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News

by Avraham Rise

Translation by Naomi Gal

Zionist Rovno won over public opinion and attracted many from the working classes, those who at first kept their distance. Even Rabbi Zalman Greenfeld received news differently. Some news events were happy and exciting but surpassing all was the awakening and the bitterness after finding out about the summer 1929 riots in Eretz–Israel. And as someone who was part of the Zionist Movement and one of the leaders of Hashomer–Hatzair back then, I am able to put into words this devastating event.

The news about the bloodshed in Eretz–Israel was received in Rovno like a thunder in blue skies. We believed with all our hearts that the settlers would know how to fight back, and that we, waiting our turn for Aliya, would be able to help the defenders. It is impossible, we said, that our enemies could win over us, over our strong will and self–confidence, – “the Strength of Israel will not lie” …

The same evening the Municipal Zionist Council convened with the participation of representatives from all the parties and youth movements to explore the upsetting news, debated and decided to telegraph the Zionist Center in Warsaw and Eretz–Israel, ask about the situation and encourage those who were fighting. The next day a protest meeting was called in order to express fury and demand that the Polish Government react in an international forum to this assault on Israel and its rights on its historic homeland. Even before the news was published everybody knew what happened. Deeply worried about the situation in Israel, and about our fighting friends, and about our future, we were unable to go on with our usual activities. The members of Hashomer Hatzair were ordered to come from their summer–settlements and attend the big meeting in the synagogue, and they all arrived, united and ready, wearing their uniforms; we entered the synagogue and joined all the others in protest for action.

The big synagogue was veiled in mourning. It seemed that even the walls cried with the thousands that were there, people from all circles, Zionists and non–Zionists, simple folks – all were united at this time in fear for the safety of our brothers in Eretz–Israel and the situation of the Yishuv. Many of Rovno Jews had already sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in the Homeland's fields, roads, workshops, whose letters were full of love and enthusiasm and increased the attraction to Aliya, how could they not worry?…

Of course, there were in the city accusers, who wanted to use this “opportunity” to prove their righteous attitude toward Zionism and Eretz–Israel, but they did not dare express their views in public, and maybe the bloodshed touched their hearts and they kept quiet. It was a day of communion with Eretz–Israel and a deep concern about its future.

Rabbi Yehuda Matiok, back then one of the Mizrahi leaders, was the first to speak with great emotion about the situation, the danger, the indifference of the authorities who were temporally responsible for the conditions for building our future in the Holy–Land, about the insolence of the Arab neighbors, incited by people looking for disputes rather than creating harmony and peaceful lives. He spoke on the development of the country and about the duty of the generations, especially the youth in the diaspora, to be alert to these events. We knew well, he said, that it would not be easy to return to the country from which we were exiled, that inhuman efforts would be needed – and victims, too, but the victory will come. All of us, old and young, will leave, make Aliya, demand and defend the rebirth endeavor that already begun, and with the help of God our enemies' attitude will change. His words, stemming from his aching heart, entered the listeners' hearts, who were crying emotionally.

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He moved the youth especially, who were smitten by the speaker's words. The division between the Zionists and the Religious disappeared, forgotten were all the ideological contradictions, a common aim united all.

Following Rabbi Matiok, were Lawyer Rothfeld, the head of the Zionists in town, Dr. Yosef Shvidki and Yohanan Levin. They all analyzed and explained the situation and excited our minds and hearts. Rabbi Sheneor–Zalman Greenfeld completed the list of speakers and after making decisions to condemn and encourage, all the participants formed a parade of thousands to the main street – May Third – on their way to the Starosta offices on the Thirteen Division Street. Shop owners closed their shops, clerks left their offices, coachmen joined, youth proceeded from schools and workshops, all joined the parade under the nation's flags, Hashomer–Hatzair, Gordonia, Chalutz Hatzair and the Zionist Youth.

When the parade reached the Starosta, it was received with respect by the officials. Lawyer Rothfeld read a petition in which he expressed the deep shock of all the people in the country and in the world by the assault on the young settlement in its homeland and asked to convey to the Polish Government the Jews' outrage and demand that Poland will execute the necessary acts for the Jews in Eretz–Israel. His brilliant and to–the–point speech, which he delivered after he read the petition in flowery Polish, was a demand and vision at the same time, and the listeners did not forget it for many years.

It was a good feeling that on this day of challenge to Rovno's Zionism, the Jews showed their loyalty to Eretz–Israel with courage and devotion.


Visits of VIP's and Messengers

by Moshe Gal

Translation by Naomi Gal

As a big city populated with Jews who had deep roots in Zionism from the very beginning, and who grew strong branches to the national movement, as a city where the Hebrew Culture was better absorbed than in other cities and that educated generations of leaders, turned dreamers to fighters and had an important role in the national rebirth and the building of the historical homeland, it is only natural that it had many visitors, dignitaries of the Zionist Movement. Leaders, speakers, propagandists, guides, writers, journalists, teachers, messengers and other famous dignitaries and influential personalities in the Jewish and Zionist world visited Rovno during the beginning of the twentieth century. Each one of these visitors, who stayed overnight or longer, left memories and impressions from his short or long sojourn in the city. There were dignitaries who passed the city incidentally, others stayed for a while, they all left unforgettable impressions.

 

Zalman Ashkenazi, the Zionist preacher

At the beginning of Hibbat Zion, Zalman Ashkenazi, a Dovna–native, awoke and gave his heart to this movement, devoting himself to promulgation of the idea with all his talent and might. Rovno was the city

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he most visited and appeared in meetings and conferences as well as at fund raising; he attracted sympathizers to the national goals of Zionism. The veteran Zionists in Rovno mentioned with admiration his name as the first preacher who brought to Rovno the Zionist Gospel, at first in the spirit of Hibbat–Zion and later according to Herzl's plan. He also bound Rovno to the Odessa Council and invested many resources in the election campaign for the first royal “Duma”. Rovno benefitted greatly from Ashkenazi, and when he died – sent a delegation of the best Zionists to his funeral in Dovna, June 20, 1909.

