by Eliezer Leoni
Translated by Ala Gamulka
There are very few towns and villages in Poland where the Zionist movement was as deeply entrenched as in Kovel. Zionist ideals pierced the depths of all social layers in towns. People with opposing ideas united in the realm of Zionist activity.
A good description of the beginnings of the Zionist movement in town can be found in Hamelits from 1896: Various classes and parties united with love and in peace for the sake of the Zionist ideas. The movement to settle Eretz Israel has been entrenched, for the past few years, among the chosen few. However, lately, the rest of the residents have also been taken by the dream with one voice.
Seated, right to left: Sarah BlumenfeldTslavitch, Mendel Kossovsky, Brukhin, Heinich Geller, Burstein, Moshe Davidiuk, Barukh Reiter
Standing, right to left: Avraham Erlich, Berel Roizen, Ida NitsbergGutenboym, Yosef Avrech…
Dr. M. Feinstein and other honorable people fully devoted to their love of Zion and Jerusalem managed to disseminate these ideas in an excellent fashion. Their hard work brought, after Passover, the establishment of Agudat Zion and many members joined and donated generously. The new group was involved in teaching Hebrew language and literature to the youth, distributing good literature among the populace. It also presented subjects such as Jewish history and the words of the wise sages.
It was most pleasant to see people from all movements, differing in their thoughts and habits, doctors, scholars and Hassidim, join together for conversation and advice. They were all unified in any matter in the Jewish world.
The first meeting of Hovevei Zion took place on a Shabbat in 1894. The meeting was held in the Talmud Torah on Ludomir Street. The courtyard was filled with Jews wearing long kapotas. It is interesting to note the speeches at this meeting were half in Hebrew and half in Yiddish.
The synagogue, in the house of Yudell Schechter on Lutske Street, also served as the clubhouse for the General Zionists. The Zionist committee and the Zionist library were also located there. Among the founders of the library who also collected the books were Isser Miller. Eliyahu Burk, Mikhel Roizen, Yerucham Lublinsky and the son of the late Moshe Gonik. I do not need to emphasize that these cultural leaders spoke Hebrew among themselves. These were the first to establish the base for the revival of the Hebrew language among the town residents.
At the Zionist synagogue the following were listed among the founders of the Zionist movement in town: Alter Gevirtsman, Dr. Feinstein, Mikhel Feinstein, Berish Ziskind, Ben Zion Mersik, Yonah Meisels, Berl Tsuker, Dr. Perlman, Dr. Lifshitz, Gershon Goldstein, Avraham Sheinboim and Heinich Geller, zl.
At the beginning, the Zionist movement was only known to a few, but it soon became a popular calling. The movement educated the masses by teaching them Hebrew language and Jewish values.
The educated youth in the Zionist movement volunteered to give Shabbat classes to the workers. On this day of rest, they taught a chapter of Tanach and Jewish history. At the end of Shabbat, they continued with arithmetic and various sciences. The curriculum followed the Zionist programme.
These young volunteers hung posters in the Houses of Learning. The posters invited the workers to participate in the Shabbat classes. Many heeded the calling. On 16 Elul 1899, the first class took place.
A memento for the vice president of J.N.F in Kovel,
Mrs. Eventchuk on your saying goodbye
Right to left: Mrs. P. Prager, wife of Moshe Perl, Mr. H. Grinberg, Mrs. Eventchuk, Mrs. Milstein, Mrs. Gilberg
The experiment worked well. Many people filled the classrooms of the Talmud Torah where the lessons were held.
Among the first Zionists the figure of the teacher and educator Heinich Geller, zl, stands out. The contribution by Geller to the history of the town is unmatched. Geller was a regular columnist in Hamelits and Hatsfira. His description of the life of the town is a firstclass historical document relating to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Geller was born in 1866 in Berestechke. His father was the teacher Zanvil Geller. At the age of 10 he travelled to his relatives in Lutsk where he studied at the yeshiva. In his spare time, he perfected his knowledge of Hebrew, Russian and German. At the age of 16 he began to write poems and articles in Hebrew. He occupied an important position among the Zionist leaders in Lutsk.
In 1882 he started to travel among the towns and villages of Volyn in order to organize the Zionist movement. He was imprisoned, for these activities, by the Russian authorities. In 1890 he married Frida Kibuk and settled in Kovel.
At the beginning he dealt in commerce and later he was a clerk in the City Hall of Kovel. In 1894 he left business and chose the teaching profession. He remained in it for the rest of his life.
In 1905, he opened, with other scholars, a Hebrew school with free tuition. In 1906 he had a coffee house, in his home, called Jaffa. It was actually a meeting place for members of the Zionist council. He was imprisoned once more by the authorities, but prison did not scare him away. As soon as he was freed he continued his activities in order to strengthen the Zionist movement in town.
His unstoppable devotion to the broadening of the Zionist movement in town and to teaching the Hebrew language over dozens of yearscaused his health to deteriorate. He died of pneumonia on 11 Nissan 1926. He was sixty years old.
The Zionist movement in town was popular with the working class. The figure of the Special emissary arose from among this group. This was a person who dedicated his entire life to the entrenching of the Zionist ideals in town. It was someone who worked day and night to attract more souls to Zionism and who convinced the assimilated to return. It was a person who distributed Zionist literature and who gave speeches in all the Houses of Learning about his topic. This type of person was imbued with ideas of revival from a young age.
This type of man of the people, an emissary of Zionism at the beginning of the movement in our town is epitomized by EliezerMeir Miller, zl. He worked in the construction of chimneys in wealthy homes.
However, after a hard day's work, he carried packages of Zionist leaflets and he hurried to distribute them among the Jewish youth and the working class.
His death created a heavy mourning pall in town. In Hatsfira of 24 Kislev 1902, Geller published a lengthy eulogy about the deceased. In it we read how involved he was in the dissemination of the Zionist dream. Geller writes: Last Sabbath eve we lost one of the most faithful Zionists. EliezerMeir Miller was an honest and straightforward man. His death has brought a heavy loss to Kol Zion. He was an energetic comrade who was dedicated to the Zionist ideals with his whole being and did more than possible for the movement.
The deceased was a poor man, but his influence on his generation was great. They were craftsmen, like him. He was educated and knowledgeable in Zionist literature, but he was a noble man who brought many simple people into the Zionist fold. He sometimes, on his own, bought books extoling the Zionist ideals and he worked hard to disseminate them among his acquaintances. He did this not for glory, but because Zion and Jerusalem were in his soul constantly.
The deceased barely made a living, but he was still among the first to contribute shekels and he also bought bonds. His great love of Zion can be described in this fact: When he learned that the bank was open for business he rushed to the Kol Zion committee house to share his happiness. He wrote in the guest book about his proposition to celebrate the opening of the bank in one of the coming days of Hanukah with a large crowd. He was only forty when he died.
