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With the Book

By Israel Ben Eliyahu,
Mordekhai Khalili and Mordekhai Simkhoni

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafael Manory

With love and great reverence, we present this book about the Jewish agricultural colonies in Southern Ukraine.

We are strongly driven by the feeling of a holy duty toward the tribe of these humble Jews, who worked the land, were honest folks who possessed within them precious virtues of greatness and heroism, and who have molded the image of a Jew who was healthy in his body and spirit amid the sorrowful Jewish diaspora.

We, the descendant–survivors of that tribe, carried for many years the idea of putting in writing the memory of the unique folklore of the agricultural colonies that have raised five generations of farmers, and thereby retain and preserve it for the benefit of the future generations in Israel. The objective was also aimed at recording the history of the endeavor; because of the unique circumstances of the period of its demise, i.e. the advent of the Shoah of the entire European Jewry, there are gaps in the remembrance of this unique enterprise in the Jewish historiography of our generations.

The calamity of Hitler, may his name be wiped out, has cut off the existence of all the colonies and their populates (not the least with the help of the Ukrainian neighbors who murdered and inherited…). On the other hand, the existential distress of the Jewish national survival in the USSR is preventing the nourishing of that legacy on the location of its existence and demise.

The three signatories to this article, who served as the de–facto initiative committee, took upon themselves to realize the idea of bringing up from oblivion and muteness, the tales of heroism and exploits: the journey and the settlement of the pioneers of the Jewish agriculture in Czarist Russia in early 19th century, the struggle and the hardships encountered by the first settlers, the path to substantiation and rooting, and the last struggles to the dying fibrillations during the years of the calamity of the great Shoah.

Our first actions involved finding and organizing the community of the former residents of the colonies and rounding support for gathering the material and writing of the articles for the book. We found about one hundred and fifty comrades in all corners of the land–while going from one village to another, from the moshavim to the kibbutzim, as well as to towns and cities. We were fortunate to get a generous response, thus the needed material and spiritual assistance has been secured.

Our first solid step toward the fulfilment of our idea was the agreement made with our comrade Tzvi Livneh (Lieberman), a resident of Nahalal. Tzvi, whose share in expediting and motivating for action was very significant, took upon himself the task

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of compiling and authoring the series of historical chapters, as well as participating in the gathering of the articles from the members; these were written or provided to us orally; material was also gathered from periodicals and archives. Tzvi has also selected and edited material relevant to our subject matter from historical literature in Yiddish and Russian, with the aim of writing the historical chapters that constitute the first part of the book. For this effort, which he performed with dedication and love, he is thankfully blessed.

It is clear to us that we have not managed to exhaust all options. There is a vast amount of documentary material, in repositories in Russia and in other archives throughout the world that is waiting for future historians. It is possible that the material offered here would present a challenge for them to shine light on this wondrous vision of the Jewish agricultural settlement at the beginning of the 19th century, which enjoyed a magnificent continuation until it fell prey to a malicious enemy.

The folklore and memory chapters were written, primarily, by people who are not professional writers or authors, but are people of labor and accomplishment, who told their stories about their experiences and aspirations, actions and feelings, everyone in his or her language and style. As a whole, taken together, the stories form an image of the way of life and conditions of the Jewish farmers in those colonies on Ukraine's prairies. The poets Simon Frugg and Saul Tchernikhovsky made poems, at their time, about these lives. They were the weavers of dreams about Jewish plowing land, Jews who breath nature and about creative work and freedom. More than fifty members contributed their writings to this collection. There were also friends who guided us with an advice and solution. They all congregated to establish a memorial for the undertaking by five generations of Russian–Jewish agriculturalists and workers.

We would like to mention, with appreciation, the contribution of honorable public institutions without whose real assistance, the publication of this book would not have been possible. We also want to thank the publisher– Sifryat Ha'Poalim for the fine understanding for this project, which was shown from the time of our first inquiry, to the completion of the book.

May all of those who landed their hands, cooperated and took part in our endeavor, be blessed. May this book serve as a memorial for our ancestors, our brothers and sisters; thanks to them and to their legacy, we have achieved a productive and happy life in our motherland.


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Introduction
The Historical Role of the Jewish Settlement in Russia

By Khaim Halperin

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafi Manory

In the history of Jewish people in the diaspora, the tale of the agricultural settlement of Jews in Russia is unique and distinct. The story of this settlement, with its colonies, enterprises, struggles and achievements is being told in this book, both in its historical preview chapters and in the folklore and memories chapters, all written either by its participants or by people who cherish its memory.

