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[Page 69]

Personalities and Activities

 

“It is better to have a good name than a good oil”
A good oil goes from one room to another, but a
Good name lasts throughout the world.
(Shemot Raba, 48)

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Kindness of Youth
(a bundle of memories)

by Tzila Fleischer

Translated by Ala Gamulka

A.

The first social activity I recall, in which I participated at a young age, was the public kitchen. It was founded by Dr. Feltz in 1915. Others in its management were: Toivtze Mandelker (later Terner), Batya Burlyant, Mentze Brik, Binyamin Terner and Haim Burlyant. The kitchen served, every day, a hot meal to the poor population. It was especially needed by the families whose husbands were drafted to fight in the war. The kitchen was financed by various initiatives.

The first event I was permitted to attend, under the watchful eye of my older sister Pessia, – one of the organizers– was a “Literary Musical Evening”. It took place on Hanukah of that year. There was a good revenue for the kitchen.

The next event was the establishment of a drama group which presented “Mirele Efros”. This very successful play also produced good proceeds for the kitchen.

During the same period of time, “Young Generation” was organized. I was also a member. Its purpose o was national–cultural. There was a difference of opinion among the active persons. The adults wanted activities that would help the population in a material way, while, we, the younger ones, supported cultural events. There was a division that followed. One group dedicated itself to helping, in a material way, those who were poor. The second group – did cultural and spiritual work. The latter group had many difficulties since their parents were against their efforts. The first group was well received by the parents and the general public. Four young women (Pessia Rosmarin, Bunia Shturm, Toivtze Mandelker, and Batya Burlyant) organized the baking of Matzos. They were distributed free to poor people. The supervision was done by Rebbetzin Hannale Wertheim, Z”L and was approved by her husband, the Rabbi. Flour was bought by proceeds from Maot Hitim (wheat money). All work was done voluntarily. They even made sure the matzos were brought to the homes of the needy.

I remember an interesting event from those days: the Rebbetzin made the following condition: young men were not allowed to visit the bakery. These young men declared that during the holiday of Passover, the young women were to stroll with rolling pins…

The situation in the cultural group was different. We had war at home and on the outside. In spite of all this, we managed to establish a drama group. Our first income was dedicated to starting a library.

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There were those who insisted on only Yiddish books because most people using the library did not know Hebrew. The Zionists wanted purely Hebrew books. In our town, Hebrew had been taught for many years. Lana, the daughter of Volf Yokhenzon, a rich man in town, and Menashe Kandiner, used to write for “Hatsfira” (Hebrew newspaper).

There was fear of another dispute, so we agreed to open two libraries in both languages, with Yiddish having a larger percentage. This situation was resolved, but, in general, the condition of the organization was dire. There was no space to house the library, parents did not stop from voicing their opposition and our struggles were great.

In the meantime, a wealthy resident of our town passed away. Yechiel Natz, Z”L, had no children and he left a large house. In his will he left part of the house to a Shtiebel (his second wife lived in the other part with her daughter from her first marriage). One night, our young men infiltrated the house and appropriated two large rooms. This is where all our cultural activities took place. The two libraries became, in due time, the glory of the town. We offered evening classes to the youth from poor families.

 

Kindergarten in 1926

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B.

Our Zionist activities actually began in 1917, after the Balfour Declaration. However, Zionist ideas had come to our town many years earlier. In our house there was a Jewish National Fund book and it contained a list of volunteers and donors.

It was the custom to stand, on the eve of Yom Kippur, with a bowl, in all the houses of learning and shtiebels in order to collect money for Jewish National Fund. In the Trisker Shtiebel, my brother Aaron, (now in the United States), stood with the collection bowl. My sister Pessia did the same in the women's section. At the time it was great progress. The Balfour Declaration precipitated Zionist activity at a quick pace. In 1918, on 20 Tammuz, we “dared” to parade, carrying national flags and mourning flags, to the great House of Learning. It was to commemorate the death of Herzl 14 years earlier. The parade included youth and adults from all stratas of society. Elderly people stood in front of their homes or peeked from their windows with great curiosity.