It has been stated earlier that the Zionist movement in town united people with opposing points of view. It should be noted also that the most ardent Zionist was the town rabbi at the beginning of the 20th century, the celebrated Rabbi Moshe Zackheim, zl.
Rabbi Zackheim was born in Czernowitz. His father was Rabbi Mordechai Zackheim. At an early age he was known for his depth of knowledge of the Talmud and its interpreters. He married the granddaughter of the Gaon of Vilna, from Shkalov. She died young. He started out in business, but he was not too successful. The Jewish community of Kovel invited him to become its chief rabbi. In 1887 he was sent a contract and he came to Kovel in 1888. Rabbi Zackheim left many pieces of writing about innovations in Halacha and legends. There were also many interpretations of Talmudic and Kabbalistic literature.
Rabbi Zackheim stood out in his personal attributes, his wisdom and his great diligence on behalf of the community and its charitable institutions. He was a true Zionist still from the beginning of the development of the movement in the eighties. He was a member of the organization Kol Zion to his dying day.
Among the leading Zionist figures in town in that era was a very interesting person. For a period of time Pinhas Dashevsky, a student at the Polytechnic institute in Kiev, was front and centre in the news in the Jewish and nonJewish world.
In the winter of 1902 Dashevsky came to Kovel and was a private tutor. It is not known what made this young man of 22 to come such a distance. It is rumored that love was the motivation. A few years later Dashevsky married Anna Shenker one of the two sisters who headed the girls' school.
When Dashevsky arrived in town he discovered a very active Zionist movement. There was a Zionist club called Jewish Teahouse. It was a front for widespread Zionist activities. Dashevsky became chairman of the club and appeared as a speaker at many functions.
Dashevsky was born in the village of Korostishov, Kiev Region. His father was a military doctor. At first, he was an assimilationist, but soon he was intrigued by the Zionist ideals. He was one of the founders of a student Zionist group which was based on socialZionist thought, It was called The Revival and its aim was to bring the national ideals to the Jewish masses.
These were the days of the slaughter in Kishinev spring 1903. Prior to the pogrom there were the incendiary speeches of Pavel Krushevan, the editor of the antiSemitic newspapers Znamia (Standard) and Bessarabyets (Bessarabian).
Dashevsky could not accept the slaughter. Although he was in Kovel, he planned to murder the one responsible for it Krushevan.
Once when he visited the late Meir Entin he was highly agitated and seemed to be struggling hard. Dashevsky asked Entin: Can you imagine a Jew would murder Krushevan? Entin tried to change the subject and said: Why should we sacrifice a Jew? Krushevan is not such an important and famous personality.
Dashevsky was angered by this reply and did not continue the discussion. He suddenly disappeared from town. A few days later there were headlines in the Russian, and the Jewish, newspapersHatsofeh, Hatsfira announcing that a young Jew called Pinhas Dashevsky had tried to kill Krushevan.
Dashevsky had armed himself with a pistol and a Finnish knife in case his hand would slip and he would murder an innocent person. He chose the knife and thrust it in Krushevan's neck. He then immediately notified the policeman who was standing guard. Krushevan was only lightly injured. On 17.6.1903 Dashevsky was in court. The wellknown attorneys, P.G. Mironov and A. Gruzberg undertook his defence pro bono.
Dashevsky appeared in court looking noble. He announced that he was a Jew and a loyal Zionist and the asked the judge to call him by his Hebrew name Pinhas, and not Piotr. In his defence speech Dashevsky emphasized that his wish to murder Krushevan came to him when he was living in Kovel.
Dashevsky was sentenced to five years of hard labor and the loss of his rights. The story created much excitement among the youth in town and it caused a general awakening for the need for selfdefence. The late historian Dubnov wrote about Dashevsky: He became a saintly hero among holy victims who accept their sentence. After that, the heroes who used selfdefence in the pogroms were imbued with his spirit.
His sentence was shortened by a pardon from the Tsar and he was able to finish his studies as a chemical engineer.
When he was freed from prison, Dashevsky returned to Kovel and married Anna Shenker. They had a daughter called Ruth (Rosia). She was quite talented and studied in the gymnasia of Klara Erlich.
She then trained as a veterinarian.
In 1910 Dashevsky travelled to Eretz Israel with a group of Students and professors from Kiev. There he went to Rehovot and he met his old friend Meri Entin. In their conversation he spoke of his time in prison and that he was not treated badly.
Dashevsky returned to Russia. The Soviet authorities employed him in various technical institutes. Eventually, he was no longer favored and he was arrested in 1933. In June 1934 he died in a Soviet prison after eight months there. He had been ill.
The first people to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel
The Zionist organization in town did not content itself with Zionist education only. It called for a personal contribution to make Aliyah and to settle in Eretz Israel.
This was in the days of the 6th Zionist Congress when Uganda was proposed as a refuge.
In Kovel there were some who were for Uganda, but they were in the minority. Those who swore If I forget thee Jerusalem, may my right hand wither decided to achieve their dream of settling the land.
In 1903 the first two pilgrims from Kovel went to Eretz Israel: Meir Entin and Dov Weinstein. They travelled to Odessa where they met Lilienblum and Droyanov and received proper information from them.
When they arrived in Eretz Israel they settled in Rehovot. They chose this settlement due to the articles by Moshe Smilensky in Hatsofeh. These articles spoke about the private initiatives in Rehovot. First, they worked at Menucha Veavoda (Rest and work) the company that founded Rehovot. After some time, Weinstein left Rehovot and moved to Segera and eventually Menchemya. He died during WWI after he had been tortured by hard labor at the hands of the Turkish regime. Meir Entin died of old age on 14 Adar 1956.
Some time later Baruch Pantorin made Aliyah with his wife Masha (sister of Dov Weinstein). They settled in Menchemya. This settlement was attacked many times by the Arabs, but the Pantorin family never left it.
Pantorin loved the people of Kovel and he always tried to arrange jobs for those who made Aliyah from there.
The first pioneers mention the name of Baruch Pantorin with great respect and love because he looked after them as a father does for his children.
Pantorin died in 1925 and was buried in Menchemya.
by AvrahamMeir Weisbrot
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Before WWI Zionist activity in town was quite limited. Those most active were: Gitlis and Finkelstein. Dr. Feinstein also belonged to that group and he was even a delegate to one of the Zionist Congresses.
Aside from teaching Hebrew and having programs for Jewish National Fund, there was not much influence exerted by the Zionist movement on public life. It was not a movement of thousands. Its representatives were few. They were mostly wealthy or members of the intelligentsia.
Public activities had a philanthropic character and were evident in four important institutions. These were:
Educational institution Maskil Al Dal for poor children. It was a secular school with little Jewish studies. Its principal was Mr. Yudkovitz, a renowned pedagogue, specially brought from Chernigov. However, he fell ill and died at the age of 34.