The historical importance of this settlement movement results primarily from the fact that, eighty years prior to the emergence of the “Khibat Tzion” movement [“Lovers of Zion—the precursor to Zionism. MK], and almost one hundred years before Herzl's appearance at the Zionist Congresses, it served as a model and source of inspiration for all the people, institutions and social movements, who have initiated and established agricultural settlements in various countries of the diaspora, in parallel with the Zionist settlement enterprises in Eretz Israel.

The experiments and enterprises of the return of the Jews to village life and agriculture in the diaspora, and their faith, during the latest generations, took different forms, whether they have been realized or have not reached fruition in later generations. The biggest of all, in its scope and fortitude, was undoubtedly the enterprise of the Baron de Hirsch in Argentina, which aimed at relieving the distress of Russia's Jews by transferring them to an uninhabited and wide land, in which they would be able to settle as farmers. Baron de Hirsch's vision was immense and daring, however, his henchmen and officials did not share his vision. They were clerks of a charity and philanthropic corporation who treated the settlers with scorn, doubt and excess harshness (similar to the treatment of the settlers of the first colonies in Eretz Israel by Baron Rothschild's functionaries during the same period). With the clear intention of speeding up the assimilation of the settlers in the new country, the JCA Corporation [the “Jewish Colonization Association” established by Baron de Hirsch] purchased 6 million dunams [about 1.5 million acres] that were scattered over many regions, to avoid concentration of the new settlers in one area.

Despite of the destructive tendencies among the JCA's officialdom, at the beginning of the 20th century, the enterprise already included close to 4000 families or about 30,000 people. Along with the settlement movement, the organization for cooperative supply and trading was established and developed; banks for common people and credit unions were also established and were concentrated under the umbrella of the union for “Agricultural Brotherhood” (“Fraternidad Agraria”), which served as a center for cooperative agriculture federations. A special corporation for the development of the Jewish agriculture (“Formanta Agraria”) was established as well, but the main thing was the unique Jewish atmosphere that was felt in this enterprise.

However, even during the years before World War I, the general trend of migration

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“from the village to the city” had penetrated into the Jewish colonies in Argentina. Although the progression was slow, it was continuous. The young generation could not withstand the attraction of Buenos Aires. The growth of the whole enterprise has stagnated. The plots of the people who left were sold to non-Jews and only the owners of cattle herds intended for meat were left. Even among them, there were many who managed their farms from their residence in the city…(Clearly, the low profitability from agriculture has influenced the process of abandonment. There were also those who claimed that connection between the Jewish farmer and his land was not established and put the blame on the lack of a national ideology related to agricultural settlement). This is how the few remaining colonies lost their Jewish character, and the settlement enterprise that has existed for more than 150 years, deteriorated during our time, not because of political events or external pressure, but as a result of the urbanization process in that country.

In connection to our subject, it is worth noting that the foundation for the Jewish settlement in Argentina in 1889, was laid out by settlers who were natives of Kamenetz–Podolsk and its environs, a region which was very near the Jewish colonies in Kherson and Yekaterinoslav. It is clear that the move of these first settlers toward agriculture was influenced by the example of the Jewish farmers in the established colonies in Russia [southern Ukraine. MK].

The fate of the Jewish settlement in the United States during the same period was different. This settlement continued without intervention by the authorities, and in certain aspects, without any significant assistance by public elements.

The initiators and implementers of the US settlement, during the 1880's were also immigrants from Russia, many of whom were influenced by the “Am Olam”[1] movement. The movement was established in parallel to the “BILU” movement[2], however, unlike BILU, it advocated settlement in America rather than Eretz Israel. The first colony in the US— “Sicily Island Colony” in Louisiana—was established by a group of youths from Yelisavetgrad, which was under the influence of the “Am Olam” movement, and was received very favorably by the American public, although it did not successfully endure the difficult climate conditions of the southern state. Other experiments, such as the colonies of “New Odessa” and “Bethlehem Yehuda”, also agricultural colonies of South Russia natives, also did not survive for long.

The “Am Olam” movement established seven colonies in the USA: Karmia, Karmel, Montefiori, Lasker, Gil'ad, Touro and Liser [?], and we can also add to them the “New Odessa Colony”. Altogether, we know about 25 colonies that were established during those years, but none lasted for a long time. The interesting thing about them was that almost all of their founders were Russia natives. There is no doubt that they have been influenced quite a bit from the example of the mother-colonies of the Jewish agriculture in their native country.