 

Nathan Brecher, the messenger of the Odessa Council

Many remember R' Nathan Brecher, the preacher and loyal activist, who visited Rovno twice between 1911–1912 as Odessa's Hovevei–Zion messenger. M. Ussishkin recognized Zionist Rovno's power and sent Brecher to act in this city. He spent several weeks in Rovno. With his help and influence a few hundred fee paying members were obtained for the council and its supporters. Money was collected in different forms; he made appearances in synagogues and parties. He lodged at the house of R' Yehuda Matiok, the Zionist activist and the younger Zionists (From Zeirai Zion of these days) were his escorts and assistants. Brecher's impact on Rovno was felt for many days.

 

Itamar Ben–Avi – a visitor from Israel

In June 1931 Itamar Ben–Avi (the son of Eliezer Ben–Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew language in Jerusalem) arrived at Rovno as a guest and speaker. Itamar Ben–Avi was crossing Europe and reached Russia with his wife, also born in Jerusalem.

When Rovno's Zionists heard he was about to lecture in some main cities, they invited him to Rovno. It was a pleasant and important surprise to the Zionists and to Hebrew lovers and a mighty homage to the Hebrew revival. All the city dignitaries came to the “Bell–View” Hotel to meet the Eretz–Israel couple who spoke Hebrew, and in the evening, masses flowed to “Ligat–Hatzdek” Hall in order to hear a lecture in Hebrew from a Hebrew lecturer, a messenger from the revival land. Since all tickets were sold and the pressure was great, they had to open the doors and windows to enable the masses who stayed outside to listen and absorb something from the lecture; back then they did not have loudspeakers in Rovno.

It took a while for the ushers and the Zionist activists to maintain some order in the hall and outside – and the lecture began late. Rabbi Zalman Goldenberg introduced Ben–Avi to the audience with warm words, deserving of Eliezer Ben–Yehuda's son, born in Eretz–Israel. After the praise and expression of hope in the revival of our national language, Ben–Avi stood and gave a brilliant speech in his vivid and eloquent language about Eretz–Israel and the revival of Hebrew. He rejected any compromises about the use of Hebrew in everyday speech. The language is the soul of Zionism – he said – a basic element in the Hebrew revival, the very foundation of Zionism: hence, there is no place for compromises or concessions. The news he gave from Eretz–Israel raised the audience's spirit.

It is doubtful if all present heard or understood the lecturer's words, but they must have felt the electrical current of the Hebrew revival that enters every Jewish heart. Hundreds of people accompanied Ben–Avi

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and his wife from the lecture to Itzhak Melamed's house. The next day, in the afternoon, the Zionists held a festive reception for the guests in Zvi Baharel's house.

Distinct among the speeches delivered on that occasion for Eretz–Israel 's couple, are remembered the words of R' Yehuda Matiok, who said: “Our dear guests, who are the fruits of the Land, remind us of the excellent Etrog and Lulav, and we deserve a ‘Shehecheyanu’ blessing”. The party lasted until after midnight and at the end Ben–Avi and his wife sang Israeli songs, including the duet: “Sham Shualim Yesh” (“there are foxes there”), which created a great enthusiasm among the youth. The singing of “Hatikvah” ended the celebration that left a deep impression on all participants.

 

Dr. Yehoshoua Bochmil

One of the first Zionists, Dr. Bochmil was well–known in Rovno as one of the initiators of the revival. He visited the city many times at different periods, as a messenger of the Zionist Histadrut to advertise the movement and attract many to its ranks. He also received a mandate from Rovno to participate in one of the Congresses as Rovno Zionists' delegate. Dr. Bochmil won the hearts and was very much liked by his listeners and by the Zionist activists of the city; indeed, his service for Zionism in Rovno was quite remarkable.

 

Haim Greenberg in our City

Haim Greenberg was well–known in our city. As early as 1910, when he was visiting a few cities of the Pale of Residence in order to strengthen Zionist action and to convert people to the goals and the movement, he was sent from the Russian Zionist Center to Rovno. The city Zionists and its intellectuals received him with great honor, appropriate for the Center's messenger, and beginning with the first meeting, warm and friendly connections with him were established. He lectured about Hayim Nahman Bialik and his poetry.

Greenberg, who was still young but respectful, and used eloquent language, conquered his listeners' hearts in his first lecture. He was even crowned by some as “a second to Jabotinsky”. His stay in the city was a time of Zionist awakening and the results were soon obvious. The Zionist pulse in Rovno was strong and Greenberg's lecture added oil to the movement's wheels. The youth, especially, were charmed by Greenberg's presentation; they fell under his magic and filled the ranks of the local association.

Greenberg was eighteen years old when he participated in the 1906 Helsingfors Helsinki conference. The Finland capital was chosen as the site of the conference because conditions in Russia proper restricted meetings and the exercise of free speech. Greenberg built his Zionist knowledge and he knew how to best express it. He was successful wherever he went, but in Rovno most of all.

In February 1913, when the activity of Hovevai–Sefat–Ever (“Hebrew Lovers”) was developing in Rovno, the idea came up to invite Greenberg to deliver a speech in Hebrew. He lived in Odessa, back then, was involved with literature and was in service of the Zionist Union in Russia. The news about his second visit to Rovno spread quickly; many still remember his first performance, and indeed – his Juicy Hebrew with Sephardic accent, his burning eyes, his confidence and his proud and noble Jewish posture induced a new mood in his listeners, a special Zionist Hebrew mood. “He connected us to Zionism forever and brought us closer to Eretz–Israel” – declared enthusiastically Yudel Shindelkroit, one of the young Zionist activists, when he visited Greenberg

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at the Bell–View Hotel after his lecture. These words were not an exaggeration because all his listeners were convinced and motivated.

During a long and hearty conversation with Greenberg in his hotel, he went on talking in Hebrew with a Sephardic accent, just as he spoke before, as if it was all natural and obvious.