The first library in town was established in those days. It had books in various languages. It was founded was Mr. Erlich who donated his private library to it.
Philanthropic activity did not confine itself to spiritual work only. It also assisted with material needs.
Seated right to left: Asher Lublinsky, unknown, Avraham-Meir Weisbrot, Tzvik, Yosef Tzvik, Haim-David Bernstein
Standing from right to left: Shlomo Saltzman, Gershom Melamed, Bork
Among the activities helping in a material way, we must mention especially The Peoples' Kitchen. It was founded by Michael Kaditz who was chairman and Mrs. Tsippa Roiter. The kitchen was intended for laborers and other needy people. From time to time balls and plays would be arranged with income being earmarked for maintenance of the kitchen.
A fourth public institution we must mention, in particular, was the establishment of the Jewish Municipal Hospital. The leading spirit behind this institution was Mr. Klorgloz. He was assisted by several personalities, including lawyer Appelbaum.
All activities took place during the times of the Tsar.
In 1917, with the Germans occupying the town, there was a great change in public activities. It now encompassed many parts of life. The Germans drafted almost everyone to work. The men were in labor camps and construction of houses for the Germans while the women were mostly employed in laundries.
The almost unbearable work conditions caused the laborers in the camps to have an uprising. They congregated in Prozhansky's synagogue for a protest assembly. It was then decided to turn to the German authorities and the Jewish mayor, Mr. Mendel Kossovsky, with a demand to limit to eight the daily work hours, to distribute work in a judicial manner and to pay with food.
A committee was elected which included A.M. Weisbrot and Mr. Klonitsky. They came to the German army commander and Jewish mayor Mr. Mendel Kossovsky and presented the demands of the camp laborers. The committee was promised that the laborers would now be treated with dignity and justice. Truly, the promises were fulfilled. There was now order and a special department was created to register the laborers. Its secretary was Mr. Yaakov Bork.
First steps in organizing the Zionist movement
The Zionist movement in town grew from a few members to a popular group after the Balfour Declaration. A public meeting was held in the large hall of the workers' kitchen in order to explain the purpose of the Zionist movement. This meeting was also attended by the camp laborers whose representatives had demanded several activities for their protection.
After a lengthy and lively discussion, it was decided to establish the Zionist organization and to include all factions. It is well known that only in a joint effort would they be successful in founding the organization.
A committee was elected. Its members were: Yaakov Bork, chairman, A.M. Weisbrot, vice chairman, Gitlis, Yustman, Finkelstein, Goldstein, Schwartzblat, Shimon Eisen and a student by the name of Rosenzweig just arrived from Russia.
The committee took upon itself the task of organizing the public activities in town and to attract many to Zionism.
The committee rented a few rooms near the workers' kitchen. This served as the first Zionist club. Important work was developed there and every Shabbat there were lectures and discussions on Zionist topics. Hundreds of members were registered mainly young people. Their activities stood out in the cultural field and in collecting funds for Jewish National Fund.
The Zionist activities were successful. In those days, when there were revolutions in Russia and Germany, there were many left leaning groups that popped up in town. They felt it was time for their ideas to influence the public.
I remember a large meeting 500 people called by most of the public organizations then existing in town.
The Zionist organization was also represented. The chairperson of the meeting was Dr. Moshe Kaditz, leader of the leftists. The leftists threatened those assembled with their speeches and people were depressed. Soon, one of the Zionist speakers, in plain language, put down the heated rhetoric of the leftists. He told them that even if grass will grow on their cheeks, a forced, authoritarian situation will not come to town. The speaker asked those assembled to follow the Zionist movement since that was the only solution to the social and national problems of many Jews. He disputed the leftist contention that liberty can be obtained by terror and extermination and he proved that their ideas were hanging by a thread and were based on a weak premise. His words calmed those assembled and they carried the speaker on their shoulders.
At this time the Zionist movement in town grew and blossomed. Many members joined and a clubhouse was opened. There was broad popularcultural activity. The clubhouse became a center for Jewish life in town. Many cultural and educational institutions were established as a result.
Division in the Zionist organization
As previously stated, the Zionist organization included all factions in the movement. However, eventually, the many heated discussions in the clubhouse became quite ideological. A division according to world views was in the offing. Most of the youth were members of Zeirei Zion and it became the main part of the Zionist movement in town. Some time later, in 1921, an offshoot of Zeirei Zion, was established after the Prague Conference. It was the Union group. Still, there were joint programmes in cultural, educational and Aliyah fields.
The leaders of Zeirei Zion were: A.M. Weisbrot, chairperson, Saltzman secretary. Members of the board were: Bernstein, Lublinsky, Melamed, K. Bork, Dov Polishuk, zl, Schwartzblat, zl. The Union was headed by, among others: Zvi Shapira chairperson, Volvoler and Puritsky.
In 1920, the fourth Zionist Congress took place in Warsaw. The delegates came from various factions within the Zionist movement. For the first time, the following 4 delegates were chosen to represent our town: Yaakov Bork and Rabiner General Zionists, A.M. Weisbrot and Marus Hodorov (now a physician in Russia) from Zeirei Zion. At this conference Zeirei Zion became a party by itself and it established its own central institutions.
The Eretz Israel office
The Eretz Israel office was one the important institutions in Zionist circles. All Zionist parties in town participated in it. At one time, its secretary was Dov Polishuk.
This institution undertook the job of organizing Aliyah and to help every person, either with information or with material assistance.
During the time of escape from Russia there were members of Dror in town Berdichevsky, Bankover, Poliushko, BenDori, zl, Minkovsky, and others. They, together with other pioneers staying in town on their way to Eretz Israel, found a warm atmosphere in the Ertz Israel office.
I remember that these people felt at home in Kovel. The Zionist atmosphere characterized the town and this made it easier for them as they traveled.
The Eretz Israel office also looked after youth that wished to make Aliyah and helped them in every way possible. It was instrumental in encouraging many to make Aliyah.
Participation in the helplessness of Zionism within the Joint
Our activities did not remain only in acquiring membership to the Zionist ideals. We also participated in various institutions in town. We must stress our work in institutions of the Joint. It was one of the main groups that saved poor Jews from the shame of hunger. There are not enough words to describe the great assistance provided by the Joint to the Kitchen for the Hungry, provision of food for children and approving budgets to maintain schools and hospitals. Special mention should be made of the struggles between the helpless Hebrew movement, guarding the budgets of the schools, and the Bundists.
Seated from right to left: HaimDavid Bernstein, Israel Prozhansky, Michael Feinstein, AvrahamMeir Weisbrot, fifth is unknown, Yaakov Bork, Langer
Standing from right to left: Shayev, Dov Soibel, Haim Greenberg, Muqrin
The latter group was headed Mr. Bilov. He was actually a secret Communist. This was discovered when the Bolsheviks came to town.
