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Institutions and Movements

 

[Columns 299-300]

The Buds of the Zionist Movement

Ch. A. Michaeli

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Natalie Lichtenstein

A Chovevei Zion kernel existed in Lakhva from the 1890s, including David Slutski, Gershon Rabinowitz, Nathan and A.D. Slutski. They were expert scholars in Talmud and rabbinic decisors who appeared frequently in haskalah literature. They affiliated with the Chibat Zion idea during their youths, and their home was a gathering place for supporters of new Hebrew literature and dreamers of the redemption of Israel.

In 1904, the Hebrew teacher and educator Yitzchak Bochkin came to settle in Lakhva. He also joined the small group of Zionists. With the stubborn consistency of the five, the light of love of the idea of Hebrew Zionist renaissance did not dim.

With the passage of time, the modest group succeeded in bringing new, young powers into its ideas. In 1910, a collection plate for the Jewish National Fund appeared for the first time among the charitable collection plates in the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur. Michael Golobochki (a known teacher in Lakhva at that time), Yitzchak Bochkin, Eliezer the son of the rabbi, Feivel Neiman, David, Nathan and A.D. Slutski, and Gershon Rabinowitz were involved in the collection of donations. From that time, the Jewish National Fund collection plate never failed to appear on the eve of Yom Kippur, and earned “equal status” with the plate of the synagogue trustees.

The first attempt to formally join the rubric of Zionism took place during the time of the First World War. The young generation received vague information regarding the existence of the Zionist Movement and aliya to the land of the forefathers. On account of the distance of the town from the headquarters, the group of town notables decided on its own accord to set up an organization for the study of the Hebrew languages, which was to be a free stage for reflective debates. The aims were: a) to become accustomed to speaking in Hebrew; b) to understand the problems of Hebrew literature; and c) to find and forge appropriate connections with the heads of the Zionist movement in order to establish a Zionist chapter in the town.

The Wilinski home was the headquarters of the organization. The few members would gather, delve enthusiastically into the study of the language, and debate for hours about stories from Shiffman's Habikurim book, which was the sole reading material that they possessed. Those active in the organization were Yitzchak Wilinski, Leibel the son of the rabbi, Dov Romanowski, Yosef Gozewitz, Yitzchak and Moshe Chefetz.

Activities of the organization were interrupted with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Small Lakhva was also swept up in the cauldron of suffering and tribulations of the war. Hunger afflicted the town and pushed the youth and adults together into a struggle for finding sources of livelihood.

When the battles dwindled, Zionist activity in the town restarted, this time with a clear intention to merge the educational activity with independent actualization.

In 1917, a military hospital for the soldiers of the front and the civilian population of the form “Socialist events” was set up in the buildings of the local farm in Lakhva. Dr. Meir Peker was prominent among the physicians of the hospital. He was an enthusiastic Zionist who became an activist and organizer of the renewed Zionist group. He would appear in public at any opportunity and urge the people of the town toward Zionist organizing. We must attribute to his credit his organization of the Zionist kernel that stood up in the face of the obstacles of that stormy era, and moved on to Zionist education with the passage of time.

The wake of the revolution left its mark upon the life in the town. The cruel and bitter battle between the supporters of the Soviet regime and the Czarist gangs did not pass over small Lakhva, which had extra importance due its location on a strategic crossroads.

At the beginning of 1918, the revolutionary armies of Hetman Skorpetzki took over the town. The hospital, along with Dr. Peker, moved to the interior of Russia.

The changes and winds of the factions that arose during the revolution did not pass over the town.

Thus was a chapter of the Bund party set up headed by Eliezer Ribin and Motka Zamoiski, as well as a chapter of S.R. headed

[Columns 301-302]

by Chancha Chefetz, Basha-Lea Chefetz, and Shmuel Chefetz. The activities of the two groups were restricted, and they eventually were silenced and disappeared.

The years of Ukrainian rule were most difficult for the Jews of Lakhva. Poverty and want were the lot of many families. An organization for “Mutual aid and assistance to the needy” was set up, and did a great deal to lighten the material straits.

In 1919, Soviet units entered Lakhva, but before they could impose order, battles began with the Polish troops. The Soviet troops retreated to the village of Mokrovo, a distance of ten kilometers from Lakhva. The battles started again a year later, and the Soviet army reached Warsaw. The border between the two countries was defined at the end of the war, and Lakhva and its environs were transferred to Polish rule.

{Photo columns 301-302: Hechalutz chapter. First row: Meir Lichtenstein, unknown, Dov Gozewitz, Kravchik, Todros Muzikant, Izik Wlachinski, Brodechki, Itza Reznik, Shmuel Kulnik, Shmuel Katzman, Asher Bochkin, David Moravchik. Standing: Yitzchak Ashman, Chaya Brodechki, Mena Kravchik, Yitzchak Wilinski, Sara Shachor, unknown.}

In 1917, Yitzchak Wilinski traveled clandestinely to Minsk for the founding convention of Hechalutz. He absorbed impressions and experiences at the convention. The personality of Yosef Trumpeldor particularly enchanted him. He returned home with the decision to start up a Hechalutz chapter in the town.

In 1920, Yitzchak Wilinski participated in a convention of the Jewish National Fund that took place in Brisk of Lita [Brest-Litovsk]. There he first met Zionist activists.

When he returned from the convention, he began to organize a chapter of Young Zion. His attempts to attract the youth to action did not succeed. He then started to work with the tradespeople and apprentices. Indeed, with them he saw success in his activities, and he succeeded in establishing a Young Zion chapter that began educational activity. The chapter had approximately 40 members, both male and female, at its outset. Without counselors and a premises, the few members struggled to keep the framework of the organization in existence.

The first path of the group of Zionist Youth was not paved in roses. The youth who were faithful to cheder and yeshiva education prior to the war stopped being a single unit. Internal opposition strengthened and deepened.

The working youth were attracted to Zionist activity. Zionist activity was an imperative of the soul and a recognition of destiny for the children of the poor.

The chapter maintained itself from its own powers for the first year. The attempts to connect with the district and the headquarters did not bear fruit. Meetings of members took place from time to time in the homes of Gershon Rabinowitz or Hershel Chinitz.

The educational activity was lacking the elementary means of deepening the soulful connections with the values of the movement: a connection with the headquarters, and learning and study material. Then, the small group of members had the idea of establishing a library for the youth who thirsted for knowledge and learning.

They expressed the idea, and the following were among those who carried it out: Yitzchak Wilinski, Yosef Shusterman, Asher Chefetz, Mena Kravchik, Sara Chernomoretz, Zelda Lewin, Betzalel Lerman, Yitzchak Chefetz, the sister of

[Columns 303-304]

Sara Chefetz, Moshe Chefetz, M. Z. Romanowski, Aharon Ratner, Avraham Lichtenstein, Riva Lipshitz, Lipa Pinchosowich, David Moravchik, and Todros Muzikant. These were the living spirit of the enterprise.