Greenberg's lecture for the Hebrew Lovers' association was held in the “New World” Hall, the big hall was filled to capacity, and the Rovno audience was able to enjoy the artistic and educational words. It was a very inclusive lecture full of national culture and the craving for new life in the ancient homeland, and it turned into a sort of Zionist Torah reading and a deep nationalist consciousness.

The third time Greenberg visited Rovno had to do with cultural matters and his meeting with his old friends in town was pleasant. Rovno's Zionists remembered his awesome previous lectures and his public again listened with sympathy to the ideas he developed about culture and spirituality, and the road he mapped for the diaspora people toward independent life in the homeland.

 

Dr. Itzhak Shifer, the Polish Seym Delegate

Dr. Itzhak Shifer, the Polish Delegate came to Rovno on January 7, 1925 and stayed for several days.

His first meeting with the city's activists was at the local council for aiding orphans. Shifer himself was an executive member of the center for aiding orphans in Warsaw. In this meeting Avraham Dannenberg welcomed the guest and talked about the public and institutions' obligations toward war orphans. Dr. Rappaport called, in the name of the local community council, to enlist all forces and means for this purpose and social aid in general. The last speaker was Z. Gurion, who ranked taking care of orphans at the head of the council's concerns, saying: supporting the orphans – means supporting the whole population and taking care of the future of all the Jews.

Dr. Shifer's response was a detailed speech about the history of aiding orphans and its value. “When the Americans came to us to help the abandoned children” – he said – “we grind our teeth: we feared that the aid to orphans will cause demoralization, but we were unable to give up the Joint's help. Back then we could not think about aiding orphans without help from the outside, because every day the number of the orphans grew, the gangs of Blachowicz and Petliura assaulted each settlement, and created more victims, and we had to save what was possible to save. Now, that we are taking care of the orphans, and are discussing their future – we need to organize this endeavor as best as possible. The government has to support the cultural and social institutions of the Jews in Poland. There are now 37.000 registered orphans, around 1,000 are in Volhynia and we must take responsivity for this large group.”

The speaker concluded saying the orphan problem was urgent and called to save the Jewish children from degeneration and extinction.

Dr. Shifer also participated in a general meeting of the “HIAS” immigration company and his brilliant speech there left a strong impression.

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That same day a ball in the honor of the guest was held in the merchants' club “Kupietsky Club” with the participation of the representatives from all the institutions and social groups of the city, and they all enjoyed their time with the guest until late at night.

The next day Dr. Shifer was invited to a celebratory meeting of the Municipal Zionist Council where he lectured about the last Zionist Congress and the recent positions and movements.

 

Itzhak Greenboym, one of the leaders of Poland's Jews

Itzhak Greenboym, who was the honorary president of Poland's Zionists, and the distinguished leader of Polish Jewry, was invited to the general meeting of the Zionist Union in Rovno that was convened on January 9, 1933. In the welcoming party that was held in his honor participated the representatives of all the Zionist organizations in the city. As soon as he arrived he spent some time with friends at the “Warsaw Hotel” and then went to visit the “Central Chalutz”. In the evening, he was welcomed by a large audience in a Jewish National Fund meeting and spoke there about the importance of the National Jewish Fund, especially at this time.

Later Greenboym appeared in “Folks Theater” and was received with applause by the masses who filled the hall to capacity. Dr. Rothfeld, the chairman of Rovno's Zionists opened by greeting Greenboym and extolling his personality and his rich activities in all national areas. The speaker mentioned, as well, that Greenboym was about to make Aliya and he will surely be missed in all Jewish activities in Poland.

In a speech that lasted three hours about “Diaspora and Eretz–Israel” Greenboym spoke about Jewish life in the world and in Poland, analyzed the factors and stated the necessity of Eretz–Israel as a solution to the nation's future from all aspects. The brilliant speech was heard with upmost attention and was interrupted many times by loud applause. It had been many years since Rovno heard such an elaborate and deep lecture.

Afterward a celebration was held in honor of the guest in the main office of the “Company for Orphans”. Dr. Rothfeld was at the head and Roznhak was the master–of–ceremony and created a welcoming ambiance. The heads of the activists in Rovno celebrated with Greenboym until dawn.

At noon on Shabbat Greenboym visited Hashomer Hatzair' Kibbutz and later the “National Shomer”. He was invited to lunch by Mrs. Rosa Berliner, president of WIZO, Women's International Zionist Organization, an activist for the national funds and the orphanages in the city.

The public meeting with Itzhak Greenboym was held on Shabbat night and attracted masses who were deeply impressed by his words.

 

Nathan Bistritzky

By the end of 1937 the writer Nathan Bistritzky arrived in Poland as the messenger of the central chamber of the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem. Bistritzki was famous, successful wherever he went. Rovno, too, anticipated his visit, after an announcement came from Warsaw in the beginning of January 1938. The united council of all the Zionists parties and the youth organizations in the city made preparations for the visitor from Eretz–Israel and nominated a special council for his

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welcoming and organized meetings to be held with his participation for the Jewish National Fund and a youth seminar. The bustle in Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia and The Zionist–Youth and other youth movement was great and special tickets were distributed to the seminar's participants, letting the organizations compete for them.

In the morning of Friday, January 14, 1938 Bistritzki arrived in Rovno and was received by Zionist activists who waited for him at the train–station. That same day the visitor met with the Jewish National Fund's council; together they prepared a plan and in the evening the youth's seminar was opened with the signing of “Tehezakna”. The lecturer was welcomed by H. Sashka, a Rovno Hashomer Hatzair activist back then, and the youngsters listened to a lecture titled: “The Problems of Youth in Zionism”. The audience listened to Bistritzki for an hour and a half and was captivated. The impressive evening ended with the singing of “Hatikvah”, but the young people did not disperse. Hand in hand – and with an enthusiastic and long “Hora” all were swept into an Israeli mood and Bistritzki watched and enjoyed, surrounded by this young audience and feeling like a rabbi among his devoted followers.

