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[Page 66]

Movements and Parties

 

In Those Days

by Getzel Reiser

Translated by Ann Belinsky

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, public life in Steibtz was paralyzed and all Zionist and Jewish National Fund activities in the town stopped.

 

Sto066.jpg
The Yiddish school in 1920
Written on the photo (in Yiddish): “The Steibtz Private Yiddish School with the pupils and directress (principal), Freidel Chait”

Sitting from the right: Sima Reznik, Chaya Sargovitz, Minkar, Unknown, Apelboim, Rachel Kushner, Liba Wolfson, Zahava Sargovitz
Second row: Tzipa Roditzky, Berta Tunik, Moltzdisky, Chaya Machtei, Apelboim, Rivka Kanterovitz, Chana Roditzky, Liba Axelrod, Moltzdisky
Standing from right: Chaim Comac, Tzvi Milcenzon, Avraham Shkolnik, Shmuel Milcenzon, Shulah Rozovsky, Beyla Zlotnik, Taibel Akon, Aaron Chait, Miriam Comac
Standing, second row: Basha Machtei, Rivka Bernstein, Chaya Klatzuk, Moshe Hana, Yosel Tunik, Shulah Tunik, Chassia Tunik, Freidel Chait, Chana Shmulker, Miriam Milcenzon, Rachel Akon, Feigel Machtei, Tzipa Rachel Tunik, Chana Eichel

 

I remember how my sister, Sarah Yasel, of blessed memory, who was an active member of the Poalei Tzion party then, suffered because of the illegal meetings both from the authorities and from the parents, and more than once the party members were arrested in the middle of the night by the police.

During the war studies stopped and the schools were closed. Youth of school age wandered around the streets with nothing to do. The battles, which advanced speedily in our direction brought hunger, epidemics all kinds of diseases and there was no doctor in the town. There were many diseases such as gazezet – scalp ringworm (a type of head leprosy). About a dozen children from Yurzdika and Shpitlana Streets were affected by this disease and there was no treatment. Thanks to the devotion of Gruna Kanterovitz, daughter of Mordechai and Nechama'keh (Yashkeh–Ber'keh Henia's)

[Page 67]

Sto067.jpg
Organizers of Zionist Activity in 1921

Row A. Sitting: Abba Bogin, David Comac
Row B. Sitting: Elimelech Milcenzon, Yitzhak Yosselevicz, Boris Margolin, Avraham Moshe Danzig, Shlomo Otievsky
Row C. Standing: Moredchai Borsuk, Mordechai Inzelbuch, Chaim David Reiser, Getzel Reiser, Yitzhak Leib Aginsky, Yitzhak Dov Tunik, Yitzhak Tunik, Shlomo Rozovsky

 

and on her initiative, these children were cured and were able to enter the school, the first and only one then, named “The Steibtz Private Yiddish School with the pupils and directress, Freidel Chait”. Freidel died in America at a young age and Gruna was caught by the murderers – she died in the Holocaust with her husband and family. They are remembered for the good, with all the businessmen, who devoted all their energies and life to community work in our town.

Only in 1921, with the establishment of the Polish government, came the days of revival and flourishing of the Zionist movement in our town. Even before it was possible to contact the authorities to receive a license for the branch of a Zionist organization, we already began to collect monies, with or without permission. We appeared at weddings, at Bar–mitzvah celebrations, and dealt with selling JNF[1] stamps, planting trees in the Herzl Forest, inscribing in the Golden Book, selling shekels to the Zionist Congress[2], etc.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, we put out [collection] bowls in the Synagogue from the Odessa Committee for Redemption of the Land. The JNF bowl was decorated with a blue and white paper ribbon, bearing large letters: “For the Jewish National Fund”. In the old Bet Midrash R' Lipman Dorsky sat by the bowls and when he was elected to be the first beadle of the above synagogue, the teacher, Meir Josef Shwartz came in his place. In the New Synagogue, the teacher Alter Yosselevicz, always sat by the bowl and in the Yurzdika Synagogue sat R' Shlomo Chaim Bernstein.

From Steibtz there were already four pioneers in Eretz–Israel and these were: Zalman Rubashov Shazar, one of the central people in the Poalei Zion movement and later the editor of the newspaper Davar, Minister of Education and Culture, one of the heads of the Jewish Agency and at present President of the State of Israel; Dov Epstein, representative of Davar in Rishon LeTzion, Yitzhak Bernstein, member of the Kfar Yehoshua Moshav and Reuven Levine, member of Kvutzat Geva. All came with the Second Aliyah[3].

Life in the town slowly returned to its course. New houses were built and extensive aid for those harmed by the war was given by the Americans. For this an American engineer came, who stayed in Tanchum Shkolnik's hotel, and in the end it turned out that he was also a Zionist.

He organized the craftsmen to build huts for a school and for a hospital. I too came to work and was almost the only one of the young craftsmen in the town. I talked to him and he commented that my place in the town was not recognized and that I should go as a pioneer to Eretz Israel, where I could be of use in building new settlements.

In the meanwhile, a temporary committee of members was established: Vainaber Otievsky and his wife, Sherman and his wife, and myself. Afterwards we convinced Abba Bogin to join us.

With the return of Boris Margolin from Minsk, we began to organize youth movements and political parties. I remember when I went with Boris Margolin for the Appeal to collect

[Page 68]

money at Purim, we collected a fair amount. We visited Abraham Rubenstein, a well–known forestry merchant, he gave us 100 zloty, a large amount in those days. At that time we also sold shekels for the Congress. In the meantime we brought in Meir Yosef Schwartz as a member of the Swerznie branch. We had a shared seal (rubber stamp): “The United Zionist Federation – Steibtz– Swerznie. In Swerznie a branch of Hechalutz already existed. In Hechalutz I joined with Yosef Machtei. Thanks to the Swerznie Hechalutz, Yosef Machtei, Yechezkel Ben Moshe (Plaksin) Dov Ben Yerucham (Kharkhorim), Chaim Rozovsky and Feigel Bernstein travelled to Eretz Israel.

For Boris Margolin's departure we organized the first party in the home of David Comac, on the slopes of Potztova Street in a remote corner, without arousing the attention of the police. The Zionist Federation was not permitted at that time by the authorities of Steibtz, which was close to the Soviet border.

Alter Yosselevicz, who had returned from Minsk, already participated in this party. Boris Margolin passed the administration of the Zionist work over to him and left Steibtz.

The educator Alter dealt with the organization and promotion of the modern school and developed widespread Zionist activities among the youth. His desire was to instill Zionism into the old Bet Midrash. On the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration[4], he organized a group of 20 young men and together with them burst into the old Bet Midrash. A large audience was not found then within the walls of the Bet Midrash and the old men were secretly very annoyed. Alter, protected by the young men, mounted the pulpit and by the light of candles, spoke enthusiastically about the value of the Balfour Declaration, as a basic law for the Jewish State.

He himself did not succeed in witnessing the wonder of the creation of the Hebrew State, but his work was not in vain – many of his pupils planted deep roots in Israel, and their teacher–educator always will be remembered with gratitude.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. JNF (acronym in Hebrew KKL) – the Jewish National was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine (later the British Mandate for Palestine) for Jewish settlement. Return
  2. Money was raised for the JNF by selling special stamps, or was designated to plant trees in Palestine, or to inscribe names in order to honor people and their donations on special occasions. Purchasing a symbolic shekel was also a way of fundraising. Return
  3. Second Aliyah: Jewish emigration to Palestine from Eastern Europe that took place between 1904 and 1914. Return
  4. Balfour Declaration – The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. (Wikipedia) Return

 

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