At the founding of the library, a few books were collected from the members on religious topics as well as books from the new era. At first, the books were held in the home of A. D. Slutski, and later in the home of Eliezer Neiman until 1929 – when the large fire broke out that completely destroyed the Jewish quarter, and consumed the large library.

At that time, a campaign to collect money from the members took place, and a drama group was organized headed by Yitzchak Chefetz, Moshe Chefetz, and Lipa Pinchosowich. Its income was dedicated to the acquisition of books.

 

Lak303.jpg
The first committee of the Jewish National Fund

From right to left. Bottom: Sara Yam-Shachor, David Moravchik
First row: Asher Bochkin, Yehoshua Manoach (emissary from the Land), Aharon Ratner, Lipa Pinchosowich
Standing: Nachum Brodochki, Mena Kravchik, Todros Muzikant

 

After several years, the modest beginning of the library turned into a glorious cultural institution.

The community of faithful readers grew as the number of books in the library grew. A good book was “grabbed” from hand to hand, and its content served as material for debates at gathering of members. Public literary critiques on actual literary topics were also arranged.

The influence of the library was great in forging the spiritual image of the youth. The Hebrew-Zionist trend also played its part in the ideological consolidation of the first Zionist youth group.

In 1922, the first ties were made with the headquarters in Warsaw and the secretariat of the Pinsk district. Yitzchak Wilinski was called to help with the establishment of the Arazia hachshara[i] in Ashmyany, which was the second hachshara after the well-known Borochov. He also joined it as a member. His departure for hachshara weakened the activities of the local Young Zion chapter, to the point where its activities were barely noticeable by 1924.

A critical change took place in 1924. A Hechalutz chapter was formed, which brought a fundamental change to the Zionist youth. Just as its beginnings were daring, so was its path throughout its entire period of activity. The initiators and counselors of the enterprise were Asher Bochkin, Dov Gozewitz, Eizik Wlochinski, Todros Muzikant, Nachum Brodochki, Berl Slutski, A. Yehuda Kenchik, Chaya Brodochki, Mena Kravchik, Sara Chernomoretz, and David Moravchik. The group succeeded in attracting to its ranks the finest of the youth to whom aliya to the Land had become the dream of their lives. The chapter was equally successful in its educational activity. One of the first activities was to forge a connection with the movement in the Land. Newspapers of the movement began to arrive from the Land: Hapoel Hatzair, Ha'atid, and Kuntrus, which were very helpful for the counselors in explaining the problems of the Land to the group of members.

[Columns 305-306]

A connection was also forged with the national headquarters in Warsaw and the district. However, their actual help was late in coming. The urging of the chapter that a member of the headquarters should come to survey the activity and provide them direction on accepted work methodology – was responded to almost a year late. In 1925, a letter was received from the headquarters in Warsaw regarding the visit of a member of the headquarters, Chaim Soitz (today Givati). Since the chapter did not have a premises, and the activities were conducted in the homes of the members, in an open field or in the nearby forest, it was difficult to find an appropriate place for a general meeting. Finally, they chose the Shtibel that was next to the Beis Midrash. At a set time, the Shtibel filled up with young members who sat around the long table with a Gemara opened in front of them. The camouflage was critical, lest the meeting become known to the Orthodox Jews, in whose eyes a secular meeting in the Shtibel would be considered a sacrilege.

The few activists increased their educational efforts, and the number of members of the chapter increased in the wake of the visit.

At that time, an inter-regional convention of the Hechalutz chapters was convened in Brest-Litovsk. The Lakhva chapter was asked to send a delegate to the convention, and Asher Bochkin was selected to serve in that role.

Prior to the convention, the central institutions received a circular regarding setting up hachshara kibbutzim to prepare the members for aliya to the Land.

The Hechalutz chapter in Lakhva succeeded in founding a hachshara kibbutz in the nearby village of Sinkevichi. The members who were preparing for aliya gathered there. Those active in the chapter were Mordechai Chinitz, Eizik Wlochinski, Asher Bochkin, Dov Gozewitz, Nachum Brodochki, and Yosef Shvorin. They did a great deal to create a base for the group, the first activities of which suffered from a lack of supportive efforts. The hachshara group moved from Sinkevichi to Baranovich. From there, it moved to Pinsk, and was known by the name “Shacharia” – this was a large group in which hundreds of chalutzim [Zionist pioneers] received preparation for the life of the spirit and labor in the Land. At the Hechalutz convention in Brisk, words of recognition were spoken for the active members of the Lakhva group who had succeeded in organizing the first hachshara group in their area.

When he returned from the convention, the member Asher Bochkin began to organize a group of Young Hechalutz. The Zionist youth gained young members, who were ready for action and actualization.

The educational-Zionist activities were centered around the imperative of personal actualization. This led to a peak of members of the Hechalutz ranks who made aliya to the Land, and forged the way for a stream of aliya that continued until the Second World War.

Not only did the members of Hechalutz preach finely, but they also fulfilled with their body and soul the message of the emissaries of the movement. They studied the ways of creative work and carried out the task imposed upon them, the duty of hachshara and becoming accustomed to manual labor. A group of members set up a carpentry shop in 1925, at which they prepared themselves as candidates for aliya to the Land.

The initiators of this enterprise were Dov Gozewitz, Asher Bochkin, and Nachum Brodochki. The professional counselors were David Moravchik and Eliezer Chefetz. The workers included Dov Gozewitz, Zeev Lutski, Yaakov Chinich, Todros Muzikant, Leibel Shusterman, Tzvi Kantorowitz, Zelik Kravchik, and Aharon Pogoski. Each member of the hachshara had to pay a one-time fee of 20 dollars to support the operation of the carpentry shop. This fee was commensurate with the membership fees for the hachshara enterprises operated by the central funds. The products were ordered by residents of the town and farmers of the area.

The carpentry shop operated in an exemplary fashion. The income was sufficient to pay the set salary for the counselors. A sum remained each month to be used for purchasing additional work equipment and materials.

The carpentry shop operated for two years, and was liquidated when the members made aliya to the Land.

Asher Bochkin and Dov Gozewitz, who were the founders, were also forced to be the liquidators. The remaining money from the liquidation sale was donated to the Jewish National Fund.

Those active in Hechalutz also set their minds to agricultural hachshara. After collecting the necessary monies for the down payment, they leased a plot of land, and the hachshara started operating.

Vegetables were planted on the plot, and produced a fine yield. The vegetables were marketed to the residents of the town.

