(Translator's note: the caption on the photo indicates that it is lunchtime at the camp.)
The Hashomer Hatzair movement, which began as a non-factional Zionist scouting organization, arose in Galicia after the First World War, and spread throughout Poland. It reached the towns of Pulsia.
Hashomer Hatzair was founded in Ruzhany by Yosef Abramovich, who had learned scouting from the brothers Yaakov and Eliezer Shapira, the heads of the Slonim chapter.
The youth of Ruzhany accepted this scouting movement with enthusiasm. Many joined its ranks and fulfilled all of their obligatory duties with love and dedication. There was a great innovation inherent in this movement, for it was a manifestation of a blend of Zionism and independent Jewish thought.
How proud was my heart during those days. I regarded myself as one of the young soldiers of the Hebrew nation that was rising to life. In organization ranks, with orders issued in Hebrew, calisthenics, appointing of heads of groups, divisions and brigades, the command to stand at attention issued by the second-in-command Leibel Ziskind at the time that the head of the roll call Yosef Abramovich arrived, awakened us and summoned us to new life.
Our uniforms resembled those of the Shomrim of the Galilee, whose names went before them. Echoes of stories and legends of the Hashomer in the Land reached us, brought joy to our hearts, and brightened our souls in the gray corners of the Exile. They restored our hearts and instilled faith in us. We knew that nights awaited for us in the Land, consisting of the paths of the praised Hashomer.
I will always remember the day when the brigades of the chapter marched on a major parade through the outskirts of the town, self-assured and filled with hope, on their way to the forest on Lag BaOmer or another day of gathering. I will never forget those evenings when we sat around the bonfire at dusk singing with an intimate voice, full of longing:
Without you, oh Galilee, what am I and who am I? Galilee, Galilee, you are indeed my only one.
Then we were raised up on the wings of imagination, moving to the Land of the Fathers, as if sitting around a bonfire in the Galilee, the cradle of Hashomer, and participating in the building and guarding of our Homeland. These were moments of happiness which did not end when the bonfire was extinguished and we returned home. Rather, they were hidden in the heart as a keepsake, and never ceased to whisper the hope until it was fulfilled when I made aliya to build up and guard the homeland.
We aroused Hashomer Hatzair to renewed activity in 1926. The instigators were Yudel Sokolovsky, Elka Rubinowich, Yona Epshteyn, Chaim Sapir and Mordechai Katz. During the years of my activity, I succeeded in rising from a simple member to the head of a group, division and brigade. I even reached the level of chapter head. Our activities were many and broad. We would gather for activities twice a week on weekdays, and also on Friday night and Saturday. However, the headquarters were open as well on the other days of the week. During any free time, the members would come to the headquarters of Hashomer Hatzair to simply spend time with friends.
We did great things. We studied Hebrew, Hebrew History, Zionism, facts about the Land, as well as political economics. We learned about the classes and their wars from Zaks' book, and we learned women's history and Socialism from Babel. The newspapers of Hashomer Hatzair also gave us a great deal of educational material. Despite the fact that they were hard to understand, I spent hours upon hours reading the newspapers of Hashomer Hatzair with Hebrew and vernacular dictionaries opening and closing in succession in order to figure out the meaning of the high words that are not understood. I also participated in gatherings that imparted leadership material to us, such as: The educational gathering in accordance with Freud, conducted by Zohar, and others.
Emissaries would come to us from the central leadership, bringing joy to our spirits. This was
Yechiel Grynberg, who, even though he was not in the Land, said that he knew it like his five fingers. This was not only boasting, for he had researched it with all its details, just as all of us were immersed in a competition to learn about the Land through stories and emissaries from the Land, until it seemed to all of us that we had seen it with our eyes -- both it and all that had happened therein. With our imaginations, we looked at its variegated landscapes, and felt all of its changes. Even the short Feivel Gezbah, whose power was with his mouth, would visit us frequently. We learned no small amount from him as well.
However, these were not considered by us to be the primary visitors. We had a stronger spiritual connection with the chapter from the closest city to us, Slonim. Emissaries, and regular, heartwarming visitors would come to us from there. A Hassidic spirit pulsated in them and would rest upon us as well.
First row, standing right to left: Yocheved Wilensky, Esther Epshteyn, Duba Skliravitz.
Second row: Sonia Michnovsky-Sokolovsky, Hinda Klebensky, Esther Chwojnik, Fania Stein.
Third row: Sheindel Epshteyn, Ethel Sokolovsky, Roza Michnovsky
First row, standing right to left: Shlomo Dovkin, Tuchman, , Yehudit Epshteyn, , Shifra Foksman, Yaakov Rabinowich, Chaya Itzkowich, .
