Translated by Jerrold Landau
Approximately 50 years have passed since I left Ratno, but at times I attempt to recall the days of my childhood and youth, and I see in the eyes of my spirit the events and happenings of those far-off days.
I see myself as a four-year-old child, hiding with my sister in a wagon hitched to a horse standing outside the town as it was going up in flames. A Cossack riding a horse was demanding ransom from Father in return for letting the family live.
I see the Germans, who entered the town during the First World War, chasing the Russian Czarist soldiers. Their captain was housed in a portion of our house.
I see barefooted Bolshevik soldiers, wearing torn and worn-out clothes, breaking into the town. Most of their captains were Jewish lads. They were storming in the direction of Warsaw; however, the regime changed before long and the Hallerczyks of the Polish army attacked the Bolsheviks, who were forced to retreat in the direction of Kiev. On the way, they incidentally attacked the Jews of the town, cut beards, administered 25 lashes with their whips for all sorts of imagined transgressions, and plundered and pillaged everything that came to their hands.
I see myself hiding next to some monument in the old cemetery during the days of the infamous Bulak Balachowicz, as his soldiers were running wild in Ratno, plundering and murdering without anyone to stop them.
Behold, the events are changing and the pictures are turning. There is a pastoral silence around, and I am walking on a snowy night from the cheder of Reb Leizer the teacher, with a lantern, which is nothing more than a candle in a bottle; or I was escaping along with other children from the cheder of Reb Nechemia, who was running after us to bring us back to the cheder.
Again the years pass, and I see myself as a student in the Tarbut School, founded by Noach Kotzker, as I was becoming accustomed to the Hebrew Language with Ashkenazic pronunciation.
Now, our spacious, wooden house stands before me, surrounded by a fruit and vegetable garden, with a granary, stable and barn. The neighbors close to my house were Ukrainian farmers. The house was always bustling with movement. My friends, and the friends of my sisters Amalia and Pnina, were discussing and conversing with childhood enthusiasm about important matters, questions of whether Hebrew or Yiddish was the eternal language; the Land of Israel versus Birobidzhan, etc. Despite the sharp differences of opinion, friendship remained strong between them all, and the politics did not disturb the friendship.
Here I am in the large city of Kowel, dressed in the uniform of the Hebrew gymnasium, with the Hebrew Language in Sephardic pronunciation rolling off my tongue in
a most natural manner. This was indeed a great event in my life, and perhaps not only in my life. Many Jews in Ratno regarded the travel of my sister Amalia to study in Kowel as a brazen act with respect to my parents. She was the pioneer, and one year later, I also joined her as a student in the Tarbut Gymnasium. We both joined the Hashomer Hatzair chapter during our studies in Kowel. This movement that blended scouting, pioneering, labor and Zionism, and later also Socialism, enchanted us greatly. It was natural that when we came to Ratno during our vacations we attempted to give over our experiences to the local youth. We founded a chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in Ratno. At that time we felt, and there was definitely a basis for that feeling, that we were thereby enriching the lives of the youths who had no meaning or purpose. We were taking them out of the miry pit of gradual degeneration, and we were imparting to them something that was sorely missing in those days - a purpose for their lives. After some time, about a half year before I concluded the gymnasium, I dedicated almost all of my time to that aim. As I was forced to interrupt my studies due to an illness, I dedicated myself to the activities of the movement with all my means.
As I write these lines, I recall how we performed Lamdan's Masada on stage. This performance was a topic of conversation for a long time for everybody. We did not regard Lamdan's Masada as merely a literary creation, but rather as a flag, as a call against the degeneration of the Jewish youth in the Diaspora, and the presentation of new challenges and goals that would impart meaning to these youths. I directed the play, even though I had no stage experience at all. Accomplishing this task was a challenge for me.
On top: A Kosnik, M. Stern, M. Droog, Sh. Lavie, A. Feintuch
These and similar occurrences leap before me as a kaleidoscope of my childhood and youth. Many of my generation certainly see the same images and pictures as they recall the days of their youth in Polish Wolhyn.