Going out to work together, working together in the farm all day, and the wide-branched cultural activities that took place during the free time all bound the members to the enterprise and the movement, and forged the way to aliya. Within two years, the majority of the members of the agricultural hachshara succeeded in making aliya to the Land.

The hachshara of the carpentry shop and the vegetable garden, and the founding of a chapter of Young Hechalutz, broadened the Zionist activity among

[Columns 307-308]

the youth. Meetings became more frequent, and the soulful bonds between the members firmed up. The activities for the Jewish National Fund [Keren Kayemet LeYisael] and Keren Hayesod were carried out by the young members on a regular basis.

Small Lakhva had the greatest per capita contributions to the Jewish National Fund in the entire Zionist district.

The few Zionist “houses” helped greatly in firming up the base of Hechalutz. Their doors were always open wide for the youth: a) the house of Yitzchak Bochkin, with its bounty of Torah and knowledge. He was a teacher, and a friend to young and old. He was a symbol of the fine blend of Judaism and Zionism. The first members of Hechalutz would come to him with request of moral support, and he guided and directed their steps. b) The house of A. D. Slutski. This was one of the few families where the entire family succeeded in making aliya. Activities for the Zionist youth were planned in his house, and he took steps to carry them out. c) The house of David Slutski. He was a wholesome character of a modest scholar. He preached about Zion in a gifted fashion, and he never tired of discussing the renaissance movement. He did a great deal to win over hearts for the Zionist movement. He bore the yoke of organizing and publicity along with the youth, and the youth regarded him as an example of action and the flame of faith. d) The home of Gershon Rabinowitz, with its witty thought and popular humor.

These four “homes” played an honorable role in forging the Zionist image of Hechalutz. Each one, according to their way, served as a faithful support for the powers of the youths in the field of Zionist-communal thought and action.

Hechalutz in Lakhva was like reviving dew to the youth. The ossified ways of life and customs of generations aroused enchantment in the ideological drive, imparting faith and hope in all hearts. Aliya to the Land was the chief aspiration of all members of Hechalutz. In this environment, a clash of opposing opinions took place between parents and children. The daring idea of the youths to abandon the family and go to wander to an “unknown” Land seemed too revolutionary for the parents. There were cases where a member was forced to give in to the desire of the parents. There were also cases where members gave up on influencing their parents to agree to their aliya to the Land – they rebelled against their opinion and set out secretly to the place of their desire. Yosef Shvorin was one of them. He set out “secretly” to the Grochow hachshara kibbutz in 1925. His aliya to the Land was also made possible by the help of members. Yitzchak Wilinski made aliya to the Land in 1925. His aliya was a sign and portent for tens of members to follow after him. Yosef Shvorin, Eliahu Schlachtman, Eizik Wlochinski, Mordechai Chinitz, and Munchia Kravchik made aliya a year later. The Hechalutz chapter in Lakhva joined the network of pioneering actualization. The aliya of the first Hechalutz members lead to an increase in Zionist activity in the town, and a strengthening of ties with the central institutions. During that period, the following people visited the chapter often: Hershel Pinski, Arka Winer, Fishel Waserman, and Ethel Gotlib.

The activities of the chapter weakened in 1927/28 with the aliya of many of its active members. A new awakening took place and captured the Jewish community after the disturbances of 1929,. Then the foundations of the Hashomer Haleumi (later Hanoar Hatzioni) youth movement were laid. From that time, the large canopy of incessant, zealous Zionist activity spread out. The flag of the movement immediately moved from the members who made aliya to those who were continuing the activities, until the inimical government banned the existence of the movement. Even then, clandestine activity moved from heart to heart. The hopes of hope and faith that a day would come when the heavy gates would open, and the dawn or redemption and actualization of the vision would take place were woven secretly from heart to heart.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. Hachshara is a setup for practical preparation for aliya. Return


[Columns 309-310]

Hanoar Hatzioni (Hashomer HaLeumi)

Ch.A. Michaeli

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Natalie Lichtenstein

With the founding of the Hanoar Hatzioni chapter, which was a continuation of the Hechalutz and Young Hechalutz movements, a strong yearning was activated toward new ways of life, with nationalistic content.

Hundreds of young eyes searched and toured the crossroads toward a budding connection to the vision of the Zionist movement. There was a practical, attractive, unifying yearning for actuality, for salvation of the youthful energy, for participating in Zionist educational and creative effort.

“Hakan Hashomri” was established in 1928 with the assistance of members from Pinsk.

The founders and first active members included Meir (Misha) Moravchik, Dov Katzman, Yehoshua Katzman, Shlomo Slutski, Tzvi Chefetz, and Tzvi Kontorowitz.

The chapter had 60 members at the outset, divided into two groups.

The premises was quickly filled with joy of life and youthful creativity. The youth separated themselves from the realities of the home and the street, which led to idleness, degeneration, and restrictive opportunities.

 

Lak309.jpg
Hashomer HaLeumi organization, Lakhva chapter, 1898

Bottom: Batya Slutski, Rivka Dolgopiati
Seated from right: Yaakov Winer, Meir Moravchik, Bluma Abramowitz, Aharon Pogostki, Dvora Chlaz, Tzvi Kontorowitz, Yehoshua Katzman, Shlomo Dolgopiati
Standing: Zahava Korovichka, Dov Katzman, Sonia Rozowski, Chava Lewin, Zelig Chefetz, Bela Bochkin, Avraham Muzikant, Noiman, Sheindel Chinitz, Moshe Leib Chefetz, Chasia Kanchok, Tzvi Chefetz, Ruchama Lewin, Pesia Moravchik, Yehudit Melchikowitz, Mania Goldman, Shlomo Slutski

 

The center of all the educational activity was directed from beginning to end toward a consolidation of consciousness toward personal actualization in the Land of Israel. The first steps were met with discontent from the Orthodox circles, who were shaken by the fear of these innovations. Attempts were made to prevent the young children from visiting the premises. However, they did not have the power to persist with their objection.

The premises was the center for providing for the needs of the soul of the youth, with latent talents that came to the fore in the collective efforts to raise the level of culture and morality.

Indeed, the youth who joined the chapter were completely different, and there was an obvious revolution in character: in restrained manners in the home, in the thirst for knowledge, in the striving for awakening of communal and social life, and in cleaving to the Zionist vision.

The founders all realized that any small mistake in this emotional area would be liable to bring difficult results for the lies of the youth.

The number of members reached 130 within a short time.

[Columns 311-312]

The first ones were “crazy for the idea.” They never tired in their efforts. They toiled day and night to make the plans for guiding the groups and troupes. They were careful to forge connections with the leadership in Warsaw and Pinsk. They forged friendly, brotherly relations with the members.

Aside from the educational program, they paid great attention to physical activity and to the scouting movement.

At a young age, in the cohort called the Ankorim, scouting was the main effort.