Thanks to the Zionist activities, the Joint provided more funds for Tarbut School. Heading the Joint in town and in the area were: A.M. Weisbrot, Simcha Heinich, Gitlis, Lublinsky, Bernstein, etc.
The Joint was the main factor in the establishment of the school named after Prof. Friedlander, zl, on Mitzkivitcha Street. Its organizers were active members of Zeirei Zion.
Prof. Friedlander was born in Kovel and had served as vice chairman of Joint worldwide. He was murdered together with Rabbi Cantor, zl on the border of Poland and Russia. They were on an important mission to Russia.
Zeirei Zion wanted to commemorate Prof. Friedlander by founding a school named for him.
The Joint responded to our request by contributing to this school. This was in spite of the fact that it had stopped subsidizing Hebrew schools at that point. The school continued to be supported by the Joint for some time longer than other institutions. This was thanks to the fact that we were fortunate to have the widow of Prof. Friedlander on our side. Mrs. Lilian Friedlander was living in Eretz Israel by then, but she was keenly interested in the school. The Joint also supported the founding of the Folks Bank. It eventually was included in network of popular banks in Poland. The bank was very important in helping craftsmen, grocers and owners of small businesses. This aid allowed them to maintain their work and they earned a decent living. For several years, the bank was headed by Haim Greenberg. Others involved in running the bank were, among others, Sheynkar, A.M. Weisbrot, Glass, Gitlis and Moshe Perl. When Greenberg left, he was succeeded by Moshe Perl. He remained in that position until the Nazis entered town.
Cultural activities of the Zionist Organizations
The Zionist and nonZionist organizations had general cultural activities in order to have people join their point of view. These activities were assemblies, parties, balls, etc. However, the organizations really competed among themselves by inviting wellknown and important people from the outside. These people described to the audiences the problems facing the Jewish world in Poland and elsewhere.
Three of these General Zionists, hungrily received by the Jews of Kovel, were Dr. Yehoshua Gotlieb, zl, Yosef Haptman, zl, and may he have a long life, Yitzhak Greenbaum. The General Zionist movement in Poland was divided into two streams: Al Hamishmar (on guard) and Et livnot (time to build). Greenbaum was the leader of the Al Hamishmar party and Gotlieb and Haptman led Et Livnot. The Zionist movement was influenced by Greenbaum as he was the actual leader of the Polish Jews. His appearances in town became important events. Many people came to hear him speak since they saw him as someone who would be making Aliyah.
Greenbaum had a charming personality, but Dr. Gotlieb was an excellent speaker. He was known as an outstanding orator. Even those who did not agree with his point of view, still followed Dr. Gotlieb because of his rhetoric and his beautiful language skills.
Yosef Haptman, zl, was an esthete, with a beautiful soul. He came to town many times. Each one of his literary speeches became a cultural event in town. He was a journalist and a brilliant writer.
Folks Bank Committee
Avraham Levinson, zl, was one of the bestknown representatives of the Union. He was a star on the stage of Jewish public life in Poland.
He was one of the young Jewish members of the Polish parliament. Immersed in literature and culture, he spoke well. Every one of his appearances was a pleasure for all. He could speak about lofty subjects in simple language that was understood by everyone.
The best known representative of Zeirei Zion was Israel Ritov. He was an important and popular speaker in Poland. He understood his audience and he knew how to excite his listeners to turn to Zionism.
The workers party had Zvi Rosenstein, Malkin, Koltun (he became leader of the Communist Party in Israel), emissaries from Eretz Israel Rashish (now mayor of Petach Tikvah), Yehuda Almog, Yitzhak Tabankin, Duvdevani, Zerubbabel, etc.
A special event was the appearances by Zeev Jabotinsky, zl, in our town. His speeches were attended by his followers and those who were against him.
Jabotinsky was listened to with pleasure even by those who were far removed from him ideologically. They argued with him, if possible, but they all valued his great talent his ability to explain.
There were also appearances in town by those opposing Zionism, especially at election time. The most outstanding among them was Haim Rassner, zl, head of the craftsmen union in Poland. Even the Zionist crowd found him interesting. We had bitter, difficult debates with him. We argued with him with and without permission. We often interupted meetings where Rassner was speaking. It was not just for the sake of interruption, but it was an important struggle for the souls of the Jews of Poland. It was a holy war. An ideological struggle between two philosophies: Zionism and its opponents.
The religious crowd had as one of the leaders of Mizrahi Rabbi Brod. He was a representative of his district to the Polish parliament. He was accepted by many other factions who listened to him even if they did not always agree with him.
Our lives were enhanced by these colorful leaders, the opportunity given to the Jewish community in Kovel to hear opposing views and the dialectic struggle between different world concepts. It made it easier for individuals to choose their path in life. It is really because of free choice and understanding that most people followed Zionism.
An unforgettable event was the first appearance of the emissary of Keren Hayesod poet Leib Yafeh.
Members of Zeirei Zion in Kovel in 1926
Everyone came to hear him. Leib knew how to draw even those who were not so generous. He excited people and he awoke in them their national spirit. Their hearts were opened and they donated to Keren Hayesod hundreds of dollars. Kovel managed to collect, for Keren Hayesod, large amounts. The total was second to that of Lodz only. It was wellknown within the Zionist crowd in the country that Lodz led in total funds, but Kovel was always second.
There were also authors and poets who visited: Ansky, Tchernichovsky, Segalovitz. Mastboim and Kolbek. Nearly every theatre group from Warsaw or Vilna came to town and discovered an audience craving artistic endeavors. From time to time, there were traveling theatres such as those of Ida Kaminska and Sigmund Turkov. We should especially note the performance of the world famous cantor Sirota.
All these performances shed a beautiful light on the gray life, the everyday world of the Jews of Kovel. They struggled hard to maintain their existence. The desire to be free, to establish a state and to make Aliyah, to be like other peoples, rooted in land and in labor these were healing and brought some sweetness to their drab lives. It gave them hope and encouragement.
Anyone who visited our town, be it from central offices or as emissaries from Eretz Israel, was warmly received. When they left town they confessed that here there was a Jewish community that would give everything for the building of our land and that was prepared for great sacrifices in order to create free, proud, upright Jews.
by Aharon Werba
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The history of the Jewish workers parties in Kovel is, probably, similar to that of such movements in Russia., Ukraine and Poland. The socialist-Zionist workers movement in our town held an important place in our public life. Perhaps it must be stated that it was even more than just important. I was active in its ranks for a short time. I had been part of the workers movement of Eretz Israel in Hechalutz and Dror. I will give a short account of this party in Kovel.
Our town did not have much heavy industry. There were no large factories. There probably would not have been workers there as there were in other towns in Ukraine and Poland. Still, the town served as a large centre in the district and it provided services to a population of tens of thousands. Hundreds of laborers were involved in specifically Jewish occupations: tailoring, sewing, shoemaking, baking and blacksmithing.
