by Israel Betzer, Yehudit Guzman, Nesya Avidov, Khaia Berkin, Atara and Nakhman Parag, Yehoshua Dukhin,
A Gurevitz, Leah Palkov-Lev, Itah Hurvitz, Moshe Yevzori-Yevzorikhin, Yehudit Simkhoni and Yehuda Yevzori
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
In a narrow valley, about 300-400 meters from a bald, rocky and steep mountain, which served as a source for building stones, a small spring gushes, its water flowing into the Wysun River. In the winter, the water is rising up to a width of 15-20 meters and then freezes. In the spring, during the days of the snowmelt, the river flows rowdily and sweeps everything in its way.
The authorities brought Jewish settlers, the founders of the colony, to the southern bank of the river. A large Christian village, by the name of Pasad Brezneguvatoye was located on the opposite side of the river. Another Christian village that was located near the river was called Dobro, named after the spring, and the Jewish colony was called Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola [The Greater Nahar Tov, literally The Greater Good River].
The spring was located south-west of the colony, within its land, and only the members of the colony drew water from it. Further away from that, on the stream's edge, behind the main street of the colony, opposite to the large synagogue, another stream whose water was good for drinking and laundry, ran; however, its banks were very steep, and it was not possible to approach it with a wagon. Therefore, only the members of the families who lived on the street close to the spring and who could not travel with a wagon to the big spring drew water from it in pails, which they carried on their shoulders, with a yoke.
During the 1890's, the days of the colony's third generation, all the farmers' yards had wells in them, which the farmers had dug for themselves, with a depth of between 6-8 meters. The water in these wells was not good for drinking, therefore all of the farmers continued to haul water for drinking and laundry from the spring, and the water from the wells were only used for the needs of the farm watering the horses and the cows, washing the dishes and similar uses.
At the end of 1904, when I left the colony, the farmers still hauled drinking water from the big spring and with a yoke on their shoulders from the other spring.
Hundred families founded the colony; each received 40 disiyatins of land (one disiyatin 12 dunams [or 2.7 acres]). The settlers were not farmers by birth, and many did not even wish to become farmers. The Czar's government was the one that wanted to make them and other Jews into a productive element of society. The compulsory army service and the expulsion from the cities drove these Jews away from their cities and towns to the remote and desolate southern prairies where the Czar's government provided them with large plots and supported them with some meager sums. On the other hand, the government forbade them from engaging in trade or other occupations and allowed them only to work in occupations related to agriculture, such as construction, carpentry or blacksmithing. The adaptation of the settlers to the
life of working the land was taxing, and their economic state was dreadful. They were not able to cultivate all of the areas allocated to them, and therefore did not have enough sustenance to pay even the minimal taxes for the land. The land was leased to them and their descendants permanently, without allowing them the right to sell or bestow it to anybody, including relatives whose surname was different from theirs. A farmer, who did not have any sons but only daughters, could bequeath the land to one of his sons-in-law, with the government's permission.
During the first generation of the settlers, a quarter of the colony's area which was the farthest from the colony was dedicated as an area available for leasing (ovruchnoy uchastok). That area was leased, by public auction according to the law, to the big estate owners for a period of five years, which enabled the settlers-farmers to pay the land-taxes on the leased land and on the land they cultivated by themselves. During the first 25 years, ten families left Nahar-Tov, returned to the city and found sustenance there, some in trade and some in tailoring or similar crafts. The government did not expropriate the ten units (300 disiyatins) but left it as public land, which was leased for two or three years in a public auction, with a full right of the families who had left, or their sons, to return, receive back the land and cultivate it.
I recall that one day during the year 1900-1901, a young man about 25-28 years old, appeared in Nahar-Tov. He was the grandson of one of the farmers who left the colony. The young man came from Odessa or Nikolayev, and demanded the ochastok (land unit) of his grandfather. The process of transferring the land to him did not take long and three to four months later, the young man brought his family and started to cultivate the land. He was absorbed nicely in the colony. In another case, a Jewish person, about 45 years old, has married a good homemaker and had two daughters, one of whom was at marriage age and another was a mature girl, both worked as seamstresses in the city. The family was very pleasant and wished to return to their ancestors' land. They rented a temporary apartment in Nahar-Tov and started the formal process of getting the land. However, the process took too long, and at the end, they did not achieve what they wished for and, heartbroken, they had to return to the city.
During the days of the second generation, some of the settlers rose to a level where they could compete in the public auction, and win a leased area for five years. After leasing a plot the area was never taken away from them and their descendants, according to a new arrangement of dividing the colony's land, which we called an agrarian reform.
At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the twentieth century, young work-force was added to the colony the members of the third generation who were already adapted to working the land. At that time, there were some farmers who managed to consolidate their farms, particularly those who had families with many children who added many available working hands to the farm. The problem was that some of these families did not have sufficient land. At the same time, many settlers still did not adapt to the life of working the land
and lived in poverty and privation. Among them were those whose father was the only son who received the whole unit of land (30 disiyatins) from his father, and they were also the only sons to their father who owned the whole unit. These people did not establish a farm and owned only a wagon and a pair of wretched horses, and they worked in all sorts of jobs related to wagon hauling. They leased their fields to a Jewish or gentile farmer from a neighboring village for a portion of the harvest (1/3 or 2/5 of the harvest). Because of that situation, Jews haters criticized the settlers and demanded that the authorities confiscate the land from any Jewish settler who did not cultivate his field, and hand it over to landless Pravoslav Christian farmers. I recall that in the winter of 1890-91, a delegation consisting of two officials nominated on behalf of the authorities, came to inspect the farmers' yards. They passed from one yard to the other to inspect the agricultural tools, and they found organized farms, with more agricultural tools than in many of the farms of the neighboring Christian village. Although they did find some poor farms, the colony passed the inspection. During the time that the delegation passed from one yard to another to inspect the agricultural tools and look at the structure of the farms, a diligent group of youths was active behind the yards and supplied the needed tools to yards that lacked them.
The inspection awoke some gloomy thoughts and fears among the farmers who worried about the fate of the colony and its future. It was decided, by the general assembly of the colony, that even farmers who lacked means should make the effort to cultivate their land by themselves, and those who could not do it, would only be allowed to lease their fields to members of the colony. That decision raised the anger of the Christian farmers from the neighboring village, who already cultivated many land areas in Nahar-Tov. One of them said: If I meet the head of the colony's committee in the fields, I would take out his intestines with a pitchfork. The word got out to the head of the colony's committee, and he did not wait for long and showed up at that man's field while the man was piling his harvested crop. He entered into a friendly discussion with him, as a long-time friend and acquaintance and said: I heard that you are angry about our decision concerning the leasing of land in Nahar Tov, and I would like to talk to you about it, perhaps you would change your mind. You are, after all, a farmer who sustains himself by working the land. If you do not have land, you can lease land by paying for it. There are landless people among us as well. However, as Jews, the law forbids us from leasing land outside of our colony. We are not allowed to lease from the public land of other Jewish colonies, such as Sdeh-Menukha, Bobrovy-Kut or Yefeh-Nahar either. You are allowed the lease lands there, but we are forbidden of doing that. What is your opinion about that? Who should have a priority on leasing available land in Nahar-Tov, you or us? The gentile was persuaded and he kept it in his heart. During May-June of 1889, when pogroms erupted against the Jews, that gentile came to the head of the committee and told him: They would not touch your house. I would come to keep guard.
During the first week of June 1889, rumors were spread that pogroms would take place against the Jews in Pasad Berzneguvatoye where Jewish merchants competed with Christian ones.
The Christian merchants openly incited the villagers for pogroms against the Jewish merchants in Berezneguvate and in Nahar-Tov. As usual, there was nobody around to turn for help. The police minister (pristav) disappeared. During Friday, the market day in Berzneguvatoye, when the farmers from the neighboring villages passed through the main street of the colony, in wagons and on foot on their way to the market, they gazed into the houses and yards as if saying: We will visit you today. As early as before noon, groups of 4-5 farmers from the neighboring village started to barge into the colony through the bridge, pretending to be drunk, and asked to give them liquor. The head of the colony's committee sent them back, every time, by convincing and preaching to them to behave like good neighbors.
During the afternoon, crowds of the village people began to cover the steep mountain across the river, opposite to the colony. They were dressed with holiday clothing like on Sunday. From the mountain, one could see everything of what was happenings in the street and yards of the colony like on the observer's palm of the hand. The colony members realized that they would not be able to resist the rowdy crowd without the assistance of the authority. They decided to act according to the phrase: and ye shall watch yourselves [Deuteronomy 4:15]. The entire colony flocked to the yard of the popuchislestvo (the administrative office of the colonies) near the fruit trees orchard, where they found shelter. The colony emptied before dusk. The families of Rebosnikov and Samuilov escaped to a farm about 12 kilometers away from the colony. They found a shelter in a hut and hid there through Friday night and Shabbat. Only the head of the colony's committee remained in the colony to guard the street from his yard. Upon sunset, the crowd began to glide down the mountain and storm into the colony like ants. The head of the committee came down to the edge of his plot and fired a shot at the crowd, which was only armed with primitive hacking tools. When the crowd heard the shot, they retreated to their village. As the head of the committee was coming out to the street from his yard, the priest just happened to show up in front of him, riding on a carriage, and asked excitedly: Who fired a shot? This angers the crowd. However, the head of the committee was not obliged to confess to the priest They each returned to their place, the priest to his crowd of believers and the head of the committee to his community.
Upon dark, a pogrom started against the Jewish products and grocery stores in the Christian village. The rioters broke the steel doors and the windows, looted products and grocery items and loaded sacks and packages of goods on wagons. Whatever they did not take, they trampled with their feet and burned inside the shops and in the streets. They hid the looted goods in hideouts in the village, neighboring quarry and neighboring villages. The noise of the crowd and the movement of the wagons in the village could be heard from faraway distances, until a very late hour of the night. Later on, they broke through to the colony. They did it carefully and not noisily, but executed their pogrom faithfully. They broke windows and doors in all of the houses, tore pillows and feather covers and robbed things that they were interested in. However, they did not take out much property from the farmers' houses and did not even break one window at the house of the head of the committee.
At midnight, when quiet descended, several Jewish farmers came out to visit the yards and houses.
The farmers from the neighboring villages gathered on Shabbat morning, intoxicated by their success from the night before. When they saw that the authorities did not intervene they attempted to attack the colony of Romanovka, which was located about 15 kilometers away from Nahar-Tov and being surrounded by Christian villages was isolated. After a week of fear, the Jews in Romanovka gathered all in the synagogue, ready for any calamity. When they sensed that the crowd was approaching, they all went outside of the colony, including the children and the elderly, to face the arriving rioters. They did not fear of desecrating the Shabbat, basing their action on the verse [Psalms (119:126): It is time to work for the Lord, for your law has been broken [It is time to act when the wicked are breaking the commandments]. They came out with sticks, pitchforks, firefighting equipment and other tools that could cause harm, and taught the gentiles a lesson. Ashamed, the villagers retreated from the Zhyds and returned to their village empty-handed, with broken legs, injured heads and bloody faces, injuries which the Jews of Romanovka managed to inflict. After that Shabbat, the government woke up and began to investigate what the villagers caused to the area's Jews. The officials went from one village to the other, gathered public assemblies and lectured to the rioters. The police wrote some reports, and with that, they closed the book.
Following the pogroms, the Jewish merchants from Berzneguvatoye and members of Nahar-Tov organized, hired two of the most famous Jewish lawyers in Russia (one of them was the famous lawyer Gruzenberg [who appeared in the Beilis trial) and sued the rioters and the Christian merchants, who incited to riots. The trial was held in the city of Nikolayev and its echoes reached the Jewish and Russian newspapers. The inciters were sentenced to a term of 20 months in jail with hard work, each. The Jews were fortunate to see them jailed and head-shaven. The rioters were sentenced to one-year imprisonment with hard work.
The colony had a committee, which was elected by the general assembly, and its office was officially called the prikaz [command in Russian]. The colony's secretary and the committee janitor were located there. The janitor was available to perform all sorts of errands: sending messages, announcements or warnings to the farmers, calling for a gathering, performing any public work and the like. The Schultz (the head of the committee), was also sitting in his office every day, if he was not busy doing other public work. During the general assembly, the members of the committee would bring and explain issues, and sometimes would bring forward a proposal. Every discussion in the general assembly was followed by a vote (done by raising hands), the secretary would read the minutes and the results of the vote and the assembly had to approve the proposal with a signature by everyone, without any exception, even those who voted against it. The Schultz would approve the resolution with his signature and so would the members of the committee.
The central management of all the colonies nominated regional officials, one official for each 4-5 colonies. Their role was similar to the role of a social counselor. The official responsible for our region was a man by the name of Kessler, a tall man of about forty years of age, with a dignified appearance and everybody respected him. His permanent residence was
in the colony of Yefeh-Nahar. He appeared in every colony in the region under his responsibility, several times a year, to see if things are conducted properly, check the minutes of the committee meetings and those of the general assembly, and investigate whether the resolutions have been carried out.
At the end of the 19th century, the JCA organization [Jewish Colonization Association] started to take interest in the Jewish colonies in Kherson and Yekaterinolsav and provided loans with low interest for two or three years to people who lacked means. Agronomists and officials began to visit the colonies on behalf of JCA. I remember the names of Halperin, Mirkin and Loversky (who later became the principal of the agricultural school established in the colony of Novo-Poltavka). Under JCA's initiative and help, trial fields for new crops were allocated, such as soy and corn for seeds. The fields produced good harvests, and the farmers began to sow the seeds in their own fields. JCA also introduced fruit-tree orchards and vineyards. However, the fundamental problem of lack of land remained unsolved.
After many discussions in local gatherings within the colonies and in regional conferences, the colonies made a decision to demand from the government, that all of the lands for lease and public lands, which were considered temporary leased lands be returned to the colonies. They requested that the ownership of farmers who cultivated their land (three generations) would be revoked and that the land would be reallocated among the farmers according to the number of males in each family. The colony people turned to the central management of the colonies situated in Nahar-Tov and to General Simov, who was the patron of the colonies on behalf of the government, and who guarded their interests (in the colonies he was named the loyal devoted father of the colonies). According to the law, the colonies belonged to the Interior Ministry. General Simov recommended to the ministry to accept a delegation from the colonies, which would request to change the allocation of the land among the farmers. The positive response from the Interior Ministry was swift, and a three-member delegation, two of whom were residents of Nahar-Tov and one from the colony of Novo-Poltavlka, was elected.
The delegation travelled to St. Petersburg and stayed there for 8-10 days. They found a sympathetic audience in the Interior-Ministry and returned home with the good news that the ministry approved the entire plan. A group of 9-11 members headed by a surveyor went out to all the colonies, as early as the same summer (1902) and completed the entire division (parceling) in 10-12 days, according to maps which were prepared in advance. I was fortunate to be a member
of the group in Nahar-Tov. As an 18 years old, I was the youngest in the group, the rest of the members were all 30-35 years old. This was a pioneering group, which ushered a new period in the life of the colony. Following that group, another committee, consisting of people from among the community elders was elected. These elders knew very well every inch of the land. That committee conducted many meetings. It toured and substantially checked the new parcels (plots) and adjusted the allocation based on quality, topographic location, distance from the house, the roads that lead to the fields and similar factors.
The colony breathed a sigh of relief when, as part of this plan, it received an additional allocation of 25% of its land. Every male son (even as young as one day old), was allocated a private plot of 3 ¼ - 3 ½ disiyatin as a permanent lease to him and his descendants.
Not in every colony the allocation was equal, since the ratio between the male population and the available area was different. Many farms, particularly of those families that had many sons, developed nicely after the parceling and their owners were satisfied. However, that solution was not a radical solution for those families who lacked sufficient land. Many farmers had to look for a side income. Despite that, there was no mass influx from the villages to the city. People knew that those people, who had left the colonies during the 60-70 years since they were founded, found neither happiness nor wealth in the city. Most of them were forgotten, except two, whom the second and the third generations knew very well, although they did not have the chance see them face to face. These two were the poets Shimon Frugg from the colony of Bobrovy-Kut and M. Tz. Maneh from Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola who wrote the following poem at the time:
Where are you, where are you - the holy land
My spirt is yearning for you
If only you, and me together
Come to life again.
At the end of 1904, when the Russia-Japan war broke out and all of the young men were recruited to the front at Port Arthur, the Jewish immigration to Argentina began. According to the agreement with JCA, the Russian government allowed Jewish families to immigrate to Argentina and settle on JCA's land there. They even allowed families, whose sons who were of the age of enlistment, to leave, provided they notified the authorities about their wish to immigrate during May of that year, half a year before the date of enlistment. They were allowed to leave Russia with their families, without the right to ever return. During that year, several families left the colonies of Nahar-Tov, Romanovka, Dubrovna and Novo-Poltavka to settle in Argentina on JCA land. That was just the first group. In later years (1905-1907) many additional families from the colonies left to settle in Argentina.
During 1953 1954, I visited Argentina to see my relatives and the members of the colonies who immigrated there 48-49 years before. I found that only a few elderly people were still alive. Their children and grandchildren left the settlements and moved to cities and towns, where they worked in trade, craftsmanship, textile factories and printing houses, construction materials and various other professions. The Zionist activists were mostly descendants of members of the JCA colonies. Many of the grandchildren of the first Argentina settlers are now in Israel - in the labor movement's settlements, border settlements and IDF.
Not a long time after that, chaos took hold of Russia the Revolution, Civil War, robbery and murder by Denikin and Petliura [Whites leaders] and later on, the new arrangement, which was introduced by the new authorities. In the Jewish colonies, a new regime was introduced and new division between the more affluent farmers (kulaks) and those who were unsettled. The management of the affairs in the colonies was handed over to the poor farmers. The destruction of the colonies began then; the Second World War and Hitler annihilated them entirely. Some of the colonies were not destroyed and only their Jewish residents were murdered.
Recently, I received news from people who immigrated to Israel from Russia who were once residents (not farmers) in the colony of Bobrovy-Kut. When the Nazis conducted the killing of the Jews, they managed to escape from the colony, and went through the Seven Departments of Hell in greater Russia. They said that they visited Bobrovy-Kut three years before and saw that the colony was settled by Christians. There were there only a few Jewish survivors, who had returned to the colony. They said that they did not know anything about the rest of the colonies and their Jews.
Israel Betzer (Nahalal)
Like most of the Jewish colonies in Lesser Russia [Ukraine], my native colony, Nahar-Tov, was actually like a chain of colonies the Old Nahar-Tov, Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola [Greater Nahar-Tov], and the New Nahar-Tov and they were all called by a single name. This is unlike Sdeh Menukha, which also consisted of a chain of colonies but with different names. Outside the colony, like an extension of the chain, was the Russian village of Berzneguvatoye whose population was mixed but was mostly Russian. There were other Russian villages a short distance away, around the River Wysun. There was a positive aspect to the closeness to the Russian rural population the government built an organized regional hospital opposite the center of Nahar-Tov, which served the entire population of the region. Large fairs took place three or four times a year, and big markets were held three times a week. There were also several big shops, of all kinds, in the neighboring Russian village. However, there was also a disadvantage to this closeness, since anti-Semitism erupted from it following every change in the country's atmosphere. I felt that well, almost from my days in the cradle. In 1905, rioters gathered to start a pogrom, but were scattered away before they managed to rob much.
The relatives and acquaintances from the neighboring colonies, who came to the fairs, hospital or big shops, were our guests. From discussions we had with them, I knew about the confiscating of leased land from wealthy Jews, murders, barn arsons, and thefts. The topic of self-defense was a major subject of the discussions. A guard would walk around the colony, every night. He would announce his alertness by knocking with a hammer. People in the colony took turns in serving as guard.
I recall evenings when friends of my elder brothers and sisters would gather, and one of them would read in Yiddish, from the writings of Shalom Aleikhem or Mendeleh Mokher Sfarim. All of the children, young and old listened to the readings with pleasure, open-mouthed, until midnight.
People exchanged whispers about revolutionaries. I recall a young youth, the same age as my brother, who worked as an apprentice for a tailor in the city, and whom people were pointing at as a revolutionist. The police, who came to look for him, encircled a house of one of the colony people, a poor and stuttering man, also a tailor, who was far from any revolution affairs. He was imprisoned and was sentenced to four years of hard labor. In the meantime, the suspect himself escaped leaving no traces.
There was a four-year elementary school in the colony. The students and the teachers were all Jewish and the language of study was Russian. Teaching Torah to the children and youths
took a higher priority over general education. Most of the children in the colony studied in a kheder. In the neighboring village, there was also a four-year municipal school, where most of the children were Russians. In a later period, an evening high school was also established there. When I studied there, I felt the neighborhood's hostility. Young children threw rocks at me and accompanied me with the calls Zhydovka. When the Revolution erupted, the activity of the Zionist movement strengthened and I joined it.
The main agricultural sector in our colony was grain crops. Some of the grain was allocated for the house needs during the entire year and for farm animal feed. The rest was sold to merchants at the train station. Side sectors were growing of farm horses, cattle, geese and chickens. The work tools were plows, sowing machine, and harrows, which were considered sophisticated during those days. They used horses to move the machines. Sowing of the summer crops started just after Purim. Only men worked in plowing and sowing in the distanced fields; however, there also was plenty of work left for those who remained in the farm. They were busy preparing firewood, repairing structures, re-plastering and whitewashing the house. In the spring we sowed summer wheat, rye, oat, corn, flax and sunflowers, and at the end of the sowing season watermelons, melons and cucumbers. Before gathering the summer or the winter crops, we would take out the dried firewood from the barn, clean it and prepare it for the threshing. The most difficult season was the harvest season, when we required many working hands. Everybody went out to the fields, including young hired workers from the neighboring villages.
We had two harvesters in our farm, each harnessed to horses. Two people worked with each harvester, one drove the horses and the other gathered the harvested crop in small piles. Three or four people followed the harvester, and piled the harvested crop onto big piles, according to the height of the crop stalks. We would leave for the field every week and come back home for Shabbat. One person, riding a wagon with a pair of horses, would bring a barrel of water from the spring and food for the workers every day. We slept in our clothes, on the harvested straw around the wagon, while a primitive tent served as a roof on our heads. We would start the harvest before sunrise and finish after sunset. We cooked dinner inside a big pot, hanged on the edge of a wagon's plough shaft. Sometimes, the wind disrupted the cooking and it lasted longer. On these occasions, I would be tired and fall asleep without eating.
