as one of the important community workers in town - one that could be asked for help at any time.

Several years later, Bruk joined the Zionist activity and soon rose to a leading position. He participated in the Zionist Congresses and in several conventions, as well as in the yearly meetings of the “Odessa Committee.” In 1905, at the seventh Congress he was elected representative of the Ekaterinoslav District and member of the Great Zionist Executive Committee. Since then he headed the Zionist activity in the District, after Ussishkin's relocation to Odessa. His area of influence included several districts in Southern Russia, where there was quite a large Jewish population. Bruk attracted new people to the Zionist movement, among them young and energetic men and women, and the District became one of the most organized and most active of the Zionist Movement in Russia. Bruk combined his Zionist activity with his activity in other public institutions: he always appeared as a Zionist and thus his influence on his friends was strong. Soon he was recognized as a national and Zionist leader not only in Ekaterinoslav but in the near and far neighborhood, and people would address him asking advice and guidance. People admired him for being a proud and warmhearted Jew,

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a mixture of Hebrew culture and European education, who considers above all the interest of his people and strives for the Return to Zion. No wonder that he headed the Jewish election lists to the Russian parliament and to other Russian national institutions.

 

Moshe Bruk

 

During and after the 1917 revolution, with the revival of public life in the country, Bruk's public and Zionist activity broadened. He participated in all meetings and conventions, heading many of them (in 1917 he was member of the presidential board of the Zionist convention in Petrograd and in 1918 of the convention of the Ukrainian Jews in Kiev). He supported in particular the Zionist activity in Ekaterinoslav and surroundings, at the same time acting against the Jewish leftist parties that insulted the Zionists and their activity. At the democratic elections in the Ekaterinoslav community the Zionists won and M. Bruk was elected president of the community. In that function he was in 1919 member of the delegation to General Denikin, commander of the White Army that conquered Southern Ukraine and carried out pogroms. The delegation requested to stop the pogrom but the response was negative.

His public activity was terminated suddenly, with his death of typhoid fever on 8 January 1920 on his way to Kavkaz, in the town Kerch where he was buried, far from his family and friends. The Russian Jews lost a great man, devoted to his people; the Zionists lost one of their important and loyal leaders.

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Shimon Stanislavski

He was a member of one of the old, intellectual families in Ekaterinoslav, and very popular in town.

He was born in 1848 in Nikopol, Ekaterinoslav District. In his youth he relocated with his family to Ekaterinoslav and, following the advice of Eliyahu Orshanski he enrolled in the local high school, at the quite “advanced” age of 23. He rose to the first ranks of the local community workers and excelled in his literary work as well. He was active in several community institutions and a constant contributor to the Jewish press, in Hebrew and in Russian. In his articles he described the Jewish community life and requested to strengthen it and conduct it according to democratic rules. He gained an important position among the Jewish public and his opinions were respected.

He was very knowledgeable in Jewish history and was one of the first to request to collect material on the Russian Jews. He published articles on this topic, as well as on Jewish writers in Russia.

He was active in the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav, from the establishment of Hovevei Zion, and worked many years with M. Ussishkin and M. Bruk. He helped spread the Zionist idea among the local Jewish population, by his personality and activity as well as by his articles in the local Jewish press. He was respected and loved by the Ekaterinoslav Jews.

With the consolidation of the Soviet rule, his voice became silenced and his public activity as well as his participation in the local press were stopped. He died in 1921, after years of financial distress and suffering.

 

Dr. Shmaryahu Levin

Dr. Shmaryahu Levin was the third rabbi in Ekaterinoslav appointed by the authorities [rav mita'am] and the most outstanding of them.

He was born in 1867 in Swisslotz (Minsk District). After graduating from universities in Germany and acting as a talented speaker in the Zionist movement, he served as rav mita'am in Grodno. At the request of the Ekaterinoslav Zionists, who wanted a rabbi who was educated, Zionist and involved in public life, he was invited to serve in Ekaterinoslav.

Dr. S. Levin occupied this position for 6 years (1898–1904). He did not disappoint the people who elected him. He was always in the center of the Jewish public life in Ekaterinoslav. The number of his sympathizers increased, as well as his influence. His speeches, in which he reacted to the Jewish daily life, promoted patriotism, explained Jewish values etc., attracted many members of the community.