The next day, the Shabbat, the seminar went on. In the afternoon the Mizrachi organized “Oneg Shabbat” and Bistritzki sang Israeli songs with the participants. Among others, the song “Jerusalem” by Avigdor Hameiri, brought tears of deep emotion.

Back then they were in the middle of the endeavor “The Forest of Five” – in Jerusalem Mountains, next to Kiriat–Anavim, in memory of the five pioneers of Gordonia group who died when they were working in the forest. The Jewish National Fund issued a special postcard, whose revenues were dedicated to this endeavor.

In the evening, a celebration was held for Bistritzki at Tarbut Gymnasium. Rovno's most prominent Zionists and activists sat around tables laden with food, among them stood out the parents of the Gymnasium's students, all of them Zionists. The guest's lecture, peppered with Israeli jokes, was brilliant and by the end of the evening all present became The League of Parents for the Jewish National Fund. Thus, another link was added to the Jewish National Fund in Rovno.

It this visit Bistritzki was able to awaken sleeping forces, attract activists who were inactive and make them enter the efforts renewed, and thus to pour new blood into the Zionist work in the city.

On Monday – Tu Bishvat – the Day of the Zionist Youth was celebrated in “Novi Shevait” Hall and at the center was, again, Bistritzki, who spoke about Tu Bishvat and other youth celebrations in Eretz–Israel. He emphasized the planting of the “Forest of the Five” on the Mountains next to Kiriat–Anavim, stressing our strong commitment to go on planting forests and paving roads to conquer the land. Our hearts opened up, and the youth found inspiration. The orchestra of the Zionist Youth played national tunes and recitations were heard. Another public address by Bistritzki was at “Zafran Theatre” about: “Our Fight for Israel,” that attracted the whole city. Dr. Issachar Rise, the Gymnasium's principal, welcomed the guest with a forceful speech, as the youth's friend, an activist and a veteran writer. That same evening Bistritzki spoke to women in the “Novi Shevait” Hall, the subject was: “The Woman as a Building Element in the National Home in Eretz–Israel”. The lecture left a deep impression on the listeners.

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On Wednesday, January 10 the youth seminar was held. In this concluding meeting, everyone felt a powerful drive for building Eretz–Israel. Parting with Bistritzki was painful, and everybody knew that his work during his five days stay bore fruit.


Keren Hayesod's Funds

by Yaakov Bar–Midot

Translation by Naomi Gal

Keren Hayesod was active in Rovno since its founding, as a natural continuation of “Keren Hageula” in 1920, which was particularly successful in Rovno. The city's Jews, Zionist and non–Zionists, who were accustomed to give money for building and populating Eretz–Israel responded to Keren–Hayesod, as well, some because they wanted to and others under pressure and influence; they were entreated – and they gave. The number, at the beginning, was not great (in the years 1927–1928 – there were only 200 people and only half of them among the rich citizens of the city and the money raised was 18.000 gold coins, but in the years 1928–1929 the number of the donors was doubled and the sum of donations was 160% higher).

The revenues of Keren–Hayesod in Rovno grew each year, and every year, at the beginning of the winter they started the fund raising with a series of meetings, assemblies, visits of activists to the donors and attracting activists and donors to action. WIZO women–activists helped raise the funds, and enlisted their active members to action; also, the ranks of the Zionist parties and the youth movements were used for fund raising. The financial report of Keren–Hayesod for 1928, which was printed and distributed in all the institutions and public places in the city,

 


The members of Keren–Hayesod Council – 1932

 

showed a general income of 47.403 Polish Golden coins – a sum that was relatively higher than in cities like Bialystok and Lvov, although the Jewish population of Rovno was smaller than in these cities. In the years after the report Rovno was in the third place after Warsaw in raising funds for Keren–Hayesod. The total sum of the funding did not reach 10%, but the work for Keren–Hayesod grew constantly, and if it did not yet include all the population – it was mainly because of lack of fund raisers and collectors. The economic decline in Poland during the twenties, the defamation of Israel by people who departed, and the leftists' defamation in the Jewish street, probably had some impact on fund raising; still it did not diminish Keren–Hayesod's revenues, on the contrary – they were increasing.

A special council was founded for Keren–Hayesod, in which participated the representatives of all the Zionist parties and movements of the city (including the Revisionist in the first years). The heads of Keren–Hayesod in those years were: Pinkas Galferson, chairman, Yehuda Matiok and Anshil Bookimer, vice–chairmen, Yosef Vigdorovitz, treasurer, Menahem Gelarter, secretary. The members of the presidency were H.M. Fissyok, G. Wagmiester, Dr. M. Liashvsky, A. Lerner, S.

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The Activists of Keren–Hayesod with Alexander Goldstein

 

Kolikovicher, A.L. Kalika, A. Rapport, Dr. I. Shvidki. In the audit committee: H. Kendelis, Y. Levin, M. Blotinsky. R. Bru, I. Frind, S.I. Perlmutter. Director – Yaakov Wiseblatt (Bar–Midot). The Revisionists' representatives retired from the council.

Among WIZO leaders who were active in the fund's council were Mrs. Rosa Berliner (Raydel), Fissyuk, Wienberg and others. One of the activists and activators for Keren–Hayesod was Menaham Gelerter, until he made Aliya.

The parties' activists were enlisted to the council's service, among them representatives of the youth organizations, and Keren–Hayesod became increasingly more popular in all circles, much like the Jewish National Fund. The central council of Keren Hayesod in Warsaw was in close contact with Rovno and provided messengers, propagandists and lecturers, among them: Alexander Goldstein, Lieb Yaffe, Lazky–Bartoldi, different delegations from Eretz–Israel and others. There were many public fundraising events in Rovno for Keren–Hayesod, The Jewish National Fund, and others;

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Keren–Hayesod activists in 1933

 

these were held with lots of publicity, each fund and its results. The funds created an awakening in the Zionist circles and in the city in general and strengthened the activists and the donors. Adults neglected their businesses and work, students stole time from studying and the fund days turned into “Holidays” and activism for Keren–Hayesod. Psychological and spiritual causes demanded concentrating on this vital Zionist activity. Meetings and assemblies, visits and discussion, signing commitments, increasing donations, and debt collections went on in the city, and, despite all the obstacles, Keren–Hayesod activities grew every year in Rovno.