The harvest lasted for three weeks. At the end of the harvest, we would immediately assemble the large wagons and began transporting and threshing the crops. They would wake us up at half past two or three o'clock at night to transport the crop. The field was far away and we had to return with a loaded wagon before breakfast, for the work to progress at a quick pace. The most difficult part of the threshing was separating the grains from the chaff. The wheel of the winnowing machine was operated by hand
and the dust generated was substantial. When the threshing was completed, the fields had to be prepared again for the autumn sowing.
This cycle of the agriculture seasons continued uninterruptedly until the break of the First World War. The men were recruited to the army, the workload and the grief of the separation weighted down on us. The farm deteriorated continually. Upon the outbreak of the Revolution, the gangs or the government confiscated all of the harvests. I began to think about making Aliya to Eretz Israel by then. My first attempts did not succeed and I was arrested twice. I worked in agricultural Kibbutz training camps in Tel-Khai in Crimea and in Leningrad, before I finally made Aliya in 1929.
We were four sisters who made Aliya, however, not in the same way or at the same time. In Israel, we all turned to the labor settlements, either a kibbutz or a moshav. I participated in the Haganah [Jewish defense paramilitary force during the British mandate in Eretz Israel]. I established a home and a small family. My son is a graduate of the agricultural department in Rekhovot [University]. My four brothers, who stayed in Russia, perished during the war and in the Holocaust.
Yehudit Guzman (Kfar Avikhail)
A lot can be written about my native colony Nahar-Tov in the Kherson Province. However, it is my wish to point at one of the contributions of my native colony to the state of Israel. My large family father, mother and nine sons and daughters, was uprooted from its native land, which was cultivated and loved by four generations, and replanted anew in our motherland. We are proud of the fact that all of us are continuing the tradition of working the land, in Israel in Nahalal, Kfar Yehoshua, Kfar Vitkin and Ein Kharod. We do not have even one city dweller among us. The entire new generation also resides in moshavim and kibuttizim. The nine sons and daughters of my father's home produced 31 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren, and all of them together numbered as many as the house of Jacob who went to Egypt.
At the beginning of the 20th century, during my distanced childhood, our situation, like the situation of all the farmers in the Jewish colonies was very difficult. However, with time, along with the progress of agriculture in general, and with the maturing of the members of the family, the farm developed progressively. We had eight milking cows in the cowshed and we owned four horses for the field cultivation work. During the winter months the dead season in the fields my father and my elder brothers went out to work outside of the colony. We enlarged the house as the family grew; however, it always remained a village house. Its roof was covered with straw, and the floor with clay. Once a week, on the eve of Shabbat, we covered and plastered it with a sticky material.
During the summertime, work was on fire harvesting and piling, hauling and threshing, separating
between the seeds and the chaff and dust with the winnower, filling up the sacks and hauling them to the nearby city for sale, and grinding the flour. Father and the sons were the main workers in the field; however, we - the girls helped as well, piling the crops into piles and rotating the winnower. My parents used to pamper me the elder daughter. When I was a young girl I liked this pampering, however, when I grew up I participated in all of the tasks.
The days of the summer were characterized by waking up, eating in a hurry, moving around in the yard, neighing of horses when they were leaving or coming into the yard, dust and sweat. The winter season brought respite, peace of mind, long and deep sleep, pleasure of being able to read a book in bed, gathering of girls and boys on the verge of adolescence while being entertained by jokes and laughter and stories and sometimes by having one of the group's member read a book aloud. That does not mean that we did not work in the winter. In the wintertime, we still had to feed and milk the cows, bake, do laundry, fix clothing, sew and do various other works, which were performed during the cold and the snow. However, the days were shorter and the nights longer, which allowed for more sleep and rest, reading a book and entertaining together. Sometimes we used to go out to freshen ourselves in the shining snow, which was creaking under our feet, and play pleasurably.
Our basic education was based on a four-year elementary school. We did possess a strong desire for additional knowledge, to study and widen our horizon. However, the gates to the high schools were closed for us, due to the numerus clausus the law limiting the number of Jewish students. Only the sons and daughters of wealthy people managed, somehow, to get into the high schools. The colonies' youths who wished to obtain a high school education had to study as externs. Only when the Revolution started, in 1917, the limitations were removed and many of the youths in the colonies made plans to enroll in the various schools and I wished to study medicine. However, the events that took place disrupted many plans, mine included. The Revolution's storm that raved with enormous forces, wiped out everything that existed in order to build a new world.
A group of inspiring youths, organized to make Aliya to Eretz Israel and build there a new life, came to us to receive agricultural training. They lived with the farmers, and accompanied them or their sons, who trained them how to plow, sow and harvest. These young men brought with them a new spirit into the colony. Some of them spoke Hebrew and they taught us the language as well as songs in Hebrew. They infected us with their enthusiasm, and many of the youths began to feel that their place was in Eretz Israel. Being agriculturists from birth, it would be easier for us to continue working the land and living a village life in Eretz Israel. We dreamt about being able to build and establish a new Jewish life there.
The girls in the colonies were not engaged in enhancing their appearance. I did not own any ornament or jewelry. My Shabbat shoes were not high-heeled or sharp-nosed and were not made of good leather either. My dress was made from simple material
with red flowers on a blue background. I was very proud about my shirt, which I embroidered with my own hands during the winter nights.
One day in the summer, I was working piling up hay, and one of the young pioneers, who came to us for training, worked with me. The sun was hot, and my tanned face was dripping with sweat. I wrapped my hair with a kerchief. My dress a fading work dress, had a big patch and another small one on the left sleeve. I wore open sandals on my feet. The young man worked vigorously. All of a sudden he stuck his pitchfork in the hay pile, sipped water from the jar, wiped his sweat with his sleeve and stood in front of me, reviewing me with a big smile and muttered admirably toward me: A sheineh shikseh [a nice gentile girl. Shikseh - a term usually used in a derogatory way, but sometimes with affectionate intent]. My heart was beating from excitement. I was touched by that compliment. My self-confidence about my looks was strengthened.
I deviated from the main story, but this is a typical older women's weakness to recall with pleasure and pride any complement they had heard during their youth.
I will end the way I began our family lived and worked in the Kherson's colony for four or five generations. All of my brothers and sisters continue with the village way of life and work the land here in Israel. I am proud of the fact that my elder son is a member in moshav Nahalal. My younger son is in moshav Nir Banim and my daughter in moshav Ganei Yehuda.
Nesya Avidov (Nahalal]
I was born in an agricultural colony in Southern Russia, which carried a Hebrew name - Nahar Tov. I absorbed the quiet Jewish village way of life form my childhood. However, in the beginning of my youth I left my village and moved to Kherson, the nearby city. I did not adapt easily to the bustling life in the city. I longed for the village, and wished to breathe the smell of the fields and always dreamt to return to the village life.
When I returned to the village, I met there the lively youths who worked in their farms during the day, and devoted their evenings to activities in the Zionist movement and organized an evening class in Hebrew. Together we devoted ourselves to produce shows in the new theater, and the revenues were contributed to the JNF (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel). We arranged balls where we sold books from the Kopecko Bibliotec [A library for pennies], and JNF stamps. We also sold Zionist Shekels [Zionist organization's membership tax]. We transferred all of our revenues to Dr. Bodenheimer [A prominent Zionist leader, an assistant to Dr. Herzl and founder of the JNF] in Cologne. The box [The JNF blue collection box] was not absent even from weddings. They would build a big tent in the bride's yard
where the kleizmers [Yiddish for musicians] of Rabbi Yehuda-Leib and his sons, each with his own instrument, along with Motl der kleizmer [Motl the musician] with his fiddle would entertain the crowd. JNF box was the main attraction in the tent.
In July 1914, our family's dream was fulfilled we made Aliya to Eretz Israel. Only part of the youth in the colonies dared to make Aliya. Many lingered, since nobody expected that a world war would break out and put an end to all the dreams.
Who knows what was left today from the colony, which was so dear to all of us.
Khaya Berkin (Tel Aviv)
Our first experience in the colony, connected with Eretz Israel occurred when we were 7-8 old. While we were in the classroom, two wagons loaded with belongings, people and children were observed travelling towards the train station. We were told that the Berkin family was making Aliya to Eretz Israel. The Zionist activity in those days of the beginning of Zionism was concentrated in selling [Zionist] Shekels and stocks of the Colonial Bank [Later Israel's Bank Leumi] and in procuring Zionist literature and journals. However, in the spring of 1917 and with the national awakening, part of the youth and some additional older adults organized themselves into an association, which was called Ha'Tkhia [The Revival]. During that same year, pioneers from the Ukrainian cities of Kremenchug and greater Kiev, as well as from other places, came to us for the first time, to receive agricultural training. They, along with the local Zionists constituted the nucleus for the local branch of [the Zionist movement of] He'Khalutz [The Pioneer]. Among them was the activist - Mikhael Kafri zl, who handled the new arrivals and distributed them among the farmers. Not all of the farmers were excited about taking in a Khalutznik [pioneer], a young man who came directly from a school bench and did not know what work was. Tender girls, who had just completed high school or just started their studies in a university, also came to us. They tried diligently to become hard workers as well. They all used to gather in the evenings, sing songs about Zion and weave their dream together about building and settling Eretz Israel.
Families would go out together to thin the corn or weed out the sunflowers. Children excelled in these tasks due to their agility. The youth was also involved in tasks associated with the harvest, which was performed by mechanical harvesters harnessed to three horses. Workers from the gentile village would complement us: How nicely these young Jews are working, as if they are ours. During the harvest we would rattle ourselves on wagons to the distanced field, still half asleep. We would catch a bit more of a nap under the rattling of the wheels and the jolting wagons' ladders until we arrived
at the location of the harvest piles. The sun would rise then, and dawn would open our sleepy eye-lashes and work began. An adult would load the crop and a boy or a girl would arrange it on the top of the wagon. We would leave for the field for the entire week and return home only to bring additional food and water in barrels for the people who stayed in the field. We would all return home only for Shabbat, to recover and prepare for another week of work.
The harvest lasted several weeks. During the summer of 1919 or 1920, when gangs were roaming around our area, I would be sent home to bring food for my father and brothers who were harvesting in the field, which was located 10 kilometers away from home. I was only a 13 or 14 years old girl at the time. One evening, when the harvesters stopped their chattering noise, we sat by the wagons, and my father zl went back to fetch something from home and had not returned yet. The meat, which was being stewed for dinner, was hanging above a small fire on a wagon's shaft. My brother Khaim handled the cooking and we helped him. All of a sudden, we heard shouts, and shots pierced the air. Robbers attacked us. We quickly spilled the soup over the fire and my brother commanded us to hide in the piles of crops, which were scattered around. We did not have any weapon, and my brother Mar'el understood immediately that the robbers intended to rob his beautiful thoroughbred horse. He jumped on the horse, broke his way through and disappeared towards the colony to call for help. My brother succeeded to tie the legs of the rest of the horses to prevent their theft by the bandits, and we all scattered around the crop piles. Many people from the colony, the police and my parents, who were fearful for our fate, arrived at midnight. They did not find us easily, since, despite the fear and the excitement, we all fell asleep, exhausted, inside the piles of crops, while lizards and bugs were crawling on our bodies.
During the year of 1922, the persecution of the Zionist movement began, which forced it to go underground. Until then, large groups of pioneers arrived in the colony for agricultural training, and the local Zionist youths organized themselves in a branch of He'khalutz. The first group of pioneers left on its way to steal the border and make Aliya. In 1917, during the short period of freedom, the Zionist organized a bonfire for the celebration of the holiday of Lag Ba'Omer in the colony. This was a beautiful celebration. The schoolchildren chorus, the entire youth and the colony adults, all waving the national flags, went out on foot and wagons, singing songs of Zion, all the way to the fields. At the artificial lake, about 2 kilometers from the colony, a picnic was arranged. The holiday symbolized embracing the nation's past, longing for a future of national independence, and fulfillment of the Zionist dream. This short period of freedom illuminated the later years when the Zionist movement had to operate underground, along with the suffering and the heroism associated with underground operation wandering on the roads, stealing borders, imprisonments and expulsion.
Following the departure of the first generation of pioneers, the second generation's branches of He'Khalutz movement and the Social-Zionists were established by the brothers and sisters of those who left. Many who joined the Komsomol [communist youths] followed the youths suspected of being Zionist with apprehension and watched our every step.
It happened during the year of 1925. We were collecting contributions among the movement's supporters for prisoners and exiled Zionists. I found out that my imprisonment was nearing, and travelled to another colony for a period of time to avoid arrest. I returned at one point, and stayed at home to hide. During one of the evenings, my younger sister, who went to one of the Zionist branch's activities, did not return home. We were informed that the entire group of members who participated in that activity was arrested and there was a fear of impending searches in their homes. I escaped to the neighboring village through a desolate road, as if to visit the home of a farmer a Ukrainian family friend. I could not stay there for long and I came back through the same road, but did not enter the house. I stayed in the yard and sat down in the barn. My father was at the fields, as that was the period of plowing and sowing of the corn and the sunflowers. The son of my father's partner came from the field to take a barrel of water to the field. I laid down in the wagon by the barrel and covered myself with the tarp that covered the barrel. I was soaked with water from the barrel, from time to time. That was how I traveled to the location of the plowing.
I participated in the plowing work that day. That was the last time I plowed the soil of the foreign land. My father brought me a few items from home, and after sleeping under the Ukrainian sky for the night, my father brought me to the nearest train station. From there I travelled to the large city on the coast [of the Black Sea, Possibly Odessa] where I waited for a few months until the papers were arranged. In the meantime, I continued to be active in the underground Zionist movement. In the fall of that year, I boarded the ship Lekhon, which transported 500 passengers to Eretz Israel and two weeks later I began to plow the fields of Ein Kharod in the Jezreel Valley.
Atara and Nakhman Parag (Ein Kharod)
I was told by the colony elders that the colony was founded 100 years before I was born. During those days, the prairie was covered by tall weeds, above the height of a person, and packs of wolves, which would attack people, used to roam the wild area. People did not dare to enter the tall grass for the fear of wolves. The life conditions were very hard, and people lived in poverty. The bread was made of rye and they would make it very seldom. By the time it was eaten it would be hardened and became stale. No knife could cut it, so they would break it with an ax, and would dip the crumbs in water to be able to eat it. The first settlers performed their work in the field using primitive tools and their horses were fed naturally in the weed forest. The settlers would stay awake at night to guard their horses, but that was hardly helpful as theft was rampant.
In the summer, they all walked barefoot; however, in the wintertime, when they had to wear shoes to get out of the house, only a single person from each family could be outside, since the entire family owned only a single pair of shoes. The houses were rickety and uncomfortable. In the winter, the entire family gathered in the kitchen, which was the only heated place in the house. The kitchens were very crowded in the winter since the families had many children.
During our time, our colony was already very well organized. There was a dairy plant in the colony, where the cheese industry flourished and sent cheese products to the big cities. They would buy cheap work tools and supplies for the money they received. There was no more fallow land available, and land was actually very expensive. There was really a shortage of land.
It is worthwhile to note that even during the most difficult days in the life of the colony, the children continued to study in kheders and yeshivas. We had many scholars in our colony. When I asked where they received their broad education, they told me that during the early days
people used to get married at the young ages of 13-14. Obviously since the young husbands and wives were still children, they could not get along with each other. If the husband was talented, he would run away from home and go to study in Vilna, the city with many Yeshivas. He would sit and study for 10-15 years until emissaries would be sent to bring him back home, to make sure that the wife would not remain agunah [according to a the Jewish Law - a woman bound in marriage by a husband who is missing]. There was also an opposite phenomenon, when people from Lithuania fled to the colony.
When I reached the army's age, I was recruited. That was during First World War. The Czar's army retreated tens of kilometers a day, and the head of the army issued an order to leave behind scorched land. A company of Cossacks' commando was assigned to fulfill the order. The Cossacks would coat the wooden beams of the houses with kerosene and ignite entire villages and towns. The residents would flee in all directions and the Cossacks would use the tumult to rob and murder.
Two and half years later, I came home. The Revolution erupted then, and I did not return to the front. A decree was issued by the government to reallocate the land according to the number of people in the family. The owners of the large parcels did not agree to do so, and disputes and rifts ensued. In the meantime, the Revolution strengthened and the wars between the Whites and the Bolsheviks continued as well. The regime changed hands continuously and large areas went from one side to the other. In the area of the colony, the Ukrainians, who wished to achieve independence and freedom from the Russian rule, were active. The Ukrainian battalions constituted a regular army that was busy performing robbery in addition to warring. Following a few defeats, the Ukrainians stopped fighting and shifted to organized robbery in the entire area.
Due to the rifts and disputes in the colony, no self-defense was organized. The attackers constituted a regular army with modern weaponry, relative to the period, and the members of the colony owned only meager and cold arms. At one time, the robbers entered the colony, took ten hostages and announced that if they do not receive 65,000 Rubles by 11 o'clock the next morning, they would execute the ten hostages and would destroy the colony to its foundation. Messengers were dispatched and they succeeded to obtain secured loans from many places but managed to collect only 40,000 Rubles. That amount was less than what was required. The two gang's soldiers, who came to take the messengers to their command, announced that the amount collected would suffice. On the way to their camp, the escorts robbed the money from the carriers and ran away. The messengers returned to the colony and announced that everybody should take shelter, since the gang would surely appear shortly. People just managed to hide when the soldiers appeared. The property in the colony was looted and the people who were found were murdered. Many houses were destroyed to their foundations. The rioters raged for three straight days and finally left the colony. After the gang left the colony, several youths, including me went out towards the fields where members of the colony hid, to notify them that the rioters had left. However, our calls were not responded to, due to an event that had occurred previously in the neighboring colony of Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola. Messengers went out on horses to announce that the gang had left, however, the colony people thought that the announcers
who rode on horses, were the rioters, raised their feet and ran away. The flight also stirred the people of Nahar-Tov Ha'Ktana to run away. Only when everybody returned to the colony the mistake became clear.
After the gang of rioters left the colony, a battalion of the Bolshevik's regular army, which was known from the horrible pogroms it executed in Poland, arrived at the colony. A heavy fear filled the hearts of the residents. The soldiers became insolent hour by hour and everybody fearfully waited for a pogrom to begin. However, things changed entirely by chance. About an hour away from the colony, a conference of the Revolution's leaders took place, where Kamenev, who was at the time one of the prominent Bolshevik leaders, participated. Kamenev gave a speech at the conference, and following his speech, the public was given the opportunity to ask questions. Some of the colony members infiltrated the conference and I remember it in details. Kamenev announced that it was possible to ask questions in writing. Among the written questions the following question was included: What should we do with the Zhyds? The question was pushed all the way to the end. When it was presented, the communist leader rose up and announced firmly that whoever would dare to cause harm to a Jewish person would be held responsible, even if he was an officer. The following morning, the attitude of the gang's members changed from one extreme to the other. They became polite and friendly and did not take anything when they left the colony.
Yehoshua Dokhin (Afikim)
As far as I know, none of the Nahar-Tov's farmers knew precisely when the settlement in the colonies began. I could learn only a little from the colony elders who also received their information from their elders. I was told that the whole area was desolated. Some people told stories about meetings wolves and bears, who took their toll on the sheep herds.
A few Germans settled in every colony along with the Jewish settlers. They told us that the authorities settled them among our ancestors so that they would train them and also in order to prevent from forming villages consisting only of Jews (The colonies were called settlements of Jews and Germans). However, as far as I can recall, in our time our people surpassed the Germans in their diligence, and definitely surpassed the Russian farmers. The Jews excelled in introducing methods aimed at making the work more efficient, and they acquired every modern agricultural machine. While the Russian farmers still harvested using sickle and scythe the Jewish farmers used harvesting machines. There was almost no cultural life, except a single public library common to the entire colony, where only a few visited. During the revolutionary years, any person who visited the library was suspect of being a revolutionist. The attitude of the farmers toward anybody who was against the monarchy was hostile. Some of the farmers were also hostile towards the Zionists.
During my time, there was no Zionist movement in my colony, and as far as I know, not in any other colony. Only a year before the war, a small Zionist club was organized in Nahar-Tov, however, the entire Zionist activity was expressed by a gathering of our group to read about Eretz Israel and dream about it. Only during my last Yom Kippur, I dared to place a bowl in the synagogue for contributions to the JNF [Jewish National Fund]. I did that under the patronage of my uncle who was a gabai [synagogue administrator] in the synagogue. Not many dared to think about a journey to Eretz Israel. The youth was so attached to the farm and their family, that even thinking about leaving seemed like an impossible task. Only a few from among the colony members came to Eretz Israel during the years of the Second Aliya [Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel 1904 1914].
In 1913, I visited an adjacent colony to say farewell to my relatives there, before my journey to Eretz Israel. I met with the youths there and tried to discuss Zionism with them, but nobody showed any interest. Only during the Revolution years when everything began to fall apart, branches of Zionist movement were created in all of the colonies and part of the youth arrived in Eretz Israel.
A. Gurevitz (Kfar Malal)
One of my roles during my distanced childhood was to greet the returning herd. When the sun was setting, I would hurry up along with the other children of my age group 6-8 years old, to the edge of the colony to greet the cows herd. I would fetch a thick piece of rye bread, covered with spicy garlic spread and salt, game rocks (Tzekhin) and a long stick. We would sit down on the side of the road, and while chewing the bread with a great appetite we would play with the game-rocks. All of a sudden, a dust cloud would rise - the herd! We would jump on our feet and burst into the dust.
Usually, every cow knew where the stall in the yard of her owner was, and would confidently turn towards the yard by herself, upon approaching it. However, just as it is with people, there were some extraordinary cows that would do things just to get somebody angry. We had a cow like that in our cowshed. Her sisters had been obedient, more or less, and would make their way to the yard with some directing and guidance on my part. However, that rebellious cow was not satisfied with the pasture and the straw and bran portion waiting for her in the yard, and when the herd would approach the colony, she would burst aside and gallop straight into the vegetable gardens of the neighboring Russian village.
More than she managed to gorge with her mouth, it was her feet that did the damage - crashed, trampled and destroyed. My role was to prevent her from doing that bad feat. I would jump into the herd; my eyes would search for her in the dense dust cloud, and with my long stick and my hoarse shouts I would fight with her like a matador in the bull-fighting arena. She would turn right I went in front of her, hitting with my stick and yelling: despicable, stubborn, and imbecile! Like a creature experienced in planning ploys, she would then turn left, but I was agile and would immediately jump in front of her and hit her in the face. The rest of the cows would progress and go farther, but I would continue to jump right and left with my last drops of energy. Usually I had the upper hand, and after I managed to direct her towards the colony street, she would walk, innocently and scrupulously while I dragged myself behind her with my stick, reminding her, once and a while, that there was law and order and a judge and that she needs to be obedient. When she would enter the inner yard, I would close the gate and would breathe a sigh of relief. It is a pity that I do not have a picture of my face and my appearance in such moments. I looked like coming from a long journey in the desert. Barefooted, with my fading dress, my face doused with a layer of dust and sweat, but my heart jumping from joy. Who else was as victory-happy as I was?