The activities of the chapter to impart the scouting doctrine to the members took them out of the circle of the town, and brought them to the empty fields, thick forests, rivers, and ponds, about which they had only heard previously.

 

Lak311.jpg
Hanoar Hatzioni in Lakhva, 1935

 

Every excursion into the distant area was an unforgettable experience. On summer days, they would go out at sunrise to one of the farms in the area, which they rented for camping purposes for a day or two. The journey in orderly rows, and the return to the town at sunset, to the light of burning lanterns, in a parade with singing – imbued a high spirit on the participants of such excursions.

There were also strong connections with the chapters in the area. Joint study days for counselors, group visits, sporting competitions, and scouting events were arranged in Davyd Haradok and Luninets. Every such meeting had great influence on the participants, and brought blessing to and deepened the educational activity.

At the district gatherings in Pinsk, the participants were careful about fine external appearance (the unique Shomer uniform), and they presented themselves in a praiseworthy fashion at the daily roll calls of the district leadership.

Almost all the active members were part of the Magen rank. The granting of that rank was done in an impressive festive ceremony.

The leadership of the chapter, consisting of 5-7 members, was chosen annually at a general meeting. They were responsible for the preparation of the councilors, for ensuring cleanliness and order in the premises, for maintaining connection with the central institutions, and carrying out the decisions in all branches of activity.

The Zionist educational activity included practical work for the fund for the redemption [of the Land], Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund], and Keren Hayesod. There was strong “competition” between the youth groups in their work for the Jewish National Fund, and the chapter exceeded them all in this activity.

The leadership of the chapter concerned themselves with raising the professional level of the staff of councilors, and founded a special library with books on the Zionist and pioneering movement, on the settlement of the Land, on renaissance, etc.

The library grew from its modest beginnings with a few lone books to encompass hundreds of professional books for study and learning.

The members of the Chapter of Hanoar Hatzioni succeeded in serving as the final guardians of the Tarbut town library. They invested a great deal of thought and energy into it, and its number of readers grew. They were also the last guards when the order of closure was given, and they bravely removed some of the Hebrew books in the darkness of night, and hid them in secret places, so a remnant of the Hebrew letter would remain.

When the turn came for the first ones to make aliya to Land, the chapter dedicated a holiday. Festive farewell parties took place, and hundreds of hearts beat with awe and pride that the chapter had succeeded in seeing off the first actualizers along their route to aliya.

The chapter had more than 250 members during the immediate pre-war period.

[Columns 313-314]

The leadership was in the hands of the young guard who were educated in the bosom of the movement. Approximately ten members were on hachshara at the time, and another ten were waiting for aliya permits.

The conquest of the town by the Russians in September 1939 brought an end to all the Zionist and Hebrew activities. The activities of the chapter also ceased.

For eleven years, the chapter served as a sanctuary and fortress for the best of the aspirations and hopes of the nationalist-Hebrew youth. It was a precious corner for the brotherhood of the youth and the flame of the vision of redemption.

Only a few of the large camp of the chapter succeeded in evading the talons of death and arriving to the secure shores of the homeland.

 

Hashomer Hatzair

 

Lak313.jpg
Kvutzat Perachim of Hashomer Hatzair

Seated: Bracha Dolgopiati, Golda Ziman, Rachel Slutski, Malka Moravchik, Yentl Kravchik, Rivka Galinson
Standing, first row: Michla Kravchik, Rivka Wlochinski, Chasia Slutski, Freidka Chlaz, Lea Pinchosowich, Mirl Chefetz, Sara Pogostki, Fania Chefetz
Second row: Shlomo Kravchik, Shlomo Chinitz, Feivel Pogostki

 

The founding of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter took place at the same time as that of Hashomer Haleumi. We can attribute the renewal of Zionist activity among the youth after the liquidation of Young Hechalutz to both organizations.

Its beginnings were quiet and modest, with a small circle of members imbued with consciousness and the determination to continue and to glorify the tradition of Zionist activity of those that preceded them.

The force behind the organization of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter was the comrade Yehoshua Manoach, who visited as an emissary the Zionist organization in Lakhva, and examined the situation of the youth from up close.

The comrade Baruch Rabinov, an emissary of the headquarters of the movement, set up the first cell that busied itself with publicity to the studying youth. The number of members grew, and the educational activity branched out. The founders included Tzvi Slutski, David Feinberg, Mordechai Rozovski, Feivel, Aharon and Miriam Pogostki, Tzvi Chefetz, Shlomo Chinitz, Shlomo Kravchik, and Shamai Pinchosowich.

The active members concerned themselves with firming up and deepening the ideological consciousness of the members. After a year-long pause in activities, an increase in activity took place among the ranks of the youth who had not yet found their place in the youth movements. The chapter succeeded in attracting a number of children to its ranks, and the activity was renewed with full energy. There was also activity to attract youth from the weakest social circles, and there was great success at that.

This youth connected with all strands of their soul to the values of the movement. Many of them acquired knowledge and education, and in time became counselors who bore the yoke. Tens of young members learned productive trades that brought them self-esteem and security in life.

The first members of the chapter to make aliya to the Land were Sh. Kravchik, and Sh. Chinitz.

Many of the members of Hashomer Hatzair played an active role in breaking through the gates of the ghetto during the final bloody battle with the German murderers. They succeeded in escaping to the Pripyat Bogs, and joining the partisans.

However, only a lone few survived, several of whom realized their vision and made aliya to the Land.

(Sh. Kravchik)

[Columns 315-316]

Beitar

 

Lak315.jpg
A group of the Beitar chapter

Bottom: Kope Kolpinchki
Sitting: Rivka Noiman, Hirsch Leib Chinitz, an emissary from Pinsk, Mordechai Moravchik, Rivka Feldman, Fania Gizenpod
Standing: Noach Chlaz, Baruch Pikson, Binyamin Brodechki, Zeidel Katz, Moshe Slutski, Yitzchak Rochchin, Yisrael Kolnik, Meir Kopel Ashman, Asher Chefetz

 

Our town was small, its horizons were narrow and restricted, its possibilities were unicolored and grey, its life was mundane. However, from a perspective of Zionist awakening and nationalist activity, its portion was not small.

The place of Beitar was not missing from the Zionist movements in Lakhva. The Beitar chapter was established in 1931. Its organizers were Yaakov Bochkin, a student of the Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasium; and Yasha Moravchik, a student of Cziczik Jewish-Polish Gymnasium in Pinsk.

We “Gymnasts” absorbed the ideas of national awakening from our teachers and educators. Jabotinsky's speech when he was in Pinsk also influenced us.

There was also zealousness within these aspirations and ideologies. There were military preparations (P.V.) in the Gymnasiums, and we practiced with weapons, marched in formation, sang military marching songs, and even participated in parades on the national holidays of Poland. How great was our joy to be among the marchers with a gun on the shoulder. However, how great was our pain knowing that we were dancing at a “foreign wedding.”