I made aliya to the land in May 1934 on the Polonia ship. For health reasons, I did not go through hachshara on a kibbutz in the Diaspora, and I made aliya as a student with the intention of graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I did not remain in Haifa after I arrived, and I immediately attempted to visit my fellow townsmen Mordechai Gefen, Moshe Gutman and Moshe Stern, who left the kibbutz Givat Hashlosha at that time and were later among the founders of Kfar Sirkin. After several days of rest and touring, they arranged work for me with a building contractor in Petach Tikva.
These days of work are etched in my mind. I had never before held a spade or a hoe in my hands, but on my first day, the contractor gave me the task of preparing concrete from a mixture of gravel, coarse sand, sand and cement in a large basin for the purpose of pouring on roofs. I held my own through the workday with difficulty. The skin on my hands peeled off and my hands themselves lost their functionality for a few days. What vexed me especially was that the payment for that first difficult day of work never reached me, for the contractor went bankrupt. I made note that Working Land of Israel remains in debt to me for one day of work I moved to Haifa after I decided to study structural engineering in the Technion, and I attempted to spend the months that remained until the beginning of the semester by working and saving money for my studies. The section for general workers of the Council of Workers of Haifa set me up in digging pits for placing hydro poles in the Tira region. I also remember well my first workday in Tira. This was a fine summer day, and since I was not yet familiar with the strength of the Israeli sun, I took off my shirt and undershirt after two or three hours of work to ease the heat of the sun a bit. When I returned to my room and wanted to take a shower, I removed my clothes along with - the skin of my back, which had turned completely into water vesicles. Thus did my second day of work in the Land end.
I did not despair, for I was prepared for the pangs of acclimatation. After some time, I began to work in one of the many building groups that existed in Haifa at that time, and apprenticed in iron construction and scaffolding. My original plan of studying at the Technion slowly faded to the background. This was largely due to the scale of values that was accepted in the Land of Israel at that time, where the value of labor was supreme.
The lack of work was felt strongly in Haifa during the time of the Italian-Abyssinian War. I and five other youths set up a civic commune. We rented a three room dwelling in the city and divided our meager belongings equally. As time went on, this house of ours became a transit dwelling for many new immigrants who found some assistance there, with the workers kitchen providing the remainder
After some time, when the employment situation improved, I arranged an independent building group. Our first job was building the Ziv neighborhood in Neve Shaanan atop the Carmel. At that time, I built my own house, but was forced to sell it for I was unable to make the payments during wartime. These were the times of disturbances and their effect was felt throughout the entire country, especially in Haifa. In order to reach the Ziv neighborhood, we had to go through the Arabi area of Chalisa and an area of the Jordanian Legion that was stationed atop the mountain. The situation was fraught with danger, and at times we were honored with a volley of shots as we returned home. As a member of the Haganah, I was sent to a course for squad leaders organized in the forest of the Carmel after the murder of eight guards on the mountain. At the end of the course, I was given the responsibility of security in the Ziv neighborhood. From that time, my nights were dedicated to guard duty and my days to work. I was not the only one involved in difficult work and uncomfortable conditions. Many others like me lived and worked in similar conditions. Everyone performed to the best of their abilities and even beyond.
My work group disbanded due to issues of the times. I worked at Solel Boneh for a period of time, and later at a security gate in the north, in Pillboxim , and in setting up security walls for the oil tanks in Haifa. At about that time, I was offered the job of supervisor of the consumer's organization in Netanya. I took on the job knowing the importance of these organizations for the workers who were living on meager salaries and having difficulty meeting their budgets. I regarded this as a specific challenge, and moved to Netanya in 1943
After a few years , the organization that I ran turned into a very important part of the supply chain in the city, first and foremost for the local community of workers. This was in the midst of the era of austerity of Dov Yosef. All the citizens of the state were ordered to tighten their belts, but even with the belt tightening, there was a need for food. The organization also served as a supply source for units of the Israel Defense Forces that camped and were active in the eastern Sharon during the War of Independence.
In addition to my role as director of the consumer's organization, I was simultaneously active in the Consumer's Cooperative League. In 1956, I was asked to represent it
on the leadership of the Central Provision Depot (Hamashbir Hamerkazi) as the director of the food department, which was then one of the central departments. I had to do on a national basis what I used to do on a local basis. The supply network of Hamashbir was not restricted to consumers' unions but also served kibbutzim of all types, the Moshav movement, government and communal institutions, and other such things. Among other activities, I set up an independent trucking network for the institution. In addition to local branches, I opened up branches of Hamashbir Hamerkazi in Eilat and Kiryat Shmona. Part of my responsibility was the building of a new center on Giborei Yisrael Street in Tel Aviv, the tank in Kiryat Gat, the branch in Beer Sheva, the central warehouse for foodstuffs, and others.