When we returned home, my mother asked our maid, daughter of Hune the shoemaker, where she had been for such a long time. She simply replied:” Dr. Herzl was my relative just like Tzirel's”. My father Z”L, answered: “Who knows? It is not written anywhere that the Messiah will come on a white donkey. Maybe it is the era of the Messiah and he came as Dr. Herzl”.

I enjoyed this conversation for many reasons. One– my father– a Jew who had completed the study of the Mishna twice and was an ardent follower of the Rabbi from Trisk– began to understand our spirit. (See the article by my brother Dr. Aaron Rosmarin– “My town Ustiluh” for a description of our family's ardent following of the Rabbi from Trisk). Two– the advancement of our servants who were influenced by us.

Our happiness was incomplete. We had to struggle for a long time with zealots who interfered with our work. We often stood on guard at night fearing arson of the library. Here is an episode of our suffering in those times. It was true that our parents opposed our activities, but they were not zealots nor were they consistent. On the other hand, my older brother, Abba, Z”L, continually tried to incite our father against us, but he was unsuccessful. Once he thought he was successful against me. We presented “The Jewish King Lear” and my brother Aaron and I participated in the play. It was quite successful. Almost at the end, a fire broke out in the ceiling of the stage. There was great excitement. There were some serious injuries and some light ones. There was a doctor among us, but he did not arrive in time to provide the appropriate care. My older brother, who lived nearby, heard the shouting and the noise. He came and when he saw me, he slapped me twice. As I was screaming, my friends came to my aid.

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He went to wake our father up and told him that because he allows us to read books, we have sinned…

Eventually, I caught him in his “corruption”. He read War and Peace by Tolstoy. When I said: “Is it possible?”, he apologized by saying that he was only reading the historical parts of the book. We, supposedly, would read the story.

I later discovered that he read many books in classical Russian literature.

After the fire, the mayor, the Pole Shtravitsky, called us. He told us that since the production was so successful, the town would finance the renovation of the building. New doors would be included with a special exit. All that, if we put on the production again. We were delighted after we had been so despondent.

 

Orphanage

 

In the meantime, we had more members from the younger generation. There was the establishment of branches of Zeirei Zion, Poalei Zion, General Zionists and the Young Mizrachi. Zionist activities were developing. Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod became popular. We were so strong that the radicals accepted us and left us alone. Now that we had the freedom to plan activities,

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the town stood out in this area. When we received money from the Central office in Warsaw, we were able to triple it.

Some time later, when the social and Zionist activities were regular, we undertook the new task of helping the needy. The previous group had dispersed. Many had left town and others had married and concentrated on their families and personal issues.

When a representative group from the Joint in Rovno came and wanted to open an orphanage, it found us prepared to help. The Joint contributed considerable sums of money, but this was insufficient. We, therefore, organized various activities. We established an orphanage for 20 children. They had no father or mother and needed a roof over their heads.

The situation worsened when the town changed from one regime to another. Young people were insecure and looked for ways to immigrate.

In the meantime, the Red Army came closer to town. Those who had the means escaped to the United States. Loyal Zionists sought a way to make Aliyah. It was very difficult because the British Mandate government restricted the number of certificates. Anyone who truly wished to make Aliyah, found a way. This is how many families were able to avoid the Holocaust. Among those who made Aliyah in time, am I, the author of this article, my husband Mordechai and our oldest son, Moshe. I wrote many letters to my friends, from Eretz Israel, begging them to make Aliyah. I do not know what stopped them from leaving this small, modest town. Yes, it was charming and pretty. I know others have already described the beauty of the town with its rivers, mountains, forests, etc. The palace of Bieliankin has been mentioned. I believe that one item has been forgotten – the castle of the composer Stravinsky, brother–in–law of Bieliankin. He was married to the daughter of Nusenko. These were good people and many Jews earned their keep working for them.

However, all this beauty was desecrated by the Nazi beasts who hunted the Jewish residents of the beloved town. The lovely rows of trees on both sides of the road to Ludomir served to accompany them to the huge common grave. May God avenge the blood of the thousands of our dear martyrs!