However, there were times when I lost, despite my agility, long stick, and my desperate shouts. The rebel would use a cunning ploy, would twist here and there to surprise me, raise her legs, run away, gallop and burst straight into the vegetable garden where juicy cabbage grew. I would hurry after her with my last drop of strength. When I would arrive in the garden, my eyes would grow dim seeing the destruction she managed to cause. I would look fearfully at the Russian farmer running towards her, trying to drive her away by cruelly hitting her with his pitchfork while his mouth spitting curses towards the cow and the Jews. The following day, the farmer would receive three rubles from my father, as a compensation for the damage. The humiliated and defeated cow, would march, head-down, in the street, and I would follow, breathing heavily. I would be filled with bitterness because of the farmer's curses, humiliated, wretched and covered with a layer of dust and sweat, would drag my feet, heavy like wooden logs, my eyes in tears, with a darkness, as deep as the darkness that descended on the colony, in my heart. When the cow would enter the yard, I would slump down on the stone at the gate, groaning and breathing heavily. My tears would be dried out by then but there was still a bitter dryness in my mouth and in my heart.
Years passed, and childhood experiences were covered with dust; however, when I see a herd of cows returning from the pasture, my heart begins to quiver. Is that because of the shining childhood memory of the experiences of greeting the herd, eating a piece of bread smeared with garlic spread, playing the game of stones on the side of the road, and crying from joy when we jumped into the dust covered herd? Or perhaps this is a result of touching again the scar that this rebellious cow left in my soul?
Our family was not blessed with boys. My sisters and I engaged in many tasks. As the youngest daughter, I was assigned with trivial tasks greeting the herd, driving away,
several times a day, the pigs from the neighboring Russian village that they were enchanted by our piles of straw or the potato patch. From time to time I would hear the calls of Mother or one of my sisters:
Leah, hurry up, the pigs are already burrowing! Run!The several tens of chicken laid their eggs in one of the corners of the pen; however, just like that rebellious cow, a few chickens that sought solitude laid their eggs in the attic. One could only climb there through a narrow hatch, located at the edge of the roof, and only my small body could pass through it. Once every day or two, my job was to climb up there, reach the hatch, slide in and fetch the eggs. Besides these roles, they would assign me errands to go to the store or to the neighbors. I wanted to play, but I was busy with all sorts of tasks throughout most of the hours of the day.
Leah, the pigs had already destroyed the garden! How did that happen?
We had a shoemaker as our neighbor. He was also blessed only with daughters like in our family. One of them was my age. I envied her and her sisters being the daughters of a craftsman, who were not tasked with the duties of a farm and were free to roam around and play. Their clothing was always clean and their hair combed. But sometimes, my friend envied me such as when we would climb on the thresher (a device similar to the Arab thresher. It was made of wood, equipped with flint rocks on the bottom. A pair of horses was harnessed to it and they rotated it over the straw to chop, crash, and soften it until it was ready for the teeth of the farm animals). We, the children, would pleasurably sit on the thresher, sometimes just to add weight to it, as the thresher was more efficient, the heavier it was. I am not sure whether the children, who ride on top of wooden horses or on wagons and trains in an amusement park today, enjoy their ride more than I did then. The horses would loop around gallop like mad over the straw, in a circle. Clouds of dense dust, and thin chaff would envelop me, penetrating my eyes, ears and nose and I would melt with happiness. I felt it all over my body I was really a princess. My friend, the shoemaker's daughter, would stand on the side, at that time, her face expressing her envy, and her eyes begging me to put her too on the board. How sweet a reparation was that for my envy! and my joy would surge. Nevertheless, after I had received a full satisfaction, my sense of generosity would suddenly awaken, and I would allow her to come up to my seat. Both of us holding and embracing each other would fly, rejoice, shout from joy and sing.
It would seemingly be possible to claim that my childhood was depressing. There were no kindergarten, no toys and no flowery dresses. Even a red ribbon for the hair was considered a big event. There was certainly no chocolate or fine candy, and in addition to all that there were those duties greeting the herd, chasing away the pigs, collecting the eggs and going on errands. However, that claim would be erroneous. Wasn't I happy when I whirled on the thresher? Didn't I enjoy the rye bread smeared with garlic like a kid who enjoys a chocolate? Wasn't I feeling joyful and filled with a sense of triumph when I succeeded in forcing the rebellious cow into the yard without a mishap?
Father would leave on Sunday for the distanced field
and return on Friday. Sometimes my mother would cook Father's favorite dishes, comb her hair and wear a clean dress. Holding a basket in one hand, and my hand in the other, we would leave for that distanced field. The field was more then 10 kilometers away and it took us two hours to reach it. On the way, we would pass the rainwater reservoir, which served for watering the herds. I remember the beautiful sight of the stalks of grain on both sides and the cemetery surrounded by a tall and mysterious fence. When Father would see us from afar, he would wave to us with his arms, and turn his horses towards the wagon. When he would reach us, he would put some hay for the horses, and the three of us would sit down in the shade of the wagon. Father would eat heartily the Borscht and the dumplings and would throw some compliments to Mother. She would tell him, with charm and a smile, about this and that. I would be running around like a jumpy goat, here and there, and my heart would be filled with happiness and joy of life.
During the harvest season, when I was ten years old, my father used to wake me up at two o'clock at night, in order to travel with him to a distanced field, located 15-20 kilometers away from the village. Still wrapped in my sleep, I would curl up in the stiff wagon, all of my bones in the body aching from the jolting. The sun would rise slowly, and I would take out my books from my bag and immerse myself in reading. Father was priding himself for our nimbleness when we met some Jewish farmers who were late leaving for work. When we would arrive in the field, my father would hand me the bundles of crops and I would stand on the wagon and arrange them. On the way back, it was comforting to cuddle over the bundles of crop.
When the crops were ripening, Father would harness the horses, and we would go out to examine the fields. I would be sitting on the wagon's springy bench, between Father and Mother. The crop stalks would be nice and tall and my parents would be happy. When my father would cut the hay, I would be roaming around in the field to pick red pea and blue star-thistle flowers.
Years passed and I was already a grown girl, carrying the burden of farm work. My elder sisters were married and it was the harvest season. Working with a pitchfork is a task which is hard even for a man. The sun was burning, the sweat dripping, the back hurt, the feet stepped over the chopped stubble. The eyes rose up continuously - is the sun still far from the western horizon? At last, the sun tired as well, and she crawled down and disappeared. Father released the horses from the harness and tied their legs. They walked on the chopped stable, their mouth looking for a forgotten uncut stalk. I hung the pot over the wagon shaft to cook the groats soup in it, and arranged the fire underneath it. At a certain distance away from the wagon under the cover of the evening dimness, I poured a bucket of water on my dusty and sweaty body, put on a clean robe, and made my hair.
Father and I sat on the ground, and had a hearty meal of green cucumbers, onions, eggs and groats soup. Father then spread himself on a pile of crop close to the wagon, and fell immediately into a deep sleep. I stretched over the soft straw inside the wagon. I was, too, tired from the day's work. My eyes were half closed, but my senses were awake though. I fixed my eyes on the heavenly stars. Silence descended over the world, and I felt light like a speck of dust
in the infinite space. My eyes closed and I was hovering in dreams of an adolescent girl yearning for the future.
It was a late hour. The entire universe was in deep sleep, even the horses. A few stars, older and less romantic, withdrew from the sky décor. All of a sudden, a song of an outpouring soul burst out of me. My eyes were closing, and the sweetness of sleep engulfed me and I was sinking into a world of oblivion. All of a sudden, a burning sensation in my eyes: a ray of a young sun was tickling my eyebrows. My eyes opened lazily. A new day with a new fiery sun, pitchfork, sweat and exhaustion arrived. The horses were already harnessed to the harvester. Father's face was sweaty. Morning tiny flies gathered around the remains of the meal from last night. I quickly jumped off the wagon, joined the other working women and grabbed a pitchfork. It is not good to lose time in the morning when working is done at a relative comfort. I worked vigorously, enjoying my agile progress. The sun was still soft and caressing and the work in that hour was still pleasant. While lifting the pitchfork, a soft and caressing smile would be passing through the edges of my lips when I recalled one of the dreams, which fascinated me during the night.
About fifty years passed since then. I was fortunate to become an agriculturalist in Israel; however, how large is the distance between the past agriculture, difficult, primitive and stingy, and the ample life of the agriculturists today? Today, a cow, even the most rebellious, would not run away from the herd. The chickens would not recluse themselves to lay their eggs in the attic. Farmers do not go out to the field or the orchard for a two-week duration at a time, and not even for a whole day. People rest at home during noontime. They have nice furniture, an electrical refrigerator, an electric washing machine and an electric or gas stove in the house. At the time we did not even use firewood for heating, cooking and baking, since our area was not blessed with many trees. During those days, fire was lit by using bricks made of cow dung. The time difference between that period and today when gas stoves are used, is only one generation.
During the Russian Revolution, tens of young men, members of the He'Khalutz, arrived at the colony for agricultural training and ushered in a Zionist atmosphere. Our youth joined the movement as well. We studied Hebrew, and listened to discussions, until the arrests came. They sentenced us to exile in Siberia. We walked for days and months throughout Russia Kharkov, Samara, Chelyabinsk all the way to Tomsk and Semipalatinsk [Semey]. We waited for assistance from our friends in Eretz Israel. That assistance came after a year, from the Authority for Prisoners of Zion [Prisoner of Zion is a detainee arrested and jailed due to Zionist activity forbidden in his or her country]. I returned from Siberia on a train. The happy group of people who would make Aliya gathered in Odessa. The joy of the people was bitter-sweet due to the sadness of the separation from friends. There was no way for us to know when we would see each other again. On the ship, I was assigned to hide the certificates, which could be used as a proof of our illegal activity and our struggle for the subsistence of the He'Khalutz organization. I hid the certificates well in the belt of my dress. All of a sudden, policemen boarded the ship and separated me from my travel companions. A thorough examination commenced from head to toe. My heart pounded from fear, but my treasure was not discovered. With a restrained joy, I joined my fiends
We finally reached the day when we disembarked on the shore of our motherland.
Leah Palkov-Lev (Kfar Bilu)
My father inherited his farm from his parents. It was a property of 25 disyatins [67.5 acres] of high quality cropland. During my childhood, we owned very primitive tools for land cultivation; we resided in a shack that protruded from the ground. One had to go several stairs down to enter it. It just had two windows positioned towards the street, and two toward the yard. The shack had a door with a wooden handle, and a rope that was tied to it had to be pulled to open and close it. The roof was covered with straw. About sixty families of farmers resided in the colony. The shape of the houses was uniform and so was the way of life. The borders of the colony were: the Wysun River and a large and beautiful grove in the east, the cultivated and pasture fields in the west and gentile villages - south and north.
We had a very beautiful synagogue in Nahar-Tov, located opposite of our house, with a large hall for weddings. I loved that corner of the colony. Our elementary school and the teachers were Jewish, but the Russian authorities supervised it. Russian teachers participated in our matriculation examinations, and the curriculum was taught in Russian. The school was dear to my heart and I loved it deeply. The education in the school was tuition-free since we were legitimate citizens who paid taxes to the state like all other Russian citizens who worked the land.
Young men from the colonies served in the army from the age of twenty to twenty three. I got to see my colony constructed in a new style nice houses, with sophisticated tools for cultivation, large herds of milking cows and herds for meat. We owned two pairs of horses for work and leisure, a wagon for transporting the crops form the field and a snow wagon. We received a loan from the JCA under favorable payments, to establish our farm.
During 1917, pioneering youths arrived at our colony from throughout Russia to receive agricultural training. I loved my colony, and my mate was also a native of Nahar-Tov. We built a new farm for ourselves and worked in it together. We were filled with the joy of creation.
However, our idyll vanished very quickly after that. During the years of the Revolution, following the First World War, our colony was destroyed and the entire Jewish folklore was destroyed with it. I, by then without my mate, with three young children left Russia and made Aliya to Eretz Israel. This was in 1925.
Itah Hurvitz (Mikhmoret)
|The colony of Nahar Tov
(drawn from memory by Israel Betzer)
The city of Nikolayev a bustling and rich city, had a large shipyard and big factories with tens of thousands of permanent workers. The streets and the markets were always filled with people. Among the city rich there were many Jews as well as many Karaites I think that all of the big commerce was in the hands of Jews. There were several synagogues in the city. I even discovered a Khabad synagogue with a beautiful sign; however, there was only a meager content in it beyond the sign. I did not like Nikolayev. I did not feel any Jewish life in it, since the Jews constituted an insignificant minority in the city. The workers used to receive the weekly wages and would go shopping and pay debts on Saturdays. That was the reason why only the big wholesalers among the Jews could afford closing their shops on Shabbat; however, almost all of the Jewish shops were open on Shabbat. The vegetable market was full of Jewish women and the same goes for Jewish horse-traders in the horse market. The horse-market was as noisy and crowded on Shabbat as in a weekday.
I visited various synagogues and other places to meet Jews. At one time I would enter into a conversation with an old man and another time with a young one. I also knew teachers and melamed's [Jewish religious teachers]. I once met an elderly Jew with a beard who wore a casquette hat (a cap with a visor). I assumed that he was not a Jewish city dweller, and started to interrogate him about who he was, and where he was from, until he said that he is from Dobrinkeh [Dobroye].
And where is this Dubrinkeh? I asked.I told Mr. Schwartz that I saw a Jew, from a Jewish colony, who told me about Jews who work the land there, just like the gentiles. I got this encounter into my head and my heart. I had to go there.
This is a Jewish colony, about fifty versta's [about 33 miles] from Nikolayev.
Are you a farmer?
And what do you think I am doing? Scribing Teffilin? he answered with a question.
I am just asking I said. I have never seen a Jew who really works the land.
Then you should come to us and see many Jews who are working the land he challenged me.
What kind of discovery did you make? asked Mr. Schwartz. I see these Jews every day. They bring grain for sale, and serve as waggoneers for the local merchants.
What is there to see? You had better travel to Odessa or Kherson. There you would see something!I was free during the entire month of Tishrey, so I traveled; I visited Kherson, Voznesensk, Ochatkov and Odessa. These cities were more Jewish than Nikolayev. I particularly liked Kherson, which was the administrative center of the province. I met many of the colony natives there, people from Romanovka, Nahar-Tov, Sdeh-Menukhah , Bobrovy-Kut and others. I found them in an inn that had a big yard, which served for parking the horses and the wagons. Almost all of them complained about being poor. One could easily see from their faces that they were workers. They were tanned and muscular. You shake their hand and feel that it was coarse and calloused. I felt much love for these Jews in my heart.
Obviously there is more to see in the city of Odessa than in the colony I answered, but I want to see how Jews work the land.
I decided to terminate my time with the children of Mr. Schwartz and leave for a Jewish colony. When I disclosed my intention to Mr. Schwartz, he and his acquaintances laughed at me and said that I imitate the people from the Narodiya Volya [A 19th century revolutionary political organization in Russia which advocated indigenous socialism] the people who leave the city and move to the village. It is all right, I said. I wish that the children of the wealthy Jews would imitate some of the children of the gentile estate owners and the gentile intelligentsia. Both here and in Ryasna, I saw Jews who were dependent on the gentiles. If the gentile was rich so were the Jews who worked for him; I wanted to see Jews that were not dependent on a gentile. Jews who do the work of the gentiles by themselves: sow, harvest and eat the fruit of their work.
I chose to go to the colony of Nahar-Tov, which was also called Berzneguvatoye, due to its proximity to the pasad, which carried the same name. The title pasad was given, in Russia, to a settlement which was no longer a village but was not quite a city as of yet. Due to its proximity to the pasad, Nahar-Tov was considered as more developed, and I hoped to find work there.
I traveled a distance of about thirty kilometers, from the train station, and arrived at the colony. A wide street, with houses, not quite big, standing on both sides. All were stone-built and covered with red shingles. The colony looked more beautiful than a farmer-village in Belarus. I asked the waggoneer to bring me to the inn.
There is no inn in the colony he answered but I will bring you to a good home. He stopped the horses at a gateless yard and called with a loud voice: Sara, I brought you a guest.A woman about thirty-five years old came out towards us and led me into the house.
I immediately smelled a strong odor of animal dung. What is it here, a cowshed? I thought. Since there was dirt rather than floor in the house, they cover it with a mixture of clay-plaster and dung. I recalled seeing this type of a floor in my native area.
The woman brought me to a hall a spacious room that had the same smell as they prepared the whole house for Passover. In the room, there was a large table with three chairs around it and a wretched sofa with three legs. A small wooden box served as its fourth leg. This furniture was familiar to me from my childhood I said to myself This is your true place, Moshe. You were like an alien in that house of the wealthy, over there in Nikolayev.
The woman was standing in front of me as a defendant in court. From my clothing, she assumed that I was an important official or something similar to that. She began to justify herself: I am not sure why they brought you to us. There are better homes in the colony. I calmed her down: I am a Hebrew teacher, and I would like to see the colony. I told her that her house was quite suitable for me. In the meantime, the man of the house arrived, also a young man, sporting a yellow beard. He stood there as if he was ashamed. He greeted me and wanted immediately to know where I was from, and what brought me to the colony. The children also arrived. Three were studying in a kheder, there was one in diapers and a little three old girl, all wearing tatters.
I have a sense for poverty. I understood that they do not have anything to host me with, and they do not get food on credit in the store. I convinced them to accept a down payment from me, since it was my intention to lodge with them for Passover. Sara vanished from the house immediately, and went out to the store with five Rubles in her hand.
During the evening, I found out about the situation of the Samuelov family. The head of the family did not hide his family's poverty but was very ashamed about it. The house and the structures in the yard a cowshed, barn and cellar showed that he did not come from a poor home. He had inherited them from his father who was a farmer as well as a merchant and was considered a wealthy person within the colony. However, in his latest years, he fell sick often. In addition, he also experienced a drought. After the father passed away, the horses were stolen from them. Since then, Samuelov did not manage to recover. He owned ten disyatins [about 27 acres] of land, but due to the lack of horses he was not able to cultivate it and he leased it to others and received only part of the harvest. His elderly mother was the midwife in the colony. She gave birth to 17 children herself, but only two survived a son and a daughter. Thanks G-d, there were plenty of births in the colony, so the elderly woman was the one that brought some food and money to the family.
I liked these people with their humility and candor. I interrogated them about the colony and found out that Nahar-Tov consisted of three colonies: the Old Nahar-Tov, the New Nahar-Tov and the regular Nahar-Tov [the Greater Nahar-Tov or Nahar Tov Ha'Gdola]. I lodged in the Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola. The big synagogue, the only one in Nahar Tov Ha'Gdola, was standing across from the house I was staying in. Most of the farmers were considered to be Hassid's of the Khabad Hassidic movement.
An emissary of the Rabbi visited in the colony every year. He collected contributions and made sure that the children were not licentious. In every colony, there were about ten wealthy farmers, however, the rest of the farmers were very poor. A state elementary school existed, where they taught only in the Russian language. The school closed for a summer vacation in the summer. It also closed for the dead of the winter because the school was cold and the children did not have proper clothing, and therefore could not get out of the house.
There was no library; what was it needed for, as a matter of fact?
I went to the Synagogue at eight o'clock to pray. These were the days of the spring and the farmers were all in the fields. I found only a few people in the large hall, most were religious ministrants who were exempt from working in the fields: The Rabbi, slaughterers, and melamed's all donning a beard and pe'ah's [side-locks], looking at me, the shaved young man with a hostile foreignness. I said to myself from everything I heard and saw, the conclusion is that I would not be able to be employed here. They would not trust me and would refuse to hand over their children to me. On the other hand, perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps I could do a lot here, but I still did not know how. How should one approach that task? That required some thought.
A few days later, I went on sightseeing to the pasad, which was located about 300 meters from the colony with a river separating between them. This is the same river after which the colony was named - Nahar-Tov [in Hebrew - Good River]. During that season, the river looked more like an irrigation ditch. It dried out in the summer. I had thought that I will find roads, or at least some sidewalks for pedestrians, but none existed. A footpath served as sidewalk. Instead of a paved road, unhewn stones were scattered in the middle of the street, as if they were thrown haphazardly into the mud. It was impossible to walk on top of the stones and difficult to ride a wagon over them. I realized that that settlement was still a village rather than a town.
I arrived at the market square. A wide square, filled with garbage and animal dung, which reminded me of the market plaza in my native town of Ryasna. A large-sized Christian church, with a tall roof shining under the sun light welcomes the arrivers. I remember that well, as our house in Ryasna stood exactly opposite of a church. Around the square big shops in stone buildings, while wooden huts housed the small shops. That was not a market day, but the shops were filled with buyers, since the time was the days-before-Passover of the Jews and the Christians. Among the Jews who lived in the pasad, there were merchants and craftsmen. Not many of them were wealthy but they provided encouragement for the gentiles' hatred by their behavior. The Jews owned good horses and lived in nice houses. Their wives had the habit of dressing up and they had the tendency to stand out, and ignore the envy and the hatred that this behavior invoked among the gentiles. I was familiar with that phenomenon [from my own native town]. I recognized some of the visitors in the synagogue who were not religion-fanatical, who could afford keeping a teacher
and pay his wages. The fact that I served as a teacher at the home of wealthy Mr. Schwartz in Nikolayev, reached one of the merchants and he was willing to employ me as a teacher for his children. Although that was not what brought me over to the colony, I needed a source of income, and felt better here than in the big city.
My first Passover Eve at the colony has arrived. The synagogue was filled with light and people. Most of the farmers were dressed quite nicely. I saw long black capotes: the religious ministrants wore these, but I also saw many others with brimmed hats. The young and middle-aged people wore short jackets. The cantor was young. He prayed with a clear voice. The humming was loud, but these were praying Jews. They did not just stand there as if they did not understand the language of the prayers. There was nothing to be ashamed of about our farmers. I came out of the synagogue, very pleased. I saw healthy Jews who stand tall. I saw joyful youths natural without any agendas, perhaps less learned and less witted than the youths in my native town, but healthier in their body and more assured of their future. Just give him a piece of land, a plow and a pair of horses to harness them to the plow. He would know how to do the rest. I haven't yet learned at that time about the life calamities that hit the farmers and the mishaps suffered by the colony, however, what I saw I liked and it made me happy.