There were also those who constructed wagons that were used for transportation of people and goods. (There were no motorized vehicles in town or nearby). The socialist parties were active among these laborers- also the Bund and the Communists. It was only later that the Poaley Zion party became active.
In spite of pursuits and harassment by the police, there were professional unions of bakers, needle workers and office clerks. The Bund was controlling these groups and there was also considerable Communist influence. As of 1926, Poaley Zion became important.
The spiritual force in these professional unions was Batya Mendel. She was a dynamic activist and full of energy. She came from a bourgeois family and she lived in her brother's house. He owned a stationery store. She earned a living by sewing. Batya was the chairperson and secretary of almost every professional union. She was also active in the cultural field among the laborers. When Poaley Zion was instrumental in establishing a Yiddish language school, Batya joined the school committee and helped with advice and in deeds. She continued this work as long as the school existed.
Poaley Zion occupied a place of honor within the workers movement thanks to some active members. It originated many cultural and professional programs. Its influence was not only on workers. Soon after its founding, the movement managed to participate in municipal elections. It succeeded in obtaining places in city hall. The leader and founder of Poaley Zion in town, Meir Reiz, z l, served for several years as a member of the steering committee. If I remember correctly, it was the first time that the workers group, thanks to Poaley Zion, had its own representative in city hall.
I recall that the Poaley Zion movement began its activities with the arrival in town, in 1925-26, of Meir Reiz. He was an engineer by profession and he was invited to serve as a teacher of mathematics and physics in the Tarbut Gymnasia and in the school of Klara Erlich. This respectable position of a teacher was not enough for comrade Reiz. He was not like the rest of the teachers in Klara's school. Most of them came from Galicia and spoke Polish. They were content with the status of a professor and they were believers in the governing authority. Comrade Reiz was a member of a socialist-Zionist movement and in spite of the danger of losing his job as a teacher in a Polish gymnasium he strove to establish a branch in town.
Soon he was joined by a group of young men and women and Poaley Zion became important in our town. Reiz was a man of the people, highly cultured and friendly.
His personality drew a group of young writers, among them Kalman Liss. He was s sensitive young man, cultured, involved in his surroundings and a lover of Volyn. He used to sing about it: My Volyn is simply freezing. This is how one of his poems about Volyn begins. Moshe Grinstein, z l, another young dreamer, was secretary of the Tarbut Gymnasia. He was imbued with sadness as evident in his poems and works. Leib Olitzky, a young author, very talented, was known in the world of Yiddish literature for his creations. These three were close to Meir Reiz and with his encouragement and influence they became involved in disseminating culture among the people. Until the establishment of Poaley Zion, there was no cultural activity in Kovel, in Yiddish. It was a town with many residents. It is unnecessary to state that there were no schools in which the language of instruction was Yiddish.
Kovel was a Zionist town. The Zionist movements left their imprint on our town. There were strong, large Zionist youth movements and they drew the majority of the young people among us. There was an extensive system of educational institutions- Hebrew language- serving students from kindergarten to high school. There were thousands of students in these schools. There were also Polish schools that were intended for Jewish children. The Polish government was interested in spreading the language over these formerly Ukrainian areas and it subsidized these schools. It also supervised closely the quality of teaching. In this atmosphere, Meir Reiz stood out. It was mainly due to the subjects he taught and his tremendous knowledge that he was able to keep his position as a teacher in the Polish-Hebrew high school. (In the end, he was fired, at the insistence of the director, for his public activities).
In this nationalistic and Zionistic atmosphere on one side and Polish assimilation on the other, Meir Reiz began his activities in Poaley Zion in Kovel.
At the beginning, the movement was small, but at the end it was very successful. At first, the public doubted the ability of the few leaders who invaded the area that was held as a monopoly by the Zionist movement in town. Other movements did not even try to enter the cultural and educational fields. Perhaps this was due to the few members they had or because they did not expect to succeed. It is a fact that when Poaley Zion was organized, it began its activities in Yiddish. Yiddish authors were invited by the movement to visit town. Among them were Peretz Markish, Moshe Kolbek (close to Poaley Zion at the time) and others. Hundreds attended their lectures. New readers, from Kovel, were added to the ranks of the Workers parties' publications.
The Zionist parties, even those connected to the Zionist workers party, were not able to enter the workers' groups. Their members came from among the merchants and owners.
The same was true for the youth movements. They also came from the same ranks. It was only with the establishment of Poaley Zion that contact was made between the workers and Zionism. The movement was heard at meetings and its voice was joined to those of the veteran parties already existing in town. It was accepted that there could not be a meeting of workers without a representative of Poaley Zion.
The movement dared to participate in municipal elections and it was quite successful. In the Kovel city hall there were Jewish representatives and even the vice-mayor was a Jew. This was due to the fact that the majority of residents in Kovel were Jews. These representatives belonged to Zionist groups or were simply Jews. The novelty was the election of a representative of Poaley Zion. He was even elected to the executive committee.
The jewel in the crown of the activities of comrade Reiz and the movement was the establishment of the school in which Yiddish was taught.
There were Yiddish schools in Volyn even earlier. In 1921 representatives of Volyn participated in the first conference of Yiddish schools held in Warsaw. The Central Yiddish Schools Organization was founded. Poaley Zion had a strong delegation at this conference. However, the Polish government was uneasy about these schools. It believed they would produce a generation of revolutionary socialists. It thus made things difficult. It closed the schools in Volyn. The residents there were mainly Ukrainian and they desired independence. The government wished to deepen the influence of Polish. It hoped to Polonize the Jews. The Yiddish schools in Ukraine did not please the government since they were opposite to its aims. It was easier to close the schools. Most of them did not have proper permits and the majority of teachers were unlicensed. These were good excuses for the closure of the schools. The education department in Warsaw cancelled the permit of School and Education of Poaley Zion because religion was not taught there. It took much effort to undo this edict.
All the various authorities did not care for these schools and made their lives miserable. In this hostile environment, be it the government or the more prosperous Jewish community (they saw the Yiddish school as overdoing it)- all prevented the establishment of a Yiddish school in Kovel.
The people active in Poaley Zion cared about and loved Yiddish. The question of teachers was solved by the fact that several well-educated people took upon themselves the task of becoming teachers in this school. They did not even care if their salaries were reasonable and paid on time. An outstanding effort was made to collect funds to pay for an appropriate location- one that would be accepted by the authorities so they would issue a permit. Finally, after much work, the Yiddish school in Kovel was opened.
I do not remember how many students there were in the school during its existence. I am certain there were more than 100 in its first year. This was not insignificant. The school brought to the movement many popular activists and some of the best youths. The high school graduates served as teachers and counselors. I believe that Dr. Ziskind was very helpful. He was a beloved, even-tempered man. Also, the sons of the rabbis, more modern in their thinking, gave a hand to this project. Krause, the son of the Rabbi -called the Grabivitzer- served as secretary. Mrs Gutenboim, daughter of Rabbi Nitzberg, z l, an educated woman who maintained a large library in town, taught in the school. Her husband, Kalman Gutenboim, a philosopher and a scientist, also helped in the success of the school. It was rumored in town that he understood Einstein's theories.