Along these large enterprises, there were also small, less daring

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experiments, in Poland, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Brazil, Uruguay and San Domingo. There were also some plans that have never reached the stage of implementation, such as the famed “Uganda Plan”, which raised sharp arguments and stormy debates in the Zionist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were also plans for projects in England, Ecuador, Australia and other places. Among these projects, some lasted a longer time, and there were phenomena of pioneering and heroism; however none lasted as a permanent settlement of Jews. We are convinced that the Jewish agricultural colonies in Russia served as a prototype, example and model for all of these experiments and paved the way and gave birth to followers in other diaspora countries.

It can be noted that all the other colonies in the diaspora were abandoned, for objective or subjective reasons, by the settlers themselves, whereas the Jewish agricultural settlement in Russia continued to exist for almost one hundred and fifty years and was not liquidated until it was destroyed from the outside by a hasty and cruel oppressor.

This settlement was the one that contributed from its power and influenced the rebirth of the national settlement in Eretz Israel, during the Second Aliya movement and more then that during the Third Aliya movement. More than one hundred and fifty people who came from the Jewish colonies in Russia live today in Israel and continue their life in agriculture in the Israeli moshavim [a form of cooperative village-MK] and kibbutzim [a form of agricultural commune–RM], and some in very prominent roles in society and the state, are a living testimony for that.

And thus, at the 160th anniversary of the establishment of the first colonies, a group from the fifth generation of the pioneering settlers, those whose childhood and youth were interwoven with the deeds of their predecessors, rose and initiated this project of commemoration, in a form of a book about the villages of their birth. They were the ones who wrote many pages in this book, not as authors but as the children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of Jewish cattlemen, yeomen, pioneers and trailblazers in Russia.

I am not sure why I was found worthy to be invited to serve as an advisor (perhaps because of my connections with the people of the colonies during my initial career in Russia). However, I was very impressed with them during our first discussion, and accepted without any argument their generous invitation to author an introduction for the book. However, when I first read what they have written and thought about my introductory words, I felt a storm raging in my soul and was very confused. I could not get rid of the nightmarish picture played in front of my eyes of this huge cemetery filled with gravestones seized by flames. The names kept shining through the flames: Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola and Sdeh-Menukha-Ha'Ktana at its side; and near it the name of Nahar-Tov-Ha'Ktana, Yefeh-Nahar, Izraelovka and Dobroya; Novo Poltavka and Bobrovy-Kut, Sehaidek Inguletz and Mazor[3], and other names that are precious and close to the heart.

And I see the obliterating flames, the weapon of hatred with no reason, malice and evil and blood-thirsty hands that annihilated and demolished, destroyed and exterminated an enterprise of five generations of Jewish pioneering farmers who served as an example for millions of Jews in Russia and throughout the world.

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When I reread the notes written by the natives of the colonies, notes that were filled with tears, grief and longing to their parents, brothers and sisters who were put on the stake, I see them as Scrolls of Fire. We should take comfort in the fact that the Scrolls of Fire became an eternal flame that would never be extinguished. The one hundred and fifty years of agricultural labor and creation in the Jewish colonies in Russia were not in vain; under their guiding light, generations were taught to live a productive life, love the land and love humanity. They served as an honorary-gate for the Zionist settlement enterprise in Eretz Israel.

The one hundred and fifty natives of the colonies who managed to make Aliya and take roots in Eretz Israel, were privileged to serve as instructors for the many who settled with them in kibbutzim and moshavim, and thus ease their absorption difficulties. Their children and descendants in the following generations knew how to preserve in their hearts the memory of the accomplishments of their ancestors in Russia's diaspora. With this book, one generation would tell the story to future generations. This would be the family tree for the descendants; a memorial book for their ancestors, and for future generations—Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers]. The reader and the researcher would be able to find pages and chapters from an important period in the history of the Jewish people, chapters of grief and calamity but also chapters of exaltation, culture and accomplishments.

May the name of the Jewish settlement in Russia be exalted and sanctified.


Translator's Notes

  1. “Am Olam” (literally means “Eternal People”), established in 1881 in Odessa, was a movement among Russian Jewry aimed to establishing socialist agricultural settlements in America. Return
  2. The “BILU” movement (an acronym in Hebrew for a verse from Isaiah 2:5 “Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Venelkha” (“House of Jacob, let us go”). It was established in Russia in 1882 to promote agricultural settlement in Eretz Israel. Return
  3. Jewish Colonies in Southern Ukraine—Kherson province. Return

 

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