During the vacation months of the summer of 1931, we got together to organize the activity. The first kernel consisted of lads of our age: Yasha Moravchik, Syuma Moravchik, Meir Zelmanowich, Zelig Slutski, Baruch Fukson, Meir-Kopel Ashman, Eliahu Aharon Lichtenstein, and me. In order to expand our ranks, we conducted publicity among the youths who were already members of youth groups. An entire group of 13-year-old children, students of the Yavne School transferred to us from the ranks of Hashomer Haleumi. They included Chaim (the son of Yaakov) Rimer, Chaim (the son of Zev) Rimer, Yosef Fishman, Nachum (Nyuma) Moravchik, Kalman Gozewitz, Yaakov Moravchik, Moshe Kolpanitski, Yeshayahu Milman, Asher (the son of Zalman) Chefetz, Asher (the son of Shmuel) Chefetz, Tzvi Shvorin, Chaim Chefetz, and Shalom Latuch.

We had the first literature pamphlets in our hands, brought in our sacks from Pinsk: the Tel Chai weekly, pamphlets and literature

[Columns 317-318]

of general nationalism. Yasha and I served in the roles the cultural counselors, and counselors for foot drills and organizational matters. We even published a wall newspaper with the participation of the members. Its contents included feuilletons, poems, and political “statements.” We also held meetings under the open skies, in the field next to the town.

In our first steps, we maintained direct contact, via exchange of letters, with the central command in Warsaw. We were happy to receive a circular or letter from the commissioner Aharon Propas or his deputy Eizik Ramba.

Mixed feelings beat in our heart when we left the town at the beginning of the new school year. Would the sapling that we planted grow? We were happy with every sign of life that reached us from our friends in the movement regarding the continuation of the line. Yasha and I organized a “chain campaign” in Pinsk, through which we collected hundreds of Zloty for the fund in Lakhva.

A change in our activity took place during Chanuka of 5692 [1931], when older people joined our camp, including Aharon Ratner, Hershel-Leib Chinitz, Yisrael Fishman, Mordechai Chlaz (Chanies), Yaakov Moravchik (Meimes), Moshe Leib Chefetz, Yitzchak Rochchin, Chaim Pinchosowich, and others. Yaakov Moravchik took over the command, and jumped into the matters with full energy. A large hall was rented, lecturers from outside were invited, we participated in district conventions (Yaakov Moravchik even participated in a Beitar convention in Brisk of Lita [Brest Litovsk] under the command of Menachem Begin, the commander of the Polesia district). Members were sent to kibbutzim in Volhynia, and the chapter of Lakhva even maintained a small kibbutz for Beitar members in the town, which earned its keep through local temporary work. Several other members joined us from Hashomer Haleumi, including Miriam (Mora) Moravchik, Asher (the son of Yehuda) Chefetz, Noach Chlaz, and Yisrael Kulnik.

The chapter also participated in activities for the Zionist fundraising campaigns, especially for the Jewish National Fund [Keren Kayemet]. Our joy was great when we succeeded one year in reaching second place (behind Hashomer Haleumi) in donations for the Jewish National Fund.

A regional convention of Beitar took place in our town in the summer of 1935, with the participation of delegations from Pinsk, Luninets, and Davyd Haradok. The convention concluded with a very impressive march in formation.

Our members displayed a great deal of tenacity and diligence in standing up to the battle and maintaining the national spirit that beat in their hearts.

The life of the youth was made of matters that were full of content. Every group or brigade meeting was important to the members. The youth found great meaning in the unique uniform of each movement.

Of course, all the movements aspired for “spreading out,” and organized parties and parades. On Lag B'Omer, they arranged an excursion to the forest. They returned in the evening with trumpets and blue and white flags fluttering in the parade. I recall after a lecture by Menachem Begin, the commander of the district of Polesia, we made a parade through the streets of the city. We met the captain of the Polish garrison who saluted us. The leader of the parade returned the salute. The impression was great. It seems the days of the Messiah arrived, and we were marching in the army of Israel.

The Beitar chapter grew greatly in 1935. The commander of the chapter was Yitzchak Ruchtshin, and Yitzchak Azgud was responsible for culture. Courses in Hebrew, Bible, and the knowledge of the Land were offered. Members were sent from Brest Litovsk to guide the members in fencing, batoning, and jiu-jitsu.

A regional convention took place in Lakhva with the chapters of Luninets, Mikshevits, and Davyd Haradok, with the participation of about 400 people.

Members from Lakhva traveled to the convention in Pinsk, at which Z. Jabotinsky participated.

That evening, the Beitar youth met their leader for the first as well as last time.

(Yaakov Bochkin)

[Columns 319-320]

Hechalutz Haklal Hatzioni

Lakhva was alert and vibrant in all areas and parts of the movement.

In 1930, I organized a chapter of Hechalutz Haklal-Hatzioni, that gathered male and female youths from non-factional circles. Most of them were not involved in an organization, and were no longer affiliated with the Zionist movement. The beginning was modest. Most of the youth were already involved in the Zionist movements. Nevertheless, after organizational activity that lasted for two years, there were 100 male and female members who had joined its ranks. Most were from well-off homes, working people, and tradesmen who were enchanted by the Zionist idea and wished to prepare to make aliya to the Land, to build it up, and to live there.

 

Lak319.jpg
Hechalutz Hamerkazi Haklal-Tzioni

First row: Yehuda Shnidman, Chanan, Tzvi Moravchik, Rachel Kulnik, Feivel Chinitz, Aber Chefetz, Meir Moravchik, Ch. A. Michaeli, Genia Tziklik
Standing: Zisel Shulman, Hinda Feldman, Beila Gozewitz, Yaakov Shneidman, Asher Dolgopati, Berl Ashman,
Matityahu Drabski, Yaakov Chertok, Meir Lichtstein, Rachel Ashman, Rachel Chefetz, Noach Zelmanowich

 

Some of the members of the chapter did not yet know how to write and speak Hebrew. We arranged evening courses for Hebrew, in which they studied and mastered both the spoken and written language. This was beneficial for them after they made aliya to the Land.

The members of Hechalutz Haklal-Tzioni played an active role in Zionist life in the town. They participated in collecting money for the Jewish National Fund [Keren Kayemet], Keren Hayesod, Tarbut, the library, etc. With the best of their abilities, they helped the Zionist organization in all its activities and actions.

In 1932, I returned from the counselors' camp that took place in Warsaw and Góra Kalwaria, and I founded a kibbutz in Lakhva to which approximately 30 male and female members were sent by the headquarters from all parts of Poland. The kibbutz existed for a long period, and earned its keep from the work of the members in the estate of the Polish count Labendowski, who had fields near the town. It also received work from Jews who related to the members in a generous fashion, and helped them earn their livelihoods to the best of their abilities.

