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Public and Zionist Institutions


‘In a place where two Jews reside, one may find three synagogues’ goes a famous Jewish saying which portrays a national characteristic: to be one nation or one community or even one family, with dozens of political, religious, cultural and other conflicting convictions. The Lithuanian shtetl had a special blend of orthodoxy and Zionism, Hebrew and Yiddish, socialists and a few rightists, reaching some kind of harmony despite the disputes. Also, the number of the various institutes, parties and youth movements existing in one small place is amazingly high.



The Maccabi in Riteve

Alter Levite (Original editor)

With the flourishing of the Jewish autonomy in Lithuania, there grew up a new move– ment whose motto was‘a healthy soul in a healthy body’. This was the movement of Maccabi. In every village there were young people who said that if we want to be a nation like all other nations, we have to attend to the youth so that we will be healthy in body and in soul. In Riteve this movement found wide scope.

Harry Singer1, who now lives in Sea Point, Cape Town in South Africa, gave me some important data about the Maccabi and I am relating it as I received it from him.2 Harry Singer, or‘Hirshke Nachoum, Yanke Mendes’, gives the following account:

In the summer of 1924, I happened to be in Kovno. the capital ol Lithuania, and I saw a football match between Maccabi Kovn, and Ha–Ko'ach (the Star) Vienna.

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‘Athletics classes’ were a popular part of Maccabi Riteve.
Above: Maccabi Riteve‘Pyramid’.


The girls of Maccabi Riteve with decorated Hoops among the equipment.


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Two groups of Maccabi boys in Riteve.

In the photograph above, they appear to be in the uniform used for athletic classes and in the photgraph below, most of them are dressed for football.



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I decided to organise a Maccabi Riteves.

When I came home, I told a few people about the idea to found this organisation. We appointed Moshe Zelker as chairman of the organization, Berka Freedman the secretary, and I. the captain of the football team. I taught my friends, my comrades, the rules of the game, and we started to train ourselves. We appointed Mendel Segal to be the referee and Aaron Eppel, the photographer, was a member of the committee.

The Graaf Zalutsky, the heir of Oginski, came to our assistance. He gave us a field where we could train and also boards to make benches for spectators to sit on. The Graaf also became the goalkeeper of Maccabi, although he was not a Jew. Our young people showed a great interest in the game and learnt, all the rules pertaining to it. We played against pupils of the Lithuanian Gymnasium and we were successful.

On Lag Ba'Omer 1925, we invited the Maccabi of the nearby village of Plungyan to come and play in Riteve against our Maccabi. This Lag Ba Omer turned out to be a great festival for us. Here all the people of the village turned out on the football field to see the game. We invited a special orchestra to accompany the players from the village to the sportsfield. I was very surprised to see young and old marching along with us on the way.

We, the Maccabi of Riteve, were defeated because our competitors knew the game and all its tricks very well, but our moral victory was very great. We showed the people that we were able to achieve something. Besides the moral victory, we also had a substantial income from the tickets sold, so there was enough money now to enable us to invite an instructor to come from Kovno to teach us gymnastics in general and football in particular.

Our Maccabi made wonderful progress until the day came when we lost our money and this happened as a result of the following incident. We were playing one Sunday against the pupils of the Lithuanian Gymnasium and an argument arose between one of our members and one of the Lithuanians. One of our members accidentally kicked one of the Lithuanians who demanded new gold teeth. We had no choice but to pay. Naturally, we became very poor and were unable to pay for the instructor from Kovno.

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Ze'irei Zion (Youth of Zion) Committee (Association) of Riteve,
5684-5688 (1923/24 – 1927/28)

I am unable to record what happened afterwards, because I left Lithuania to emigrate to South Africa, but I shall never forget those wonderful days. The Maccabi was an experiment for the Jews to put down roots in a country which did not belong to them. We thought that we had come to stay there, but all our troubles were in vain. A flood of fire came and earned those things away, and also those plans of Maccabi were destroyed by the murderers.