In 1927 I was recalled to Warsaw to work in the Central office of the movement. Even though I left my town, I still continued to follow whatever was happening there. In time, there were changes. Due to pressure by the authorities, comrade Reiz had to leave his teaching in the high school. Other staff members moved to different towns. Some went to bigger cities and some just left. However, the original seed took and was fruitful for several years. Names of members who helped so much with the movement are not listed here simply because I no longer remember them. Unfortunately, I had nothing in writing since it did not exist. Many hard-working members have remained anonymous.
This article should serve as a memorial to good and loyal people who were swept in the storms of war. It is also an encouragement to those who are still alive here and elsewhere. Their hearts are with us.
by Shlomo Heri, Moshe Weisbrot & Shamai Frankpovitch
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The first seed of Hechalutz in town was sown in 1918. The founders were a group of daring people who did not like the existing situation and wished for a new one. They wanted something imbued with the achieving, hard-working aura of Eretz Israel. Their names are: 1. Shlomo Heri, 2. Moshe Weisbrot, 3. Shamai Frankpovitch, 4. Mendel Kaptchuk, 5. Berel Soibel, 6. Yekutiel Kopelberg, (served as first secretary) 7. Mordechai Fishbein, 8. Rivka Weisbrot, 9. Shtcharbeta, 10. Shaike Melamed.
In those days there already existed in town a club of Zeirei Zion. The leaders of Zeirei Zion wanted the Hechalutz to join under their banner, but this was unanimously refused. The first founders met and sent an emissary to Warsaw in order to receive instructions for starting the chapter.
Right at the beginning the members of Hechalutz decided to establish, in town, training facilities. There was a proposal to found an agricultural farm in Kovel. However, it was not possible to do it for various reasons. Instead, a carpentry shop was opened. A hall was rented from Monish Roizen. Since Hechalutz did not have a permit, a tag day was organized for the benefit of the Home for the elderly. However, all income was designated for the carpentry shop.
There was a collection of crates in town and the carpentry shop looked real. There were orders from the High School of Klara Davidovna and from the School of Measurers. The first closet was purchased by A. M. Weisbrot for his wedding day.
In order to publicize Hechalutz, everything was done in the open. If Moshe Weisbrot, son of Rabbi Israel Lubliner, appears in the streets as a laborer and is not afraid of what people will say- then Hechalutz is real. The children of the town leaders wished to live as workers in Eretz Israel.
It is difficult to understand, but we must remember that there were homes in town where parents sat Shiva for a son or daughter who went out for training or joined Hechalutz. This shows how much effort was involved to appear in public in work clothes, as a true laborer.
The clubhouse of Hechalutz was located in the carpentry shop. It was the office as well as the place for meetings. The first conference of Hechalutz took place in Warsaw in 1921. The Kovel representative was Shlomo Heri.
The carpentry shop did not last long. In its place it was decided to establish a locksmith shop.
Seated from right to left: Pinhas Tzvik, Moshe Weisbrot
In order to finance the locksmith shop there was an evening in the Odeon Theatre on Shabbat, April 1, 1922. The artist G. Orlov was invited and he presented a comedy in 4 acts: A bridegroom must have bedbugs and needs to speak German. Orlov played the bridegroom. Those in charge of the evening were Batya Armernik and Shamai Frankpovitz. The proceeds from the play were used to establish the locksmith shop. It lasted one year.
In 1921 the first members of Hechalutz made Aliyah. They were: Moshe Weisbrot and Yeshayahu Gibor. A special evening was organized in their honor and all political parties were represented.
The evening took place on the eve of Simchat Torah. The next night, at the end of the holiday, almost the entire town went to say good-bye to these two pioneers. They paved the way for the hundreds of pioneers, from our town, who followed and made Aliyah.
When the veteran members made Aliyah, the activities of Hechalutz lessened and it was almost eliminated.
In 1923, a new Hechalutz was founded.
by Aharon Werba
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Kovel played an essential part in the pioneering movement in the twenties. Our Halutzim were important in town and village, kibbutz and moshav, public work, workshop and office, cooperative production and service in all branches of labor and productivity in Eretz Israel.
The Halutz movement in Kovel began to blossom at the end of WWI when there was an emergence of the Zionist hope for a new life. There was immigration of Polish Jews to Eretz Israel.
The town was close to the Russian border and it became a transit station for members of Halutz and Dror arriving from Russia. Some were just passing through, but others remained for a long time. Since they had a Zionist background, they were able to integrate in the movement and to help make it grow and develop. Some even were the leaders.
The Hayot family, a Zionist one, settled then in town. It contributed greatly to the growth of Halutz in Kovel. Huma Hayot represented Hehalutz Hatzair in all of Poland. Other contributors were A. Bialopolsky, z l, and I. Bankover.
The Dror members were active and dedicated and were successful. Many young people from local Zionist groups and even unorganized youth joined Halutz. Dozens were organized into preparatory kibbutzim in order to make Aliyah.
Even at the beginning of its existence, the young group held an honorable place in the public institutions and organizations in town. Their opinions were accepted in the Eretz Israel office. Up to then the office had consisted of representatives of Zeirei Zion and General Zionists. The Halutz member became the secretary and his task was to divide the few certificates that came to Kovel. Also, a Halutz member was the secretary of HIAS.
The main purpose of Halutz was to prepare members for Aliyah. A field outside of town was dedicated to that. The young pioneers transformed it into a vegetable garden. There were also groups that accepted physical labor, such as cutting down trees in different homes in town. There was no commune in town, but the members spent many hours together.
This was a novelty. It was the first time, in our town, that wealthier people met with working folks. The latter earned their living by doing physical labor. Halutz consisted of the wealthy, the poor and the middle class.
At the beginning, pioneering groups in Volyn were selforganized. However, as the movement grew in the province, the central office in Warsaw took over direction. This is how Volyn became a center of Halutz.
Halutz Executive committee in Kovel
Seated, from right to left: Haike Fried, Aryeh Tchlin, Levi Schwartz, YeshayaLeib Ber
Standing: Eli Mendel, Mordechai Erlich, Pessach Levenberg
The first conference of Halutz in Volyn took place in Kovel in 1924. The hall of the office of Eretz Israel was too small to contain the many delegates. The center was represented by P. Rashish (today mayor of Petach Tikvah), Moshe Shapiro, z l, who was in Poland at the time as an emissary of the Histadrut and A. Berdichevsky (today in Yagur).