He regarded his function in the community not simply as an employee appointed by the authorities, but as educator and guide. He was very active in the field of education of the children, establishing schools and other educational institutions in the Jewish national spirit, and he welcomed and helped any initiative in this area.

As an active Zionist, he supported the local Zionist activity, helped registering new members etc. It is important to mention his collaboration with M. Ussishkin, who was one of the people who suggested to offer him the position of official rabbi in Ekaterinoslav.

 

Dr. Shmaryahu Levin

 

The Russian authorities respected and valued him, and often honored his requests concerning the Community. In his Memoirs, parts of which appear in this book, he relates about his life and activity in Ekaterinoslav.

In 1904 he left Ekaterinoslav and relocated to Vilna, working as a preacher in the Great Synagogue. He was elected to the first Duma [Russian parliament]. He was member of the Zionist Directorship, made Aliya in 1924, died 8 Sivan 5695 (1935).

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Sergei Paley

Sergei (Shmaryahu) Paley belonged to one of the most respected families in Ekaterinoslav. He was one of the first Jewish engineers in Ekaterinoslav and managed his father's large business enterprises in town. Influenced by his son–in–law M. Ussishkin he became involved in local Jewish community matters, and thanks to his sharp intellect, his logic and his sense of criticism he rose in importance and his advice was sought by many.

 

Sergei Paley

 

His other son–in–law, M. Bruk, one of the leaders of the Zionist organization in Ekaterinoslav, attracted him to the Movement. His house became a Zionist house and he became active in Zionist work. His daughters were married to well–known Zionists: Esther to M. Ussishkin, Ziniada to M. Bruk and Rosa to Dr. Avigdor Yakobson, representative of the Zionist organization in Istanbul and later in Geneva. He died in 1918.

 

Menachem–Emanuel Broshtein

Menachem–Emanuel Broshtein was the last rav mita'am [rabbi appointed by the authorities] in Ekaterinoslav. He was given this position in 1904, after Dr. Shmaryahu Levin relocated to Vilna.

During his term of office, the Ekaterinoslav Community went through one of its stormiest events - from the 1905 pogroms to the 1917 Russian Revolution, the establishment of the Soviet regime and the end of the community and its institutions.

As his predecessor, in addition to his official functions (registering births, marriages and deaths, as well as issuing documents and speaking at the synagogue on holidays), M.E. Broshtein loyally represented the community, and participated actively in its life and its institutions, helping as much as he could, especially with the educational institutions. His home was open to all, and people would come constantly, either to seek advice, to “pour out the heart” when in trouble or to look for aid. All found a listening ear, a word of comfort and often material help when needed. He was always concerned about the education of the young, especially since the increase of assimilation in Ekaterinoslav. As a teacher of the Hebrew Religion in the Commercial High–School in town (which had many Jewish students) he enriched his curriculum with chapters of Jewish history and literature and was very loved by the local Jewish youth. He was active in the Zionist Organization in town and appeared publicly as a Zionist, in particular after the 1917 revolution as all the limitations and restrictions were removed.

He was elected Rabbi again and again, always by a great majority, and was sent as delegate to many conventions and councils. Before the authorities he always appeared as a proud Jew, not begging but insisting on his rights.

The 1917 revolution limited even more the functions of the rav mita'am. Yet he continued his activity in several areas and his experience was of great help in the difficult conditions of those days. He was one of the few community workers who remained in Ekaterinoslav and cared for the community and its few institutions that were still active. In 1922, he helped organize a committee for the aid of the hungry, which later received help from Canada. Old and ill, he continued to support the few Zionists that were still active in town, visited the synagogues and had always words of comfort and hope. He died in the mid–twenties.

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Dr. Yakov Dolzhanski

He was one of the well–known and important activists in Ekaterinoslav. He was born in 1866 in Kriboy–Rug, not far from Ekaterinoslav. His parents have given him a traditional education, and on his own he passed the matriculation examinations and went to the University to study medicine. After graduation he went to Germany and specialized in surgery. Returning to Russia, he worked as a doctor in a village in the Tula district, and in the 1890s he relocated to Ekaterinoslav, working at first in the local hospital and later in a clinic of his own, where he performed private surgery.