The period of my service also included the years 1956, 1967, and 1973, which, as is known, were years of war. The burden of responsibility for food supply to all of the settlements united by Mashbir, first and foremost for those living near the borders, was double and more. These years placed many difficult challenges before me with respect to supply, trucking, manpower, etc.
After 21 years of activity in Hamashbir Hamerkazi, I left its leadership in 1977 and became involved in the development of a company for cooperative importing of foodstuffs for Hamashbir Hamerkazi and the consumers' organizations, as well as setting up a central warehouse for those institutions. I retired in 1981 and transferred my task to someone younger than I.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I spent my early childhood years in the Ukrainian village of Dubechno, 17 kilometers from Ratno. Very few families lived in that village. Some of them owned stores, and the rest, who lived near the Kowel-Brisk railway station, worked in the lumber trade. My father was among them, and he expanded his business and even acted as a building contractor for the extensive forestry authorities in the district.
Good neighborliness pervaded among the Jewish families and the Ukrainian population. Many of the Ukrainians worked with the Jewish merchants at sawing lumber in the forests, transporting the lumber, and loading it on the transport trains.
As a child, I played with the children of our Ukrainian neighbors. I would go to their homes, and I even went out to the fields with them during harvest time to watch them bring in their produce. I loved village life, the surrounding forests, and the gathering of various types of berries and mushrooms. I recall the Brioza trees next to our house that would drip their natural, tasty sap into the cans that we had hung on them. We had a vegetable garden, a cow, a goat, fresh milk for drinking, and homemade dairy products.
Our large house was next door to the house of my paternal grandfather, Pinchas, a scholar who never stopped learning. He always sat and studied Torah, for the work was primarily the task of Grandmother. She ran the guesthouse and tended to the guests - the various foresters, bankers and lumber merchants. This was the accepted custom in those days: She concerned herself with this world, and he concerned himself with the World to Come.
With anything related to the vanities of this world, Grandfather satisfied himself with very little. He was modest, upright, and forgiving. When Grandmother was railing against someone who owned something and was not paying his debt, Grandfather responded, If he did not pay yet, it is a sign that he does not have anything now, and when he can afford it, he will pay.
My father Shamai studied during his youth in the Yeshiva of Brest-Litovsk under Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, who was an important person in those days, and not everyone was able to be among his students. Later, my father realized that the way of the world precedes Torah and that a livelihood takes precedence over scholarship. Therefore, he ended his studies and began to work as a lumber merchant - a common profession amongst the Jews in our district in that era. My maternal grandfather David and his family lived in Ratno, where he had a workshop for tanning hides.
On the High Holidays, all the Jews would leave our village to go to their relatives, so that they could attend the public prayer services in the synagogues with the rest of the People of Israel. Of course, our family did so as well. My mother Breindel was an intelligent woman who knew Hebrew and Bible. She was an exemplary housewife and mother. Through the influence of Grandfather David, my father became a Karliner Hassid. He drew close to Hassidism, and whenever Rev Melechke (Elimelech) came
to Ratno, my father turned away from his business endeavors and went to be with the Tzadik. At times, he would even travel to the Rebbe for advice and a blessing.
I am in gratitude to Rabi Elimelech for permitting me to make aliya to the Land. Once, when I was returning from hachshara to prepare for my aliya, there was sadness in the house and my parents were going around depressed. My father traveled to the Rebbe to request his advice. The rabbi listened, pondered, and decided, He wants to go - let him go in peace!
When he returned home and repeated what the Rebbe had said, there was calm in the house. My mother even added, I wish we would merit to also go. My heart is pained because that wish was never realized. May the name of the Rebbe be blessed.