The kibbutz strengthened the local chapter. Members gathered around the kibbutz to assist it with obtaining work.

The kibbutz aroused a new spirit in the town. The Zionists in their various factions streamed to the kibbutz on Friday nights and Saturdays to get to know the lives of the pioneers from up close. The collaboration in creativity and work served as a preparation for kibbutz life in the Land.

Some of the members of the chapter and the kibbutz made aliya to the Land. Some went out with those who survived the ghetto uprising. The rest found their place among the martyrs of Lakhva who fell with sublime bravery during the Holocaust.

(Aber Chefetz)

[Columns 321-322]

Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal]

The first activity for the Jewish National Fund took place at the end of 1917, after the Balfour Declaration.

An active Zionist circle already existed in the town, but, due to the conditions of the times, the doers and activists were not connected with the international organizations.

The great news of the Balfour Declaration reached the town through the chairman of the directorate of the Jewish National Fund in Poland, comrade Bloch, during his visit to Polesia.

 

Lak321.jpg
Jewish National Fund committee

Standing: Meir Moravchik, Fania Chefetz, Shlomo Chinitz
[Seated] from the right: David Moravchik, Batya Slutski, Dr. Bernstein, an emissary from the Land, Sonia Slutski, Aber Chefetz

 

The first Jewish National Fund committee was formed during his visit. Moshe Chinitz was chosen as the deputy of the Jewish National Fund, and Moshe Chefetz was in charge of the boxes. The other members were Aba Pogostki and Aharon Ratner.

The weakening of the activities of the Zionist group did not affect the Jewish National Fund. It was the sole Zionist institution whose standing was not weakened and whose range of activities was not restricted.

After some time, new, younger forces from among the members of Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hatzair [Young Hechalutz] joined the work: David Moravchik, Mina Kravchik, Chaya Borodotski, David Kravchik, Sara Chernomoretz, Asher Bochkin, Zalman Lewin, Todros Muzikant, and Dov Gozewitz. David Moravchik was then elected as the deputy of the Jewish National Fund, a role he fulfilled until he made aliya to the Land.

With the founding of the Hashomer Haleumi, Hanoar Hatzioni, Hashomer Hatzair and Beitar youth movements, a new cadre of activists were added to the group. The income of the Jewish National Fund was on a constant upward trajectory on account of the “competition” among the youth movements. The Hanoar Hatzioni movement excelled in its activities, and one of its members, Misha Moravchik, was chosen as the secretary of the local committee. He remained in this role until the Russian conquest in 1939.

After David Moravchik made aliya, Dov Gozewitz was chosen as the deputy of the Jewish National Fund. He remained in that position until the disbanding of the Zionist movement and its institutions.

The members of the final committee of the Jewish National Fund were Dov Gozewitz (deputy), Misha Moravchik (secretary), Zelig Chefetz (in charge of boxes), Nechemia Chefetz, Yosef Rimer, David Kravchik, and Noach Zelmanowich.

The methods of operation of the Jewish National Fund within the population were

[Columns 323-324]

variegated: increasing the number of new donors; donations through the blue box distributed to all the houses of the city. At the end of every month, pairs of active members would make the rounds to empty the boxes, and they would announce in the synagogue on the Sabbath lists of donors along with the donation amounts. These lists had a psychological influence, and the income grew from month to month.

On Simchat Torah, a large “Zionist Kiddush” would be arranged, the income of which was dedicated to the Jewish National Fund. The staff of activists would canvass for the benefit of Jewish National Fund those who received aliyot to the Torah in synagogues. On Purim, the “Purim Players” would go from house to house in song as they canvassed for the Jewish National Fund.

Collections also took place at parties, weddings, and circumcisions. Once a year, there would be a bazaar with all the income dedicated to the Jewish National Fund. The bazaar lasted for a week, and was a social and educational event in the city. The organizers of the annual bazaar included Chanka Slutski, Chaya-Sara Chinitz, Feigel Lopatin, Feigel Pinchosowich, and Batya Slutski.

The donations for the Jewish National Fund from Lakhva added up to 1,800-2,000 zloty a year. The town was among the highest per capita in this aspect.

Unlike the work for the Jewish National Fund, which lasted all year and encompassed all strata of the community, the campaign for the Keren Hayesod took place once a year, and was designated solely for the well off.

The pledges were not in local currency, but rather in dollars, from six dollars annually and up. A communal worker would come from the headquarters during the time of the campaign. With his help, the local workers were able to complete the campaign within a few days.

Those active in Keren Hayesod included Dov Lopatin, Yitzchak Rozhavski, Dov Gozewitz, Misha Moravchik, Yosef Gozewitz, and David Kravchik.

The final chairman of the Keren Hayesod committee was Gershon Rabinowitz, and his deputy was Dov Gozewitz.

(Dov Gozewitz)

 

The Yavne School in Lakhva

During the 1920s, many people were able to teach for one winter in the cheder of the melamdim: Yosef Chefetz, Aharon Mitwoch, and David Gozewitz. However, before they could get to know their flock, the news came of the opening of the Hebrew school in Lakhva.

We were still able to know the traditional cheder as it was described in our book: the rebbe, the teaching methodology, the rod, standing in the corner, etc. The experience of studying during the evening hours is still etched in our memories: the route home with a lantern – lit candles, carrying it over our shoulders, and trampling in the snow on the upward slope of the road.

The school was opened in the fall of 1930 with three grades and a preparatory class. A grade was added each year until there were seven grades. This was the manner in which the Hebrew-religious Yavne School was founded in Lakhva.

The organizers and the parent committee which consisted of those active in the Zionist movement concerned themselves with the education of the children in the Hebrew language, with the love of Zion and the spirit of Israel.

The local teachers included Yitzchak Bochkin, Yosef Chefetz, and Chana Nachmanowitz (today a teacher in Tel Aviv) of Davyd Haradok, which was closer to our town. The principal of the school was Spigelstein. The rest of the teachers were certified teachers, graduates of the teachers seminary of Vilna. Shlomo Muzikant was the last principal of the school.

Hebrew was the language of instruction, except for Polish language and history that were taught in Polish. The rest of the subjects, including arithmetic, geometry, physics, chemistry, art, and physical education, were taught in Hebrew.

The school buildings, its protocols, the curriculum, the rooms, and the cleanliness were all under the supervision of the government education office. Supervisors from the district education office in Luninets would appear there for a visit and an inspection of the order.

Jewish children who studied in the public government school

[Columns 325-326]

(powszechna) transferred to study in the Hebrew school in order to learn the Hebrew language.