The conference gave a good push to many activities. The members of the executive elected at the conference were: Batya Bendersky (Eitchies), z l, comrade Dobromil (now Dovrat) and the writer of this article. They traveled throughout Volyn to strengthen the organization and to establish new locations.
The provincial map was covered with a large network of preparatory kibbutzim, quarries, lumber yards, tar factories. In the forest of Volyn there were hundreds of pioneers living a communal life in difficult conditions. They had to overcome many pitfalls, but they did so and were fortunate to make Aliyah. The pioneers of Kovel played a substantial part in these communes.
Then the Mecca of the preparatory kibbutzim of Poland was established Kibbutz Klosova. The large preparatory kibbutzim in Rokitno, Rafalovka and Dombrovitza were important. It is too bad that the historians of Halutz did not mention the fact. Kibbutz Kolosova became better known and overshadowed the others.
Kibbutz Klosova was founded in 1924 by a group of pioneers coming from towns nearby. If I remember correctly, comrade Simcha Finkelstein (today Simcha EvenZohar) was one of the founders of this kibbutz. In time the kibbutz became an emblem of the pioneering movement in Poland. When comrade EvenZohar made Aliyah, the main influencers in this kibbutz were from Kovel. The author of this article was elected secretary of the kibbutz, but there were others from Kovel who ran Klosova. Practical operations of the kibbutz were done by members from Kovel Liova Gelman, B. Levin and others. It was an active group with great energy and dedication that led all activities of the kibbutz.
Hand in hand with the hard labor in the quarries something the teenagers and students were not accustomed to there was an extensive cultural Zionist and general activity.
In Grochov the preparation was for agriculture, but Klosova was known as a preparatory location for construction workers. The friendly atmosphere generated by the intelligentsia of Kovel helped new members to integrate and to overcome any difficulties.
Standing, from right to left: Mendel Erlich, Kremer, Baruch Toib. Shalom Klonitsky, Hava Fried
Seated: Michael Gonik, David Ovental, Moshe Gitlis, Moshe Roizen, Yaakov Beker
Many members of Klosova from Kovel are with us in Israel. They continue their busy lives. Others are scattered across the world and we hear from them from time to time. The values acquired by these members in the Halutz movement in Kovel stand them in good stead in their lives here an in other lands.
by Yitzhak Margalit
Translated by Ala Gamulka
When the central office of Hechalutz decided that members were to go on to the next step, that of fulfillment and life of labor, our hearts were aching. We were asking: how do we do it? It is not simple for people of ideas to become the proletariat. We had to change our lives in radical fashion. In addition, our parents saw us as a lost cause.
It is not surprising that there were many struggles for us until we went to work. To be exact, we became proletarians only a third or fourth of the time. We were still Hebrew high school students. We used to get up at the crack of dawn, in total darkness. We worked until 8 o'clock and then we began our studies. We worked in the large sawmill in town as well at the brick factory of Segal.
This group of trail blazers became the nucleus of the Halutz kibbutz in Kovel.
Prior to this upheaval, there was a hidden and simpler one. We were still members of Hashomer Hatzair. Our branch was struggling to survive as there was not enough money. We sought a way to help and to overcome this problem.
In the yard of Avraham Gozen there were piles of lumber. We decided to become lumberjacks and to dedicate all the money earned to saving the branch.
We worked for several days and we cut down all the trees. However, there were 8 large tree trunks left. We, the high school students, were too weak to cut them to pieces. We came to Gozen and asked him for our pay. He was stubborn and declared that until we finished the entire job, we will not see a penny.
We were desperate. Our hard work was going down the drain. What would become of our branch?
We used our Jewish brains and came up with a solution: Gozen's house stood on Optitchna Street on the river bank. We decided to push the remaining tree trunks into the river and thus to get rid of them. We formed a chain from the barn to the stairs leading to the river and handed over the trunks. The current pulled them away from sight. We then came Gozen and told him: we finished the job and cut down all the trees.
First meeting of those from Kovel who made Aliyah. Pessach 4.4.31
He believed us and paid our wages, thinking he had won.
The end justifies the means…
I wish to tell you of another invention by the Jewish brain. The gates of Eretz Israel were barred. In training were veteran members who were in dire straits they were ill. Some had a heart condition or pneumonia or Bronchitis.
Aliyah was quite selective. The doctors from the Eretz Israel office were very strict. We knew these members would not pass the medical test. It bothered us because we knew that if they could not make Aliyah, Hechalutz would suffer a moral loss.
One day, comrade Levy came from the office of the Klosova kibbutz. As a representative of Hechalutz, he revealed a secret. On the following day were expected Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Mundlek from the Eretz Israel office. They would be examining all candidates. Levy suggested that I should welcome them and take care of them. All efforts were to be made to allow candidates who are not physically fit to be certified for Aliyah.
In the morning we went to the train station to greet them. We settled them in the Varsil Hotel and tried hard to make their stay as pleasant as possible. Levy suggested that I serve as their secretary and they agreed.
The doctors began their task. They gave me the appropriate forms and explained to me the different categories. Positive means a sick candidate and negative means a healthy one. It was agreed that I was to act as the Deaf angel. In other words, if the doctors said Positive I would write it as negative due to my poor hearing.
The doctors did not suspect those approved and signed the forms I had filled out. In this fashion we were able to send many members to Eretz Israel.
We had dinner together in Varsil cafi and they said they were pleased with the great welcome and the productive job we had accomplished.
It is possible that, at the time, it was not a very nice thing to do, but the terrible events that followed cleansed the sin. In this way we were able to save hundreds of members from Kovel from the claws of the Nazi Satan.
by David Perlmutter
Translated by Ala Gamulka
As time went by, the pioneering movement acquired organizational frameworks to achieve its goals.
At the beginning there were fluctuations. Pride and shame alternated. The first years of pride after the Balfour Declaration had passed. In Eretz Israel there was a breakdown and some people returned to Kovel. 1923 was a low year for Zionism and for the Halutz movement.
The number of branches of Hechalutz in Poland was lower. There were very few of them. Only the true believers and the stubborn ones remained.
The branch in Kovel almost did not exist. We were few. We did not have a hall and not even a branch. We were a group of friends with a common dream. The central office of Hechalutz tried to encourage the movement. It suggested to change the day of remembering Tel Hai to a special day and to draw from the strength of Joseph Trumpeldor. We were few, but we believed our task to be a commandment. I still remember that special evening. We did not have a hall so we met in the room of one of the members at the outskirts of town.
A small lamp lit the room, those assembled and the small picture of Joseph Trumpeldor standing on the table. We read from the Halutz brochure that had been published for 11 Adar 1923. We discussed the situation, the future of our generation and our part in it.
Somewhere in town there were many people going to various fun places. Modern dances, such as the Tango, captured the hearts of the young and they danced until dawn. It was as if they could breathe the air of the Galilee and feel the struggle of the day and the land. They believed the breakdown would pass and more people would come. For various reasons, the breakdown passed and many people came. The Fourth Aliyah began.
by Eliezer (Lusia) Hodorov
Translated by Ala Gamulka
In November, 1918, I came from Chernigov to Kovel. It was after I had lived through two revolutions in Russia- March and October.