The Zionist movement in Riteve – 1909

Author unknown

At the end of the month of Elul (September), a Zionist congress was held for the provinces of Kovno and Suvalk. From the province of Kovno there were eight representatives including one from Riteve. This testified to the importance of the Zionist movement in Riteve since there were many places like Plungyan, Telz and Salant which only sent one delegate to represent all three towns. There were also large towns which were not represented at all. Riteve's delegate represented the Zionists of Riteve in their own right. One of Riteve's active members was the well–known scholar Rabbi Eliezer Prisman who, while still a student at the Slobodka Yeshiva‘Beit Yitzhak’, had openly announced his membership in the 

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Zionist movement, to the chagrin of his teachers. He stood at the head of a group of yeshiva students who were Zionists (and became well known for their Zionist activities many years later) and who obtained help from Kovno for their under– takings. He foiled an attempt by Ya'acov Lifshitz who had tried to gather a group of rabbis and ultra–orthodox activists to pursue anti–Zionist activities. Prisman and Ben–Zion Dinaburg (later Professor Ben–Zion Dinur of the Hebrew University and minister of education in the Israeli cabinet) were in close contact with the Zionists of Kovno (Isser Ber Wolf, Moshe Bramson and others). Thus the efforts of the anti–Zionists did not bear fruit.

Among the people of Riteve, Joseph Levite contributed greatly to the Zionist effort. He later lived in Warsaw. Levite was born in Riteve and received a traditional education. In Warsaw he was the first of the Zionists to be chosen as an administrator of the Warsaw community in 1908, a time when the Zionists and the moderate orthodox leaders had united for the purpose of elections. Levite embarked on a project to improve the Talmudei Torah (primary schools) which were under the control of the community. However, he provoked the opposition of the assimilaiionists and also the Hassidim in his attempt to introduce the teaching of Jewish history in Yiddish and the teaching of Hebrew in the beginners' classes and in the girls' schools, which numbered 20 at that time.


Keren Kayemet – Jewish National Fund (JNF)

The dissemination of the Zionist ideal of redemption of the land and the collecting of funds were restricted to the‘plates’ into which donations were placed in the synagogue on the eve of the Day of Atonement. The community contributed generously to the‘plate’, decorated with blue and white. Another educational activity for the benefit of the JNF3 was conducted among the school children, who acquired JNF stamps and contributed to the Blue Box. The day–to–day contributions were not large, but were given willingly. Nevertheless, it was necessary to go from house to house to explain the need for contributions.


Keren Hayesod

Keren Hayesod4 conducted its fundraising by means of a special annual campaign at which funds were pledged. The number of Riteve inhabitants who contributed yearly kept increasing. The opening of the campaign was attended by important personalities from Kovno and all of Lithuania.

The chairman of the two national funds was Eliezer Prisman.

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Rabbi Eliezer Prisman, worker and activist, Jewish National Fund


Shimon Varkul, one of the communal workers of Rlteve, who became one of the first senior Workers of the Tel Aviv Municipality


Uri Berman, one of the communal workers and active people of the town, who emigrated to Canada, arriving at the home of Rabbi Zalmanovitz. Uri Berman was a slaughterer and inspector.


Dr. Pikin, a very active communal worker in Riteve

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Hashomer Hatzair

Any member of the Hashomer Hatzair5 (the young guard) youth movement who resides in Israel will recollect that period with a thrill. The movement in Riteve was a lively branch of a fruitful tree. Its influence on its members and their education to its cause can be gauged by the saying that was current:‘Once a “Shomer” [guard] always a Shomer.’ The movement exerted a vitalising influence on the town. It served the youth of all sections of the town, the poor and the better off.

Activities in the movement began in the‘Ken’ (nest), where they gathered. Each member already saw himself or herself as taking part in the building–up of the land, and the kibbutz became the goal of their efforts.

One of the main activities of the movement was the study of the Hebrew language. Newspapers and cultural evenings all contributed to the fulfilment of this aim. The movement had followers among the young intelligentsia and also among the simplest sections of the population. Each section contributed in its own way for their mutual benefit.

The summer camps, as well as the excursions in which outdoor training was the main goal, are well remembered. The youngest group was known as K'firim (the young lions) and the second group was trained for pioneering activities with great emphasis on the kibbutz and Jewish history. At the age of 18, the member received the badge of Chazak Ve'Ematz:‘Be strong and of good courage’, and was then promoted to the seniors, who prepared (had Hachsharah) for emigration.

We were always very elated by news from the Land of Israel. A song sung by the pioneers about draining swamps or building roads was cherished by everyone. It was learnt by heart and sung with fervour. The leader of the movement in 1939 was Shmuel Shavit (formerly Hirshowitz) who is today a member of Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet.


