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[Pages 34-35]

Avraham Starovin Z”L

by Kh. A.

Translated by Shmuel Winograd


Avraham Starovin z"l [of blessed memory], the author of the article on Rakov and its history which served as the basis for the material in this book, was born in Rakov in 1889. As was the custom in the town, he received a traditional education: he studied in the heder, in the yeshiva, and like many others, acquired his general education externally, at a later age. He was fluent in Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and was one of the intellectuals of the town. Until 1914, he taught in the neighboring small towns and rural settlements, and from that year until his death, on April 15, 1934, he owned and ran the pharmacy in Rakov. His involvement with public service started during the First World War. He devoted himself, wholeheartedly, to helping the refugees, to those who were on their way to the interior of Russia, and to those who had settled in the town. He was one of the founders of the society for aiding orphans, and headed it for many years. He was, also, a founder of the Popular Bank and of the Gmilut Hasadim Society, two financial institutions which did a lot for the rehabilitation of the town after the horrible war years. He was one of the founders of the public library, the glory of the cultural enterprises in the town, and served on the Community Council. He tirelessly immersed himself in public work, in spite of his illness, and served as a role model to many. Politically, he belonged to the Bund[1] in his youth, and later joined the "Folkists". He did not believe in Zionism, and in his first article, in which he described the public activities in the town till 1914, he ignored the Zionist activities altogether, even though they were active in every quarter of the town. However, in his later articles, which dealt with the period from after the First World War to the early Thirties, he prominently mentioned the successes of the Zionist Movement in the town – the migration to Eretz Israel, the HaHalutz [the Pioneer – a Zionist youth movement], and the Hebrew school, which was the only local school. And in spite of his political view, which remained anti-Zionist to the end of his days, he wrote, more or less objectively, of the Zionist activities. He did not understand "what for do we teach Hebrew in the school, a language without a future in the life of the student after graduation…".

As was said earlier, he was tireless in his public work to his last days. Even when he was lying on his deathbed, in the Jewish hospital in Vilna, he concerned himself with the orphans, for whom he had been like a father. And then his illness, caused by the heart problem which struck him during the war, got the upper hand, and he passed away in Vilna on April 15, 1934.

[Page 36]

Memories of the Zionist Movement
and the “Bund”

by Magdal Dinah née Hurewitz

Translated by Ruth Wilnai

Dedicated to the memory of the first
pioneersof Rakov – my uncle and aunt
Yitzhak Yitzick and Leah Katz, z"l.

I spent my childhood and part of my youth in Rakov. There I grew, and there I was educated on the knees of' two ideals: the Zionist Movement and the Bund. On the one hand, my uncle Yitzick Katz, an enthusiastic Zionist who was one of the leaders of the Zionist movement in the town; and on the other hand, my uncle Berl Botvinik, a Bundist through and through, and a voice in town for the Bundist message. These two movements were then in their 'Spring' and fought each other fiercely. Zionism was considered as the movement of the "ba'alei batim" [well-to-do], and, although illegal, was not persecuted and suppressed like the Bund, which was completely banned, and whose members were hunted down by the authorities. This was its [the Bund's] strength, and the reason it was viewed by the youth as adorned with the halo of heroism.

Both movements had their songs, which expressed their aspirations and inflamed our hearts. The Zionists used to sing songs of longing for Zion – for the Land of our Fathers: "Shemesh Aviv" [Springtime sun] by Maneh, "BeMkom Sham Arazim" [the place of cedars], "Zamd un Shtern" by Frog, and more… And the Bundists would enthusiastically sing their own songs, which were imbued with the fighting spirit of the Proletariat, and with the hope for a world of equality and social justice. And I, who had a pleasant voice, liked to sing both the songs of the Zionists and of the Bundists…

Both the Zionists and the Bundists held their meetings in houses in the periphery of the town, hidden from the prying eye of the authorities. Since my mother was ardent Zionist, and we were living in Slovda, our home was considered an ideal place for holding the Zionist meeting. The Bundists, on the other hand, would hold their meeting at night in the woods which surrounded the town.

On certain occasions they would hold their meetings in houses in the periphery of town, hidden from the prying eye of the authorities. One of the side rooms in the house of my grandfather, Ya'akov Botvinik z"l, would usually serve this purpose. On Saturday, at dusk, my uncle Berl Botvinik would preach the message of the Bund to the young people, and would inflame their hearts with his oratory on the future of justice and equality for all of humanity. I would peek through the cracks of the closed door, and would listen to his words on the glorious era which was to come, "in which a doctor, an engineer, a pharmacist, and a midwife, would all be considered proletarians, and would live the life of workers like the Proletariat all over the world"…

[Page 37]

And at the same time, my uncle Katz would pour his words on his Zionist comrades, who were assembled at his home, and would fire their imagination with stories on the future life in the Land of the Fathers, "the land of the Hermon and the Cedars of Lebanon". At times the conversation would turn to the Zionist Congress in Bazel and to Herzl, the 'prophet' of Zionism and its creator. But the atmosphere was not always uplifting. I remember the time, one Saturday, when I came to the house of my uncle Katz, and found him and his friends in a gloomy and downcast mood. It was during the days of the Uganda debate [whether to accept the British proposal to settle Jews in Uganda], and the vote in the Congress [to accept the proposal] came down on them, as on many others, as a severe blow. In a meeting held in those days, which took place in my uncle's home, people expressed a very strong opposition to "Ugandaism".