The budgetary problems of maintaining the school, including tuition, the building, equipment, and the like, were placed upon the parents, who paid tuition. Those of meager means and families with many children paid what they could. They were especially concerned that the sons would study there until they completed all seven grades, whereas the girls were able to transfer to the Polish school after the fifth grade, where there was no tuition.

The local rabbis: Rabbi Eliezer Lichtstein and Rabbi Chaim Zalman Osherovitz, the communal administrators and the parent committee always succeeded in overcoming the financial difficulties of maintaining the school. They obtained support and also approached the organization of Lakhva natives in America for assistance. The treasurer of the school was Yeshayahu Schechtman, who spared no efforts for its benefit.

 

Lak325.jpg
Teachers in the center: Yehuda Yitzchak Bochkin, Yitzchak Azgud, Freida Kosowska

 

The school was known for its high level. Many teachers responded to the call and came to work there and lead it. The principal was Yitzchak Azgud. Serving in the pedagogic staff were the teachers Yitzchak Bochkin, Shlomo Muzikant, Bela Bochkin, Chana Kesler, Aliza Kosowska of Vilna[i], Apelbaum, and Yosef Bodnin (currently in Israel).

The principal Yitzchak Azgud came from Vilna and imbued a spirit of culture upon our town.

At first, the Hebrew studies were with the Ashkenazic pronunciation, and they later changed to the Sephardic pronunciation[ii]. A Bnei-Yehuda group was formed, with the participation of many students who took it upon themselves to speak Hebrew even outside the school. The Hebrew language was heard from the mouths of the youth on the streets of the city, and the parents were forced to study and speak Hebrew with their children, who refused to respond to them in Yiddish. They spoke Hebrew in the Zionist youth movements, and it was not long before all the youths knew and spoke Hebrew. Even the gentile residents got used to the sound of the Hebrew language. At times, a child responded to a Polish policeman in Hebrew. Yitzchak Fishman, a student in the fifth grade, excelled from among those who upheld the “vow” of speaking Hebrew. He continued speaking Hebrew even during the period of Soviet rule in 1939, [as did] Noach Katz and Yitzchak Romanowski.

The students of the school would appear on the street and in the synagogue wearing the school uniform, with a Magen David embroidered into their hats. This brought joy to all who saw them.

The students advanced greatly. During the seven years of study, they succeeded in studying the entire Bible, with the commentary of Rashi and explanations of the reading. Yitzchak Azgud's explanations on the Bible were interesting. Many of the students learned chapters of Isaiah by heart. The classes of Talmud with Rashi and Tosafot were from Tractate Bava Kama in grades six and seven. The girls, who were exempt from Talmud lessons, nevertheless participated in them. Chana Pinchosowich and Pnina Chefetz excelled in Talmud. They astonished the rabbis who came weekly for examinations. We used Hebrew maps and pictures of the Land for history and geography. There was a corner dedicated to the Jewish National Fund in every classroom.

The teacher Yitzchak Bochkin, who was the Torah reader in the Great Synagogue, taught the reading of the weekly Torah portion with the trop in school.

Yitzchak Azgud, the principal of the school, established a minyan [prayer quorum] of all

[Columns 327-328]

the students who worshipped together in the synagogue. They would take turns leading the services. The hearts of the parents and worshippers were filled with pride and awe seeing that the students of the school would read the Torah on Sabbaths.

On every national holiday, including Chanuka, Tu B'Shvat, etc., the students would put on a performance in the civic hall. The students participated in Hebrew plays, folk dancing, and readings. There were 60 students in the student choir. Performances took place in full halls, in the presence of parents and communal notables. Gentiles would also come to the Hebrew performances. The following students excelled in particular: dance – Pnina and Lula Chefetz, Lea Rabinowich and Zahava Shvorin; reading – A. Kolpanitzki, Noach Katz, and others. On Lag B'Omer, the students would go out in a row through the streets of the city and to the forests, and would return with a parade of flags and torches.

On the 11th of Adar, a memorial gathering for Josef Trumpeldor took place. On Chanuka, all the Jewish residents would leave their homes covered with snow and frost, and come to the Chanuka performance of the students of the school. As usual, the performance was a play about the era of the Maccabees.

The school imbued a new spirit into the youth and raised the horn of Zionism in the city. We also maintained correspondence through letters with the Hebrew schools of the cities of the area, as well as with school students in the Land of Israel, from who we received information about life in the Land.

The toil of the parents and the teachers was not for naught. With time, capable students went to study in the Hebrew gymnasium in Pinsk, and in the Yeshiva of Luninets. Among them were tens of talented youths for whom a bright future was in store, but the evil hand of iniquity came and cut down the pleasant trees as they were still sprouting.

(Yehoshua Lichtstein)


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Aliza is the Hebrew form of the Yiddish Freida – both mean happiness or joy. Return
  2. Modern Hebrew is pronounced with the Sephardic pronunciation. Return


[Columns 327-328]

“Kupat-Am” Bank

Ch.A. Michaeli

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Natalie Lichtenstein

Attempts to found credit institutions preceded the founding of the Kupat-Am Bank in 1925, but they did not work out well.

In 1905, the Y.K.A fund [Jewish Colonization Association fund] gave money to operate a loan and credit fund in the town, with the condition that the residents would also participate in the required principal for operation. Shlomo Mordechai Moravchik, who later immigrated to America, was in charge of the fund.

The fund existed until the First World War, and then ceased its operations. The little bit of money used as the circulating principal for loans also declined in value.

In the years 1920-21, a new attempt was made to operate the fund. Yitzchak Bochkin was appointed as its director. After a brief period of operation, its activities ceased. Once again, this was due to a significant decline in the value of the money, and the lack of an institution to renew the credit.

This was the actual fate of the fund, even though the committee would meet and devise plans to renew its activities.

The members of the committee were Mordechai Zmoiski, Eliezer Ribin, Yaakov Chlaz, Meir Shusterman, Daniel Kontorowitz, Mendel Moravchik, and Leib Lichtstein.

In 1925, P. Moravchik was freed from the army, and took it upon himself to operate the credit fund. It was decided to include the residents in the principal of the institution through a new issue of membership shares, which promised the members rights of precedence for credit in the future. The community that was asked to purchase new shares related to the entire manner with indifference. Certain circles expressed their discontent with the intention of the committee, claiming that they had invested their money in shares twice previously, and the value declined to zero.

According to the regulations of “The center of mutual credit organizations”, a cooperative institution was only authorized for credit after two years of standard operations on the condition that it had 300 shareholders.

Representatives of the central supervisory committee inspected the accounting ledgers after two years, and found everything to be in order. They authorized

[Columns 329-330]

the first credit sum of 5,000 zloty, reduced by 1,500 zloty for interest and membership fees for the previous years.

