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[Page 345]

Shimshon Rosenbaum

by Daniel Persky

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The author (1887-1962), a native of Minsk and a resident of New York, was a well-known Hebrew writer. See more about him on pages 556-558. This article was published in Hadoar, volume 19, issue 16, 5700 (1940).

{Photo page 345: Shimon Rosenbaum}

As if alive, my small world during the time of my youth in my native city of Minsk rises and stands before my eyes. In that world, the adjured lawyer Shimshon Rosenbaum served as a central star and attractive force to the older Zionists in general, and to us, the nationalist and Hebrew youth in particular.

Rosenbaum's life was rich with serious activity, with his influence upon the people around him, and his orderly energy. Three cities saw him during his greatness and heights: Minsk, Vilna and Kovno. The fourth and final city, Tel Aviv, already found him during the sunset of this Zionist, the mighty Samson. He was laid to rest for eternity in its earth at the age of 76.

His life in brief is as follows. He was born in Pinsk in the year 1859, and was educated in the yeshivas of his city and in the college of Odessa until he was filled to the brim with Torah and wisdom. For him, Hebrew and general culture grew on a single branch.

Rosenbaum joined the Chovevei Zion movement when he was a student in Odessa, and was one of the first to answer the call of Dr. Herzl. He was a delegate to Zionist congresses from when they were started until he moved to the land of Israel. He was selected to be a member of the great active Zionist committee, and participated significantly in the drafting of the plans for the Colonial Bank and the Jewish National Fund. He served as the regional deputy for the regions of White Russia during the Czarist era.

The main part of his life and the splendor of his activism was in Minsk, where he spent thirty full years from 1885 until 1915. From the time that I stood on my own until I left to America, his name was a light above our heads, and he was the honor and strength for the Jews of our city in general, and a pillar of file for the masses of Zionists in general.

Legends were told about his wonders as a lawyer, for nothing was too wonderful for him. He was the one who arranged a permit to convene the historical convention of all Zionists of Russia in Minsk in 1902, and he was its living spirit. He was the one who received a government permit to found the Poale Zion party. He was the defense attorney in every famous court case against Zionist activists, and he was always victorious. In court, he took the side of the Jews who were afflicted by pogroms, and he was vindicated in judgement.

There was a charm about his personality. Even though he was short and scrawny, with a pointy black beard, wearing glasses upon his pointy nose, quick in his nervous actions – he excelled with his great intelligence, his sharpness, and his impromptu inventions. No disputing judge or lawyer could equal him under any circumstance, with his tireless rendering of the sparks of his noisy arguments, his convincing logic, and his sharp barbs.

The endless debates between the Zionists on the one side, and the Bundists, the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries on the other side, are a story unto themselves. The main claim of the Bundists was that the Russian Revolution would redeem all nations and among them liberate the Jews forever… Each side placed its choicest strengths on the debating table that was set up for the most part in a forest outside the city or in a remote house. Guards were set up around so that the police would not break in.

{Photo page 346: The leadership of the Minsk Convention, 5662 (1902). From right to left, seated: Professor Tzvi Belkowsky, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, Dr. Yechiel Zelinov, Menachem Ushiskin, Yisrael Jasinovsky, Yitzchak Leib Goldberg. Standing: Dr. Tzvi Bruck, Shimshon Rosenbaum, Zeev Tyumkin.}

I remember in one of the secret gatherings, hundreds of cheder students gathered along with students of the public schools. They were wearing robes, and were adorned with shiny buttons. Shimshon Rosenbaum himself spoke for a long time in Russian, as was his manner, about the greatness of the Zionist idea, which was the only solution to the Jewish question. We all sat spellbound. He succeeded in proving the validity of the idea of a Jewish state over and above all other ideas. With enthusiasm and holiness, he spoke and won over all of our hearts, to the point that we were prepared at that moment to give our souls over to the redemption of our people.