As a scout I was heavily influenced by these revolutions. Until the first one, our nationality did not stand out and we were considered as General Scouts, international, so to speak. We were Russians, Ukrainians or Poles. When the revolution broke out, we organized a group of Jewish scouts. The Sokol Sports organization in Chernigov, led by Czech athletes, was the foundation for Maccabi- a Jewish sports club.
I was active in Scouts and in Maccabi. I spent days training. I always thought about Kovel and I decided to introduce scouting to its young people.
When I arrived in Kovel I found a new reality. The town had been conquered by the Germans during the previous three years. The Russian language was unknown to the younger generation. Soon after I returned, I organized the Scouts in town. The first group was part of a Russian high school. It grew and became a branch. It was the first nucleus and from it sprang a nationalistic-Hebrew youth movement. The Scouts movement became a national movement and it appealed to many in Kovel and in the rest of Volyn.
When the German army abandoned town, it left a large warehouse of backpacks, camping equipment, tents and blankets. I received money from the Scouts organization to purchase all of this. I also found materials for the sewing of the scouts' uniforms. These uniforms became very important in the life of the youth in town.
It was the first time that Jewish youth appeared in uniform. When we came as organized groups, as a unit, we captured the hearts of the Jews.
Not once did I see tears in the eyes of elderly Jews when we passed through town in lines, wearing our uniforms and playing drums and trumpets. We made the Jews of Kovel very happy.
Our main goal was to work for the good of the people and to prepare for Aliyah.
The Poles took over in 1919. When they came, I immediately approached the town commander and I soon received permission to continue our activities.
From right to left: Shvalba (carrying the flag), Bronzaft, Zunia Vertzel,
Lusia Hodorov, Pinhas Toib, Aharon Levy (Sharboim), Israel Pantorin
The ladies: Bella Sher, Rachel Pantorin, Rachel Fisher, Lana Cass
The authorities would not interfere. Within two years after the organization of the Scouts, there were, in Kovel, about 400 scouts (male and female). My loyal helpers in the establishment of this movement were Bella Sher, Dusia Vertzel and, later -Israel Geyer and Raya Levy.
The students of the gymnasiums and the Hebrew high schools were the main component in the tremendous growth of the Scouts movement. The movement was people- oriented and did not only consist of students and leaders. The gates were open for youths from all parts of the community. Many were working youths- barbers, tailors, shoemakers, grocery clerks, watchmakers, etc.
This was the first time in the history of the Jewish community of Kovel that barriers between poor and rich, worker and aristocrat, fell. There was no differentiation between them. They were all equal not only in their uniforms, but also in their values.
It was a democratic movement which taught that personal characteristics, not origins or trade, were what established personal values. Anyone who showed talent and ability was given the opportunity, by the Scouts movement, to reach the heights of its leadership. Social standing was unimportant. This was a new idea in the Jewish community of Kovel.
When I began to develop physical activities within the Scouts movement, I was invited by the principals of the Jewish schools to teach there. This is how I became the first teacher of physical education. It was a first in the history of the town.
The curriculum included Swedish and Czech exercises, as well as sports, trips, games, etc. The scouting program was well received and expanded throughout the town. It served as a transition from life in the Diaspora to that of Eretz Israel. The working youths were prepared for work and leisure. Several Scouting units were organized- all ages were represented. There was feverish activity in all areas interesting to the young people. The war years had put a brake on the energy of the youths and now it was again functioning like a strong flood.
There were also classes for Hebrew language, history and geography, groups for Czech physical education, soccer, dancing, staging and gymnastics. Lectures were offered on various topics. Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod had explanatory sessions and prepared the youths to work on their behalf. As well, there were training groups designated for pioneering work in the fields.
The sports activities grew in scope and included new parts: sailing, swimming, skating races in the winter. In addition, everything connected to setting up and dismantling camp was introduced.
I must emphasize that the youth of Kovel, and the rest of Volyn, stood out in their honesty and goodness. These are traits that cannot be found just anywhere.
As mentioned above, the first Scouts unit was established in the Russian high school. Activities took place at recess between classes only. The language used was Russian, but, during exercises, I gave instructions in Hebrew. The principal called me many times and asked me to use a language he understood, i.e. Russian. He would then be able to include non-Jewish students.
When the Hebrew high school was opened, all activities were centered in their building. I wrote a play based on the life of the scouts. It was My dear nation, do not worry! We are with you!' The play was presented in the school and was quite successful. Hundreds of people came to see it. It had a great influence on the parents and friends of the scouts. When the play was over, all the teachers were invited to a discussion over a glass of tea. The fact that the tea was served in cups caused laughter. There was a lively give and take and the goal was achieved.
Every day, after classes were finished in the schools, we met for long hours- deep into the night. The physical and spiritual education progressed in giant steps. On holidays, and even on Shabbat, in the summer, we went to the forest. There, we set up camps- sometimes for the entire summer. Life in the forest, in a threatening atmosphere, required much courage. The scouts were truly brave.
In 1920 I was approached by nearby towns and I was asked to come and organize Scouts organizations. Representatives came from Vladimir-Volynsk, Brest-Litovsk, Kremenitz and Rovno. The story of our scouts even reached Bialystok and Vilna.
I began in Vladimir-Volynsk. I traveled there with Israel Geyer, one of our active members. We were both dressed in uniform
While we were in Vladimir-Volynsk, a delegation arrived from Ustile and asked us to organize there, too. We went there by horse and buggy. We were to stay in a beautiful home of wealthy people. Two hours later, army representatives invited us to join them. When we arrived, 7 police officers surrounded us with their rifles pointing at us.
It must be mentioned that, at that time, we were illegals. The Polish authorities forbade us from performing any activity thinking that it would be easy to substitute rifles for sticks. All our material was written in Russian. In Russian, the word Scout means Young spy.
The written prohibition about the Scouts movement was kept by me in a bag with many pockets.
They checked the bag, but did not find the written prohibition. I took it out under the table and I ate it. It was not easy to swallow.
One of the military police officers threatened that on the following day he would shoot us. However, he first wanted to check with his Russian-speaking assistant who knew all about the Scouts.
When the assistant came the following day, he burst out laughing. He told us that he had been a scout and he told the police officers to return us to Kovel.
For three to four years I organized branches in thirty towns and cities. The number of scouts under my supervision came to 3,500.
Training farms were organized to prepare pioneers for Aliyah. In 1924 I began my own preparation and I made Aliyah in 1925.
In my lifetime I was able to meet young Jews in many parts of the world. I never found any that could compare to the youth of Volyn. Even during the Shoah, they held their heads high and walked to the killing fields.
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