 

Dr.Yakov Dolzhanski

 

He soon became famous as a great specialist in his profession; but he took part in the local public and Zionist activity as well. He was active in the Hibat Zion movement and later in the Political Zionist movement. He helped M. Ussishkin, the Zionist leader in Ekaterinoslav and his followers. He was member of Zionist institutions in the region, and his home was the meeting place. He supported other public institutions in town as well, helping especially the refugees who reached Ekaterinoslav during the First World War.

As a doctor and a public worker he earned an important name and position among the Jewish and non–Jewish population. He helped and supported many, in particular during the Makhno occupation of the town. Thanks to him, many were saved from death or heavy punishment, since his hospital served Makhno's army.

In 1921 he made Aliya to Eretz Israel and worked at the Hadassa and Bikur Holim hospitals in Jerusalem. He was active in the Medical Association and was its chairman for some time; he founded the Journal of the Medical Association Harefu'ah and was its editor until his death in 1929 in Jerusalem, at the age of 63.

His son Prof. Moshe Dolzhanski of the Hebrew University was one of the victims who fell in the “Convoy to Har Hatzofim” during the War of Independence. His daughter Tamar is a poet.

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Leon Rothenberg

Rothenberg was one of the well–known community workers in Ekaterinoslav. He was born in 1868 in Odessa. After graduating from Law School at the local university, he moved to Ekaterinoslav and made his home there. Because of the limitations imposed on Jews who desired to practice law, he devoted himself to one special aspect of the profession – classification of the decisions of the Russian Senate (the supreme judicial institution in Russia), as well as to publishing various law books, which proved to be very helpful to jurists.

In Ekaterinoslav, Rothenberg took part in the Zionist activity and was active in several institutions of aid and support. His main work was his function as member of the Committee of the society for the aid of the refugees, established in 1915. This committee took care of the 5,000 refugees that arrived in Ekaterinoslav during WWI. As chairman of the Committee, his work was intense, extended and ramified and carried much responsibility, in the difficult conditions of those days.

In 1922 Rothenberg left Ekaterinoslav and relocated to Moscow, and from there he went abroad. In the thirties he arrived to his daughter in Eretz Israel, and there he continued his judicial work – classification of the laws of the British Mandate government – and published several volumes titled Laws of Palestine, edited by Moshe Dukhan.

 

David Shmorgoner

He was one of the prominent leaders of the Ekaterinoslav community in the years before the February 1917 Revolution; a well–known attorney, of a dignified and impressive appearance, a very good speaker in the Russian language, liked by many. He took an active part in the management of several community institutions and often appeared vis–`–vis the authorities in the name of the Ekaterinoslav Jews, being able to present the requests of the Jewish population in an appropriate way. His activity was important in particular during the First World War, when he was a member, as a representative of the Jewish Aid Committee, of the government committee for the aid of the refugees. His role in this committee was to see that the Jewish refugees are not deprived in the distribution of the funds allotted to them.

In the days when the government in town changed often, he was part of the small group that cared about the well–being of the Ekaterinoslav Jews and represented them before the local authorities. He was a member of the Jewish party “Volkspartei.” In the twenties he left Ekaterinoslav and moved to Moscow. There he died.

 

Pavel (Pinchas) Cohen

He was the founder and the principal of the Jewish High–School (Gimnasia) in Vilna, one of the first in Russia. This school was founded in 1906, with the obvious intention to overcome the discriminating and cruel law of “numerus clausus” according to which only a certain percentage of Jews were accepted to the general high schools.

This Jewish Gymnasia was different from the others of its kind by the national spirit that reigned there and by the excellent curriculum and teachers – all of which attracted Jewish students from all parts of the country.

In 1915, during WWI, this high–school, including its teachers, relocated to Ekaterinoslav, and so its doors were opened to the children of the town and surroundings. Many received their general and Jewish education there (the curriculum included Hebrew language and Jewish history). Its teachers took an active part in the Jewish life in town and the principal Mr. Cohen became an appreciated community worker, in particular in the year of the revolution, 1917.

Mr. P. Cohen, a man of initiative and practical knowledge, played an important part in the preparations for the elections to the Community Managing Committee in Ekaterinoslav, as well as to the All–Jewish Convention in Russia. He was elected to the community managing committee as representative of the Jewish Folks Party (”Volkspartei”). Thanks to his talents, he was elected as the head of its Executive.