One day, as I was strolling through the crowds on the Street of the Governor, I saw a group of Zionist boys marching mightily and debating matters of the Land of Israel. I followed them and went to where they were going – until we entered Rosenbaum's house. I saw them happy that they merited this honor. I stood behind the door and listened to what was said in the house, the enjoyment and laughter. However, I was not so brazen as to burst inside. Suddenly the door opened, and Rosenbaum's sister, known for her kind heart, came out and grabbed my shoulders: “Here, here he lives, come, do not be embarrassed!” I was overjoyed that I lost sight of myself. The sight in that room lives before my eyes was if I was there now. Rosenbaum swayed to and fro on his armchair as he told about the nearby footsteps of Herzl in the ears of the twenty or so boys and girls. Along with this, they went to meet Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Bruck, a doctor from the city of Homel who was also a regional deputy there. Bruck had a splendid countenance and was tall. He spoke in a refined, musical voice. I tarried for about three hours in that precious room, and to my joy, nobody paid attention to me.

This “incident” raised my self esteem and overcame my concerns. Endlessly, by repetition and exaggeration, I would pester my friends and comrades in the gardens of the city, in my house, at meetings, in the synagogues, and tell them about all the “wondrous secrets” that I had learned in Rosenbaum's house. From that time, I was already a “somebody”, and a “force”…

Of course, Rosenbaum was the most important speaker in matters of Zionism, and always attracted a large gathering at the synagogues and wedding halls. As well, many were invited to private homes. His manner was to arrive immediately at the main point, without any introduction. His Yiddish speaking was clear, and close to modern German, without an intermixture of Russian words. Despite this, I understood him and also enjoyed it when he used Hebrew words on occasions when he had to be careful about the police spies.

Once we gathered in one of the houses on a Sabbath day and waited for Rosenbaum's speech. We came early in eager anticipation. He entered at the exact time, accompanied by his Zionist secretary, sat a the head of the table, and without any ado began as follows: “The difference between an expert physician and a regular medic is as follows: if the latter finds a wound on the hand, he binds it up and goes, and the wound returns and opens once again – whereas the former examines the entire hand from all sides and looks for the source of the wounds. He proposes a radical course of treatment. Thus is it with Zionism as well. All of the various solutions pay attention to the upper layer and propose a temporary solution: intercession, the removal of evil decrees, influence in government circles, etc. On the other hand, Zionism desires to present a permanent cure, as it digs to the foundation of foundations, the root cause of all of our tribulations – to the redemption of Israel

This was a “revelation” to us young people. It was wonderfully logical! It was the true “doctrine”! The following Sabbath, in the shadows of twilight, we, groups of like minded youths, strolled around the Governor's Garden, and I repeated and discussed deeply that which I had heard with my own ears from Rosenbaum. We had what to talk about for an entire month.

I almost got into trouble because of him. I found out secretly that in a certain suburb known as “In the Field”, a secret, illegal meeting of the Zionists of the region was to take place. Out of my natural curiosity, I ran there. After much intercession and testimony from those who knew me, I succeeded in entering. Approximately 200 delegates sat there, headed by Shimshon Rosenbaum. A strong debate began regarding the “task of the present” and the “cultural activity”. As is known, Rosenbaum was a supporter of these two streams – and many disagreed with him. By his nature, he was strong willed and combative. Indeed, he fought with his sharp spiritual arsenal, and won over the majority to his side.

In the midst of the debate, the door opened loudly, and a group of policemen, detectives and captains broke in. If fear fell upon the veteran delegates – a deep, frightening fear of fears fell upon me, the lad. I was sure that I would be hauled to jail, and perhaps be exiled to Siberia. What would my beloved mother say? “How many times did I warn him not to go to such places, and he did not listen. What a person brings upon himself – is not brought upon by all his great enemies.”

I was literally astonished at the strength of heart of Rosenbaum, who continued to conduct the meeting. However, he spoke in a cryptic Russian. I recall his first diplomatic words: “In what language shall I speak to you, merchant Jews? We are now going to deal with important questions to improve business. However, we must now take a recess.” Every one of those gathered approached the dais and wrote his name and address – and I among them with a trembling hand. We disbanded sadly and silently. One the one hand I was disappointed that I would not be able to read Hatzofeh, Hazman, Hashiloach, and Hachayim Vehateva [1] in Siberia or in jail – these were my childhood friends and I was forlorn about my gloomy childhood. On the other hand, I was happy inside that I would finally also be able to be a “national victim” and I would be able to serve Zionism with self-sacrifice.