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Shtrotenberg?
February 4 1930
Dear Mrs. Tz. Felsher
Ustiluh

Dear Madam,

Your kind words that you sent to congratulate me on my seventieth year made me very happy. I was always truly sorry that our sisters did not know our national language well. This stopped them from learning our language and our Torah. I found this to be the main reason for the forgetting of the Hebrew language within our people. I would say that out ancestors sinned and we suffered the consequences. This did not happen to other peoples. They managed to retain their language. Only, we, the people of Israel, were more guilty than others and our ancestors did not remember their language. This affected their children as well. Of course, there are some of our people who are striving to teach their daughters the Hebrew language, but, unfortunately, it is only done in a shallow way. I always remark that they do not speak Hebrew, they just babble in Hebrew. I read your words and I found in them Hebrew thinking. This made me very happy. It is impossible to have Hebrew expression without Hebrew thought. This can only be acquired by reading literature in Hebrew with understanding. I tell you, my dear lady: many girls have succeeded and you are above all of them. I received many congratulatory letters these days, but only a very few, yours among them, pleased me.

Please accept, my dear lady, my good wishes and my thanks for your kind words.

I close with greetings and with feelings of honour.

Shimon Bernfeld

 

The historian and philosopher Prof. Shimon Bernfeld, Z”L, whose letter is being published above, was born in Stalislavov in 1860. He died in Berlin in 1940.


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Torah Va'avodah Movement in Ustiluh

by A. Ben–Dov

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The year was 1920 and these were bright summer days. In Jewish Poland there was an awakening of national–Zionist spirit. Ustiluh was swept up in the current. Various Zionist organizations sprung one after the other. However, the Religious–Zionist movement was still missing in Ustiluh. I was nineteen years old then, a graduate of the House of Learning. I was not indifferent to events in the Jewish world. In my mind, the following question arose: where is the religious Jewry and, especially, where is the religious youth? Do they not hear the “voices of God saying –make Aliyah!”? What is the purpose of this indifference?

I knew that in Congress Poland there was a Religious–Zionist movement called Mizrachi. However, here, in Volyn, it had not yet arrived.

One day I met David Stav (Dunya) and we came up with the thought that it was about time that the religious youth in Ustiluh were to organize itself in a Religious–Nationalist movement, i.e., Mizrachi. We immediately went to work.

We first went to the two judges (dayanim), Ben Zion Reider and Reuven Zhak in order to obtain their approval and assistance. The latter held the tip of his long beard and asked: “Why specifically Mizrachi? Agudat Shlomei Emunei Israel is also a religious–nationalist movement. It recognizes the importance of rebuilding Eretz Israel and it will, no doubt, soon amalgamate with Mizrachi”.

He showed us a ledger of contributions from members of Shlomei Emunei Israel where it was written, black on white, that the Agudah is striving to establish, in Eretz Israel, a Jewish settlement based on Torah and tradition.

We had not yet understood the difference between a Jewish settlement and political Zionism. We had come to have the Dayan join us and, instead, we were taken in by him.

We took our materials from Reuven and we went to find people who would join us.

This is how Agudat Zeirei Emunei Israel was established.

However, the agreement of the dayanim was not enough. It was necessary to capture the interest and support of the religious public. The way to do it was through the House of Learning.

Large posters were hung in all synagogues. On Shabbat, yours truly came, surrounded by other young people, to the Great House of Learning. I gave a speech in which I proved, quoting the Torah, Or Haim,

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and other holy texts, that, this time redemption will not come as a miracle, like the exodus from Egypt. It will come through nature, as predicted by Ezra and Nehemiah. The conclusion was, of course: join Shlomei Emunei Israel who are planning to rebuild Eretz Israel according to the Torah and tradition.

This is how the young Agudah became known. However, the attitude towards it in the Shtiebels was different: In the Radzin Shtiebel, some of the zealots ridiculed the “heretic” (the author of these lines) for diverting their young men from the proper way.