------------ I continued to wander around the colony in order to explore it closely. The colony's poor, the ones who lack land, or tools and work force live, as customary, on the side streets. The farmers were working very hard, but their economic situation was pitiful. The main farm sector was the cultivation of field crops. Some of the farmers owned a cow or two. The situation of the farmers, who remained without workhorses, was grave. During that period, no governmental or public assistance existed. If the farmer failed, he had to rely on people who, in addition to being merchants or farmers, lend money at an exorbitant rate of interest. The lender would confiscate the land for a year or two, if the farmer was not able to pay on his debt. A farmer that needed a flour sack or grain for his animals before the threshing season must acquire them from a merchant in the pasad. He paid up to two rubles in interest, while the price of a flour sack cost no more than six or seven Rubles. Whoever leased his field to others got only a small part of the harvest.I found out all of that from Samuelov. He was ruined because of his inability to purchase horses. He was leasing his land, and in the middle of the spring, during the burning sowing season, he sat idle at home. His son, who could help him with the work, also did not have a future in the farm. I could see how numerous their needs were. How can I win their trust, and how can I help? I am only one person and so foreign to them.
-------------I secured a position for myself as a private teacher of Hebrew and general studies at the home of a wealthy family in the pasad. I had a small group of children that did well in their studies, my wage was respectable and my lodging and food were not worse than what I had at Mr. Schwartz's home. I made a friend by the name of Davidovski , who taught at the state school. I was also teaching him Hebrew. We both felt the poorness of our spiritual life and we decided to do something about it. We decided that I would subscribe to the [Jewish newspaper] Ha'Tzfira and he would sign for the Jewish weekly magazine in the Russian language Voskhod[Russian Sunrise].We tried to distribute news from the Jewish world in the colony. We were helped in that by a farmer whose name was Yoel Brekhman. I have never seen a short and thick person like him. He looked to me like a monster with his beard and thick eyebrows. However, as time passed, we tied deep friendly relations and his appearance did not bother me at all. He was the richest farmer in the colony. He leased tens of thousands dunams of land and employed many gentile workers whose supervisor was Jewish. He had a long wooden beam in his yard, on which he used to sit, surrounded by a circle of young and old, and tell news from the world, or just stories. That man liked to listen, and even more - to talk. Brekhman served as our mouth. We would tell him the news that we read in the evening, and the following morning he would begin to tell them to every passer-by, because everybody knew that Brekhman would not just tell them stories, but the truth that was obtained from the world's respectable newspapers. That summer, Czar Nikolai the 2nd, the latest of Russia's kings, was crowned. The Jews pinned their hopes on this Czar. I do not know what was the base for these hopes, but they were universal. Excitement and expectation ensued and the circle around Brekhman grew, the people were alert and had a desire to listen. We are not staying in the dark any more Brekhman told me once The colony changed
------------I had an idea. Why wouldn't I loan money to Samuelov? They seemed to be good and honest people, and only because they lack a small amount of money to buy horses, they are unable to improve their pitiful situation, and me I still had my savings from Nikolayev and my wage now was good. I thought about it and acted. In the beginning, they did not understand me, and could not believe what they were hearing. However, when I laid down the money bills on the table in front of Samuelov he understood that my intension was serious. He knew that he would have to prove that he would be able to use the opportunity given to him. Only a short time passed, and the change in that family was apparent. Samuelov bought a pair of young horses, almost foals, and took care of them during the summer. He put them to work a little and they grew and became beautiful horses. That year was a blessed year. He received his portion of the harvest, made a thresher in the yard, and threshed the grain with a six-wing stone.[Page 299]
I have not seen a stone like that until then, since in the Mogilev Province [where I came from], the threshing floor was located in a special building and the grain was threshed during the entire winter. Here in the colony, the grain was threshed outside, under the sky, and in a very short time. The yard was filled with piles of grain and the house was filled with joy. I compared that with the situation that I found here about half a year ago, and I could not believe to what my eyes were seeing. The difference between their situations was like the difference between day and night, and all of that blessing, that was begotten upon them, happened because they had the means to work the land.
The colony elders told me that they learned from their elders that one hundred years ago, the Jews could, if the really wanted to, settle the entire province of Kherson, which was totally empty and desolate. Jews were given all sorts of incentives, but they did not want to become farmers. Now, there were more than four million residents in the province of Kherson, and it was considered one of the richest in Russia. The land here did not require fertilization, just provide rain and there was no limit to its ability to absorb water. It absorbed and reciprocated. With time I came to know the attributes of that soil and loved it tremendously. Now, it was forbidden for Jews to become farmers, and a Jew who was not a farmer, could not lease land from a Jewish farmer. The prohibition on buying and leasing land was issued in the 1880's along with the Ignatyev decrees, as well as the prohibition on settlement of Jews in the villages for those who were not already residing in the village. These decrees yielded many troubles for the Jews and quite a few of them lost their life because of the decrees.
------------The holiday of Sukkot, obtained its true meaning in the colony the harvest holiday. They have already finished threshing and gathering the grain, some into the barn and some into the house. Most of the farmers sold their grain directly from the barn. They lived the entire year on the account of the next harvest. There was a brisk traffic in the colony: The grain merchants would run around from yard to yard, buying, weighing and sending it to Nikolayev. Usually, the prices were depressed immediately after the threshing, and brave farmers would keep the harvest and sell it later on. The farmer was usually the waggoneer and he would earn the additional fees for transporting the grain to the city. That was a time when money filled the pockets, and every colonist celebrated Sukkot with a joyful spirit. There was a sukkah in every yard, but where would they take tree branches for the skhakh [sukkha's roof]? After all, there was no forest in the area. But the One who calls the generations from the beginning [Isaia 31:4] also secured tree branches for the roof of the sukkah. The authority that managed all of the colonies in the province of Kherson was located in Nahar-Tov. They came up with the idea of planting a grove in the colony. Every farmer who sinned against the authority was punished to work several days in the grove. That was how a grove of more than 100 dunams came to be several years ago and thus tree branches to cover the sukkah's roof became available. I remember the holiday of Sukkot in [my native] cold Ryasna. Over there we could not enjoy the sukkah, even for a single day. The intermediate days of Sukkot's holiday were also the season of matchmaking. Young men and women wandered around to, ostensibly, visit with uncle and aunts, but[Page 300]
their real intention was to see and be seen. The aunts and uncles were assisting, and the matchmaking was done, and not just one or two.It cannot be said that we found a listening audience. People looked at us as tellers of untruths and dreamers of hallucinations. It also cannot be said that we, ourselves, comprehended the immensity of the Zionist political idea. However, it did capture our heart and imagination. We were angry at any article in the HaTzfira or Ha'Shilo'akh, which criticized Hertzl's book. We decided to subscribe to Ha'Melitz, which was more pro Eretz Israel, instead of Ha'Tzfira, however, we could not give up on the Ha'Shiloakh from the point of view of Wounds of a lover are faithful [Proverbs 27:6].
------------ This was an epic period in Russia, and our Jewish world was in an upheaval because of Hertzl's [book] Medinat Ha'Yehudim [The State of the Jewish People]. Neither in the colony, nor in the pasad people knew or heard about the important matters in the Jewish world. Only we, the young teachers, spread the name of Hertzl among people, and told them about his book, ideas and plans.
Yoel Brekhman did cooperate with us. Whatever he heard from us, was passed over quickly to anybody who was eager for news. Things got to the point that on Shabbat evenings, a big crowd would gather in front of Yoel Brekhman's house, a crowd bigger than the one who came to the synagogue for reading of the Psalms. Many just listened to the Zionist idea and some became believers and fans. Brekhman told me that he believed in my stories like a Hassid who believes his rabbi. He only knew how to read a simple Russian, but that was not that important. I would tell him in simple words in Yiddish the content of every good article in the Jewish newspapers, and that way he would know and understand all the affairs.
In 1897 our group of young teachers from the colony and the pasad reached ten. As we reached a 'Minyan, we decided to contribute ten Rubles each so that we could subscribe to newspapers and magazines in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. One hundred Rubles was a large sum those days. All of a sudden, our remote place was connected to the big world the world of capitals, journalists, authors and philosophers. Everybody who was interested and able to read could borrow reading material and everybody read according to his or her ability and understanding.
----------- In the winter of 1898 1899, I stayed in the city of Odessa. I wanted to progress in my general studies. I had means through savings I accumulated from my work, and could afford to immerse myself in acquiring additional knowledge. The best spiritual powers of Russia Jewry political Zionists and spiritual Zionists gathered in Odessa. Fiery speeches were given in the synagogue Yavneh. How could one avoid being swept away by the whirlpool? I fought hard with myself, so that I could continue with my plan[Page 301]
and avoid submitting entirely to Zionist activism. I knew I had to prepare for life in Eretz Israel, and it was beneficial to have an occupation who could contribute to building a new life there.During the same time, I have experienced a wave of new thoughts. I wanted to be a good teacher to the Jewish children. People were talking about reviving the Hebrew language among the children. There was already a school or a Zionsit kheder and there were already some teachers, who had experimented with new methods, looking for new ways to stimulate the toddlers to talk. The new teaching method was called Hebrew in Hebrew. I got in touch with teachers, visited in the school of Sh. Ben Tzion, and attended the class during the lessons. I have decided to return to the pasad and the colony, where I would open a school and teach the children Hebrew in Hebrew.
When I came to the colony, I obviously turned to visit Samuelov, who was already one of the wealthy farmers in the colony. I could not describe the way the family welcomed me.
A rumor was spread that the teacher Yivzrikhin arrived, and that he wanted to teach the children Hebrew in Hebrew. People did not exactly know what that meant. However, they knew that it was something new. Besides, I had already made a name for myself in that place, and people knew that the children loved to study with me. I began to prepare myself for the opening of the school. With the help of friends, two rooms were allocated in a new building to serve as classes and appropriate furniture was furnished. Students became available even before I opened the school. I did not have to search for them. Fathers came and offered me to accept their sons. I accepted ten students from the pasad and eight form the colony, among them there were six beginners and twelve students who had already studied for a year. I did not want to accept older children, who had already acquired different ways of learning from others. I wanted to start with the new method.
All the beginnings are hard and speaking Hebrew to children, who never heard the language, was obviously not very easy. What was the essence of the studies? Movements, hints, repeated and re-repeated talks. The elder ones caught faster and the little ones followed. For a month and half, I did all the talking, and the children acquired numerous words. I bought the book of David Yelin and started to teach how to read and write. We also had a board, and we wrote every word that we learned on it. The parents came everyday to see how I was teaching, and to hear their children talking Hebrew. In their homes, the children did not have anybody who understood the language, and this hindered the learning. Upon returning home, the children would forget their teacher's order to talk only Hebrew at home. Whom would they talk to? In any case, the children progressed nicely, and I realized that the method was effective. Those who criticized it at the beginning, quieted down. They realized that the children knew how to read and write, so there was no harm if they would also learn a bit how to talk. My school grew, and with the growth of the number of students, another teacher joined me. There were some excellent children among the students and the school became a corner of light and friendship.
----------- A representative of [Vladimir Ze'ev] Tiomkin visited in the colony and the pasad and delivered Zionist sermons. He excited his Jewish listeners and they purchased [Zionist] Shekels; that showed that we had Zionists in our colony. If there were Zionists, we also needed a Zionist association. We decided to establish an association and called it A'havat Tzion [Love of Zion]. A few farmers from the colony, some of the residents of the pasad, and several youths I was previously connected with, joined the association. We elected a chairperson of the association Yoel Brekhman, and I was forced to accept the role of secretary. We began to assemble every Saturday night. The gatherings were non-Kosher in the eyes of the authorities as Zionism was not yet allowed in Russia, and Zionist gatherings in particular. We gathered every time in a different house, and most of all in my school. Besides the permanent members, other farmers, who wanted to listen to what the Zionists had to say, came. The colony's youth, which was attracted to every spoken word, came as well.I became a speaker and propagandist, which I actually hated. I did however, like to read for them. I read from the newspaper, as people were thirsty for news and knowledge. I decided that we needed to establish a library. We opened a reading room at the library, so that anybody who wanted could come and read the newspapers free.
We obtained a sample of bylaws and edited it according to the local situation. We determined that there would be two types of members in the library association honorary members who would pay 5 Rubles annually, and regular members, who would only pay one Ruble and would be able to borrow books as they wished. We easily gathered ten honorary members, all of them from the pasad, who paid the required fee. We managed to secure a nice location for the library. Yoel Brekhman gave us, free, a large hall, which occupied almost half of his spacious house. We also obtained a license from the provincial minister to open a library.
We therefore sat down to prepare the list of books we wanted to purchase. It was a big joy to add one book after the other to the list, from among the best books available in literature, in three languages Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. I paid special attention to the children Hebrew literature that began to appear as small pamphlets. We also subscribed to a children newspaper called Olam Katan [Small World].
With the money available to us 120 Rubles we made a good beginning. In addition to the Jewish readers adults, youth and children, non-Jewish subscribers joined from the intelligentsia of the pasad and from among the staff in the state regional hospital, which was located near the colony. We held a literature ball, twice a year, the revenues of which were allocated entirely for the library. The library became an important element of the local social life. Youths were reading a book; argued about it and followed new literature compositions published as sequels in the important journals of the time.
----------- We were now in 1900. About twenty-five people, elderly and young, participated in our gatherings on Saturday nights. They considered themselves[Page 303]
as members of the Zionist movement. They purchased Shekels, gave contributions and even purchased stocks of the Jewish Colonial Bank. I was hoping that this Zionist nucleus would grow with time, but that was not the case. As mentioned above, the colony's farmers were Hassid's of the Rabbi from Lubavitz. The Rabbi himself did not visit his followers, but his emissary would arrive, once in a while, to collect a fee of up to three hundred Rubles per year. At one point, one of the colony farmers travelled to the Rabbi to ask for his advice and receive his blessing. Through a discussion about what was going on at the colony, the farmer told the Rabbi about the Zionist gatherings, which took place every Saturday night, about the [Zionist] Shekels and the [Jewish Colonial] bank stocks purchased by the Jews. It is easy to assume how shocked the Hassidic Rabbi was about that news. He immediately dispatched a letter to his followers in Nahar-Tov, to warn them against Zionism and notify them that Zionism was improper for any pious Jew, and that they were not allowed to establish any contact with that secular and harmful movement. This letter frightened the people, and some of the participants in our gatherings ceased any contact with us. That retreat saddened me greatly; however, in actuality not everyone abandoned me. Several loyal colony farmers and a larger number from the pasad's Jews remained. A few among the youths, who were proficient in the Hebrew language and knew the Zionist songs stuck with the Zionist idea. They would gather on Shabbat and hold debates. Some brought up plans to make Aliya to Eretz Israel in order to settle in it. Others wished to continue studying general studies. The zealousness did not have any control on them, since by then it had already breached.
------------ At the same time, an improvement in the material condition of the farmers took place. The JCA association began to introduce improvements and advances in the farms and that activity bore fruit very quickly. A regional agricultural school for the farmers' children, where they taught advanced methods of farm management, as well as general studies, was established. A cooperative association for savings and loan was also established. Through that association, the farmers were relieved from the burden of the exaggerated interest rates. In 1901, a co-operative shop for flour and animal supply was established. From that point on, if the farmer needed flour for his family, or food for the stable and cowshed, he could receive them on credit, with a low interest rate, until the following threshing period. The cooperative institutions required management, and nobody was available to guide the farmers in managing their affairs. The authorities just gave them the license for the associations. The farmers would gather to elect management and would raise an indescribable commotion. The number of proposals was the same as the number of participants in the gathering. Everybody talked at the same time and in loud voices, in Yiddish spiced with many Russian expressions. Their shouts were blended and lost as if without any purpose.Since I was a bystander, and since I did not derive any personal benefits from their institutions
I was considered as impartial, and they listened to my opinion. Although my heart was not with public service, I was forced to take part in the public life.
I could see how things changed during the few years since I came to the colony. Yoel Brekhman was right when he said that this is not the same colony. My standing also changed, and these Jewish farmers were now trusting me.
Moshe Yivzori-Yivzrikhin (Mishmar Ha'Emek)
From the northeastern outskirts of the colony of NaharTov, the expanse of a wide open field could be viewed. On that side of the colony, houses and yards of new farmers were popping out once in a while. That was where the regional state hospital, which seemed like it was a settlement of its own, was located. The hospital contained many structures all covered by green tin roofs and surrounded by colorful flower gardens and shady groves. These structures included houses where the patients were hospitalized, residential houses for the entire working staff, and clinics for outpatients, who came to ask for the advice of the physicians and receive medications. During reception days, the hospital area bustled like during the days of a fair.
The open field on the side of the colony winked with its expanses and the swales of its furrows. In the spring we would go out to explore the new growth. In the summer we searched for the various flowers. We even dared to peek into the desolate colony cemetery. Its desolation seemed to have vanished under the bountiful sun. In the fall, the fields and the bayous sent whistling gusts, knocking on the quivering windows of the cramped houses. During the winter the field expanses seemed even wider under the snowcover.
In the southern side of the colony, a shallow river meandered the Wysun River. The name of the colony, the wide river beds and the massive bridge testified to the fact that upon the arrival of the settlers, the Wysun was a river with abundant water. However, I knew it as a meager river, and the bridge looked like a tall hat worn by a shriveled body. The river would fill its river beds only in the winters. Large blocks of ice were carried by the power of its stormy waters during the thaw, and the sounds of their collisions could be heard throughout the nights. We were then thankful for the wide river beds and the tall and stable bridge which imbued a sense of security against the forces of nature. That bridge connected the colony of NaharTov with the large town of Berzneguvatoye .
My parents were not from among the farmers in the colony. My father arrived at the colony, during the 1890's.
|R' Zalman-Leib Veslnitzki, the patriarch of the large Simkhoni family in Israel under his cherry tree in his farm in Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola|
|The educator, R' Moshe Yevzory Yevzrikhin, the grandfather of Asaf Simkhoni on his mother side|
|The grandson Major General Asaf Simkhoni, the commander of the 1956 Sinai campaign who was killed [in the last day of] the war|
In the beginning he made a living as a teacher, but he became a merchant later on. My family resided alternately in the colony and the village, and I crossed the bridge thousands of times during my childhood. I was attached to both places. I had friends, whose houses I would visit often, in both places. The scale balance of these connections used to go up and down. At times, it would move towards the colony and other times it would tilt toward the gentile village, until it finally moved and attached itself to the colony, due to the force of love.
My family also finally moved and settled among the colony's farmers, but that had happened during the days of the Revolution, after I made Aliya to Eretz Israel.
Farmers resided on both banks of the Wysun on one side were the Jews and on the other the gentiles. The seasons talked to either side in the same language: sowing, harvesting and gathering the crops and the fruits. People and animals prepared for the long winter. Farmers traveled on both sides of the river on wagons loaded with barrels to draw water from the springs near the river. Women washed laundry on both banks of the river and the sound of their banging on the laundry mixed with the singing voices and the shouts of the children. During the winter, smoke rose up from the houses' chimneys some were clay shacks covered by straw roofs, and some were stone houses equipped with tin roofs or cheerful shingles.
When the river was covered with stable ice, boys from both sides of the river skated on it and met each other in a commotion. Shops were concentrated in the village and that was also the location of the officials. The colony residents passed over the bridge, on wagons or on foot, during the market days and flocked to the village during the fairs. The bridge connected between the colony and the village but also separated between them. The lifestyles on the two sides were different, and the human landscape was also dissimilar. Crossing the bridge was like passing to another world, different and intimidating. A narrow alley led from the bridge to the village, ending with a sharp turn. One would never know what was waiting around the corner. Courtyards of gentile farmers were located on one side of the alley and the estate of a wealthy Jew on the other. The wealthy Jew, a land owner and lumber merchant, owned a citadellike house with tall ceilings and employed many servants and workers. Flower beds grew around the house and trees shaded its windows. A huge yard surrounded it, containing the estate owner's barn, stable and warehouses of lumber, organized in an amazing precision.
To protect his immense property, the man erected a tall stone wall that stretched along the entire alley. Glass shreds were placed on top of it. The sealed wall added a mysterious aura to the narrow alley, which was associated with many legends. There was somebody who saw a ghostlike figure walking on top of the wall, on the glass shreds, during a moon illuminated night. There was somebody else who remembered a story about robbers who staged an ambush for passersby in the shadows of the wall… During the years of the Revolution, when the gangs rampaged, the wealthy house was robbed and its Jewish residents murdered. The house was isolated and nobody came to their help. After the killing, the feeling of fear that the alley imposed deepened, and it remained forged in my memory as a distinct experience.
A tall hill, which served as a place for meetings and entertainment for the youths, protruded beyond the alley, on the left side of the road. A loud singing sound could be heard coming from the hill the sound of Ukrainian songs in a melancholic harmony, soaked in folklore and tenderness but also power; great power. When the hill was covered with snow people would climb to the top with sleds. The sleds sped down from the top with their passengers hugging each other, screaming of fear and joy, competing with each other and turning over. The hill was the gentiles' territory. When we passed by we feared to be hit by a hurled stone, a derogatory word thrown at us or even a badgering arm hugging and inviting us to join the good time.
The silent alley and the rowdy hill located between the colony and the village were a physical symbol for the two different worlds that were located on both sides of the river in such a closed proximity. We passed through them on our daily route, and absorbed the difference deep in our soul.
The existence of Jewish farmers in the heart of Southern Russia's prairies, their working of the land, and their connection to the land did not arouse any wonder in my heart. I was born and grew up among them, and the agricultural lifestyle became my second nature. Their Jewish uniqueness that was forged in my memory. It was as if Judaism was stretched over all the hours and the days of the colony, and it was popping out everywhere, despite the similarity between the life of the Jewish and the gentile farmers, and perhaps precisely because of the geographic proximity of the colony and the village, and because of the fact that the colony farmers were simple people, with no knowledge or education.