However, this time as well I did not succeed. Rosenbaum, with his exceptional wisdom and great influence, annulled the “protocol”, and I “waited” at home in vain for the police to come and arrest me for my crime of Zionism…

During the years of the waxing of factionalism and territorialism (known in Hebrew as “artziut”), Rosenbaum was at the head of the “Zionists of Zion” of all Russia. He was the one who traveled in 1904 along with 13 regional deputies, to Kharkov at the urging of Ushiskin, where the well known “ultimatum” to Herzl was being prepared. Rosenbaum (along with Professor Tz. D. Bilkovsky), with his unusual strength of spirit, went to Vienna to deliver the ultimatum to Herzl – and Herzl did not accept the ultimatum.

In Minsk, Rosenbaum waged a strong war against the idea of territorialism. Without tiring, he ran from one synagogue to the next, from one minyan to the next, from one meeting to the next – and dedicated his entire heart against Uganda and in favor of Zion [2]. I remember to this day one speaker who spoke in the home of the dentist Dr. Kaminsky. It was the most impressive speech that I had heard in my entire life. It lasted for six hours from noon until nightfall. He only drank a few glasses of tea from time to time. He was forced to take off his coat, as was unusual according to the custom of the day. Sweat dripped from his face – and he continued speaking. His voice became hoarse – and he did not stop. What did he not say then? He brought sharp proofs from all sides: religion, history, economics, immigration, politics, etc. etc. that only Zion would save the Jews and Judaism – and no other territory could do so. Later, there was a stream of debates and questions – and Rosenbaum answered each one appropriately for another several hours. He was laid up in bed for an entire week due to the spiritual exertion of this event. Like a wounded lion, he was zealous for the Land of Israel. How much love, how much wisdom and intelligence did he display then, when he saw his cause in danger.

This was a time of activity for the Jewish National Fund, which was called by the people with its Yiddish name “National-Fund”. In the Tailor's Synagogue on Yatke Street, he would often gather Zionist meetings – at a time when most of the synagogues shut their doors to “apikorsim who follow Herzl” [3]. Posters were posted in the courtyard of the synagogues (Shulhof), stating that on the following Sabbath, “the adjured lawyer Sh. Rosenbaum will describe how Israel will be saved from the exile”. Since the Tailor's Synagogue was close to my home, I made sure to get there early. The crowd was overflowing – literally choking. Rosenbaum spoke about the benefits of the new fund that was founded in Basle, which would eventually redeem all of the Land of our Fathers. How would we raise the needed funds? Rosenbaum offered advice: “If all the Jews were to give over what they spend on tobacco; if all of the Jewish women would give over what they spend on the feathers in their hats; if all the worshippers would give over what they pay for the decorations on their tallises… with these millions of rubles, we would purchase all of the land of the Land of Israel.”

A few weeks before I left Minsk to travel to America, I heard a lecture of Rosenbaum, who spoke to an audience of 2,000 people, mainly intelligentsia and youth. Here is something that I jotted down in Hebrew during the speech that evening: Nationalism is the freedom of nations and the primary impetus to the freedom of man. Nationalism is opposed to hatred of peoples and national oppression. The nationalist idea can be realized when each nation stands under its own authority and its unique government.

All of the open and clandestine parties stood up then (in the year 1906) with their powers to defeat Rosenbaum; however his long answers astounded everyone, and he had them in the palm of his hand.

Translator's Footnotes:

1The names of several periodicals. Return
2At this point in Zionism, there was a faction that was willing to accept a Jewish state anywhere in the world that was available – and Uganda was proposed. Return
3Apikorsim (singular Apikorus) is a term for a Jewish non-believer or freethinker. The term comes from the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. Return

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