In fact, he was the real leader of the Ekaterinoslav community, organized its committees and helped shape it – all this during the difficult years of revolutions. On his shoulders lay the responsibility to manage the community until the termination of the Soviet rule.

In the Twenties he relocated to Moscow (The Jewish High School, which had been under his direction, was transferred to the general school system and thus it lost its Jewish character). He was one of the few who signed the memorandum sent to the authorities, asking to allow the study of Hebrew language and culture in Russia.

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Zalman Ostrovski

In the years 1904–1906 he was one of the most active members of the Po'alei Zion Party in Russia. Known by the name “Comrade Zyama,” he became famous by his popular articles about the political platform of Po'alei Zion: “Letters to the Jewish worker,” which he signed “Tovarish (comrade) Zyama.”

He returned to full activity in the party during the 1917 revolution and became one of the most prominent speakers (in Yiddish) in those days. He was the head of Po'alei Zion in Ekaterinoslav and fought against the “Jewish Zionist bourgeoisie.”

He was also the director of the orphanage in Ekaterinoslav, founded by M. Karpas. In the late twenties, he left Po'alei Zion and joined, together with many other Jews, the Jewish Communist Party (EKP).

 

Dr. Boris Chanis

He was one of the last devoted community workers in Ekaterinoslav. At the end of WWI, after being released from the Russian army where he served as a military doctor, in 1918–1919 he headed the organization “The Union of the Jewish Soldiers” in Ekaterinoslav and was known by his warm attitude toward his Jewish brothers and his being ready to help at any time. In 1918 he was elected to the managing committee of the Ekaterinoslav community and was appointed as the head of the Health and Social Aid sub–committee. These were difficult years – the Jewish population in town was in great distress and there were almost no sources for earning a livelihood, due to the constant changes in the leadership of the town. Dr. Chanis was charged with organizing and managing the aid and health institutions of the community, with no regular sources of income.

Then came the great hunger of 1922, and thousands of Ekaterinoslav Jews were in danger of starvation. The community workers in town organized a local committee to help the needy and Dr. Chanis was an active member. He was appointed – by the “Committee of the Ukraine Jews” in London as well as by the “Joint” in America, the organizations that helped the Jews suffering from hunger in Russia – as their representative in Ekaterinoslav to organize the aid activity in their name.

He excelled in this function. He opened soup–kitchens, organized help for the intellectual professionals, supplied working materials to the craftsmen, opened a loan and credit fund etc. – all this in collaboration with the local committee. On behalf of the “Joint” he renovated the Jewish hospital in town, renewed the equipment, opened new clinics and kindergartens, organized a co–operative by the name of Makolet [“grocery”], opened a food warehouse to distribute food to the needy and more. All these activities saved many from death and helped others to recuperate and return to regular life. At the same time the US Jews continued their own aid activity, in many ways.

In 1924, the activity of all these institutions ended and they were closed, one by one, by the order of the authorities. A few of them were transferred to the management of the government or the municipality. Thus ended the blessed activity of Dr. Chanis. Still, considering his former work, the authorities permitted him to keep a private medical clinic, which lasted several years. In the early thirties, his clinic was closed and he was exiled to Siberia. From that time, we do not have, unfortunately, any information about him.

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Shlomo Braslavski

He was one of the most active and energetic persons in the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav, in the first decade and a half of the 20th century.

He was born in 1879 in Elizabethgrad. He studied in the Cheder and in the general school. As a young man he was teacher of Hebrew and Russian. After he married, he became involved in business (especially the oil business), and succeeded thanks to his commercial talents and his energy; in a short time became a rich man. After he went to live in Ekaterinoslav he joined the Zionist work and his devotion, diligence and hard work soon placed him in the first line of the local movement.

 

Shlomo Braslavski

 

He was most loyal to the Hebrew language and devoted much work to support its teaching and its institutions. He was member of the Zionist Party institutions and its delegate to various conventions and councils. His house was open to Zionist and Hebrew Cultural meetings and he contributed generously to Zionist and cultural institutions (at the 11th Zionist congress he made a very important contribution toward the foundation of the Hebrew University). He was loved by the Ekaterinoslav Jews and Zionists for his personal qualities, his open heart and his willingness to help his fellows.