The life in the colony was an earthly life. The colony was populated by laborers. They and their clothing emitted a pungent smell of sweat. They had big families, and they were continuously worried about making a living and fighting against nature powers. Joyous times were the breeding and procreation at the cowshed and the stable. The men would harness the animals before dawn and go out to work and the women hurried up to milk the cows in time to beat the shepherd who would pass through the colony with a loud whiplash, with the herd, on his way to the pasture. The women took part in every task in the yard, and if they had any time left, they even went out to the field during the busy season. They lighted the heaters using dried loafs made from a mixture of manure and straw. They cooked and baked, pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage and watermelons for the winter, plastered the houses, sewed and patched clothing for the adults and children. During the long nights of the winter, they sat together and plucked the feathers of the slaughtered poultry, made pillows and down comforters for the family and as dowry for their daughters. The women were busy farmers; their faces were wrinkled from hard work, their hands coarse, their heads covered with a kerchief tied under their chin and an apron was tied to their hips, usually with a child in tow. Jewish mothers were not stingy with their effort when it was time to keep tradition; a special atmosphere, dish and taste were reserved for every holiday, as if the colony farmers were determined not to disassociate themselves from the collective lifestyle, which unified all of the Jewish homes throughout Eastern Europe.
Miraculously, the greater Jewish soul was preserved within the earthly life of the Jewish farmers. Most of the colony natives were Hassids. Revealed and concealed threads connected them to the courts of renowned Hassidic Rebbes. Once in a while, when a maggid [Jewish preacher], a famed Jewish scholar or somebody who knew to how sing a nigun [a Jewish religious folklore melody] happened to stop by the colony residents were deeply thankful for the hour of exaltation he had granted to them.
We, the children, peeked curiously and fearfully, into the window of Reb Itche'le, a Hassidic Jew who spent his days and nights studying the Torah, and who removed himself from earthly life. The man was very strange and frightening with his waxy ascetic face. However, he was esteemed and admired, as if the materialistic public said: who knows, perhaps he discovered the secret of happiness.
On Shabbat the colony rested. People drank chicory with milk which formed a thick golden crust after it was boiled in a sealed stove for many hours. They walked in measured steps to the synagogue, scrolling in the afternoon, along the main street amongst the row of the wealthy people's houses and the big state park; colony notables, male and female youths, walked leisurely while children ran around mingling with the dust clouds raised by the herd, returning from the pasture. This was a single big family, who departed, at dusk, from the Shabbat, the kingdom of respite.
The yards in the colony were different from each other some organized and wellestablished, others meager and unkept. In comparison, the yards of the wealthy Russian farmers were more nurtured than those of the wealthy Jewish farmers. They were more organized and the gentiles also grew ornament plants that did not bring any other real benefits. However, there was something else about the Jews their life style customs that protected a person's life. The kosher rules, which dictated the rules of keeping the food and use of the cooking and eating tools, contributed to that protection. The holiness of the Shabbat and holidays, that forced even the poor to purify themselves thoroughly, bathing in the public bath and changing their shirt and clothing, contributed to that as well. Ignorance, which makes life easier, but which degrades the rules of cleanliness and health, did not exist in the colony. The results of that approach were evident during the hard times of the epidemics, particularly during the days of the cholera epidemic in Southern Russia. The poor Jewish farmers with their meager food and scanty housing fared better than the wealthy gentiles.
In the [gentile] village, people used to get drunk. Around the tall fence and along the alley leading to the state liquor store (Kazionka), the drunk rolled on the ground like corpses. The Jewish farmers did have a taste for the bitter drink. They did have a drink to warm themselves during the long winter nights or during a trip at the end of a purchase or sale deal. They licked their lips during an obligatory drink of
wine in a Kiddush, Simkhat Torah, wedding or Bar Mitzva; some more than others however, everybody thought that drinking to the point of losing one's control and honor was not a way of a Jewish person. Maybe because of that view, a horrific story was engraved in my memory about the drunkenness of the old Rabbi's wife. She was the only daughter of a wealthy colony resident, was a weakly baby whose parents were worried about her health. The parents were enticed to accept the advice of the peasants to wash the baby in liquor baths to strengthen her up. That was how, according to the people in the colony, they accustomed her body to alcohol. When the time came, they married her, lavishly, to a young scholar, who was later hired as the colony's Rabbi. The couple built a house and bore children, but the Rabbi's wife was never cured of the drinking disease. Despite all the efforts to hide the drink from her, she somehow managed to get it. The story that circulated among the children said that the rabbi ruled for her to receive a public punishment to atone for the shame she had brought to the community. According to the story, they tied her to a tree near the synagogue and flogged her. I could not tell today what the end of that poor woman was, and whether there was any truth to the story. However, the fear in which the story about the Rabbi's wife was told, from mouth to mouth, and the deep aversion to the sin of drinking were forged in my memory.
Although the colony's farmers were not big scholars, they adhered to religion and tradition. The colony notables zealously guarded against the penetration of any heretic views to the colony; guarded but did not succeed. The spirit of the time penetrated from the edges of the camp, which had contact with the intelligentsia in the village and the hospital, or from contacts with relatives and acquaintances in the cities and towns throughout Russia. Among the causes for the change was the library, which my parents were among the people who conceived and founded it. The library was located in the house of one of the colony's wealthy farmers. . It was clean and well heated in the winter and attracted the youth by its cabinets that contained the best of the Russian as well as original and translated Hebrew literature. A good selection of the newspapers and journals, published in the cities of Russia, was spread out on a wide and elongated table. The library unified the small intelligentsia of the colony and the young generation that was thirsty for contact with the intellectual world. There was a large barn in the yard of that [wealthy] farmer where theater shows were performed by local amateurs and travelling troupes, and readings and singing balls were held. It is logical to assume that the level of the shows was low, however the impression that they generated on the thirsty souls was deep. We prepared for every assembly, lecture or play as for a big event and we continued to talk about them for a long time after the show. In actuality, the books, newspapers, discussions and lectures were all within the law, as the sharp eye of the guards of the czarist regime was always watching over them; however, below the surface, they represented the discontent and the longing for something new something that was a mixture of the enlightenment spirit that spread among the youth, national salvation and deep social discontent. The air was soaked with unrest and the youth was searching for
wider expanses. I recall boys from among my father's students who left the colony, but the change was more apparent among the girls. Our house served as the meeting place for these youths, and I recall several girls, some whom I knew personally, or others from my parents' stories, who went out to study in midwifemedic courses, or in teaching courses. They resided in gentile cities in which the residency of Jews was forbidden. I also remember a case when a girl wedded in a fictitious marriage to free herself from her parents' authority. Another particular girl was forged in my memory: she studied abroad and became an opera singer. I saw her on the stage in a concert she performed on the occasion of her coming to visit her family. She was beautiful, tall and sturdy (fitting a soprano), luxuriously dressed and adorned with shiny Jewels. She brought with her the sheen of the big city. The kiss that the Pristav [head of the police] gave her on her hand at the end of the concert served as a symbol of her rise and success. …But from all of those girls I best remember the daughter of a wealthy Jew, owner of many assets, whose family's house was a mansion in every respect. His daughter studied in the high school in the provincial city, and came home to her parents during the vacation. I adored her tremendously. She was beautiful and gracious. I still remember the reddish color of her face and her bountiful and wavy brown hair, which she used to tie in the back of her neck with an urban grace. I remember the impression that her virginal room its curtains, the bed's awning, the table at which she arranged her hair and her dress left on me everything was covered with a transparent fabric with an azure background soaked in springlike air. She looked to me like a princess.
Later, I found out that she connected with a youth from the village, who was one of the visitors at the library. The youth was good looking and wore an orange tie. He was the son of an old farmer widow. People whispered behind his back that he belonged to the Ukrainian revolutionary circles. The begging of her poor parents did not help. Her father's ploy to send her over to her sister in the big city, in order to erase her love from her heart, did not help either. She left her azure room and moved with the youth in the village. I do not know, until today, whether she had converted to Christianity or married him in a civil marriage, since, in the meantime, the Russian revolution began, and the rules about marriage and religion were pushed aside. She invited me once to her new home. The house was located in a community near the river, which was known by its brazen and antiSemitic residents. It was a wealthy and nurtured Christian home, with closed shutters, dark pictures of the saints hanging on the walls, an oil lamp lighted in front of the Christ icon, the smell of frankincense dispersed from a bowl and an old gentile woman was walking around quietly and slipping away without any sound. We did not talk long. When we parted, she whispered her question slowly: How are they doing over there?
During the horrific nights that descended upon the Jews later on, when the bandits rioted everywhere, I thought about and remembered her. A delicate Jewish flower, a bird jailed in a cage filled with holy pictures what has happened to her? How could she carry her self-esteem in that Christian home when her colony her origin held its breath trembling of suffering and fears?
The revolutionary youth who was inflamed with the Ukrainian national revival spirit was not alone. The ideas about the Ukrainian revival were seeded in the hearts of the youths who went to the city to acquire education. When they returned to the village they spread these ideas. They used to copy, on pieces of paper, the song The Will by the Ukrainian poet Shevchenko, and pass it from one to another. In that song, the poet glorified his native land Ukraine, and called his people to rise after his death and conduct a bloody revolt against the oppressing Czarist regime. We knew the song by heart and used to sing it enthusiastically.
At the start of the Revolution in 1917, the national Ukrainian discontent boiled over from the depths of the underground onto the surface. The call for an independent Ukraine was heard and the azureyellow flag was raised. People began to honor the national dance, dress and song. Among the Ukrainian nationals, there were people who envisioned the national freedom of their country to be in line with the aspirations of the big Revolution. They thought that achieving freedom, justice and equality meant also achieving a national revival of the people. However, there were those who looked at the Revolution as an opportunity to sever the ties between Ukraine and the big body whom they hated and return to the days of the Cossacks and the Hetmans.
For those of us who lived in close proximity to the youth in the village, that national awakening, became a source of inspiration. We witnessed how a movement grew and how a national unity, unheard of previously, was formed. However, that movement provided not only an inspiration, but also a warning about a new type of a diaspora. The physical signs of that warning did not lag behind. They came in a form of the national bandit gangs of Petliura and other Hetmans.
From the songs of Bialik and Frugg (in Russian), which we used to read at our balls, from the wellknown pictures of Herzl and Nordau, from the dim memories of the few boys who dared and made Aliya to Eretz Israel and from the blurry news about the Balfour declaration, a new and unified being began to realize. We learned then, that we are people of a nation waiting for its salvation, and that the time has come for the Jewish youths to act on their own behalf. During the stormy days of the Revolution and the national shock we had experienced, the Jewish colonies were illuminated with a new light for its visible as well as concealed contents. We looked at the people of the colony people laboring in a grueling work, people who work the land, in a country that placed the worker and the farmer on a pedestal. It seemed then that they could face their future without the fear that the social revolution would destroy their livelihood. With their own existence, they served as proof that Jews are capable of working the land, loving it, nurturing it, and raising its productivity. A simple and deeply graceful Jewish folklore spirit bubbled in them. We clung to it looking for ways to connect with our nation again. For us the colony served as an artisan's workshop and an anvil which can be used to forge a natural Jewish power. It also proved that the Jewish farmers with their national identity had not been, and would never be accepted by their neighbors as equals and as people who had the right to settle and work the land.
Not many days passed, and the colonies bustled with youths (among them only a few girls),
who congregated in groups of pioneers, from the expanses of stormy Russia. They heard about the Jewish colonies in the south and risked their lives to reach the colony during a period when a trip through Russia, for a Jewish person, was dangerous. They hoped that with the help of the colonies Jewish farmers with their farms, experience, fields and gardens they could receive proper agricultural training. There were many among the farmers in the colonies who doubted whether those urban youths would become accustomed to work. On the other hand, there were those who calculated that there was no risk in accepting such an enthusiastic and cheap labor force. There were also some Zionists, who connected with the pioneers and tried their best to help them. Everyone had their own reason, but the fact was that doors were opened for the urban students and the Jewish farmers taught them how to work, trained them to be farmers, and adopted them as family members. New singing could be heard in the colony Hebrew speech.
New centers for amalgamation were formed. We became a unified group those for whom the colony was our home and those who came to warm themselves in its light. Together we established the He'Khalutz in the Colonies and together we weaved our dreams about fulfillment in Eretz Israel.
Still, only tens of the colony natives arrived at their destination and integrated themselves into the effort to build the homeland. Most of the others who were attached to their native land remained. They remained and were lost.
I had a peaceful childhood in a remote corner of the giant Russia in a wealthy house whose atmosphere was characterized by the phrase man does not live on bread alone [Deuteronomy (8:3)]. People who came over adults and youths, either from the Jewish colony [Nahar-Tov Ha'Gdola] or from the [nearby] village [Berzneguvatoye], used to discuss together the happenings in the world and the events in Eretz Israel. A large picture of Dr. Herzl hung on the wall, as if he was casting a spiritual shadow over everything which was discussed regarding the Jewish question, and anything else.
How pleasant was it to mix with the adults and listen to their talk, some of which was clear and some obscure! Everything was so peaceful and secure, that even the news about the start of the war [WW I] did not cause any shock.
And the war continued.
Horrible news arrived to grieving families from the front; the authorities have already begun to recruit people of more advanced ages. The first signs of discontent appeared. People read the critical speeches of Kerensky and others in the duma (the Russian parliament in the days of the Czar) - fiery speeches against the rotten regime. Things were also being published in the newspapers, hinting openly that the current situation cannot continue as is There were those who even dared to define the Czar as worthless, and stories were being whispered secretly, mouth to mouth, about Rasputin's mischiefs and the Czarina who was being suspected of treason Holy symbols
were losing their brightness, and even the overgrown mustache, the colorful laces and the heavy sword of the head of the local police force, were not frightening the children any longer.
The Revolution has broken out. The end of the Czarism has come, bringing freedom, equality and brotherhood. People were kissing in the streets. Revolutionary pamphlets and song-books were taken out of the stashes. Huge assemblies and parades, some common to the village and the colony, were also taking place, the blue and white flags being hoisted along with the red ones and the azure and yellow flags of the Ukrainians. Father [Moshe Yevzori-Yevzrikhin], was among the speakers everywhere. The spring has arrived. The Zionist activity was flourishing. Fancy balls benefiting the Keren Kayment Le'Israel [JNF] were held in the village theater (the only big hall). Informative assemblies as well as amateur plays and shows based on the sorrowful and longing songs of Frugg and other Zionists were held in the colony's synagogue. Emissaries were coming from the big cities. We, the children, heard and saw everything. Students who studied in the city were coming home during the summer break, and they, too, were filled with impressions and stories about the big new tide in the Jewish life there, in the big cities.
Elections for the first national constitutional assembly of the republic were going to be held. The various parties competed over the votes utilizing assemblies, posters and proclamations; proclamations of all kinds the Bolsheviks' through the pro-monarchies'. The Jewish and Zionist parties were of course among the parties. We, the children, were everywhere. It looked as if the adults were playing a new game they were not used to play, playing hazard until their last breath. We imitated them in our games, trying to give speeches from above fences, benches or a big rock, repeating the various slogans, totally confusing them up.
In the meantime, the goods shortage has grown more and more severe. The money has lost its value, since there was nothing that could be purchased with it. The situation in the front has deteriorated and the interim authorities demanded an additional effort for the war at a time when the masses were already tired of the war. The rich were still rich, and the estate owners were still holding on to their land. There was no news about an agrarian reform It is no wonder therefore, that radical views about an immediate peace, distribution of lands to the peasants and a regime of the workers, found more and more attentive listeners. Nervousness and insecurity prevailed.
A new custom was introduced. An alarm bell was installed near the village big church for cases such as fire and other emergencies when help was needed. The bell had a robust and dreary sound which could be heard for great distances. Everybody recognized the sound. They used it, once in a while, even when a fire broke out in the Jewish colony. And they began to use the alarm bell to call people for political assemblies. Every emissary of a party or a movement and there were quite a few of them going around operated the bell. Its horrific sounds would fill up the space, announcing a disaster and people in masses would drop everything, leave the work they were doing, in the village or in the colony, and run toward the village central square to hear what has happened. Now, it has become almost a daily occurrence. Sometimes it seemed to me, even today, that I can hear the bell's wailing.
Anti-Semitism began to sprout in the speeches:
The Jews are selling out our homeland. Jews began to behave more cautiously retreating farther. [The colony's] residents stopped going to meetings in the village. However, we lived in the village and as children we did not give up on any attraction. That was how we found out about the October Revolution.
The bell rallied and the masses flocked. An armored vehicle (the first one I have ever witnessed in my life), stood in the center of the square and armed riders surrounded it. A speaker announced from the top of the vehicle that, from now on, the power is held by the toiling workers and farmers who would elect their representative to manage their locality. The speakers asked: are there any bourgeois here? A woman's voice is heard from among the big crowd: Yes there is he is the owner of the flour mill who exploits the people. Here he is! Take him away ordered the speaker. Two riders crossed the crowd, took the man (a Russian with progressive views), and led him outside of the crowd. Nobody understood what was happening. We, the children, including the man's two sons who were our acquaintances, ran after them. All of a sudden they shot him. Horror struk us. The man has been smiling until now. He has not understood what they wanted from him. Now he was lying on the side of the road in a puddle of blood. We took his sons and accompanied them home. A murder of a person the first murder I have witnessed in our neighborhood which has been peaceful for so many years. How accustomed to murder we became in the coming years!
At that time we learned about the Balfour Declaration. A section of a newspaper arrived from Odessa containing the full version of the declaration. Many people gathered in our house, and the declaration was read aloud anew. People cried from joy; there were calls for England's victory thereby advancing peace and enabling our people to join the builders of the national home. Father has already promised that we will study in Jaffa's high school. We continued to weave the dream.
The lack of any connection with other Jewish centers was astounding. There was also no connection with other Jewish colonies. Rumors and intuition fed the Zionist activity. There was a big progress in the big cities, which we have not known about. One bright day, about twenty boys and girls arrived from the city of Kremenchug. That was the first time we heard about the pioneer who walks before the army [Deuteronomy 3:18, reference to He'Khalutz (The Pioneer) - Jewish Zionist Youth movement]. They came to train themselves for agricultural work in Eretz Israel. When they arrived from the train station in a rented wagon, the waggoneer dropped them at the only public building of the colony the library. When we were notified at home about their arrival, we first collected all the food supply we had at home and took it to them. Later on, Father and some of the sworn Zionists mobilized to convince the wealthy farm owners from among the colony farmers, to accept them one by one and hire them for farm work. It was not easy to do. Except for a few families, who were close to the Zionist idea and who willingly accepted that burden, the rest were apprehensive about the fact that beleruchki (those who have white hands [in Russian]) would not be able to earn their worth, as they were not required to provide more than a shelter and food for those youths for their work.
You could probably still find one of these pioneers who would be able to tell you what they have experienced
during these months of hakhshara [literally training, or preparation before making Aliya]. There was a big gap separating their lifestyles from the reality of the farmers' life in the colony. When one of the pioneers was not employed he would lodge with us. During Shabbat, everybody would gather and through stormy debates they would devour any food product in the house or the cellar. During those days, Zrubavel and Yehudit [the author's elder siblings] stayed home for the summer break. They and some of the colony's Zionist youths united with the newcomers to form a single group. Who among these elder youths would pay attention to a child going around among them to listen? But, I listened and listened: Trumpeldor what a fascinating name! Sacrificing three years of one's life for the benefit of one's nation, in Zion, to work and guard [what a captivating idea]! I learned about Gvurat Ha'Shomrim [literally - the Heroism of the Guards] the memorial book of the Ha'Shomer [The Guard the Jewish self-defense organization]. They kept reading from it. and the singing! What a singing! In Eretz Israel tzu Unzere Brider [from Yiddish To our brothers in the land of Israel], Loz di Zun unz Brenen Braten [from Yiddish - Let the sun shine on us and burn us], Sham Be'Eretz Khemdat Avot [from Hebrew There, in the beloved land of our ancestors and many more
Among the pioneers from Kremenchug, there was one who had been already in Eretz Israel, and was expelled by the Turks as a Russian subject. He was the oldest in the group. His stories about Eretz Israel, and the hardships faced by the pioneers only helped to enthuse everybody, and when he sang the song Yad Anuga [Tender Hand by Zalman Shneor], or other songs from Eretz Israel, including some Arabic songs, the heart would skip a beat.
There was one very prized asset in Nahar-Tov it was called The Park of the Authority. The offices of the guardian bureau of the Jewish settlement in Southern Russia were located in Nahar-Tov. During the days that the bureau inspectors were allowed to impose punishments on the settlers, among them forced labor, forced laborers planted a beautiful botanic garden on an area of 100 disiyatin (about 1000 dunams [about 270 acres]).
During our time, the garden became a magnificent park, stretching along the river, opened for people to relax or stroll by, particularly on Shabbat. I think that the park had never experienced such joy and singing, as during the time when the pioneers stayed in the colony, joined by the colony Zionist youths. Some debates ensued. It turned out that pioneers from various cities arrived at other colonies and they attracted youths from the best in the colonies. The issue in those debates was whether the colonies' natives required hakhshara, since there was no need to promote the alignment of the Jewish nation with more productive work and to raise the value of manual labor vs. the traditional Jewish ways of making a living in the colonies. The need to consult arose. People from other neighboring colonies Sdeh Menukha, Romanovka, Dobroye and Yefeh-Nahar, began to arrive in our house; our house was open to all, but that time they did not come to see Father [Moshe Yevzori-Yevzrikhin]. They came to see Zrubavel and Yehudit [Moshe Yevzori's elder children]. They discussed the subject of the Colonial Pioneer the 'He'Khalutz' of the colonies' natives. They discussed and established the movement He'Khalutz in the Colonies. Zrubavel and Yehudit felt that they are different from the colonies' regular natives since they were not farmers, and they decided to train themselves. It was not possible to do it in Nahar-Tov; who would be the farmer who would agree to employ, in such grueling work, a child of R' Moshe Yevzrikhin? So they left, Zrubavel to Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana and Yehudit to
Romanovka. The road was clear. The seed that had been sowed previously produced its fruits. The two summer seasons during which pioneers arrived from the city for hakhshara in the colonies resulted in the establishment of a new Zionism Zionism of aspiration for fulfillment and of searching for ways to make Aliya. They also established the connection between the colonies. Venerable people were discovered, from among the colonies' natives, whose most important property was their moral and mental wholeness, and a steadfast belief in the righteousness of their way and lofty purpose, for which one must be ready to make any effort and sacrifice. The storms of that time could not extinguish that flame after it was ignited. Although there were times when the flame diminished it was never extinguished, and indeed, there was no shortage in storms and tremors.
Numerous authors described what Southern Russia experienced during those years, from the beginning of the Revolution until the consolidation of the Soviet regime in 1919. The horrific Holocaust brought by the Hitler regime upon the European Jewry during the Second World War, pushed out of memory whatever was experienced by the Ukrainian Jewry during the Civil War in Russia. We were part of that Jewry; probably the part that suffered somewhat less, due to its lifestyle, which was different from the life style in the Jewish Shtetl. There was another factor: the colonies that were located farther away from the railroad and main roads, suffered less than those that were located on crossroads. Those colonies experienced the calamity fully.