 


The council of Keren–Hayesod with Leib Yaffe

 

Particularly successful were Keren–Hayesod's funds with the participation of Alexander Goldstein and Leib Yaffe. These funds required myriad preparations, enlisting of many volunteers and making sure the right conditions were in place. The appearances of these “Lions” of the Zionist world, these famous lecturers, impacted the Jewish hearts and helped pockets open for Keren–Hayesod. Rovno proved it was indeed Zionist, and the situation in Eretz–Israel, demanding numerous efforts and investments for the continuation of building and immigration, was close to their hearts and they enlisted and volunteered,

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donated and raised money until Rovno was in the first line among Volhynia's cities when it came to Keren–Hayesod donations.

Leib Yaffe, who arrived from Eretz–Israel as Keren–Hayesod's messenger to Poland, stayed in Rovno about a week. Rovno's Jews gave him a royal welcome. Thirty delegations of Zionist movements and organizations and the schools with their flags came to welcome him at the train–station. At the hotel where he stayed, the national flag was raised alongside the Polish flag.

 

 

The celebratory meetings with Leib Yaffe in the train–station and next to Tarbut Gymnasium – May 7–9, 1931

 

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His public and festive appearances, with representatives of the authorities and of public and Jewish institutions, and his Hebrew

surprised by this awakening and asked innocently: Is this the Jewish President of Palestine?

The national spirit that blew over Rovno, the Hebrew Culture that took root in the city, the pioneer movement back then and the visits of the movement's leaders for fund raising, brought Rovno closer to Eretz–Israel and the mutual influence on both was great.

Rovno's sons, even the non–Zionists, proved by their commitment to Keren–Hayesod that indeed the time of begging for money for Eretz–Israel was over, and now was the time for building and conquering the land on a large scale, and every Jew, wherever he is, needs to pay his due to the people's fund. Obviously, most of the time the payments did not cover the needs, nor the real capacity of the payers, but this is another matter.

This is how Zionist Rovno behaved till it was exterminated.


A League for the Jewish National Fund

by Laadan Haya (Deremaneska)

Translation by Naomi Gal

If the Zionist activism in Rovno developed and grew from the twenties until the Soviet occupation of 1939, then this growth was more prominent in the acts for the Jewish National Fund. This national–folks endeavor had its roots in Rovno since it was founded. Jews from all classes, even more so Zionists, had a special fondness for this fund and they used to raise money in every opportunity and made others donate for it in various forms. Alongside the Zionist Shekel there was always the National Jewish Fund and these two always symbolized Zionism in town, until the Russian Revolution, but then Keren–Hayesod was founded and the Zionist idea deepened, and in the last generation participated in a different and larger political form.

The internal schism in the Zionist Union in Poland – and maybe even before – between movements that had each its own flag, did not prevent a strong and steady cooperation in working for the national funds, and this was only natural; where politics were not involved, the Zionists from all points–of–view (right, left, center, religious etc.) were able to unite and function with combined forces. The Jewish National Fund was such a meeting–place for Zionist movements and for this purpose the League for the National Jewish Fund was created in all of Poland during the twenties.

In Rovno, all movements and youth organizations were part of this league; there was not one Zionist body that did not send its representatives and members to the league for the Jewish National Fund during all its existence. Surely, there were periods of increase and decrease in the Jewish National Fund's income in Rovno for different reasons, but the work was done with remarkable fondness and involvement.

Many recall the Jewish National Fund's balls, Hanukah's traditional “Bazaar” which was organized by WIZO with talent and creativity, the usual fund–raising, the Blue–Box income and the occasional donations that brought in large sums (according to the times and the value of the money back then). The enthusiasm for Eretz–Israel strengthened the action and drew to the league's ranks hundreds and thousands, either as activists or donors.

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The members of the united council for the Jewish National Fund – 1932
First row (standing from right): Noah Kendelman, Moshe Smoliar, Yonah Weiner, Shlomo Gurevitz
Second row (standing from right): (?) Shmuel Matiok, Zissia Krashinsky, Yaakov Boshel, (?), Greenfeld, Pranas, Kojooch, Zvi Barmenik, Itzhak Goldenstren
Third row (Sitting from right): Moshe Chemrinsky, Eliyaho Lerner, Meir Gilerman, Avraham Rise, Ben–Zion Isenberg, Gachman

 

If there was in the Jewish Street any criticism about Zionist endeavors (and we never lacked complainers amid us), when it came to the JNF no one dared say anything. Everybody knew all too well that JNF was busy redeeming the homeland for the entire people, and this with the monies from pennies that added up to sums that were dedicated for buying reserves

 


The United Council for the Jewish National Fund – 1934

 

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of land for the nation. The same boys and girls who dozens of years previously went to collect contributions for JNF at weddings, in Zionist “Minyan” and on other occasions, continued now this sacred work for JNF and the league, and their sons – educated by Tarbut institutions – were by their side: fathers like sons. Each organization in Rovno was proud to assist JNF work, and the delegations from the national chamber and the international center in Jerusalem worked, as well, to strengthen activities. In Rovno, the pulse of JNF was felt loud and strong, without interfering with Keren–Hayesod's activities.

Since the partisan instincts and differing points–of–view about Zionism separated Rovno's Zionists from the Municipal Zionist Council, the Zionist parties cooperated only to fund–raise. And indeed, Rovno's Zionist different movements kept in close contact while working for the funds; the League for JNF was one place where the cooperation was full. Here reigned an ideal and the representatives of the parties worked honestly and full heartedly for JNF.