 

Committee of Zeirei Hechalutz and Mizrahi

 

On the other hand, the Kuzmir Shtiebel gave these young people the Women's section for a meeting place. In the synagogue itself, the Agudah opened a national–religious school. The teachers were, myself, Moshe Kandiner and others.

Soon, the leaders of Agudah discovered they had been misled or they were wrong. An article in the newspaper Der Yud informed us that monies collected for Keren Hayishuv (Funds for settlement) are simply lying unused. We checked and discovered our viewpoint and thoughts were not aligned with those of the publishers of the Yud. We simply waited for the right moment to make changes. An opportunity soon came.

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When the Bolsheviks entered Ustiluh that year, all national organizations were shut down. This meant the end of the Agudat Zeirei Emunei Israel.

A few months later, the Tora Veavoda movement arose. It included the youth of Zeirei Mizrachi, Hechalutz Hamizrachi and the women's group, Bruria.

The active members were the same, but this time, they were part of a real religious–Zionist movement. The group grew and two rooms were rented in the house of Yeshayah Goldhover, Z”L. There was great activity. Lecturers came from the central office and spoke to us in the clubhouse and in the Great House of Learning. We sent members to training and, in the end, they received certificates and were able to make Aliyah.

In the meantime, the author of this article left town, Dunya Stav immigrated to America, and there was no one left to dedicate himself whole–heartedly to the various activities. The movement slowed down, but soon the teacher Moshe Shpirer had returned to town and became its savior.

Quietly and carefully, he took matters in his own hands and led the movement in Ustiluh until the end. Vave Kreiner, Z”L, and other young people supported the work of Torah Veavoda in Ustiluh.

Other active members of the movement that should be particularly mentioned are Shalom Shpigel and Shlomo Tchil. They were also teachers in the school of Moshe Shpirer.

He, himself, always dreamed of making Aliyah when he could, but he did not make it. May God avenge his blood!


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Hechalutz Branch in Ustiluh

by Yitzhak Farber

Translated by Ala Gamulka

I am unable to write about Hechalutz in our town without mentioning three members who worked together with us and did not merit to reach their hoped–for purpose:

  1. Moshe, son of Yaakov, Shroit
    He was younger than us by a few years and was full of enthusiasm. He joined the movement full of energy and ready to act. He undertook any task needed and was prepared to contribute his own knowledge. It can be said that he was an intended Aliyah candidate, but cruel fate did not allow him to reach his goal.
    It was a hot day, one of those sweltering days in Tamuz. We were sitting together planning our activities for 20 Tamuz. During a break, Moshe went to the Bug River to swim and he did not return… Our loss was great and we could not get over it for a long time.
  2. Shaul, son of Nahum, Stolar (Ritual slaughterer)
    He did not grow up with us. He came from far away. His external appearance covered the heat inside. He quickly joined us and became one of us, as if we had grown up together. He was always alert and excited. He looked after his ailing mother, but he still found time to contribute, to plan a new activity. He even took part in a literary evening in the municipal library, named for I.L. Peretz.
    He dedicated himself to two activities: 1. Hechalutz movement, 2. The library. He was an avid reader. He organized cultural evenings and was always one of those who were involved in all activities. Central Hechalutz wanted to establish a training kibbutz in our town. We were a little leery because there were some difficulties. Shaul did not hesitate for one second. He insisted that we give a positive answer and he immediately organized the food needed.
    He loved all members with their attributes and deficits. He dreamed of fulfilling his dream, but he was unsuccessful.
  3. Efraim, son David, Rubinshteyn
He acquired much knowledge from his father. He looked hurt, but he always kept to a specific framework. His mother and sister barely made a living and his lot was to roam

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as an itinerant teacher in the villages. Still, he managed to enrich his spiritual knowledge during that time. It was not enough for him. He wished to make Aliyah and he came to us. He knew how to give to others what he knew. When we began to organize Hebrew classes, he was one of our instructors. He did his work quietly and modestly. His explanations were given in a low voice, but he made sure they were well absorbed.