The committee convened a meeting and decided to set the maximum loan amount at 90 zloty. The bank then began its regular operations.

The order and precision with which P. Moravchik conducted the work of the Kupat-Am bank were exemplary. His activity would be praised at every gathering and consultation, for he had succeeded within a very short time in raising the honor of the modest institution in the eyes of the business and trades people. They trusted him and invested their principal with him.

The extent of the activities of the Kupat-Am bank and the great assistance that it offered to its members earned him a good name in the business circles of Lakhva. His name even spread to the nearby towns.

P. Moravchik made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1935. Alter Lewin was chosen in his place. He succeeded in maintaining the institution, albeit at a lower level.

Nechemia Chefetz (today in Russia) was the last one to direct the bank before its liquidation.

(D. Gozewitz)

 

The Charitable Fund

The charitable fund was the most honorable institution in the eyes of the common folk, for they always found a faithful support through it in their difficulties and straits.

The fund was first founded during the 1890s, and saw periods of pride and decline. Its financial sources dwindled with the change of times and with the stormy events following the First World War. The fund remained paralyzed without any actual activity for many years.

It was reestablished in 1926, and from that time, it faithfully supported all those in need of assistance until it was liquidated by the Soviet authorities in 1939. During its latter years, the charitable fund attained a principal value of 15,000 zloty.

The charitable fund was affiliated with the charitable funds center in Warsaw, and was under its constant oversight.

The loan payments were weekly, and the fund was open for those in need every Saturday night, when people came to pay or to present their requests for new loans. Members of the committee would respond during the time it was open to the community.

At times, when it did not have the ability to provide for the many requests, the fund committee would accept pledges that were given by wealthy members for a short period, and would use the funds to extend loans, so that they would not have to turn away the requesters empty-handed.

From time to time, it would also use the money of the assistance funds that were in the hands of the rabbis. This helped greatly in firming the base and in developing the fund.

The “small-scale people” who formed the majority of the Jewish community in the town, received a great deal of assistance from the charitable fund.

With the assistance of loans that were granted with very lenient conditions, tens of families were rehabilitated, and were able to firm-up their livelihoods, provide for hospitalization and recovery for the ill, and marry off their daughters who had come of age. Many of the youth even received loans to fund their aliya to the Land.

Members of the final committee of the charitable fund were:

Shimshon Chinitz – chairman; Meir (Misha) Moravchik – secretary; Shalom Romanowski, Dov Gozewitz, Yaakov Mester, Meir Shusterman, and Yisrael Lichtstein – from the tradesmen.

(M. Ch.)

[Columns 331-332]

The Amateur Theater Club

Supporters of the arts were not lacking in this small town with a small Jewish population. They practiced and conducted rehearsals for plays that they performed for the community.

 

Lak331.jpg
The Dramatic Troupe

First row: Aber Chefetz, Zalman Lewin
Second row: Dov Katzman, Sonia Pergemin, Yehoshua Katzman, Dvora Chlaz, Chana Lichtstein, Mordechai Chlaz, Rachel Slutski

 

We would gather together in the home of one of the participants for entire weeks on Sabbaths and weekdays, so that each person could rehearse their role in the play. The play was to be performed in the Beit-Haam or the firefighters hall.

The participants included people from all the movements and organizations. All were volunteers who dedicated themselves seriously and wholeheartedly to stage arts.

The income from the performances was dedicated to the Zionist funds, to purchasing books for the library, to the charitable fund, or the assistance of the poor.

The days immediately preceding a performance were days of great tension among the residents, who were preparing for the festive event of the theatrical performance. The houses of the town were emptied of their residents, who streamed to the Beit Haam or to the firefighters hall to watch the performance.

(Aber Chefetz)

 

The Volunteer Firefighters

The small wooden houses of the residents of the town had many fine traits: they were cool during the summer and they held the pleasant warmth during the harsh winter. However, the constant threat of fire always hung over them.

Every spark that escaped from the smoky chimney was liable to hit the straw roof or the soffit, and ignite a fire in the house with its meager property.

There were also cases of arson perpetrated by the gentile neighbors. They would pretend to help during the confusion as people were saving themselves from the fire, but they would help themselves to the booty.

When the incidents of arson at the Jewish houses increased, they decided to set up a night guard. A rotation was set up for each family, with a night of watching for each head of household every month or two.

The incidents of arson declined on account of the regular guarding, but the instances of ordinary fires did not.

Arson increased in 1918. The regular fires were a cause of daily fear for the Jewish residents.

A consultation meeting took place, and a decision was taken to set up a voluntary fire brigade, whose purpose would be to battle against the plague of fires, and to prevent the looting by the gentiles of property saved from the fires.

The initiators and first commanders of the brigade included: Chanan

[Columns 333-334]

and Moshe Feinberg, Lyuba Lubach, A. Y. Kanchik, Lipa Gozewitz, and David Moravchik. At its founding, the group had approximately 40 members. They were required to attend practice and training.

The initiators succeeded in raising the required money from the residents for obtaining equipment for fighting fires: five large hand pumps, seven wagons, ladders, axes, pails, and other equipment.

The practice and actual military style raised the staff to a professional level. The local government also took them seriously.

 

Lak333.jpg
Brigade of the voluntary firefighters

 

The members of the brigade were furnished with a special uniform, and they would appear in a parade at every national holiday alongside the local military brigade. This raised the honor of the Jewish residents and aroused the jealousy of the gentiles who were present.

The Jewish wagon drivers were enlisted to transport barrels of water to the sites of fire at any alarm.

The firefighters brigade prevented the spread of fires. The property saved from the fires was in trustworthy hands, and was not left open to looting by the riffraff.

The firefighters were headquartered in a large building in the center of the marketplace, called the “Sraj.” Public Zionist gatherings, Jewish National Fund bazaars, celebrations for the benefit of the charitable institutions, and performances of the drama troupe that became well-known in the area also took place there.

Asher Muzikant and his band played popular tunes at every public event. They earned enthusiastic applause.

The following excelled in the band: Yaakov Winer, Yaakov Jolowitz, Simcha Dolgopiati, and Yaakov the drummer.

Asherke was also a composer who composed many marching tunes.

Every appearance of the drama troupe was an event in the life of the Jewish community. The actors were loved by the audience, and their tunes were heard on everyone's mouths for many days.

The following excelled from among the actors: Mordechai (Mottel) Chlaz as a comic, Leah Chlaz, Todros Muzikant, Rachel Slutski, Chana Lichtenstein, Yehoshua and Sonia Katzman. They knew how to perform their roles with dedication and charming humor.

The voluntary firefighters served as ushers at every event.

The activities of the firefighters brigade came to an end along with all the other institutions that were closed with the entry of the Russians in 1939.

(Shlomo Dolgopiati)

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