Among the Zionist activists who worked in Rovno for JNF from its founding we remember: Yosef Adal, David Gerstein, Itzhak Melamed, Dov Corech, Shlomo Wieslire, Yehuda Shindelkroit, Kipen, M. Belinsky, Yaakov Stertz, Arye Garbouz, Ben–Zion Isenberg, Mordechai Neeman, Yaakov Adal, Shmuel Kolker, Ze'ev Goycrach and others.

With kind regards should be remembered the active devotees who dedicated their best energies for JNF income in Rovno: Zvi (Grisha) Riedel, Zoussia Cohen, Itzhak Goldenstern, Rosa Berliner, ben–Zion Isenberg, Meir Gilerman, the Hashomer Hatzair representatives Haya Dermaneska, Avraham Rise, the representatives of Gordonia, the Zionist Youth, Hamizrachi and others.


HaMizrachi

by Rabbi Moshe Sternberg

Translation by Naomi Gal

At the beginning of Zionism, when all Zion Lovers were still united in one wish, Rovno did not know separation from different movements. Indeed, the Zionist preachers who came from the outside were religious and their attitude to the Zionist idea was from a religious point–of–view; but the call to support the Zionist movement, which carried the flag of national rebirth, led it to break free from the diaspora's yoke and move toward independent life in its homeland – Eretz–Israel, was for all the people of Israel. Rovno Jews, who were attracted to Zionism, had no partisan movements or differing groups, and the preachers who visited the city (Yezrov, Masliensky, Ze'ev, Rabbi Fishman and others) did not mention it in their appearances; in their view Zionism imbibed from Israel's sources and its natural resources, hence every Zionist is traditionalist. Rovno also heard about Rabbi Reines, the founder of HaMizrachi and his views on Zionism. Moreover, R' Yehuda Leib Edal, one of the city's prominent citizens, actively participated in the founding meeting of the Mizrachi in Vilnius. They heard, as well, about the foundation of the Mizrachi association* but somehow, Rovno's Jews remained undivided.

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And they united under one Zionist flag, Zionism for Zion. It lasted for years.

When World War I broke all Zionist's actions were paralyzed, not resumed until after the revolution in 1917. At that time, a religious union was organized in Ukraine under the flag and slogan “Unity”; its center was in Kiev. Many amid the religious Zionists in Rovno and its surroundings became part of this organization in order to lead its goals toward Religious Zionism. The days of public action did not last. The occupation of Ukraine by the Germans, the declaration of the Ukrainian Republic, the wave of riots that overflowed the area in these days stopped all the political activity that began after the revolution. All the force and energy of the people was dedicated to organizing self–defense against the different rioters, who often attacked the cities and mainly the villages; at the same time the youth were preparing for defense and making Aliya. At that time the Chalutz was organized in Alexandria, near Rovno, one of the first in Volhynia. The constant worries about security and existence united all and again, there was no place for division and separation in Zionism until Rovno's region was annexed to the Polish Republic.

In the center of Poland, in Warsaw, frantic Zionist activity was taking place. Different messengers came from there to Rovno to organize the Zionist people in the border regions. Among them were also the Mizrachi messengers from Congressional Poland, who tried to organize the religious Zionists and activate them as a separate association under the Mizrachi's flag. It has to be said that the religious Zionists in Rovno did not see the urgency of a separate organization. Their relations with the Zionists, who were religious, were exemplary and friendly, and the background in Volhynia was very different from Congressional Poland. Meanwhile influence began infiltrating Volhynia from the supporters of the “Aguda” and some started to act among Rovno's religious on behalf of the “Aguda” to Zionist disadvantage, and so they had to urgently organize a Mizrachi Branch to operate amid the religious in the spirit of religious Zionism. At the head of the organizations were prominent leaders, veteran Zionist activists like R' Herz Meir Fisyook and R' Yehuda Matiok. At that time, the late Rabbi Rappaport (who later became the rabbi of Lutsk community) and preached for Mizrachi visited Rovno. He appeared successfully in a number of synagogues and many of Rovno's Jews joined Mizrachi. Thus, Mizrachi was organized in Rovno, and gathered around it all the activists amid the organized religious Jews, faithfully guarded the traditional Zionist spirit, that pulsed in the hearts of Rovno's Jews, cooperated with the Municipal Zionist Council, assisted all the Zionist fund–raisers, and competed during the city's elections to state and municipal institutions.

Mizrachi played an important role in Rovno during the elections to the local community and other public offices. There were cases when Zionists gave them their vote, relied on them (for instance, when it came to electing the city's rabbi etc.) The Zionist work sapped all the energy of Mizrachi's leaders and one very important area was left unattended – the area of National–Religious education. Most of the national education institutions in the city and its surrounding were Secular–Intellectual. The tradition of education was deeply rooted in Volhynia since the days of Isaac Baer Levenson and Gotlober, and so we see the Rovno's Nationalist Youth organized mainly in secular organizations, but the minority that was organized in the Chalutz–Mizrachi was important. In the ranks of Chalutz–Mizrachi stood the cadets of the “Heder” and the yeshiva, and the organization

[Page 146]

sent its members to the special training–centers of Mizrachi and worked hard for the opportunity to make Aliya. The Chalutz–Mizrachi in Rovno developed and grew, especially when the question of an entry permit to Eretz–Israel became a matter of life–and–death to many, who were knocking on the doors of Eretz–Israel Office. Every Aliya permit was purchased with an enormous effort between the different unions who were presented at Eretz–Israel Office, and many of the Chalutz–Mizrachi saw themselves as neglected, their voices hardly heard.

Amid the fighters for the “Chalutz Hamizrachi” right for Aliya, one has to recall late Yeshayho Finer from the Mizrachi youth, many of the Zionists' Aliya should be credited to him. Finer was the contact between Hamizrachi and Chalutz Hamizrachi and loyally represented both organizations. The Mizrachi status in the city was somewhat influenced by the Aliya of two of its leaders: R' Hertz Fisyook and R' Yehuda Matiok, although they had successors. When I last visited Rovno in 1939, before the break of World War II, I found the city's religious public organized in two unions: Hamizrachi and Chalutz Mizrachi, who continued the tradition of intensive Zionist work for the Zionists funds, and at the same time trained religious pioneers and helped their Aliya.