With the occupation of the town by the Soviets and the stabilization of their rule, he relocated to Rostov, and since he was of the “bourgeois class” he could expect persecution and arrest. Indeed, he was not left alone: he was arrested in the synagogue, as he was preparing to deliver a eulogy in memory of his friend and partner to the Zionist work, M. Bruk. He was executed by the government on 31 October 1920. His children made Aliya to Eretz Israel.

[Page 144]

Baruch Toporovski

He was one of the veterans of the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav. He was a member of Hovevei Zion and worked with M. Ussishkin and later with M. Bruk.

His main activity was in the area of culture: at meetings, as well as at closed or half–open parties he lectured on Zionist topics. He participated in the Jewish press, in particular in the weeklies of the Zionist Organization, where he reviewed the community life in Ekaterinoslav. He was close to the local Jewish youth and lectured on Jewish history and on Zionism. There were many who first heard about Zionism from him. The Ekaterinoslav Zionists valued and respected him.

He wrote in Hebrew as well.

With the stabilization of the Soviet regime, his Zionist activity stopped, and we do not have any information about his death.

 

Avraham Berezovski

He was one of the prominent personalities in the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav, in the second decade of the 20th century. The son of the leader Yakov Berezovski, he received a wide general and juristic education. He was a good and popular speaker in the Russian language and a sharp debater. He was very active among young people, strived to educate them in the spirit of Zionism and fought assimilation and its negative influence on the Jewish youth.

Until the February 1917 Revolution he was forced to work mostly underground, however later he was able work openly, and then he could truly realize his talents and ability. He fought successfully for the Zionist idea at every meeting, in spite of the speakers from the leftist parties whose influence on the Jewish population increased steadily. His original ideas were studied, and many learned from him how to hold their ground in a debate. He was a proud Jew and Zionist, and, on appropriate occasions never failed to stress that. He did not believe that the revolution would give the people the freedom and happiness that they expected, and many considered him a “reactionary.” He was member of the “General Zionists” party, and was elected to the Zionist institutions and to the community council as their representative. He did not make Aliya. Until the thirties he continues his membership in the Zionist organization, but was not active in the underground movement. He embraced tradition and began to keep the Commandments [mitzvot], in contrast to the spirit of his own home.

 

Pinchas Schiffman (Ben Sira)

He was one of the best Zionist leaders in Ekaterinoslav. He was born in 1874, in the town Yelsk, Minsk district. He studied in the Yeshiva and worked as a teacher.

During WWI he relocated from Lida to Ekaterinoslav and worked as a Hebrew teacher in the Yeshiva. He was invited as well to teach in the schools for the refugees that were organized at the time, gave Hebrew lessons to the members of the Hovevei Sfat Ever [lovers of the Hebrew language] circle, began to work with the local Zionists, was invited to teach at Cohen's High–School (that had just relocated from Vilna) and lectured at the Yeshiva of Rabbi Gellman.

After the February 1917 revolution, P. Schiffman's activity increased greatly. He began appearing at public meetings, supported Zionism and Hebrew teaching and was in constant struggle against the “Yiddishists,” who requested recognition of the Yiddish language as the only national language of the Jewish people. He wrote, in Hebrew, several information booklets, which were printed in Ekaterinoslav and then translated to Yiddish, among them “The Balfour Declaration” and “Building the Community.” These booklets, which described and explained the Zionist ideology, were very valuable and served the organization activists as publicity material. He was elected to the party committees and represented it at various conventions and councils. As a person rooted in Hebrew culture and a talented speaker, he was loved by the local Zionists and served them as teacher and guide and played a significant part in the growth of the Zionist movement in 1917–1918 in Ekaterinoslav.

As the Soviet regime consolidated and with it came the restrictions on the Zionist activity and the study of Hebrew, Schiffman's activity was minimized. However, in spite of the danger involved, he continued to teach Hebrew, whether in the synagogue or in his own home. Finally he left Ekaterinoslav and after a few years in other locations in Poland he made Aliya to Eretz Israel in 1926. Here he continued his literary and educational work in religious schools. He died in 1945.

[Page 145]

Moshe Duchan

Moshe ben Aharon Duchan was born in 1884 in the town Verknodneprovsk, not far from Ekaterinoslav. As a child he studied in the Cheder, and after he passed the matriculation exams he went to study Law at the University of Charkov, continued his studies in Germany and finally in Petersburg. He excelled in his studies and was offered an academic position, on condition that he convert to Christianity – which he declined naturally.

