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[Page III]

Only the ”Pinkas Hrubieshov” Remained

by Baruch Kaplinsky

I have never been to Hrubieshov. I have never seen its streets and alleys, its schools and ”shtieblech”, its bridges and rivers, its communal leaders and its institutions.

I have never been in the Broditzer Grove, on the Probreczaner Roas, on the Pogerie or near the Shlicze; I never went for a walk on the Panske or ”lehavdil”, on the Shool street.

Nevertheless, after having studied all the material, texts, memoranda and written evidence on Hrubieshov, I see it all in my mind's eye; alive, fresh and authoritative.

It is not Hrubieshov that I see; I see good many; I see the Hrubieshov of 30-40 years ago.

I see the Chassidishe youths, attired in their Shabbat or holiday best, walking along the aristocratic Pansker Street. They carry books stuck under their armpits, following with their eyes the girls who are also walking along the street, cracking melon-seeds and meanwhile discussing Socialism, Zionism, Liberty and Social Justice. It is said that they are ”related” to the strikers and sympathize wholeheartedly and articulately with the Social Revolution.

Now they stop at the stand of Nathan Zeide's, or at the Abeles place. They drink a glass of soda-water and shew on a bun, the while intoning under their breath ”Huliet, Huliet, beize Wintern, (Shriek, Shriek, furious Winds) or ”Techezakna, Yedei Kol Acheinu” (Strengthened be the Hands of all our Brethren).

Now I see them the previous year, they sit in the ”Alkir” or Trisker, or at the Husiatiner Shtiebel.

What are they doing there?

It sounds as if they are rehearsing a new Chassidic tune. They start by murmuring it under their breath, then whisper it almost soundlessly, and then, all at once, they wax enthusiastic in their ecstasy, savouring the tune to the full.

After some time their elders come and drive them out of the Shtiebel with clenched fists:

“Out with you, Shkotzim; such a scandal!”
Why are these fanatic Chassidim so angry? Why are they so full of wrath? Probably they had heard a report that these youths were reading “Hatzefira”, or peruse “Hazman”, carry about “small” books and arrogantly argue that “Yiddishkeit” was made for Jews, and not the other way about. Or, maybe their “sin” is exchanging their Jewish headgear for something more modern, or cutting short their prayers and eschewing facial contortions during prayers.

Such arrogance, such a shame!

The banished youths take refuge in Fischer's “heizel” or at the guest-house of Brenner, or at the premises of Hashomer Hatzair, and sing all together with gusto: “Od lo avda Tikvateinu”.

With their former Chassidic ecstacy at the Shtiebel, they go out on Lag Baomerday or on May Day to the Broditzer Grove to exchange views and hopes, and dream about a Jewish state of Zion and Jerusalem.

This is one kind of Hrubieshov; the Hrubieshov of 30-40 years ago.

But there were other Hrubieshovs, others and no less meaningful.

Now, I see the Hrubieshov of the “Minyan” and the Baal Shem Tov, the Hrubieshov of 200 years ago.

I see the ten lean, dried “Lamed.Vovnikes”, skin and bones fiery eyes. They sit day and night in the Great Beth-Hamidrash, at the big table, poring over the sacred books, fasting and deciding fateful issues. Let Redemption come! Let the Messiah come!

And who knows whether the Minyan of the ten Hrubieshov “Lamed-Vovnikes” would not have brought about the “Geula”, if Rabbi Israel Sara's has not authoritatively decided: this generation is not the ripe as yet!

[Page IV]

Thus, at any rate, goes the story at Hrubieshov, told at the Beth-Midrash behind the big heating-stove. Now I see Hrubieshov of 500 years ago.

Forty years before that, in the year 1400, Hrubieshov was still a village. Possibly there were Jews already living in the village of Hrubieshov. But apparently they had no historical sense. As a result, we have practically no idea about their lives and achievements. Thus, the first known details about Hrubieshov Jewry date from 1440. The first known Jew was Eliahu. Nobody knows whence he came to Hrubieshov, or anything about his family, worries of joys. Had it not been for the fact that he used to travel from Hrubieshov to Kiev via Lutzk to purchase horses or hides, no trace of his existence would have remained. It is due to a short notice in a document of that time, that we know of Eliahu in 1440. Possibly, this Eliahu of 1440 struck roots in Hrubieshov and that his distant descendants living today do not know that Eliahu's blood flows in their veins.

A contemporary of Eliahu was a man Itzhak Sokolowitz by name. It appears that he had quite a substantial fortune in Hrubieshov. The historian, Itzhak Schipper, tells us that his operations extended over a wide field.

This is only a brief glimpse of the first Jewish elements in Hrubieshov, 500 years ago. These elements did not expand rapidly, because we find that in 1555 there were still only 13 Jews living in 4 houses in Hrubieshov. Nine years later we find 40 Jews in 5 houses. They do not as yet build up a congregation, but they constitute the nucleus of a congregation.