Following the fleeing of the Austrians and the Germans after their defeats in the west and the revolutions in their countries, the country remained without a rule. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers who returned from the front with their weapons and tens of [Ukrainian] Hetmans rose, each one with their own 'banda (gang) and the aspiration to become the ruler, if only for a single day. They roamed throughout the wide prairie, and made a living by robbing and looting. In the Jewish settlements they also raped and murdered. The common denominator of all of them, including the biggest ones Makhno, Grigoriev, Petliura, and toward the end also Denikin, was the hatred of Jews. Thanks to the self-defense in the colony a load, which was carried by the returning soldiers and mainly the Zionists who joined them the colony of Nahar-Tov did not suffer that much except for one case, which I am going to tell about later. The situation of the Jewish families in the village was much worse. The huge village, which was also the center of the provincial authorities, attracted the various gangs, and it contained more than a few dubious armed elements, which were going out at night to prowl for prey. Shots reverberated at night for months and months. Shots were fired by attackers, by people who wanted to scare those with bad intentions, or just as a celebratory gunfire.
The word nalyot (raid in Russian) was born. At dawn, the people at the colony didn't know who had been the ruler that day, who was alive and who had been murdered and how many Jewish families in the village had been annihilated. In one case, only two small children, who witnessed the murder of their parents and siblings, had survived. Some gentile acquaintances came to us often and offered us to sleep at their house at night but my mother did not approve. She said that, if our fate was to be killed,
we should die at home as proud Jews. Her calm stand inspired a sense of security upon everybody who heard about it: the Jews in our close neighborhood started to believe that our house was safe, and gathered at our house at night; about 20-30 people used to sleep in our house every night. It was not clear to me, until today, why the village Jews would not move and stay in the colony. It is interesting to note that all of the [Jewish] shops were broken in and robbed at that time, except Father's shop. I would never forget the escape Shabbat. It was a quiet Shabbat. My brother and I went out to scroll in the colony. There were many people in the street. All of a sudden we saw three horse riders approaching and turning to a Jew who was walking innocently from the village toward the colony. They killed him and continued on their way to the colony. When they entered the colony, people in the streets attacked them trying to catch them. Two of them managed to sneak out, but one was captured and was beaten until he fainted; however he was later released and allowed to continue on his way. We found out later that these riders served as a reconnaissance group for a gang of the size of a battalion. When they returned they summoned the gang, which camped in a neighboring village for a revenge attack on the colony.
When the colony residents saw the approaching dark group of riders fear descended upon all, and minutes later, everybody who owned horses and a wagon, loaded the family and left galloping toward the colony of Dobroye (a distance of about 30 kilometers). A wagon of our acquaintances stopped by us. They urged us to climb over quickly and we went with them. At home, the rest of the family did not have any idea where we had disappeared. Later on we found out that the gang caught up with a part of the escaping convoy and brought the people back to the colony, which was almost deserted. They killed 12 Jews, robbed the content of the houses and imposed a large monetary fine which was paid with the help of the village Jews. Those who reached Dobroye, which was located near the railroad, almost doubled its population. A Soviet administration was located in the city of Nikolayev, which contained a large population of working class people and had a revolutionary tradition. A battalion of the Red Guards, equipped with a cannon battery roamed on a train along the railroad line, particularly to collect wheat for the hungry city. The train parked at the local train station, a few days after we arrived at Dobroye. A delegation of Nahar-Tov refugees presented itself in front of the battalion commander to request his help in restoring order in the colony and the return of the refugees. The commander agreed to do so. Wagons belonging to Nahar-Tov refugees and Dobroye residents were mobilized, the battalion and its cannons were disassembled from the train and we went on our way with the gunners. Between Dobroye and Nahar-Tov, about 12 kilometers from Dobroye, a big Russian village by the name of Yavkino, was located. There was no hostile activity by the village residents towards Nahar-Tov refugees when we had passed through it previously. This time, heavy machine gun fire was directed toward the convoy. The gunners spread for action immediately. However they managed to fire just a few shells (as a result, the head of a church steeple was cut off) before the whole battalion began to retreat, including the gunners with their cannons. The village residents harnessed their wagons and began to chase after the escapees. They barely managed to place the cannons on the train under fire from the pursuers. Some of the infantry did not manage to reach the train, threw their rifles to the man-made lake in the colony and
mixed with the crowd. Bullets whistled above the colony. Again, the residents of Dobroye and the Nahar-Tov refugees boarded the wagons within a few minutes and went out on their way to Yefeh-Nahar (about 15 kilometers away). Dobroye remained empty.
Yefeh-Nahar wasn't a large colony at all, even during regular days, and the unexpected addition of such a large population resulted in a situation that almost all of us were left without food. We starved. We would go out with the horses to pasture in the meadows by the river and tried to eat grass too. Sorties to Dobroye, made by a few people, found that the colony was ransacked, but empty of enemies. They managed to bring some dried bread left in the ovens at the moment of abandonment. Dobroye residents began to return, but the road to Nahar-Tov remained blocked.
The hunger pushed us to find a solution. At the end, via an indirect route passing near more peaceful villages, we returned to Nahar-Tov. At home they welcomed us as if we were resurrected from the dead. I assume that we looked like people who returned from the afterlife. Our exile had lasted three weeks. During that time, we starved and did not have changes of clothing, or a blanket to cover ourselves. Our experiences were certainly evident on our faces. We did not learn our lessons from that adventure. We continued to curiously wander around in the streets and to investigate the nature of any gathering and lend an ear to any rumor. There was no rule nor any legal institution. The concept of Samosud (crowd Justice) was established. People had to helplessly accept the confiscations of property and horses by the various armed forces; however they did not treat horses' thieves, robbers and murderers mercifully, if they managed to catch them. Actually, if a Samosud by the crowd took place, it meant a killing, through cruel abuse, mostly with a cold weapon and particularly for horses' theft. (For the farmers, the horses were the source of life, since a farmer without a horse was condemned to extinction. That was the reason why the punishment of horses' thieves was so severe if they were caught. In that sense, the Jewish colony farmers were no different from their fellow Russians).
During all of those years, there was a family in Nahar-Tov that was suspected of thefts. People said that their grandmother used to say: Kids, there is a lovely darkness outside and you are sitting home! They encountered bad luck and two brothers of that family were caught stealing horses. A crowd of farmers which gathered around, harnessed them in horses' bridles, and led them through the colony's streets hitting, bruising and mocking them, and at the end killed them with iron and wooden rods.
How could we witness and hear about all the horrors of that dreadful period without getting our souls damaged forever? A solution to that riddle can only be attributed to the character of the human race. The atmosphere at home remained unchanged. Out economic condition was good (I could not even explain how and why). The house continued to be the center of Zionist gathering. Visits by people of the neighboring colonies continued, and we all hoped for better days. Hetman Grigoriev aspired to strengthen his rule for a longer period of time, and declared a general recruitment.
Zrubavel's turn to be recruited arrived. Usually, Jews avoided recruitment to military service during the Czarist regime and even more so at that period of insecurity. The inequality, abusing, and life threatening conditions resulted in a situation that people who had to be recruited either hid somewhere, or used the old method of self-mutilation, so that they would not be fit for the service. However, Mother did not agree to any of those methods. In her opinion, a Jew must withstand all the hardships and fill his duty for his own honor, and the honor of the nation. Zrubavel proffered and was recruited. However, by the time the train with the recruits arrived at the city of Kherson the regime of Grigoriev fell apart, and the recruits returned home, some on foot and some by other means.
In the meantime, the Red Army continued to overpower all of its enemies. Southern Russia was conquered as well. With the consolidation of the Soviet Regime, calm arrived and specifically the security for the Jews. However, the destruction was substantive. The trade was dying. There was nothing left from the estates and their owners. The city could not offer any industrial products in exchange for food, and it starved. The farmers that could not purchase anything for their money did not sell food, except for bartering for products and houseware. They dressed with clothing made of self-produced fabric and remaining sacks. They wore clogs and self-made moccasins, and lighted their house with smoking oil lamps. However, they hid their crops. Farmers did not lack food. There were also many who bought all sorts of belongings form the city dwellers for a meager amount of wheat. With a substantial amount of efforts, confiscations, and enforcement of quotas (Rezviorstka), the authorities managed to distribute a meager amount of bread in the cities.
During that period, the members of the He'Khalutz movement began to search for ways to make Aliya.
In Crimea at a distance not far away from us, the regime of the White General [Piotr] Wrangel still prevailed. Red Armies often camped in Sdeh-Menukha, like in other locations. They were divided among the farmers yards and we, the children, used to frequently wash their horses in the river. The relations with them were good, despite the fact that the colony children did not speak the Russian language nor did the adults in the colony. During a certain period, Makhno's forces, who washed their hands in Jewish blood, joined the Red Army to fight the forces of General Wrangel. They joined the units of [General Semyon Mikhailovich] Budyonny that camped at the time in the area of Sdeh-Menukha. The Makhno's did not hide their affiliation. Sdeh-Menukha was full of them.
I was hosted by the family of my brother-in-law Mordekhai [Veslintzki-Simkhoni] and the days were the days of crop gathering and threshing. All of a sudden, heavy rain clouds appeared in the sky. Frantic work ensued. It was necessary to arrange the heaps of wheat, which had not been threshed yet, to prevent penetration of the rain, and gather the spread on the threshing floor for threshing; it was also needed to finish the winnowing of the threshed wheat.
Everybody who could hold a pitchfork was mobilized from the little ones to the adults. We worked like mad people. Two riders, armed from head to toe, sporting the unique forelock of Makhno people, entered the yard. They stood there and observed, and I heard one of them yelling to the other: Hay, have you ever seen such Zhid's? The other answered, in all seriousness: These are not Zhid's, these are Jews! I could hear the respect in his words and understood then what had been my mother's intent when she explained to us that we could live and behave in such a way that nobody would dare to mock us in our face. It was no wonder that, with such feelings, [my brother in law] Mordekhai [Veslintzki-Simkhoni], who embodied Zionism and manual labor, totally believing in both and in their liberating character, became one of the figures who affected me the most during my years in Russia and later on in Eretz Israel.
Rumors about opportunities to cross the border to Romania and from there to Eretz Israel have spread at that time. Khaim Bavli was sent to find out what was the way to reach the border and what were the necessary certificates to guarantee minimal security on the road. Upon his return, we began swift preparations. It was decided to travel the few hundred kilometers to the border on wagons. Several members took a horse from their farm. Father bought three horses and a wagon to account for the share of Zrubavel and Yehudit. He also arranged for the necessary certificates for the entire group through an acquaintance the head of the local Soviet. The group concentrated in Sdeh-Menukha. We left at night in order to avoid generating attention in the colony. The first stop was Nahar-Tov. There were several last arrangements that needed to be made there. As I was staying in Sdeh-Menukha at the time, the plan was also to use the opportunity to bring me back home and leave me there. I felt like an orphan because of their leaving, and did not really want to stay behind. The wagons left without their passengers to a substantial distance from the colony. People still feared that a person of authority would wake up and ruin the whole plan. The members left in small groups, marching under the light of a scant moon, in the silence of the night without making noise. I accompanied them [for a short while]. That was how they said good bye to the place of their childhood and youth, going towards a foggy and uncertain but also promising future.
We have not received any news from the immigrants for a long time. The mail was almost nonoperational. My brother Benyamin returned suddenly with a sad story. They arrived at the border town safely, however, they did not manage to cross the border for two months, and they suffered from food and supply shortages. Zrubavel's wife became sick and he had to move with her to the nearest city. The members decided to send the younger ones home that included Yeshayahu Simkhoni and himself - a bitter fate! It turned out that, a short while after the departure of the youths, the rest of the members managed to cross the border. Zrubavel, his wife and the two youths remained behind.
Upon the return of Benyamin, we purchased a pair of horses and a wagon and began to cultivate a piece of land in collaboration with a farmer who owned all of the required tools and a pair of horses (by the way, we also owned a cow or two for our own needs as well as for producing milk products). Farmers were forced to form such partnerships due to the shortage of horses created after the war and the Civil War. There was no shortage of land. There were two estates, close to the colony's lands
which were destroyed and their lands were not cultivated. There were also pasture areas of virgin land, which were allowed to be cultivated. We managed to cultivate our share of 25 dunams of virgin land during that same spring. We sowed oats, according to the advice of the farmers, as well as 20 dunams of sunflowers.
In 1920, rumors circulated that in the Tavria province and in Crimea, which were conquered from Wrangel, the wheat had not been confiscated yet and that the farmers exchanged it cheaply with any products. We decided to try our luck too. For some reason it was decided that Benyamin would stay with Mother, and that I would go out with father as a waggoneer. We took some haberdashery products, joined a wagon-convoy, which was organized in the colony for that purpose and went out on our way. Until that journey, I had not travelled farther than Dobroye and Yefeh-Nahar on one side (about 45 kilometers away), and Sdeh-Menukha on the other side (about 25 kilometer away). We travelled in a convoy over an infinite prairie. There were no clear roads or highways, only simple field roads, which required a good sense of orientation and direction in order to avoid going around in circles. There were people in the convoy who knew the roads very well and we just followed them. I felt as if we were sailing in a wide and big ocean, and who knew when we would reach its end. We crossed the huge Dnieper on a floating bridge near Kakhovka. The river reached a width of more than one kilometer at that point. The Dnieper astounded me with its size and beauty; it was beyond my imagination, from things I knew from reading about it. Beyond the Dnieper, we dove into the center of Tavria. There were only a few huge villages there. The rest of the settlements were isolated ranches spread over the plain with their lands surrounding them. The Tavria plain was very arid. Centrally located deep wells with a horse walking around in a circle drawing water-buckets to quench the thirst of humans and animals, supplied water to several ranches around them. Each rancher would bring water to his house in barrels. We camped at these wells, and often had to beg to allow us to water our horses. I would sleep on the ground under the wagon, and Father tended to the feeding of the horses at night. We would continue on our way at dawn. However, in every settlement we reached we were told that there was nothing left to trade.
There was no sense in pushing forward as a convoy, and we parted way, each one trying their own luck. We began to wander around on the huge plain by ourselves. Each time I saw a settlement on the horizon, we would approach it, but the answer was negative everywhere. Have mercy on your child and go back home, Father was told several times by gentiles. I may have made a very poor impression with my pitiable appearance. One day, a windstorm erupted on the prairie, a storm like which I have never seen in our area. The wind uprooted prairie-plants and whipped our faces and the faces of the horses with them and lumps of dirt. The wind howled in thousands of voices. We couldn't see beyond a few steps in front of us and the horses couldn't walk
The inscription on the memorial, in Russian and Yiddish says:
Here lie buried Soviet citizens from the village of Klininsk (Sdeh-Menukha), 1875 people, elderly, men, women and children, who were tortured and murdered by the fascist executioners and the collaborators during the temporary occupation, on the 16 of September, 1941
|At the victims' mass grave on the memorial day for the colonies martyrs|
against the wind. We felt lost. We are returning home said Father. The concept of home seemed to me like nonexistent. Let's try to look for cover, I said to him. I turned to the wind direction and continued to drive in the dark at high noon. All of a sudden, some buildings appeared in front of us. It was a ranch with the Red Flag flying on top of the house, probably a seat of the authorities. However, we did not have any choice. We knocked on the door, and they welcomed us warmly. It turned out to be simply a large and wealthy ranch. The flag was probably there as a camouflage. The farmer helped me to untie the horses, and lead them to the stable to feed them. They welcomed us as worthy guests and fed us the best of food. It became clear immediately that they were willing to barter wheat with anything we had, as if they were eager to get rid of their wheat. Indeed we saw a barn full of several tens, or perhaps hundreds of tons of wheat. The farmer loaded a ton of wheat for us in exchange for several sawing threads and other negligible items, and added a sack full of crashed barley as food for the horses for the road. The storm subsided at night, and we went on our way in the morning. I am not sure exactly how, but I did not find it difficult to find the way back home. Certain signs that were forged in my memory previously appeared from time to time as a proof that I was going in the right direction. I saw the Dnieper in front of me, again, with great joy. Only a two days trip back home from there. Another night lodging stop with our in-laws in Sdeh Menukha and we brought the treasure home. That trip lasted eight days of a non-stop travel while I was only eleven and a half years old.
We harvested a bountiful harvest that year. The virgin soil yielded about 500 kilograms per dunam. The sunflower crop the source for cooking oil, yielded plentifully too, and our apartment became a barn with rooms full of wheat. We prepared a fallow field [third field in a three field crop cycle] for fall seeding and sowed it. We worked hard obviously, mainly Benyamin and me. We held on, but one of the horses was exhausted. We simply let it go, and had to purchase a new one. A catastrophe arose in the following winter, experienced by the whole country of Ukraine. In the fall, the fields sprouted and developed nicely and then the rains began and continued endlessly. Following the rain, without any break, and before the snow fell, the intense freeze came.
The saturated and flooded soil became one big icy surface. People could skate everywhere like on frozen rivers and lakes. It turned out, when the spring came, that only islands of wheat survived on the slopes and soil lumps. The summer crops were only a small percentage of the overall amount of crops. Taking into account that the seeded areas were substantially reduced because of the Civil War and the shortage in work animals, and the fact that the entire inventory emptied out due to the confiscations to supply the cities and to help the people in the Volga Region, where hunger spread during 1920 it would be obvious why signs of hunger appeared after the harvest season of 1921. [Luckily] our supply was sufficient to last for two years, but we understood how big the risk was. Nobody could be blamed for calamities; life dictated its own demands.
Zrubavel and his wife arrived home with a new plan to travel to Crimea and from there, in fishing boats, to try to reach Romania or Turkey on their way to Eretz Israel.
Another group of friends organized to implement that plan, among them another resident of Nahar-Tov by the name of Yehoshua Dukhin (now in Kibbutz Afikim). Money had to be collected, Father achieved that and the group left.
It was not possible for us to continue to reside in a rented apartment in the village and work in the colony without the minimal assortment of tools. If we wanted to work the land we had to become farmers. We bought a house in the colony, although it would only become available in the spring of 1922. We bought a buker (a plow), a sowing and piling machine, an accessorized crate for the wagon and ladders for a ladder wagon for transporting the crops from the field. In addition we had to replace the horse that died during a trip I made with Father to the city of Kherson (a distance of 80 kilometers) with a wagon loaded with crops for sale. We hardly made it back with one horse and the cart after many adventures. That was how our savings from being merchants dwindled.
In addition to hunger, a typhus-fever epidemic hit the country. Millions of people took to the road, looking for ways to feed their families. People would travel crammed on the few trains. Many travelled riding on the roofs risking their life. The poor and tortured Russian people, after lying on dirt on the front during the World War and the Civil War, without a change of clothing and without minimal sanitary conditions, were infested with lice, and the typhus travelled with the lice. The peddlers we called them Meshotzniki (bagmen), from the villages, would go out to the cities with a bit of flour to barter for merchandise or items available for sale. They got infected at the market, spread the epidemic and brought it home to their families. Malnutrition and the poor sanitary conditions reduced the ability of the people to withstand the epidemic, which took a horrible toll.
Four of us got sick Benyamin, I, Leah and David [Moshe Yevzori-was Yevzrikhin's younger children]. We were sick for a month and a half. How did Mother manage to save us all is unclear. It is also unclear how Father managed to secure the minimum for our survival without selling the horses, cow or the machinery previously purchased. As a side note, there was no price for that property back then. We did not have food for the horse anymore, and the cows stopped giving milk. I am not sure whether our parents ate but they fed us. There was insufficient heating to warm up the apartment Mother warmed us out alternately. How did she avoid becoming sick herself? We all recuperated. I recovered first. The spring showed its first signs, the snow melted; the ice moved on the rivers; the soil thawed and became mud, and the first sprouts poked out.
In order to save the horses and the cow, it was decided to take them out to the fields, where they could find food in the stubble of last year and the sprouting weeds. I was the only one that could be considered for that task. I harnessed the horses, tied the cow to the wagon, loaded a barrel of water and went on my way, with Father walking behind to hurry the cow. The horses stopped walking from time to time, as they did not have the energy to pull the wagon through the mud. I walked by them like a drunk, swaying from weakness.
I still remember the fact that my legs never hit the spot I chose for them on the ground in the mud. It took almost a full day to drag ourselves to that fallow field, about 5 kilometers from home, where we decided to camp. We were not alone. Several other farmers from the colony did as we did, and a whole camp of wagons, horses and cows gathered there. My father returned home and I remained in the field with the others.
The colony farmers had a lot of experience in camping in the field. The custom was to leave for the field work on Sunday morning and return at dusk on Friday, albeit people were not doing it so early in the spring. Actually, the time has not come for any field work. However, there was no choice that time; we needed to act as if it was already warm and dry. For cover we used the wagon's accessorized crate which did not leak when it was turned on the side with the wagon against the wind and its upper side serving as a narrow roof. A few youths helped me to turn the wagon and I settled myself for the night. Like the others, I gathered some straw and thorns for a fire and cooked myself a meal: you hang a pail at the edge of the shaft, and heat it underneath. That's the whole theory. I boiled the water, added a handful of flour, a bit of salt, and that was the meal. We were not accustomed to more than that back then.
The night silence was very strange. Only once in a while, the mooing of a cow or the sound of a horse jumping on its front legs, tore through it. But the animals had food there. The objective was achieved. I was tasked with guarding our pricy property. Light rain began to fall the following day. We sat under the wagon, and stories were told endlessly. The people were happy that they did not have to water the animals. I could hardly cook a single meal for myself throughout that whole day. Several farmers decided to go back home; obviously without the animals; just to visit they said, and asked to keep an eye on their animals. The rain intensified and fell throughout the night. Even the animals felt uncomfortable, and they gathered around the wagons and the people. I was happy the see light in the morning, but the joy did not last for long: the rain continued to fall. One after the other, the people decided to return home. Obviously, they could not take their animals back home with them, because there was nothing they could feed them with there. They simply abandoned them. They offered me to join them, but I could not. Something prevented me from doing so. It was like the eyes of my family were looking at me critically: You did not pass the test. You have abandoned the animals! I refused. One adult farmer, our future neighbor in the colony, tried to pull me with him forcibly I circumvented him and I stayed by myself with the entire camp of wagons and animals. The rain continued. I added some hay sacks taken from somebody else's wagon for my berth and some additional covers, but everything was soaked with wetness and there wasn't any dry corner. The plain was gloomy, grey and desolate; and as if just to add to that misery, ruins of destroyed estate buildings, covered with secret and mystery, stood nearby. I lay on my berth, bundled with layers of covers trying to warm up my body in this horrible humidity, without any will to move away from that position. The hours stretched endlessly. It was impossible to cook under those conditions. I gathered my strength, kneaded some dough, swallowed it as is, and returned to my berth. With a water soaked soil, one could hear every step for far distances. I did not know who the walking person was: a human
or an animal. After all, it wasn't long ago since we experienced the horrible nightmares. I covered myself above my head; I did not want to think, neither did I want to listen.