*Eliyaho Reisman informs that on the night of the Seventh day of Sukkot, 1902, a meeting was held at Talmud–Torah with a few dozen religious Zionists, amid them Aaron Parchook, Yehuda Matiok, the Cantor Berl Pittels and others; speeches were delivered and they decided to found a Mizrachi Association. Parchook recited the poem “Where Cedars Grow”.


The Union of the Revisionist Zionist and Betar

by Dr. A. Y. Kopika

Translation by Naomi Gal

When the New Zionist Union was established by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, it found supporters in Rovno, too, who began organizing and being heard. When I arrived in Rovno from Israel at the end of 1928, I found in the city an active Revisionist Union that had around hundred members and its club was at Tarashchinsky House at May Third Street. The head of the club was the Hebrew veteran teacher Hykel Kopelman, experienced educator and Zionist, who was one of the initiators of the New Union. As a party member in Israel, I visited the club, became closer to the members of the Revisionist Circle, and while joining their ranks I enlisted several local personalities, and the union became bigger. In 1929 I was elected as the chairman.

Those were days of intensive activity among Rovno's Zionists and the quarrels between parties and movements went on. We rented a spacious club at the house of Shmuel–Yossi Heset on Shekolna Street and our activities branched out. At that time a group of Revisionists Youth left for training in preparation for Aliya, which enhanced the movement's prestige and attracted more youth to our ranks. Every now and then commanders and guides visited Rovno in order to keep an active line between the different cells and strengthen the camp, these encounters with the center people were quite valuable.

Jabotinsky visited Rovno first in 1929 and then again, in 1933. He was not a new face to the local public. Rovno's Jews knew and remembered him since he was a candidate for the Second Royal Russian “Duma”, and from his lectures in the city. Many were thrilled by his visit and the Revisionist Union prepared to welcome him adequately.

[Page 147]

But since he arrived on a Shabbat, and early in the morning, just a small delegation came to meet him at the train–station. Jabotinsky was brought immediately to my apartment and stayed at my place for the three days he spent in town. Dr. Younichman accompanied Jabotinsky, and it was his last visit in Rovno.

The following story will testify about the authorities' attitude toward Jabotinsky: I went with Dr. Younichman to the local Starosta and based on Jabotinsky's Nansen document the Starosta gave permission for his leaving the country. He knew about Jabotinsky and treated him with respect. Hence, the authorities sent two policemen to honor–guard my apartment while he was staying in my place, with the blue–and–while flag flapping on top of the building.

On his first day Jabotinsky gave a public speech. Except the left–parties, all the other movements' representatives came to welcome and greet him. Masses arrived at the gathering held in his honor at the sport–field on Zemkova Street and they all cheered for him. His acceptance of the formation was very impressive. Than a big parade marched in the streets, and most of Rovno Jews paid their respects to Jabotinsky, who was well–respected by his political opponents, too. Indeed, Zionist Rovno was at its best. On Shabbat Jabotinsky gave a speech to the members and the next day, on Sunday, he spoke at the movie house “Brunt” to masses, members and non–members Jews.

During the years 1933 and 1934 conferences of the Revisionist Zionist Union were held with the participation of Dr. Shechtman. This was a particularly active period for the movement in Rovno and its vicinity. About a year later Dr. Von–Weizel from Israel came to visit us. This visit, too, became a major event in the life of our movement in Rovno and left very pleasant memories. In those days the arguments with the Grossmanists grew deeper and it ensued in a rift and an association of Zionists in the spirit of Meir Grossman was founded in Rovno.

Betar had a large place among the national movements in the city. The center messenger found

 


The meeting of the Revisionist Zionist Union in Rovno 1933

 

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here a number of youngsters who were enthusiastic about Betar and its goals, and a branch was founded in the city. Dozens of youngsters from other movements came to the first meetings. Different causes pushed them to join Betar, and most of all – the basic ideas of the movement. When the founding of the branch in Rovno became public, it had an impact on region, too. The force of Betar members was felt in the public sport events, in discussions with other youth movements, and in training for Aliya. The Betar hub was always busy with youth, usually wearing army uniforms, and the singing was heard from faraway… The hub absorbed youth from the “Kavkaz” suburb where poverty reigned – neglected youth that until then was not part of any organization. With time some of these youngsters left for pioneers' training in Czluchow and other Betar training centers.

In summer 1933 a course to prepare Betar Guides was held in Rovno for Volhynia–Polesia, in which lectured and participated some of Betar's leaders in Poland. The conference took place on Hasmonean field and the end of Zamkova Street, in a form of camp and according to military–sportive rules, in the spirit of the movement. Eighty young man from Betar's hubs from 12 cities and villages of Volhynia and Polesia participated in the course that lasted a week and instilled in the participants Betar's ideology. When each one went back home, they all became guides who did much to promote the movement.

Betar's branch in Rovno was considered a fortress in Volhynia's region and added respect and prestige to the movement. The Revisionists in town were proud of Betar, which was quite prominent in the city. The split in Kassovitz (1933) did not alienate the Revisionist Union in Rovno, since most of the members remained loyal to their flag, and only few joined Meir Grossman.

In the elections to the Rovno's magistrate (the municipality) in 1934 I was elected by the Zionist Revisionist Union to represent the public interests in Rovno in our spirit.

In 1934 the Revisionist Union in Rovno grew larger and with it grew Betar's ranks. The branches in the border–cities saw Rovno's union as a regional center. Some of its leaders back then were Mr. Girovitz, S. Yaakoyak, Vigdorovitz, Yuzfessberg, and others. A big reading–hall was opened by the union next to the new club on Perez Street and it drew many, even non–members. Some of the movements' partisans and the revisionist youth made Aliya and joined the revisionists in Israel.