The major part of the book is devoted to Hrubieshov during the first part of the twentieth century.

During this period Hrubieshov was still a small orthodox town, but a new spirit was discernible among its youth, which found expression in two organized camps: Zionist and Socialist. Both Zionists and Socialists firmly believed in, and strenuously fought for, their new ideals, whilst preserving their Chassidic beliefs which they inherited from their parents.

The continuous development of the Hrubieshov Community following the First World War was shattered by the inhuman annihilation of its seven thousand families in the course of the Second World War.

And again I see the Shool Street, the Lubelsky, the Rinek and the Gorne. Now you no longer hear a single Jewish word. The Shtieblech, the Bathei-Midrash, the houses and the shops are mute. They may have the same signboards, but other names.

The Community, founded by Reb Eliahu in 1440, was annihilated in 1942 with unheard of brutality: out of seven thousand families there remained only graves and tombstones.

* * *

I meant to write only a few lines, but there emerged from my pen a short historical survey of several Jewish Hrubieshovs over a period of 20 generations, depicting a good deal of suffering, but perhaps no less sources of gratification.

How could we ignore pioneers, those who laid the foundation-stone of the Hrubieshov Community 500 years ago, and those who have built first and then the upper storeys 300, 200 and 100 years ago?

Could we consign to oblivion all those Jews who came to Hrubieshov from the South, West and East and who put up a flourishing community on the banks of the Hutchva and the Bug, on the frontiers of Little Poland and Wolhyn?


It is for this reason that we now bring out this book, Pinkas Hrubieshov. This is a memorial tablet on the tomb of twenty Jewish generations in Hrubieshov. a survey of 500 years in the life of a small Jewish town in Little Poland.

Unfortunately, the details and the data available on these 20 generations are very paucy, fragmentary and sometimes unreliable. Our few words should, therefore, symbolize volumes. Let our unavoidable silence over many episodes and facts cry out and tell the story of 20 links in the chain of the Hrubieshov Community's life, of its achievements and hopes, of which there now remains the Pinkas Hrubieshov.

[Page V]

Sparks light the way

by Joseph Epstein (Rishon-Lesion)

A few 'minyanim' are gathered in the Trisker Shtiebel; they wear their Taleisim only on their shoulders, and not on their heads. This is a Zionist 'minyan'. When the time for ”Mi She-beirakh” comes, I hear: ”For contributing to the redemption of the people's land”. The phrase sounds strange, and yet so near our hearts.


Lag Baomer

Hundreds of children gather in the open space facing Panska Street. For the first time in my life we foregather, Cheder boys with “peoth” and traditional Jewish hats, with girls from the secular school. We are given small blue-white flags, and are marched along Broditzer Street to the nearby wood to the martial sounds of “Seu Ziona Ness Va-Degel”. The day was spent in song and dance. Tired and happy, we returned home when darkness fell.


I become a “Hebraist”

My uncle Welvish, who was then engaged to Toibe, a member of “Agudat Zion”, brought me the first books of the “Prahim” and “Nitzanim” series. Soon I and several of my friends from Cheder started borrowing books from the Agudat Zion library. We used to “swallow” them at the rate of three or four a week. Bunie Janower once takes up one of these books, leafs through it and asks me: “What is that there “Shezif”? “A fruit”, I reply, “A shezif is just a plum”.


Group of Chalutzim in Hachshara in a village near Hrubieshov, in 1925


But I could not understand why it was not included in the list of fruits enumerated in the Chumash. Thus I got used to read Hebrew and considered myself a “Hebraist”. When I became Bar-Mitzva, I lived with the characters of “Ahavat Zion” of Mapu.


I become an “Apikoress”

The old Rabbi of Hrubieshov, Reb Isser Javets, was gathered unto his fathers, and Reb Joseph Wertheim was appointed in his stead. As he lived nearby, my father was a frequent visitor at his home, and I was an avid reader of his books. To me they revealed a new world of Hebrew and world litterature: all Hatekufa volumes, Treivishe's translations of Tolstoy's “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” and a good many other pearls of world litterature: Tagore, Goethe and Byron. My zest for talmudical studies was transferred to these books. Thus, all unknowingly, the Rabbi hepled to deprive me of my ortodoxy. The Rabbi's home became the headquarters of work for Jewish National Fund. I took up his work with enthusiasm, and was forever busy collecting with the help of the blue-white box. On a certain Hanukka evening (1924?) the Rabbi invited some 50-60 “baalei-batim” and obtained and obtained on the spot numerous cintributions to the Fund.


The Borukhov Circle

The Revolutica created many, sometimes conflicting, ideologies. In our town they found expression in big May-day processions, in which thousands of young men and women took part. Even among our ranks there were serious ideological conflicts, notably as between national and international Socialism. The question of the Biro-Bidjan colonisation served as a bone of contention and Serious verbal clashes. But national socialism, along the lines laid down by Ber Borukhov, slowly and steadily gained the upper hand. It was not long before the first Borukhov Circle was followed by others: Syrkin Circle, Chazanowitz Circle, Brenner Circle.