 

Moshe Duchan

 

After completing his studies he opened a Law Office in Ekaterinoslav. He became a Zionist and continued this work in Petersburg, in the Tze'irei ZionI group. He was soon noticed and recognized for his large juristic education and general knowledge and reached a high position among the Petersburg Zionists, in particular after the 1917 revolution. He believed that the revolution was not the solution of the Jewish problem; the only solution was political Zionism. He was elected to the community council and appointed vice–chairman.

In 1918 he relocated to Ukraine. In 919 he was appointed head of the Eretz–Israel Office in Novorusisk and later he went to Paris and represented the Ukraine Jews at the Peace Conference.

In 1920 he arrived in Eretz Israel. After passing in 1921 the Law Exams for foreign lawyers he worked at the government office as vice–manager of the Real Estate Department. He kept this position until 1937, when he resigned since he realized that as a Jew he had no hope to make progress professionally. He has been one of the few Jews who held a high ranking position; he introduced some order in the department (which was quite neglected up to that time) and in the British Mandate laws concerning land ownership. His book (in Hebrew) on the subject, “Real Estate Laws” in which he reviewed systematically the Ottoman laws, became a basic book in the profession. M. Duchan served also as lecturer in the Law School of the Mandate government in Jerusalem and published several books on law.

After resigning, he continued working as a lawyer specializing in real estate laws and was active in public matters. With the establishment of the State of Israel he was member of its Judicial Council. He died in 1958.

[Page 146]

Israel Idelson (Bar–Yehuda)

 

Israel Idelson

 

Israel ben Baruch Idelson (later Bar Yehuda) was one of the prominent leaders of the Tze'irei Zion movement and the Zionists in Ekaterinoslav. He was born on 15 November 1895 in the town Konotof, Tchernigov district. When his family moved to Ekaterinoslav, he went there to the local High School and after graduating he enrolled in the Superior School for mining studies. While still in high school he joined (in 1909) the Zionist Youth Study Group and later the Tze'irei Zion movement. Thanks to his devotion and energy he soon rose to a position of guide and leader in the Movement.

During the First World War, while still a student at the mining school, he worked to reinforce the organizational as well as the spiritual activity of Tze'irei Zion, in spite of the restrictions and limitations imposed by the government. At the time of the 1917 revolution, an unlimited area of political activity opened and the movement, united, energetic and of a clear ideological standpoint, was ready for action and soon became an influential power in the “Jewish street” in Ekaterinoslav. Idelson's rare qualities, his personal integrity, his comprehensive political understanding, his attitude towards his friends, his Zionist belief – all this made him the leader and main spokesman of Tze'irei Zion and his decisions were accepted by most members. Under his leadership, the movement was strengthened and the Ekaterinoslav branch became one of the strongest in Russia.

No wonder, then, that Idelson was elected member of the Presidency of the Tze'irei Zion convention that took place in 1917, and later member of the Central office of the movement. In Ekaterinoslav he was elected as the representative of Tze'irei Zion to all institutions (municipality, community, national assembly of the Ukraine Jews etc.). Idelson, whose name had been known only to a few, became one of the leaders of the Ekaterinoslav Jews and the Ukraine Zionists. Everyone listened to his reasoning and his opinions, which he never failed to strongly defend. Those were difficult times, and the decisions demanded a great deal of responsibility. His appearance was proud, radiating national consciousness and national as well as personal honor. Yet he remained a modest man, as before, his warm attitude toward his friends did not change and he listened carefully to what they had to say. His fellows in the movement appreciated and respected him; his opponents valued him and listened to his opinions.

As the Soviet regime consolidated, things changed and the activity of the movement had to adapt to the conditions of the time – prohibitions and limitations imposed by the authorities. Idelson did his best to preserve the achievements of the movement and at the same time he fought communism, which had begun to spread in the Jewish circles. He was one of those who requested that Tze'irei Zion change their program, a suggestion that was approved during the Charkov Convention in 1920.

After many years of successful activity he left Ekaterinoslav and relocated to Charkov. He was soon arrested and exiled to a remote place in Russia, and after he was released and received a permit to leave, he made Aliya to Eretz Israel. Here, after many years of fruitful work for the Party and after serving as minister in the Israeli government he died on 4 May 1965.

 

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