I wanted to fall asleep I did not care about what would happen. Indeed I fell asleep, and woke up at night by the sound of breathing close to me. My blood froze in my veins until I realized that it was the horses. They stood by my berth, stretched their necks towards me while pushing each other. They smelled me by their breathing, and blew warm vapor over me. All of a sudden, my fear evaporated, as if I was not alone anymore in the center of the vast fields, far from any settlement, and defenseless against anybody who would want to hurt me. I actually talked to the horses and later I fell asleep again under the guard of the horses, and slept deeply until the morning. The following nights, I wasn't afraid anymore, as I got used to the company of the horses. The rain continued to fall, but I got used to my wet clothes and berth. During the breaks in the rain, I wandered around among the animals and warmed myself in the sun. Suddenly, I came up with the idea of trying to milk a cow. To my surprise, there were several drops of milk in her udders. I milked her directly into my mouth. I went from one cow to the other and milked as much as I could. Most of the cows stayed calm, as if they were waiting for just that. I was guaranteed not to be hungry again, which, by the way, stopped bothering me by then.
The rains and the heat resulted in tremendous growth of the weeds. The animals simply continued to recover from one day to another. However, a sea of mud separated me from my home. Of those who had abandoned their animals, none came to investigate what the situation was. One day, I saw a figure approaching from the direction of home. It was Mother who came! I could not look at her face and see the tears trickling down from her eyes, despite her efforts to avoid them. She was not sure whether she would find me alive. She told me that Benyamin was still very weak, and that they were about to move to our new home in the colony. She brought some food for me, but asked that perhaps I would join her and we would go home together I felt a pinch in my heart that there was nobody who could take over from me and decided to stay. I tried to calm her down. I described how beautiful my life was there. I pretended to have self-confidence and proved to her that my situation was better than that of the rest of the family. I stood there for a long time, watching how difficult it was for her to drag her legs through the deep mud, until she disappeared.
I continued with my Robinsonian life. I cooked my meals with milk rather than water. The horses obeyed my calls, but the rain continued to fall. One time I was brought food by Zrubavel. I heard from him that the Crimean plan failed. They did not succeed in getting out, ate whatever they had with them, and could not find other means to sustain themselves. Swollen from hunger, each found the way home, with great difficulties, on his or her own. Zrubavel said that he intended to leave to work for the movement [in Russia]. By the way, he found the family residing in our new home in the colony. Zrubavel left and I stayed behind. The days passed and I lost count. At times I thought that I was in the fields for eons. One day, that same farmer neighbor came to take his horses back home. It is time to prepare for the spring's sowing he said. He offered me to join him. We harnessed four horses and a wagon and went home.
The settlement and everything else looked very strange to me. I was a guest in my own home. It was the first time after twenty and some odd days that I took off my clothes and my shoes, and washed up. It would be easy to guess what my shape was after rolling around in the mud and taking care of the animals during all of those days. They fed me, of course, from the best food in the house, but I threw everything out. I probably managed to shrink my stomach pretty good. It did not bother me. I was at home, washed up and laying in my bed. I missed the silence of the field though. Sounds echoed in my ears with a homey resonance - resonance of a roof above one's head, after long days and nights of rainy and cold outdoors. I felt pity for myself, all of a sudden, and burst into tears. Mother sat by me without saying a word, as if she understood what was going on in my heart, her hand caressing my head, and that was how I fell asleep.
From that point and on we were anchored with all of our bodies and souls in the life of the colony, and only the colony. I could fill many pages with the description of the desperate struggle for making a living that the family got itself into during the first two years of our lives in the colony. As a memory of our distinguished status in the past, only the personal respect that the colony residents felt towards my parents remained and even deepened; perhaps respect toward all of us in light of our steadfastness against all the hardships that had befallen us. From a political point of view my father was disqualified, as a Zionist, to be elected to the Soviet. However, in economical maters and internal affairs of the colony, and in representing the colony at the Jewish welfare organization, his advice was listened to and often accepted. A large part of the colony residents needed immediate assistance in food, and seeds for sowing the land; otherwise there was no chance for satiation even in the future. The [Jewish] American welfare union the War Relief organization, which was allowed to operate in Russia on the condition that it would also provide assistance to a certain percentage of non-Jews, agreed to operate in the colony on the condition that my father would be their representative. That brought some income to the family. My mother did not shy away from any type of work that she happened to find. She worked as a cook in a soup kitchen for the needy established by the War Relief and baked bread for distribution, for a meager wage, and that was how we made a living until the harvest of 1922. We obtained seeds and sowed about 30 dunams [about 81 acres], even that with difficulty, since the horses were not able to work hard without feeding on prepared food. Pasture was not enough. However, the worst was already behind us. After a break of nine months, we ate bread, real bread!
We did not experience hunger again, but plenty of quandaries hit us. Somebody emptied our laundry ropes, sheets and underwear, after washing, at a time when clothing was precious. We were left with nothing. We needed to get used to that, too. Zrubavel was on the road then, on behalf of the [Zionist] movement. Being one of its founders, under the new conditions, he was arrested and put in jail in Kherson.
We were not accustomed to arrests then. My father traveled to Kherson to try to handle his release
and bring some food for him and for his friends. He had to stay there for a while. The policy towards the Zionists was probably not very clear then; indeed, the jailed members were released after approximately one month. Zrubavel and his wife and their daughter, who was born in the meantime, stayed with us. She became used to all of the farm work, and he returned to work for the movement in various regions in Russia, often without us knowing where he was.
In the meantime Benyamin decided to leave home. Several hakhshara [training] farms of the He'Khalutz movement were established in several places in Russia. The chances to receive a certificate to make Aliya to Ertez Israel were slim, so he went to join one of those farms. Father tried to convince him not to leave us during such a distressed economic condition but Benyamin was firm in his opinion that the only solution was in making Aliya and not [in staying] in Russia. I supported his view with the promise that I would take charge of all the work in the farm. That summer was, for me, one of the most difficult tests in my life. All the family members worked as hard as possible. Everybody worked in hoeing the summer crops (sunflowers and corn), but my main helper was my brother David, who was only eight years old. That kid knew how to harness horses when he was only 6 years old. He would drape the straps over the horses by standing on top of the manger, or the wagon, since he did not reach the horses' necks by standing on the ground. I doubt that there was any other kid in the colony who knew to work like him, particularly in tasks associated with the horses.
The harvest season of that year was a nightmare. Whoever knows the name of the Russian piling machine, knows that its name - lobo grika (meaning warming the forehead) fits what it really does - instead of the piling machine lever placing the harvested crop directly on its own floor a person had to sit in the back of the machine, and gather, with a chopped teethed pitchfork, one pile after the other and place them down in a single row behind the piles from the previous runs. That was a grueling work, due to the fact that one had to be careful not to put the pitchfork between the moving blades particularly when the green and heavy hay was harvested. I was like a baby compared to my partner in the harvest, a strong man with muscles. In spite of that, he did not cede anything to me he did two rounds and expected two rounds to be done by me. I did that with the last of my strength, sometimes by standing since I did not have the strength to do it sitting down. On top of the hard work I was infected with dysentery and could not get rid of it for many days. I had to stop and run aside frequently, to the sound of the urging calls that accompanied me. There was plenty to harvest that year. I held on and surprised myself. We did not have much choice in selecting our partners. That particular partner eroded my faith in humans; he broke all of our agreements, relying on his strength and our lack of choice. He would harvest his share out of turn. I once noticed that the turn of harvesting our wheat came, and was about to be abandoned while he was turning the machine to his field, I could not hold myself back and attacked him with my fists. Obviously, since the forces were unequal, I was the one that absorbed most of the blows, but our wheat was harvested.
The partnership continued. One week we were transporting and threshing, and the other week our partner. There was no guarantee that the good weather would last to allow us to collect everything. Obviously, we tried our best. I almost did not have a chance to lie down, before I had
to wake up my sleepy brother David. I would lie him down on the ladder wagon and go out for the transport, while he continued to sleep on the way to the field. After I had loaded the wagon (we had a large wagon, 6 meter long with an upper tall ladder) he would receive and compress the wheat, and drive the wagon home while I slept. Very often, we were returning from the field with a loaded wagon, while others were just going out with their wagons to the field. Father's role would be to feed the horses any time we had a break from work, during the day and night. Mother, in addition to all of the house work and handling of the cows, would help in every task during the threshing. Father and Mother rotated in turning the winnower.
How envious was I of those that had a pair of horses and more, and could perform all of the field work without worries and special efforts. Many of those people did not perform their work well, as if they did not like their fate as workers of the land; they continued without innovations, like their ancestors in days past, they did not bother to study crop rotation, seeds selection, or introduction of new crops. We learned to work enthusiastically and do the work well. For me, it was like a mission of honor. We strove to cultivate all the lands allocated to us, but could not. It made no sense terminating our milk sector in order to be able to buy another horse, because what justified field work at all was making wheat and hay cultivation more profitable. Wheat itself had a very low official price. Except for securing bread for family and animals, vast quantities of surpluses were required to sustain us.
The desire to accomplish as much as possible, was beyond the strength of our new horse, and it reached the point of total exhaustion. We were lucky that we managed to exchange the horse for a new one by adding one fattened pig.
This was an outstanding horse, one of the few owned by the colony's Jews, which was also awarded a red card (grade A for military service when needed). There was no limit to its work ability. It set us back on our feet, and brought back our honor. We could then become more selective when the time came to look for a partnership. It is easy to guess how happy I was when we could afford to purchase another horse after the harvest of 1924. At last we could attack the work as we wanted, without feelings of inferiority and helplessness. It can be said that we did not experience poverty since.
These were the days of the new economic policy (NAP). The easing on the ownership of production resources in industry and agriculture, bought a quick recovery of the market, following the Civil War and the militant communism. The establishment of the uniform agricultural tax, which allowed every farmer to know in advance how much he would need to pay that year, while keeping the rest for himself and his own benefit, brought a rapid development of the agriculture. The import of the first tractors and various agricultural machines commenced. Groups of 10 12 farmers organized into artels [agricultural cooperative associations]
and thereby received priority in purchasing a tractor (Fordson) and other machines. Artels organized in our colony too, but we did not join. We did not want to commit ourselves, as our aim was to make Aliya.
I could not tell why we procrastinated in deciding. I was so busy with the work and, in parallel, in the [Zionist] movement that I did not pay attention to it. One of the main reasons was certainly the fact that my elder brothers were still in Russia. The liquidation of our property would have been likely sufficient for the road expenses, but the fear that we arrive in Eretz Israel penniless with a family consisting of a manpower imbalance, probably deterred my parents.
Zrubavel, who was a member of the He'Khalutz center, which was nearly legal in the beginning and later on legal (and also issued a newspaper, which Zrubavel was mentioned as its editor) - spent a considerable amount of time in dense Jewish centers where the movement was operating underground. Chance greetings and occasional letters allowed us, barely, to track him down. Odessa, Kharkov, Homel [Gomel] and Minsk were some of the stops in his work. He happened to stop by for two days at home, at the beginning of 1924. These were two nights that became festive in our local branch, which was thirsty for information and guidance. My parents tried to convince him to leave Russia when it was not too late, but to no avail. He saw himself as standing in the front's first line, and leaving it could be considered a desertion. His words were blunt and clear: There is a very limited active Zionist leadership, meager resources and only a few certificates [for making Aliya]. On the other hand, the foundations for the existence of the Jewish shtetl were destroyed and therefore productivization [abandonment of traditional Jewish occupations in favor of more productive and white collar professions] is the order of the hour. There are opportunities for a vast Jewish agricultural settlement in Ukraine and Crimea. We must direct those circles of supporters towards settlement with clear national character, in order to create, until the rage subsides, centers which could provide, when the time comes, candidates for Aliya candidates who are skilled in manual labor, in large numbers, much larger than those that exist in the He'Khalutz hakhshara farms. The settlements would serve as a passageway for prepared candidates supplementing the existing scant Aliya. The Jewish street should absolutely never be abandoned to fall into the hands of the Yevsektzia [Jewish Communist sector]. We need to encourage ourselves even if the opportunities don't exist and the forces are unequal. The masses of the Jews must be organized in the localities and given social-Zionist content and hope. There is a need for people to carry the flag.
Zrubavel left. That was the last time I was fortunate to see him, and also the last time the rest of the family saw him, except Mother who travelled in the winter of 1926-1927 to visit him in Verkhneuralsk in Siberia where he was jailed in isolation as a political prisoner. The last news from him, which also arrived from Siberia, was heard in 1935. Since then, we lost any trace of him forever.
Benyamin's turn to make Aliya had also not come, and he continued to work in hakhshara camps of He'Khalutz. He was transferred from one place to another, according to the needs, in spite of the fact that he had a family already. As the [Zionist] activity widened, and the imprisonments increased, he was recruited to headquarter related activities and his chances for making Aliya became more remote.
We had quite a few arguments at home about the underground activities of the [Zionist] movement. We formed two camps; on one side Father, and the other Mother and I. Father, with his typical realistic sense, did not see the logic for a dynamic clandestine Zionist activity against an iron-regime that uses loathsome means to justify its actions against those, according to the regime's own view, who did not act according to the (regime's) rules, even if the activity was not against the regime itself. Despite the fact that he was loyal to his Zionist views, without any exceptions, and he announced about them in public on many occasions, he did not participate in the clandestine movement's formal activities, although he did not inhibit our undertakings. He also did not prevent, except for some grumbling, the lodging in our home of emissaries from one of the headquarters or from other colonies, who came to visit me. It became clear that we will encounter a bitter end. We would sacrifice ourselves, without being able to erect a wall good enough to withstand the Yevsektzia's rule in the Jewish street, which was helped by all the devices of the regime, and was inciting and informing about the Zionist movement to the heads of the regime and the [Communist] party (incidentally, we could find a sympathetic ear among many of the party's heads, during a certain period of time). It cannot be said that we did not foresee the lurking dangers. The fact was that, among other things, every member was prepared to withstand the hardships of imprisonment and investigation. However, our conscience was clean we were not among the people who acted against the Soviet regime. The opposite was true. We thought that the solution to the large-scale Jewish anomaly could only be found under that regime. Trumpeldor's Pioneering Manifesto and our adapted Borokhov's Platform served as our bible. It was necessary to fight for the self determination of the Jews and their national language.
My situation was very peculiar at that time. I was still very young, not yet 15 in 1923. The elder Zionists, whom almost all of us knew, left the colony, most of them to the hakhshara farms and others to the cities to study; there was no formal frame for the Zionist youth. I participated in the cultural activities organized by the Komsomol. Everybody knew about my views (I even insisted on singing a Hebrew song KeSha'on Ra'am BaShama'im [Like the Sound of a Thunder in the Sky, by Naftali Tzvi Imber], at an amateur ball in the public hall).
Yet these activities attracted me more and more, and there was the danger that I would be swept with the current. I was not the only one in that situation, and the end would have been completely different if not for a fortunate event.
The envoy who came, presented a direct request to me, that I would help establishing a local branch of the ZS Yugent (Zionist-Socialists Youth) in the colony. To my question, what prompted him to trust me, and whether I was even close to that ideology? He responded that Zrubavel vouched for me. He was an older adult, a member of the ZS party headquarters. We discussed the request the whole night and I made a decision to help. He took me the following day
to meet representatives of existing branches in other colonies, in order to learn how it was possible to begin. I shall provide here some of the details about our organization there.
The base for our recruiting activities was those few elder members that stayed behind in the colony and did not leave for hakhshara and their younger brothers and sisters. Later on, in order to create additional cells, every new member had to provide recommendations from two people. Every club held two meetings weekly. We renewed the movement of He'Khalutz, which was an apolitical Eretz Israel union and could absorb elder youths regardless of their social views. The only common ideology was the aspiration to make Aliya. I, despite my young age, also worked among them. At the end, when a cell of the ZS party was established, I was also allowed to join the party (outside of the regulations). I became a member and so was my mother, who, unlike Father, did not believe in a passive approach, and gave her hand to any activity. In our conditions, it was a great organizational and intellectual effort. There was insufficient printed material, lack of tight connections with Eretz Israel and a terrifying shortage of local educated leaders. In addition, the leaders who had to prepare for every meeting based on the available material took upon themselves an additional load. We issued an internal (handwritten) monthly newspaper, and I was its editor. That required quite a few additional night hours. We tried, several times, to bring permanent counselors from the centers in the cities; however, under the conditions of a small settlement, every foreigner stood out; particularly, his association with people, whose ideological identity was very well known, would point to his occupation. None of these foreigners managed to hold on for more than a month. Luckily we succeeded in getting them all out in time, except one who, indeed, was arrested. We reached a point when 50 60 people were registered and organized in three bodies in our colony, we considered that a significant achievement.
I was fortunate to be nominated as a representative of the entire Southern Russia in the congress of the ZS Youths as well as a representative of the ZS of Southern Russia in a congress that was called off before it ended due to a wave of mass arrests of the party's members and its youths, which suddenly erupted and actually constituted the destruction of the physical existence of the party. I myself was lucky. After all, local regime officials knew about me and my views and the title disloyal from a public point of view was attached to me all the time. Despite all of that I had good relations [with these officials]. For example, there was a civil defense organization in the colony. The Soviet official responsible for the armory and the guarding schedule, who knew about my devotion to the Jewish defense affairs, would often hand me over his responsibilities of supervising the guarding schedule and its execution and I had, most of the time, a rifle and ammunition from the Soviet armory in my house. There was no sense in pretending to be innocent. I never denied my views. The problem was not to be caught during an actual clandestine activity, which we tried our best not to do.
Yehuda Kopelevitz (Almog) arrived at our colony in 1924. He came to Russia with [David] Ben-Gurion using the opportunity of a Russian agricultural exhibition, to try to mediate between the rightist and the leftist factions of the He'Khalutz movement.
Yehuda extended his visit and received a license to visit the [Jewish] communes that still existed,
here and there, throughout Russia. Obviously he visited many of the He'Khalutz branches and he also arrived by us. It is hard to describe our excitement to host somebody who could provide regards directly from Eretz Israel, tell us about what was going on there and about the chances for the future, as well as regards from relatives and acquaintances. Due to the short time for preparations, we did something we usually did not do gather all of the people from the various cells into one assembly, because we could not deprive anybody from obtaining the information from the source, things about which these people were willing to sacrifice their own life. Tens of people crowded in one house, sat in the dark and listened throughout almost the entire night. I could not afford that pleasure for myself. I made rounds around the house and the adjacent streets to prevent a complete surprise to occur. The Komsomol people probably sensed that the gathering was taking place and went out to sniff in the streets. I had to spend a long hour with some of them who approached the place too close, in a joyful bash, in singing and in telling dubious jokes. The principal objective was to make sure that the gathering went well. In the meantime, it turned out that Yehuda's license was about to expire in a couple of days. We came out with a daring idea to exploit the lack of experience of our provincial authorities in the contact with foreign visitors. I went with Yehuda to the Soviet office, residing in the neighboring village, presented him to the head of the administrative office as a member of a commune in Eretz Israel who is visiting communes and villages in Russia. We presented Yehuda's certificate and requested an extension. The astounded official was sweeter than honey; He stamped the required seals with hands shaking with excitement and even accompanied us to the door. Following that authorization, Yehuda was free to go around in the colony. I also took him to the Komsomol club to meet the colony youth. They surrounded him with many questions and even wanted him to have a discussion with them; however, the Komsomol's secretary stopped the contact and isolated us. In the following evening, already not in secret but seated along long set tables under a bright light, Yehuda continued with his stories, in front of the adult crowd, mainly from families who were known as Zionists, so that the risk of getting informed upon was minimized. In our conditions then, his visit was like a big bright light shining in the darkness. We need to note that there was a big gap between those people who were fans of Zion, and close to the idea of the Return to Zion or were relatives of people who had made Aliya to Eretz Israel and the people who were active in the underground movement. These members paid the membership dues and took on themselves the full risk, knowing well the suffering they can expect to be inflicted by the regime, whose attitude and means were very clear. The members who were organized in the various branches of the movement almost never had the chance to gather and see each other in a general assembly. The meetings were held in small cells while the members did not know how many cells there were in the colony. Even if they would gather, once or twice, in an assembly, they really did not know whether it was a general or partial assembly. As a result, no social life was developed in the movement. Songs were taught mouth to mouth; friendship relations were developed within the groups. If we allowed ourselves to unwind, it was only done during friendly meetings on Shabbat or in the evenings,
but never during meetings when we needed to keep silence and humility. It is logical to assume that a similar situation prevailed in other colonies where an organized movement was established.
We did not rely only on our own innovation skills. There was a central directing hand by the central management team of Southern Russia. Study-material and information duplicated by a typing machine or by a hectograph was transferred to the various places by messengers, or by loyal members who happened to travel to neighboring cities, and who had received in advance an address for handing over the material. That was also where the reports about the local activities, applications of new members and membership fees were handed over.
We received from the center, names and addresses of members from other settlements whom we could trust and could turn to, in time of need. Without an authorization from the center we had to treat everybody with caution (for example, Yona Kosoi-Keseh [native of Dobroye, later on a member in five sessions of Israel's Knesset], visited his relatives in the colony, who were also members of the movement. Knowing that he was a Zionist they directed him to me. However, according to the rules I could welcome him warmly, talk to him about rocks and trees, but absolutely never bring him together with the members of the movement, or tell him about our activities).
Due to the limiting and trying clandestine conditions, we had to instruct our members, despite the risk involved, to participate in all of the cultural and general-educational activities of the Komsomol, which were held in public. We even coordinated our activities to leave some evenings available for that, as we did not have the means to provide the needs for people who wanted to learn and had no means to do so.