*     *

rak037.jpg [21 KB]
Eshke Dvora and Shmuel Shmaryahu Horowitz
(Dina Migdal's Parents)

In my uncle's house they used to read the Yiddish newspaper "Der Yod" and the Hebrew newspaper "HaZman". They also received, from Eretz Israel, the periodical "HaOmer", with its budding literature of the Land, written in Hebrew.

Between these two poles – the home of my uncle Katz, which was permeated with the atmosphere of enthusiasm for Eretz Israel, and the home of my uncle Berl Botvinik, which was imbued with the fighting spirit of the Bund – I spent my glorious childhood days, absorbing the glow of the two ideals, which were combined somehow within me and were fused into one, in the shape of the Socialist-Zionist movement of "Po'alei Tzion" [the Workers of Zion].

This was the time of Spring, the time of renewal, in the Jewish street: both the Bund and the Zionist movement spoke of a new world and a new life for the Jews; they were both spreading an idealistic vision of a life full of glory. The one – in a new world which would be built on the ruins of the old one; and the other – in a new world to be built in Eretz Israelfor the Jewish people who would gather there…

[Page 38]

On Saturdays and Festivals the family would get together at the home of my grandfather z"l. Grandmother would serve her delicacies: the "kugel" and stuffed derma on the Sabbath, the dumplings on Passover, the "Homen Taschen" on Purim, the "latkes" on Hanukah, and on Succoth and on Simchat Torah – the "shtrudle". While serving, she had but one request of the two brother-in-laws: "Eat children, and, for Heaven's sake, don't argue too much", because the arguments always came to a bitter end, and spoiled the joy of the Holiday and the pleasure of the family gathering under her roof. The uncles would, of course, promise to be "good boys": No, no – they would say – no arguments. But without noticing it, they would start a conversation, at first an innocent chat, just two friends talking, and it would soon turn into a stormy river, overflowing its banks. Suddenly, one would hear the loud voices of disagreements between the uncles and their excited arguments, until one of them would leave the table.

*     *

In practice, the Zionist activity in those days consisted of collecting coins in the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur, and during the rest of the year – of selling the Jewish National Fund stamps on every joyous occasion. We, the Zionist youth, performed these tasks zealously, and more than once came into conflict with the "Tzadakah Pushkes" [boxes for collecting donations for charities] people. But, there was also much educational-cultural activity. We brought a special Hebrew teacher, especially for the girls who did not attend the heder; I, too, joined those who studied Hebrew. We organized parties, and sang and recited Hebrew songs.

One must not forget that the home itself, every Jewish home in the town in those days, had a great influence on the children's longing for Zion and the days of the Messiah; the whole atmosphere in the town was imbued with longing for Zion. And I too, even though I was cast between two camps, became a Zionist with my whole heart and soul. At that time, the first families left Rakov for Eretz Israel, among them my uncle and aunt Yitzick and Leah Katz. Two years later, my sister and I 'ascended' [migrated] to Eretz Israel to be with them. That was in 1910. Upon our arrival, we found Tel Aviv at its beginning; the first eight houses had just been built.

Some 49 years have passed since then. I have raised two generations of children and grandchildren. My sons took part in the War of Independence, starting with the days of the Haganah [the pre-state Jewish military organization], the Jewish Brigade [the Jewish unit of the British army during the Second World War], to the Sinai War [in 1956]. Allow me to say: More than once did my heart, the heart of a mother, cry from fear for the lives of the sons who were in the war. But I should also be allowed to add that at the same time the mother's heart was bursting with pride, and I was filled with a feeling of bliss, knowing that my sons were fighting the war of the Jewish people fighting for its freedom. And today, as I look backward in time, and remember this so-far-away period, when the extent of the Zionist activities seemed so small, I know that only thanks to those activities we arrived here – to the independent State of Israel.


  1. The Bund [Union] is the common, abbreviated name of 'Algemeiner Yidisher Arbiter Bund in Lite, Poylin, und Rusland' (General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia). It was a Jewish Socialist party; founded in Russia in 1897. After a certain ideological development it came to be associated with the devotion to Yiddish, autonomism, and secular Jewish nationalism. It was sharply opposed to Zionism and other conceptions of world-embracing Jewish national identity.
    Source: Encyclopedia Judaica Return

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