In Ratno, I studied with Leizer Broszniker, Nechemia, and Reb Hershel. Then I moved to Brisk. I was in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Sokolovski for a brief period. I belonged to the Hitorerut group that stemmed from extremist Torah education. I began to swim through the Sea of Talmud. However, at that time, I was also influenced by the spirit of Zionism that had penetrated the Jewish youth circles of Brisk, including the members of the household in which I lived, who belonged to the Gordonia chapter. The Hebrew songs that I heard in that home blended with my Gemara melodies. I was then a lad of 14 or 15. I began to think about the ways of the world and my own path. It seems that, in the Gemara, I did not find a solution to the questions that bothered me, and the Hitorerut group in the Yeshiva was not sufficient to satisfy the way of life of a lad who had witnessed pogroms with his own eyes. I transferred to the Tachkemoni School, and from there to the Tarbut High School. A new spirit began to pulsate within me, that found expression through youth activities in the pioneering movement.
Along with a few other friends, including Avraham Grabov of blessed memory, Yisrael Honig, Simcha Leiker, Charna Greenstein, and Maya Weinstock, and with the assistance of Mordechai Yanover of blessed memory, we founded a chapter of Hechalutz Hatzair in Ratno. From that time, I devoted all my energies to that movement. I participated in the first summer Moshava of Hechalutz Hatzair in the town of Bereszchka in Wolhyn. The counselors included Chuma Chayes of blessed memory and Moshe Breslewsky of blessed memory from the Land of Israel. This Moshava fortified me ideologically, freed me from doubts and uncertainties that had found expression in poems that I had written at that time, and in my pouring out my heart in my personal diary. I regarded Hechalutz Hatzair as the forger of Jewish reality in the town, and I cleaved to it with my entire essence and soul.
I went out to hachshara in Klesowa. From there I went to the world seminar of Hechalutz in Warsaw, under the direction of Yitzchak Tabenkin. The participants of that seminar later formed the active group of the pioneering movement. According to our plan, we spread out into different districts. At first I worked in the headquarters of Hechalutz Hatzair in the organizational committee. Later I was sent to the Tel Chai division in Niemen, where I worked at organizing the chapters of Hechalutz Hatzair. It seems that there was not one town between Lida and Vilna which I did not visit on business of the organization. I was even arrested by the police in one of the towns, for I was suspected by them of Communist activities.
Later, I was elected as secretary of the Tel Chai division, which saw itself as destined to settle in the Upper Galilee. Indeed, when I made aliya in October 1933 with my wife Sara, who was also an activist of the movement, we went directly to Ayelet Hashachar, where the members of the Tel Chai division of Poland gathered.
First Steps in the Land
Our dream was realized. The stormy period of movement activities in the Diaspora found its expression with our coming to Ayelet Hashachar in the Upper Galilee. We were burdened with the yoke of the kibbutz, of the building efforts, of clearing the fields and preparing them for cultivation and planting, of drilling for water, of guarding the fields, and of defense. I was among the drafted guards.
As every new immigrant in those days, we were afflicted with fever, dysentery and skin diseases. I was chosen for various tasks: secretary of the kibbutz, treasurer, editor of the internal newspaper, etc. I was able to meet all of these challenges. To my great dismay, we became entangled in a certain crisis that led to our leaving the kibbutz. This was a painful and dismaying departure both for us and for the kibbutz. Looking back, it is unfortunate that we did not have the strength to overcome the various difficulties, and were forced to leave. However, we remain connected to the kibbutz with all the strands of our soul to this day. We have deep feelings of gratitude for members who said to us during the farewell gathering, Whenever you wish to return - the kibbutz is open to you. These words encouraged me when I went out frustrated and perplexed toward a new path of life.
My wife obtained work in a school for abandoned children in Kfar Avoda near Nehalal, under the auspices of the prominent educator Dr. Lubinsky. The school received it support from the institutions of the national committee. We received an apartment in this institution, and we moved there with our son,
and my mother-in-law Henya. I wanted to join the Beit Shearim Moshav, but I was lacking the 50 Israeli Lira that was needed for this. I was unable to obtain a loan for this purpose under any circumstances, and the idea of the Moshav was shelved.
Later, the principal of the institution offered me a job as a substitute teacher in the village school, on the condition that I obtain a permit from Professor Shalit, the head of the supervisory committee of the school. After a discussion with Professor Shalit, I received a letter of recommendation for the principal of the institution, authorizing me to be given work.