Those who went on Aliyah

  David Babchiks and family – parents of Getzel Zelikovitz
1905 Ber and Tovah Zusman and family
1906 Rabbi Baruch Marcus (later chief rabbi of Haifa)
1921 Shimon and Dvorah Varkul
  Tsvi Nadel Machati
1922 Shmaryahu and Leah Cohani
1924 Rabbi Lifschitz and his wife
  Leah Groslovski–Milman
  Chana Gelman
  Michah Singer
  Leah Singer and her husband

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1925 Dov Birk and family
  Rabbi Elijah, his wife Masha and their sons Avraham and Meir
(later a scientist at the Weizmann Institute)
  Rachel Varkul
  Rivkah Yad–Shalom (formerly Auerbuch)
  Reshl Prisman
  Rivkah Zaltsman
(This is an incomplete list of the emigrants from Riteve to Eretz Israel up until the mid–twenties. Many more went on Aliyah later on.)


The Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank)

Rivkah Zaltsman

The Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank) was founded in the early 1920s and with its headquarters located in Kovno had branches throughout Lithuania. (At the beginning of 1931 there were 88 Jewish co–operative people's banks in Lithuania. They supported Jewish merchants and craftsmen, oppressed by the anti–Semitic government, by providing loans on convenient terms. Editors) The branches were constantly supervised by the central authority in Kovno. Its founder and manager was Zalman Schneur Abelov.

There was an annual shareholders' meeting and annual reports were submitted and plans laid for the new year as well as elections for the new head of the bank. Profits were invested in the various funds of the bank. The shareholders consisted of merchants, shopkeepers, small industrialists, etc. Loans were available to borrowers with suitable guarantees. The bank's staff in Riteve included the manager, two young clerks and a messenger. Shoshana Berelowitz Babush, Leib Berelowitz and I were staff members.

The people had confidence in the bank and Lithuanians as well as Jews were its clients. Even though the Lithuanians had their own national bank, they were envious of the development and the stability of our bank as compared with the traumas their bank experienced. After Abelov's death, Zvi Levit represented the bank's headquarters as manager in Riteve.


The Linat Tzedck Society

The Linat Tzedek Society was a mutual help group that performed tasks which were of inestimable value to the community. These tasks were done with love and dedication and deserve to be remembered as among the most meritorious deeds of the community. Since there was no hospital nor nurses and of course no medical aid, people who fell ill had to be cared for at home so that the

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Four groups of the Hashomer Hatzair – Zilla, Chaya, Eta and Shoshana – emigrants to the land of Israel on 2 June 1933. There are some 30 people in this photograph and this must have touched many families in Riteve with parents realising that they were unlikely to see their children again.


Hashomer Hatzair group in Riteve before the emigration to Israel of Rachel Linder and Hadassah Katz Landsman, a photograph probably taken during the latter part of the 1930s.

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A Hashomer Hatzair group wearing uniforms not unlike those of the Scout Group


A group picture of the Hashomer Hatzair Association

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A group of ten emigrants to Israel from Riteve, photographed in the mid–1930s.
No names were provided in the original book.


Zalman Abelov, manager of the Jewish People's Bank (Folkslbank) in Riteve


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mother of the family had the additional responsibility of caring for the sick. Hardworking fathers were not able to assist in nursing the sick during the night, so volunteers from the Linat Tzedek would spend the night at the bedside of the patient to relieve the mother. Linat Tzedek has two connotations, the one being the‘house where righteousness dwells’, and the second, the actual act of spending time on a righteous deed for the good of those in need, as for example lonely people without relatives.


  1. Harry Singer died in 1998. Return
  2. This introduction was written by an editor of the original edition of this book. Return
  3. The land purchase fund of the Zionist Organisation was founded on 29 December 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress of Basle. Return
  4. The Palestine Foundation Fund – the financial arm of the World Zionist Organisation – was founded at the Zionist conference held in London in July 1920 in order to be a‘central permanent financial organ' that would help in the materialisation of the‘Balfour Declaration’. Return
  5. Hashorner Hatzair was a Zionist–socialist pioneering youth movement established in Vienna in 1916 by the merging of two former youth movements: Ze'irei Zion (the youth of Zion) and Hashomer. Politically, the movement abroad was part of the Kibbutz Ha'Artzi, the Mapam settlement section in Israel. It was an active leftist, very anti–religious movement that cherished Marxist ideas for decades. Return


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