An Attitude towards all Problems

Looking back, I cannot but wonder at the intense interest which our youthful Socialist members showed in any social or political movement the world over: our own Russian Revolution, the Labour Government in England, “red” Vienna, the Chang Kai Shek revolution in China, and others. We, the Jewish youth, could not rest until we crustalised out “attitude”. Still more so as regards problems nearer our heart: dictatorships, and democracies, materialism and idealism, Zionism and internationalism, Yiddish and Hebrew. The names of the great exponents of social theories were ever on our lips. There were particularly acrimonious discussions over Zionism when members of the Fourth Aliya (in the twenties) came back from Palestine, dispirited and desponent. But the devoted and loyal Zionists overcame this defeatist propaganda. They laboured long and arduously to instil the right spirit into the minds of the other members. Thanks to them, many, many of our members are now happily settled as Histadrut members in the State of Israel.


In 1928-30, 15 Freiheit and Poelei Zion came to settle in Eretz Israel. – See description of period in “Sparks”, above.


[Page VI]

Tel Hai School – Ray of Light

by Kliezker Polushko (Kibbutz Yagur)

As through a haze I see Hrubieshov, a town of some 15,000 inhabitants, on the Polish-Wolhynian border. Most of the inhabitants were Jews, subsisting on retail trade, in shops and in the weekly fairs.

The older generation struck to their old traditions and customs; the younger generation, however, was fired by the ideals of the national movement; it devoted its energies to the raising of money for the national funds, to a national awareness, to Hachshara and Aliya to Eretz Israel.

The Tel Hai school, in which I taught for two years, was the core and centre of these public activities. Well do I remember these years, the brightest in my public career.

The school was a “Tarbut” foundation of the General Zionists; most of its pupils were drawn from the poorest elements who could contribute but an insignificant part of its modest budget in tuition fees. For want of a government subsidy, working in competition to the government school shrank until there seemed no way out except to close it down. It was then that the Poalei Zion Organization came forward with a proposal to take over its management, adapt its curriculum to the movement's policies and be responsible for its maintenance. Those in charge saw no other way to save the school; this opened a new era in its history.

A new panel of teachers was constituted; the administration was recognized and new pupils admitted. The school expanded and its influence on the life of the community began to be felt. Especially gratifying was the close cooperation between teachers, parents and pupils – a potent contributory factor to its success.

The end of the first scholastic year under the new régime was celebrated by a festive evening. It was a rewarding sight to see the faces of the parents light up when their children performed, sang and declaimed on the stage. These end-of-year occasions became a tradition which, apart from its moral worth, contributed in no small measure to balancing the modest school budget. At the end of the second year the pupils of the upper classes produced a short drama based on the life of the prophet Amos. The clash of this prophet, the humble shepherd from Tekoa, with the rapacious rich, his prophecies saturated with a cry for social justice, presented a vivid revival of an important period in Israel's ancient history, during which it fought a losing battle against the savage hordes which sought to annihilate it.

Both teachers and pupils who took part in that performance will no doubt remember the enthusiasm of the audience when they listened to the well-known biblical utterances, which, in the mouths of their children, assumed a realistic significance. Looking back, it seems to me that this performance was more realistic than we realized at the time.

Due to the increasing influence of the Poalei Zion Party in municipal affairs, it was at last possible to obtain a certain sum out of the municipal budget to cover the school budget. The school came to serve as a refuge to the pupils. Knowing that most of the homes lacked the most elementary facilities for home-work, we kept the school open after regular classes, and the teachers used to serve, in turn, as supervisors of the pupils who stayed on to do their homework, occasionally helping them out. In time, the school became a sort of club, serving as reading-room, games-room or recreation hall. To acquire equipment for games, pupils contributed small sums, which the school matched, penny for penny. It was really touching to see with what enthusiasm the children made their modest contributions, often at the cost of their food allowance. The “gymnasium” consisted of the school courtyard in summer and the slope of the hills in winter, down which we skidded in primitive toboggans.

Whilst the relations between teachers and pupils were most cordial, the latter realized how hard the former had to work, so that they took good care not to trespass on their hours of well-deserved rest. But so informal were our relations that the pupils considered us more as friends than as masters. Well I remember one occasion when I was approached by one of my favourite pupils, Koppele of blessed memory, in one of my “off” afternoons, asking me to come and play cricket with him and him comrades. Of course I could not refuse.

Six years after leaving Hrubieshov for Palestine, I visited it anew and found some of my old pupils, now become adults. The atmosphere was tense; anti-Jewish feeling was on the increase. It was not long afterwards that the remnants of the Community were led to extermination camps.







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