At the inception of the Soviet regime, the slogan The children and the youth are our future was emphasized and activity of organizing the youth was initiated very innocent in the beginning - the Kramsomol (Krestianski Soyuz Molodivzhi The Agricultural Youth Union). No constraints were imposed on becoming a member, neither of views nor of class. For the first time, organized systematic actions were developed to elevate the cultural level of the peasant youths. The primary counselors came from the part of the intelligentsia that was studying in the cities and had joined the Communist Party enthusiastically, or those who were already underground members during the Whites' regime. Other manpower for these activities came from local advanced and educated people, without considering their political views. Of course not all the youths participated in these activities, which, by the way, were always public and open to anybody. The peasant population always contained circles who were not interested in anything beyond satisfying their immediate but limited needs.
These activities were very diverse. We need to recall that no radio existed at the time and only a limited number of newspapers was available. An overall review of what was happening in the international front was provided. A newspaper was read aloud to disseminate news about Russia.
Evenings devoted to questions and answers were also held, at least weekly, as the principal means for deepening the youth's knowledge. An opportunity was available to ask anonymous questions for those who, for various reasons, avoided asking questions in public. The people who provided answers could be anybody who had volunteered to do so after the question was read. That resulted in cases where a discussion about a topic was initiated. If there were questions for which nobody, including the counselor, could respond to, a response was prepared for another session. Obviously, the youths who were inclined to support Zionism, participated in these activities, alertly and diligently. They could be identified clearly, during the sessions devoted to questions and answers, by their approach to the various general questions and particularly to questions related to the Jewish nation. In addition to these activities, a chorus, drama club and literature club were also organized. Various members were given the responsibility, from time to time, to prepare lectures and reviews of defined subjects. That was a welcomed activity.
Tens from among the elder youths began to leave the colony to study in various institutions in the cities, in departments for workers and technical schools of an appropriate level. These students were equipped with certificates which granted them the rights for scholarships, dormitories and other benefits. Many students who were leaning towards Zionism were included in these programs. However, that freedom did not last long. A decree was issued, even before a year has passed, about the abolition of the Kramsomol and the establishment of the Komsomol (The Communist Youth Union). Constraints were imposed on membership in that organization. First of all, the doors were closed for youths who came from a suspicious class (e.g. wealthy farmers, merchants), sons of those who were not eligible to vote, and those whose views were not compatible with those of the regime. All of these were recognized from the time of the Krasomol activity. Not many knocked on the doors of the new organization. Members of the kombed's [Committees of Poor Peasants] pressured their sons to join the organization. One could get a Komandirovka (A certificate for sending somebody to study) only through the Komsomol, and this was a major enticement. Incidentally, the Komsomol accepted members in the age range of 14 24. If somebody, who was suspected because of his views or his class origin, wanted to join the Komsomol he would have had to denounce his connections to his past, prove in practice his loyalty through a long candidacy period, and obtain affirmation of two Komsomol members. That was before the Zionist movement organized itself in the underground, and before it forged its ideological and physical resilience against the enticements and risks it faced. During that period, many youths who had joined Zionism before, were swept away by the current and became integrated with the Soviet regime operation, some exploiting it for their own benefits and others as loyal converts. These youths caused many troubles, later on, to the Zionist movement. In many localities throughout the Soviet Union, the Komsomol branch whose head was usually nominated from above, and mostly not from among the local people, conducted clandestine operations, part of which, in addition to other tasks, involved actual surveillance. However, as mentioned above, cultural and educational activities continued, in which we were forced to participate for the benefit of our members. With the consolidation of the regime, and the establishment of the methods associated with its economic policies the nationalization
of the means of production, dissolution of private plants (even of those of artisans), dissolving of the private trade, and putting an emphasis on the social origin in any matter associated with opportunities for studying and making a living, the situation of the Jews in their big centers within the Pale of Settlement got worse and in many towns and cities their sustenance and existence were completely destroyed. The ZS party, which in parallel to its Zionist activity it engraved on its flag the slogan of taking care of the situation of the masses of Jews, their livelihood and their future wherever they resided, started a full swing for the productivization [direct the Jews to more productive types of work]: the organization of Jewish artels (cooperative associations) of artisans, the establishment of organizations for agricultural settlements and the abolition of limitations associated with the social origin of Jews, whose social origin was considered deficient due to historical reasons. As a result of that activity of the ZS, the central forces of the movement dwindled, as members were forced to appear with their full name in various assemblies and congresses, knowing very well that they would be arrested immediately following their participation. Although the government implemented many of the demands of the ZS, under the pressure of the [deteriorating] situation of the Jews, it also increased the operation against the Zionist movement and the number of arrests continued to increase (more about this topic - see the book Sefer ZS, published by Am Oved [editor Yehuda Erez, 1963, Israel]).
That misfortune had not reached us as of yet. We were an agricultural settlement and our problems were different. We were occupied with the absorption of new settlers that arrived from the Podolia region; many of them were our [movement's] members. The same is true for all other settlements in the Kherson province and the new settlements in Crimea (by the way the new settlement movement that took place in 1923-24, which was called the Crimea Settlement, took place in the Kherson province). Despite the fact that we did not incur arrests, we knew all about the new methods employed by the [ZS] party and the ZS Yugend. We knew about the sacrifices made in order to reach the masses of Jews with our message. We knew about the general assemblies of the party's centers and branch management teams that disappeared and the establishment of new centers that replaced them according to arrangements made ahead of time. We also took emergency measures and determined who would replace whom in case a person would be arrested. We formed a narrow regional commission consisting of one member from each of the colonies of Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Ktana, Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola and Nahar-Tov to ensure consolidation and coordination of activities, in case we lose our connection with the center. We also decided to make our voice heard during pertinent opportunities, but we tried to prevent the immediate arrest of the speaker by having the speaker come from another settlement and by organizing a self-defense group, also consisted of residents of another colony and who would smuggle out the speaker, immediately following the speech, using the element of surprise.
Before such an appearance had been organized in Nahar-Tov, I participated in a festive rally that took place on November 7, 1924, celebrating the October Revolution. The only planned speaker was the secretary of the Communist party, but I could not restrain myself and asked to speak, something which was very uncommon on those occasions. I spoke Russian, since I did not know Yiddish well enough. I spoke in my name and not in the name of the Zionist-Socialist movement. I noted all of the issues that the movement is fighting for. I emphasized the achievements of the
October Revolution in the Soviet Union, but noted, in parallel, the lack of understanding towards the Jewish anomaly, the lack of action to correct the situation and the sin of not recognizing the aspiration of the Zionists-Socialists to build a nation in its old homeland using new ideas. I received applauses. The [Communist] party's secretary was forced to stand up and angrily attacked the traitors who shove sticks in the wheels of the enormous development of the country. Obviously people stopped cheering me. I was not arrested, perhaps because I was only 16 years old, or because I spoke in behalf of myself.
It was decided in the regional office that we would not be satisfied with that appearance, particularly since I spoke Russian and not on behalf of the movement. We prepared our appearance for the rally on January 9th, 1925 commemorating the 1905 revolution. A travelling speaker, who worked in the colonies and who knew Yiddish well, was selected as the speaker. Ten [ZS] Yugend youths from the colony of Dobroye, located near the train station, about 30 kilometers from Yefeh-Nahar, served as the self-defense group. The youths arrived at dusk, in two wagons, and everything worked according to the plan. They tried not to let him speak, but calls from the crowd could be heard let him talk! The speaker was requested to climb over on the stage but he continued from his seat. A total silence fell in the crowd when the words on behalf of the Zionists-Socialists Party were sounded. Movement among the Komsomol people toward the speaker could be seen even during the speech. However, the hall was crowded, and it was not possible for them to do so too openly. A total silence fell in the hall when the speaker finished his speech.
The movement members in the hall, who were concentrated around the speaker, began to sing. The crowd stood up and did not fully comprehend what was really going on. The shouts by the chairman could not be heard and the passageways were clogged up. In the meantime, the self-defense group along with the speaker left through the nearest door, followed by many of the local movement's members and others. They turned toward the yard where the wagons stood with the horses harnessed and ready to go. The Komsomol secretary with several other members ran around the entire marching group with notebooks in their hands writing the names of the people that left the hall whom they recognized. The youths from Dobroye left peacefully and arrived safely. Nobody was arrested. Everybody talked about that event for a long time, and as a result, we acquired several new members for our branch.
In April 1925 we suffered our first failure. Prior to that we hosted and successfully hid an emissary-counselor. During one of the evenings, the branch management gathered with the counselor in the house of two of our members, to prepare a plan for the following summer's activity of all the clubs. We prepared a detailed plan. Two meetings per week, every meeting with scheduled subjects and their outlines, etc. The pages piled up on the table, and the small hours of the night approached. All of a sudden, we were frightened by loud knocks and an order to open the doors. We took our time so that we can burn all of the documents. However, shouts could be heard
from the outside at the windows they are burning papers. We also heard sounds of attempts to break the door. I collected all of the papers, put them in my pocket and we opened the door. It turned out that these were the members of the Komsomol who surrounded the house. Since they did not have any official authority, we did not let them come in. However, as it turned out, they anticipated what they would encounter in the house and sent over people to summon the lawful authority the criminal investigation bureau (since there was no local representative of the G. P. O [Soviet-Union's secret police 1922-23]). In the meantime they kept guard around the house so that we would not be able to sneak out. Around 4 AM an officer and several militiamen arrived and conducted a thorough search. The officer sat at the table, and they brought him every suspicious book or
item for examination. They moved the men, one by one, to an adjacent room, and searched their clothes and bodies. The women had to pass their hands on their bodies to prove that they did not carry anything. My turn approached and I had the incriminating pile of papers in my pocket. When I was called to be searched, without thinking about it beforehand, I took the pile of papers and quickly put them at the edge of the officer's table. Obviously, nothing was found during the search. When I went out of the room, I saw that the papers were still resting in the same place on the table where I put them. I grabbed them and put them back in in my pocket in the same way I had taken them out before. I have never separated from them again.
All eight of us were arrested along with our hosts, the owners of the house. After staying for two days at the provincial police, it was decided to transfer us to the offices of the G. P. O in the city of Kherson, via the customary way (on foot). The authority of one village would transfer us to the authority of the next village and so on. A transfer in that way, over a distance of 80 kilometer could last two weeks. We requested to hire a wagon, on our account, and our request was approved. We related that to our relative, so my father arrived at the designated hour, with his wagon, to take us with the armed guard to Kherson. Our setting off was a thrilling event. The militiamen were standing guard along the staircase with a crowd of curious onlookers behind them. Our horse was harnessed to the wagon, which was standing some distance away. When I went out and saw the wagon, I called the name of my beloved horse that I have not seen for the last two days. The horse responded with a joyful neighing, and suddenly, dragging the other horse and the wagon broke through the crowd and the line of the policemen running toward me at the head of the stairs. The crowd consisted mostly of gentiles, who did not fully appreciate the ability of the Jews to befriend animals, was delighted, and many tapped me on my shoulder.
We decided to transform our setting off into a type of demonstration. We walked through the streets of the village and the colony, guarded, from two sides, by armed guards with bayoneted rifles, the wagon behind us, and we were singing the whole time. We repeated the same type of demonstration in the streets of Kherson, a city with a large Jewish population. At the G. O. P. we were scattered among various cells, but we managed to decide, along the way, about how to behave during our interrogation.
The inspector for Zionists affairs was on vacation and his temporary replacement did not know what to do with us. We denied membership in any organization, and claimed that we gathered for a birthday party After a series of interrogations that lasted for about a month and which did not lead to anything, the main investigator, by the name of Oschuk, returned and he expressed his outrage about our arrest, and released us (apparently our incidental arrest was contrary to their plan). We returned home and continued to operate during the entire summer according
|Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola – the fruit tree orchard|
|The harvest in the field (during the 1920's)|
|Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola – in the orchard|
to the same plan which we had prepared before the arrest, and which was with me during the entire month at the G. P. O. jail. During that month we managed to meet with several people who were later executed remnants of the heads of gangs, Jewish murderers and white officers. We also met with some of the first Trotsky's people who were arrested in Southern Russia. I shared a cell with one of them a Russian who was a member of the Social Democratic party since 1903. While he promised not to share his information with the interrogators, he described to me the role of every one of us at our branch. He found out all of that information only based on his acquaintances, during our daily circular walk, so extensive was his experience from his years in the underground.
Obviously, my absence was very much felt in our farm. Luckily, we completed the spring sowing before my arrest and I came back just in time for the summer harvest and cultivations. We were not disturbed during the harvest and the threshing and I even managed to complete the fall sowing. My father used to complain: how can you not sleep during the night and work endlessly you will kill yourself if you continue like that. Indeed, sometimes I felt like falling off my feet without the ability to go on. However, we had to go on. Dreadful news about additional arrests of activists arrived once in a while from throughout the movement; however, quiet prevailed in the colonies. The summer of 1925 was a summer of fruitful activity. Making Aliya to Eretz Israel was still allowed to whoever possessed a certificate and money. A ship sailed from Odessa every two weeks bound for Jaffa, and passports were supplied almost to everyone. However, the news from Eretz Israel was not encouraging, signs of a crisis appeared and some people came back. We sent some of our members to the hakhshara camps of the He'Khalutz in Crimea as candidates for Aliya and as counselors for agricultural work. Some families, who had relatives in Eretz Israel, had received certificates, liquidated their farms and made Aliya. The rest continued to hope, that the happy day would arrive for them as well someday.
During that summer, a travelling Jewish theatrical troupe appeared in the Jewish colonies, which showed Jewish plays on a high level and even with national overtone.
This happened in parallel to the established of the autonomous district in Kalinindorf (they changed the name of Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola after the name of the president of the Soviet Union, Kalinin, a person who undoubtedly tried to act on the benefit of the Jews). Jewish schools were added in the colonies, and they even talked about Jewish courts. It seemed that the Jewish life was deepening, something we were fighting for. Around the theatrical troupe that consisted of pleasant and intelligent people who symbolized the revival of the Jewish culture concentrated those from among our people who were interested in that revival, without suspecting anything.
During one of the nights of September 1925, a secretary-friend and I sat down in our house, working on editing the local internal newspaper, which we issued monthly. We worked till 3 AM when we reached exhaustion. Although I had a hideaway,
I did not hide the material, left it on the top of the closet and went to accompany my fried to her home in the neighboring village. On my way back from the village, I saw a group of about 50 people marching toward the colony, and despite that I did not perceive any trouble and went to sleep without getting undressed as I needed to wake-up a short while later to go to work.
My mother used to wake up early for her work. She woke up and went out to bring some materials for the fireplace from the yard, leaving the door open. That was how I found myself being shaken up and ordered to stand up, while the entire family was already standing, not being allowed to approach me. Obviously the newspapers including all the various writings were found during the search, and I could not deny anything. Tens of members were arrested in our colony that night. For 24 hours they were busy sorting through them. Some were released; the rest were transported to the train station, where a special train waited for us and where we met with hordes of arrested people from the rest of the colonies. It turned out that the arrests were executed at the same time throughout the entire Southern Russia. Although we pretended not to know each other, the people of the G. O. P. told us in advance that we will see many of our acquaintances on the train and indeed our movement absorbed a huge blow. That time, not only the movement's principal activists were affected but also masses of members.
We were transferred to Kherson, initially to the G. O. P. and later on to the old jail where people who were sentenced to hard labor were imprisoned. They put us in separate cells and the interrogation affair began. We were astonished to see one of the principal players of the theatrical troupe, Pivniak, as a G.O. P. interrogator, who knew most of us and called us by our first name, He threw a question to us, by the way: I didn't play so badly did I?. Pivniak was an expert in internal Jewish affairs and in Zionists movements in Southern Russia. There was another interrogator, perhaps senior than Pivniak, by the name of Gusak (whom we could not verify whether he was Jewish or not) who was a person with a wide education and knowledge of many foreign languages. His area of expertise was different. He was expert in international Judaism and Zionism, ideological contention and betrayal coaxing. On his table, he always had big packages of Jewish newspapers from all of Europe. I saw, for the first time, titles that we heard about so much such as the Yiddishe Rundschau, the Jewish Chronicle and others.
Luckily, it was still a period of a lawful treatment of prisoners, and complete separation between political and criminal prisoners, without the use of physical punishments and tortures during interrogations. There were also fears of the Procurator who served in the role of the state attorney and as comptroller who audited the legality of the interrogation organizations and courts. We took advantage of that situation to the best of our ability.
My situation was advantageous. According to the customary rule of the movement, a member who was caught with compelling evidence which prevented her/him from denying being a member in the movement had to keep quiet during the interrogation, and that was what I did. The interrogations were all held at night. The interrogator's rooms were located in the management building. In order to go there,
one had to pass through six yards of the giant jail with heavy gates separating between them. The echo of the steps of sentries and prisoners, and the call of the guards: who is there? disturbed the night silence. Sometimes I was happy for that opportunity to breathe fresh air, since we were only allowed 15 minutes daily to walk in a circle outside, and I had a strong longing for fresh air.
I had to go through 28 interrogations, among them, 20 in the first two months. I had to sit through long hours of speeches by the interrogators about the Jewish plutocracy throughout the world, about the people who were the servants of the imperialism, the people who robbed the lands from the Arabs, the interventionists and the agreement with Petliura and I was sitting, keeping my silence. I was read my speech from the rally on November 7th, word by word and things I said during parts of various cultural activities of the Komsomol and just during discussions. I found out that a spider web was weaved around me the whole time. Nothing was hidden from them. I kept my silence. They described to me my demise somewhere in nowhere, if I would not cooperate with them. Against that they described a bright future of the Soviet Union and the international revolution, the need to concentrate all the powers towards building the economy where a solution for the Jewish National issue could be found. I was presented with the opportunity to study in the best educational institutions, piles of money bills were placed on the table accompanied by tempting offers: After all, you are a smart person, and a bright future is waiting for you with us. I kept my silence. One time, the interrogator Gusak, could not hold himself, and he threw a juicy Russian curse at me. I answered him, a few second later in the same style (I was an expert in that area). Oh, I only intended to say it in a third person said the interrogator. So did I' I replied.
That was the only [improper] incident during my arrest. They treated us as political prisoners. Criminal prisoners served us, doing everything for us cleaned the cells and took out the excrement-pail. We tied strong ties with them. The criminal prisoners were allowed to roam around their building and yard throughout the day and were only locked up in their cells at night, following a count. Among them there were many analphabets, so I became their expert writer of letters. The prison guard on duty did not object for them to approach my cell's door, one at the time, and provide me with their details. I often saw, in front of me, tough murderers, robbers, and thieves shedding tears hearing the sentimental letters which I wrote to their wives, girlfriends or parents. After I hid a pack of cards and other forbidden games, before a search they had projected to take place, I earned their trust totally. They became our messengers along the entire corridor of our isolated cells.
The indictment was finally submitted to us after two months. Using the help of the criminal prisoners, we began a hunger strike to request submission of the indictment. It was submitted after two days of hunger, which became known throughout the jail (the criminal prisoners passed the news about it to the city when they went out for various works there) and during the visit by the Procurator. The indictment contained just a few lines. We were accused of being members of an illegal association,
which endangered the public safety. If it could have been proven, we would have faced a jail time of 3 to 4 years and expulsion to far provinces of the Union. That was all. We continued to be jailed. I used the time of my arrest in an extraordinary way, for my own benefit. The jail contained a huge library, which was confiscated from a famed rich person. Since we were not allowed to go the library itself, we were allocated a dedicated librarian who fulfilled our requests by bringing the books to our cells. The librarian was an artist with an academic education who was sentenced to 15 years for drawing an engraving to forfeit money bills. He did his best to provide books, and often also explained matters in literature, arts and sciences. I painfully lacked education and I jumped upon that opportunity, taking advantage of the fact that the lights were on during the night. We did not have a shortage of food, as we received packages from relatives and the welfare fund. We were also allowed to smoke, on our account, as much as we wanted. I therefore could devote myself to reading and learning. During my entire life, before my arrest and even after that, I did not do as much for myself as I did during my six-month arrest. That jail period provided me, a peasant youth who lacked education, the opportunity to find his ways in matters associated with a developed social life, perhaps as an amateur, but not as an ignorant. Except for a bit of exercises, dance for the preservation of one's physical fitness and the daily walk, the rest of the uninterrupted time was devoted to reading and studying.
The days became weeks, the interrogation had ended for quite some time, and we began to demand a sentence. However, we were not promptly responded to. We decided to announce a second hunger strike. We refused food and water for 4 days, despite all of the persuasions, while our friends from among the criminal prisoners served as messengers, since we were scattered among isolated cells. Only after the procurator visited us and promised to fulfill our request, we stopped the strike. Several days later, they led us one by one, to the interrogator office, and read us the administrative sentence.
Knowing that a certificate was reserved for me, I requested, immediately after my sentence was read, to change the sentence (three years deportation to central Asia) to a permit to leave the Soviet Union forever. For some reason I did that without receiving an explicit approval from the movement's institutions, which, at that time, did not encourage deserting our campaign that way. However, I sensed the need to make that fateful decision. In my request I mentioned September 1926 as the date of my departure, however, I asked to be released immediately in order for me to be able to gather the harvest, and to perform the fall sowing in my family farm, where I was the only adult worker. Several weeks later I was surprised to receive an order to get out with my belonging.
That took place at the end of March 1926. I dove into the ocean of work that was waiting for me at home. The summer and fall came immediately after the spring cultivation work. I felt a strong obligation to ensure the livelihood of the family until the time when we would be able to bring them too to Eretz Israel.
In the meantime, I tried to do as much as possible to patch the tears in the colony branch of the movement to ensure continuation of the activity. I was also busy in handling the papers for the trip. I did not encounter any difficulties in securing a travel passport, but was invited, during that summer, to appear about three times at the G. O. P. office in Kherson, where I was warned not to continue with the Zionist activity, otherwise my permit to leave the Soviet Union would be cancelled and the expulsion sentence would be executed. That threat was not executed and I sailed from Odessa on October 20th in a ship containing only 18 passengers, all of them people just like me, who were making Aliya after they had exchanged their expulsion order with a permit to leave the county permanently.
I arrived at Jaffa on 2nd November 1926, which was my 18th birthday, however it seemed to me that I was much older, rich in life experiences. I felt older as I carried behind me the memory of the hardships during the World War, the bloody Civil War, and the years of hunger during the militant Communism and later on during the days of the new economic policy the NAP. In parallel, we had lived the lives of the Jews of the colony, along with their hopes and fears, and experienced the non-ending fight to make a living as well as the rises and falls of the Zionist flame until the final abolition of the Zionist underground during the years 1926 27.
I began my new life in our homeland, keeping in my heart those bright childhood and youth days, and the fight days in Nahar-Tov and its environs.
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