As a teacher of literature, Bible and history, I developed educational activities within the youth groups for children of various ages that were affiliated with the institution. I entered them into the ranks of the Working Youth, I forged a connection with their families, and with the assistance of some friends from the neighboring kibbutzim, I forged a connection between the oldest group of the youth of the institution and people of the same age from the surrounding settlements. I drew them close to a new way of life, to work and creativity, rather than the life that they knew on the streets to this point.
This work gave me satisfaction and calm. Apparently, I was destined for educational activities. I received significant assistance and encouragement for this work from David Cohen of blessed memory, of the Working Youth.
I am happy to note that a group of the youth whom I educated even joined the kibbutzim, and are members to this day.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, and the organization of the British Army, the buildings of the institution, which bordered an airfield, were captured by the British Army, and we were forced to vacate the place. We moved to Hadera, and from there, after a period of transition, to our permanent residence next to Moshav Herut. On account of the situation, the character of the institution and composition of the children changed, and we decided to leave this work. We moved to Rishon Lezion, where I worked at first as the director of the consumer's organization. After some time, I was chosen as secretary of the Workers Council of Rishon Lezion. My wife worked at first in Sarafand, and later in the kindergarten of the Organization of Working Mothers.
During my tenure at the consumers' union, I searched for ways to draw the community of workers close to the consumers' institution. During that era of work shortages, we found a solution to the pressure by supplying the agricultural workers who received their provisions through special grants. During that period of time, I was also chosen as a member of the advisory council of the consumers' cooperative, and I served on the city council of Rishon Lezion.
My years of work as secretary of the workers' council were dedicated to two areas: the social consolidation of the community of workers by setting up cultural institutions and educational activities. The secretary for cultural matters, the writer Mordechai Taviv of blessed memory, should be remembered positively. He worked a great deal in this area. I dedicated myself to the setting up of communal institutions. We even began to set up a workers neighborhood in the area of the Histadrut institutions as well as an agricultural center. We concerned ourselves with obtaining loans for the workers who did not have the needed sums for a first payment.
During that period, our home in Rishon Lezion was open to new immigrants who arrived from Ratno, thanks to a significant extent to my mother-in-law Henya of blessed memory, who saw it as
her duty to assist the absorption of Ratno natives in the land.
The years 1946-1947 were years of economic pressure and work shortages. The danger existed that additional functioning enterprises might close. Among others, the Gavish cooperative, which employed many workers, was liable to close. Upon realizing the danger awaiting the local community of workers, I advised the owners of Gavish to set up an equal partnership between the local workers and the owners. The workers were promised loans to finance the investment that each person was required to invest in this cooperative. This initiative was based on the following assumptions.
The owners of Gavish, who did not at all want their precious institution to close, agreed to my recommendation. I had to enlist the help of the wives of the workers and explain to them that if the enterprise was not rehabilitated, their husbands might face a long period of unemployment.
The efforts bore fruit, and the plan came to fruition. We raised the first sums that were needed for the shares, and the partnership commenced. To everyone's joy, a positive change began and the period of growth began.
This successful experience of Gavish, and the will to continue along this path of a 50:50 partnership between private capital and the workers' cooperatives obligated the cooperative headquarters to bring this matter to the central committee of the Histadrut for a fundamental decision.
When I spoke before the central committee, I defended this path as a broad opportunity for ensuring employment for workers in failing enterprises during this period of economic straits, and perhaps also as a means of widening the network of creative cooperatives in general.
The executive committee gave its blessings to this path, and the cooperative center began to operate in that direction. I was invited to the cooperative headquarters in December 1947 as a member of the secretariat. One of the first tasks given to me was looking after the enterprises that had formed partnerships between private capital and the workers' cooperatives, in the scope of my role as director of the metals branch.
During this period, Hamalachim, Pliz, Karpuman, Maalit, Keren-Or and others were established. From this, the partnership between Ampa and Haargaz was born, forming the Amcor Concern.
I worked at the cooperative center for ten years, and I concluded my work in December 1957. From then until this day, I am the director of the Amron factory in Herzliya that belongs to the Amcor Concern. This enterprise employs 200 workers, and is especially involved in the export of receivers and ionization devices throughout the world. In the most recent year of 1982, the export revenues reached six million dollars. It also manufactures television receivers under the auspices of the Nordmende Company.
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