For family reasons, he still lived at home. Time ran away from him and he was killed in the Holocaust.

As a result of the situation in Eretz Israel, the movement in the Diaspora had highs and lows. Those who went through these times always had hope. There were days when we left everything else and dedicated ourselves to the good of the people. This gave us enormous personal satisfaction.

A visit by an emissary from Eretz Israel became a special experience that took us out of the humdrum days in which we were immersed. The emissary would give us tasks to accomplish, but he also brought fresh ideas. We could hope for a great future. We soared far away…

The commemoration of the Balfour Declaration, 20 Tamuz, was celebrated by us with parades, speeches and fund raising.

 

Hechalutz organization in 1931

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We celebrated Lag B'Omer in nature, in the nearby forest. It was a special day, full of singing and dancing– until nighttime. We returned in a parade of groups carrying torches and dancing a stormy hora–until we had no strength left!

The movement had highs and lows. It always depended on events in Eretz Israel. This deeply influenced every branch. I recall that, in 1925, days before the 14th Zionist Congress, there were several Zionist movements in town. The activities of two of them were especially evident: Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hamizrachi. The former was led by Yehuda Fleisher and Yaakov Yokhenzon, Z”L while the latter was supervised by the teacher Moshe Shpirer, Z”L. He was then a delegate to the congress. There was competition in raising funds and we reached a height that, for many years, we could not surpass. It must be said that the first pioneer from town to make Aliyah was a member of Hechalutz Hamizrahi and this fact influenced greatly the movement. Aharon Sholev, Z”L was the first one to fulfill the dream. He paved the way and received, with open arms, all those who followed and wished to be with him. May his memory be a blessing!

Several families left town and there was less activity. We were aroused again to new plans in Av 1929 when there were attacks in Eretz Israel. From that time on, until our town was destroyed by the murderers, we were quite successful. The dedication was sincere and heartfelt. There were those who laughed at us while others thought we were mad. We continued, tirelessly, to reach our goals.

It is understandable that there were arguments among our members. We were always confronted by locked gates. The movement grew, but it was not enough. Some of our members spent 3–4 years in training, but, still, they continued on. Life around us went on and although we lived there, our thoughts were far away.

Our activities were varied: felling trees to pay for a hall and paying taxes by holding cultural evenings, Hebrew lessons and other events.

In town there were two public places in which youth were concentrated– the library and Hechalutz. It is inevitable that there was a connection between them.

We always had the library for our use and we were able to obtain materials existing in it.

When I remember the library, I cannot forget those who, for many years, worked tirelessly for the benefit of the Hebrew library.

I visualize the library shelves, especially the Hebrew section. I can see Bluma Kornfracht, Tema Tish, Hinda Shinerman, Yaakov Yokhenzon and, still with us, the sisters Beila and Breindel Eichenboim. They performed their duties with sanctity– not to be compensated. It is due to them that we had evenings for Bialik, Brenner, Lamdan, etc. These drew large crowds and influenced many people.

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We reached heights in the years 1935–6. Many young people joined and were included in all ongoing events. The older ones attended training kibbutzim throughout Poland, in the hope of fulfilling their dream. Some made Aliyah and remained in touch with us. This was a good influence. There were young people from various social classes who joined. The events of 1936, with their difficult results, did not weaken the movement. The slogan was: “We will make Aliyah in spite of everything!” I, too, made Aliyah in 1936. When I look back on the Hechalutz movement, with all its struggles, I see it as a ray of sunshine within our gray lives in our town and other towns in Poland. The Hechalutz branch was full of excitement and was sensitive to all that was happening. Mainly, it had hope for the future.

Das Vort (the Word) – a daily newspaper of labour Zionists, Heatid (the Future) of Hechalutz, Hashomer Hatzair paper, Haolam (he World) during congress times– they all enriched our knowledge in all Zionist matters. They actually brought us into a different life cycle– one we yearned to reach. Only a few of us were successful and the rest were lost together with everything that was dear to us. The only thing left now are memories.

 

Just before the Aliyah of Yitzhak Farber in 1936

 

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