In the summer of 1936 Mr. Aba Ahimeir, a movement messenger from Eretz–Israel visited Rovno and found in the city an active and strong union. He lectured to circle of friends and varied audiences.

A delegate from Rovno was sent to the international conference of the Zionist Revisionist Union Brit, that was held in Vienna in November 1936, he brought back the conference's messages and decisions, which increased the revisionists activities in the city, the newspapers “Unzer Welt” (“Our World”), the revisionist journal in Poland, as well as “Hayarden” and “Herouth”, their counterpart in Israel, found their way, with the help of the local union, to Rovno's public. “Brit Haayal” – a military organization of the Zionists–Revisionists appealed to the veteran fighters and some of the adolescents. The military discipline in this organization was exemplary and the youth appreciated it.


[Page 149]

Zeirai–Zion – Z”Z and Poale–Zion

by Dr. Yonah Gluck

Translation by Naomi Gal

In the first years of World War I the Zionist work in Russia was considerably weakened because the youngsters were enlisted. The war prevented any Jewish political activity. Only after the revolution, in the spring of 1917, the situation changed. New horizons were opened for public and national activities. In those days unrest began within Zeirai–Zion, too. Side by side with the masses and the left–wing parties, Zeirai–Zion convened and demonstrated their enthusiasm and identification with the change that took place in Russia and with the revolution, and they also entered the circle of political life and Zionist activity.

With the renewal of the Zionist work in Rovno not only the Zionists from before the revolution appeared on the stage, but new faces belonging to a younger generation. Most of the time they were youngsters who were hardened while organizing self–defense and helping refugees, harmed by the war. They came across as having a unified orientation, ready to fight for it among their own ranks. During the second council in Petrograd, May 18–21, 1917, questions were raised and the discussions in the fraction were deep and important.

All this had an impact on Rovno's movement, and although its members participated in the Municipal Zionist Council that was formed back then in the city, together with all the other Zionist movements, and they even had a majority in this council, they acted as a group apart and in many cases, emphasized their unique and independent position. This often caused tensions. The activities of Zeirai–Zion in the city grew and they were responsible for most of the Zionist work, although the veteran Zionists (and later Zionim–kelalim) were alert and active, too, in all the Zionist activities.

 


The first council of Zeirai–Zion in Volhynia, Rovno (1921)

 

[Page 150]


The council of Zeirai–Zion – Z”Z with Israel Ritov from Warsaw – 1924

 

When Tarbut became more active in Rovno from 1918 to 1920 and a net of education–institutions was founded, including the first orphanage – Zeirai–Zion gave their best to these Zionist activities. Indeed, Rovno was outstanding in its culture during the Ukrainian regime, as well as during the Polish regime. Zeirai–Zion members were particularly active in the orphanage that was maintained by the Joint's donations. They led much Zionist publicity and organization around the city as well. When Eretz–Israel Office was established in Rovno, Z”Z were a major part and formed the main force in its branched activities assisting the pioneers and those making Aliya and also those arriving from across the border. Many recall the vegetable–garden that Z”Z organized in Dovkirer's yard on Doovenskia Street, training and preparing pioneers. The garden's income was dedicated to the Chalutz Fund; that was, too, an initiative of the local Z”Z.

Later on there was a rift between Z”Z and the veteran Zionists, who stayed in the General–Zionists, due to ideological and practical developments, but they continued to cooperate for Aliya and funds' benefits. When it came to ideology and strategies and many Zionist's questions, they acted according to the Z”Z Center, so that in the city the differences in the Zionist Camp were unnoticed, since Z”Z were stirring the Zionist activities in the city and were represented in public all the time. Z”Z received some reinforcement by a pioneer group that arrived from Ukraine, as “Dror” (“Freedom” Movement). They lingered in town and stayed in touch with the local Z”Z (members of this group were Batya Bendrska, Shoshana Godel, Ester Bialik, Braginsky, Bankover, David Liefshitz, Koperman, Moshe Majibojsky, Aiches and others). In the Z”Z Council in 1918 were: Pessah–Leib Hirshfeld, Israel Dines, Mordechai Racis, David Baharal, Ze'ev Eidsis, Shmuel Kolker, Avraham Armal, Zipporah Mikovsky, Haya Kagan and Zlata Bernstein.

The events of the Ukrainian regime did not stop Z”Z activities

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and under the Polish regime (from 1920) they increased. At that time the controversy inside the Z”Z grew, which ensued in separation that later became a union of Zeirai–Zion with Poale–Zion on one side and the party “The Union of Zeirai–Zion and Poale–Zion, on the other side. Each part became its own party with a platform of its own, and fought its rival, although both remained together in the format of “The Working Eretz–Israel”. Z”Z in Rovno were the majority, until the “Union” became more prominent. The rivalry between these movements in Rovno brought no benefits to the parties, as in every other place that had deep divisions.

 


The members of the Regional Council of Zeirai–Zion with Y. Marminsky and Y. Kolton – 1921
Standing (from right): A. Armal, Israel Dines, Yonah Gluck, Ze'ev Idsis (Hadass)
Sitting (from right): P.L. Hirschfeld, Israel Marminsky, Yaakov Kolton

 

In 1923 a conference of Z”Z was held in Rovno in which participated some of the area's messengers and Israel Marminsky, one of the leaders, as the Center's messenger. The echoes of this conference reached all the associations in Polish Volhynia and it gave a strong push to the unification of the youth under Z”Z flag. To the region's council that was elected during the conference entered Shnere, Swartzman, Fir, Rosenstein, Hirschfeld, Yonah Gluck (Sarni), Wiseblat, Barkovsky, Polonsky, Dines and Armal. Rovno was selected as the seat.

The last meeting of Z”Z, Z”S and Poale–Zion of Volhynia region was held in Rovno in Sukkot 1938. According to Yaakov Plut (one of the delegates) it was an important conference and rich in content. Anshel Rise represented the Center.

 

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