Second row: Moshe Babich, Hinda, Nechama Kaplan, , Dina Pomerantz, Yenta Zlotner, Karpelewich.
Third row: , Kimerman, Zavel Tuchman, Sheindel Epshteyn, , .
Fourth row: Roza Michnovsky, Fishel Gerbolcki, Teibel Berman, Yisrael Foksman, Ethel Sokolovsky, , Hinda Babich
First row, standing right to left: , Epshteyn, , Yosef Epshteyn, Rudetsky, Shimon Sokolovsky, .
Second row: Shifra Foksman, Itsha Gamerman, Naomi Pitkovsky, Zavel Tuchman, Sonia Ivan, , .
Third row: Maya Pines, Vichna Shemes, Yaakov Rabinowich, Dina Pomerantz
Standing next to the wall on top, in the first row: Zavel Tuchman, Esther Epshteyn, , .
Standing next to the wall on top in the additional row: Yaakov Rubinowich, Itsha Gamerman, Rudetsky, Alperstein, .
Standing next to the wall in an additional row, one lower: Sheindel Joselwicz, Pitkovsky, Sarah Gamerman, Feitsha Lev, Sheindel Ett.
In the long row, standing right to left: , , , , David Pitkovsky, Esther Shemes, Pitkovsky, , , David Rubinowich, , , Feigel Pripstein, Liba Zemach, , Berl Ett, Tzadok Skolnik, , Rivka Pitkovsky.
Sitting in the long row: Noach Gvurin, Shlomka Gaselewich, Yona Epshteyn, Efraim Gamerman, Yitzchak Nybursky, , , Yudel Sokolovsky, Elka Rubinowich, , .
Lower row, sitting: Zerach Chwojnik, Chana Epshteyn, Rachel Egolnik, , , Sarah Foksman, Pinka Tserbiticki, , daughter of Shlomka Sokolovsky, Dina Pomerantz
Their spirit, as well as ours, was the spirit of scouting. We were like them. This was not like the Hashomer Hatzair in Warsaw, where political tones began to overtake their scouting ideals. On the other hand, the Hatzofeh newspaper of Hashomer Hatzair was enjoyed by both us and the group from Slonim. On its front cover there was a picture, drawn by his hand, of a scout blowing a trumpet and an erected tent. Its content was scouting, and its language and style were simple and understandable.
We did not suffice ourselves with a tent drawn on the front page of Hatzofeh, for we erected actual tents in the joint summer camps with our Slonim friends. Their pleasant memory is well etched in our hearts.
We did a great deal for the youths of the town. We gathered them around the concept of the Land of Israel. We distanced them from assimilation and the clubs that were opened for them in the Polish schools. We brought the various classes of the town and its suburbs closer to each other. The children of the street, the Jewish children studying in the Polish school, and the students of the Tarbut Hebrew school mingled together and became one group, members of the same nation. The spirit of idealistic actualization pervaded. There was a great deal of activity in various arenas. We did no small amount in the theatrical arena. At times, we put on a performance for the adults with great success, and reaped praise. We would spend evenings in discussions of various topics. The debates and the stories transported us to the Land that was being built up. At the end of the discussion, the members would burst forth in song. The song was sublime, rising up and piercing the heavens.
Nybursky, a teacher of the Tarbut Hebrew School, helped us a great deal. He dedicated several hours a day to group leadership. He would also participate in our activities in Hechalutz, the organization in which our members joined after graduatiing from our movement in order to learn independence and prepare themselves for aliya and life among the builders of the Land. We collected many donations as members of the Jewish National Fund Brigade in the town. We worked with enthusiasm, in order to lay the groundwork for the time when the Land would be able to receive us as we go on aliya to settle there.
In 1928, the Beitar organization was established in Ruzhany. Its strength was lesser than the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist Organization. Yitzchak Jezernicki (Shamir) was among the organizers of Beitar in the town. In the Moment daily newspaper, number 245 from 1934, the head of Beitar in Ruzhany writes something that tells us about the town council in Ruzhany as well as the Beitar Zionist youth organization:
Here, the founding meeting of the magistrat (town council) took place. Mr. P. Krojelski (a gentile) was elected as the mayor, and Avraham Limon (a Jew) was elected as the vice mayor. The representatives were Father Spartanski and Yaakov Kaplan (a Jew).
The local Beitar was preparing to shortly celebrate its sixth year of existing. The program will include a gathering, a parade, etc.
Since no further details about the activities of Beitar were given to us from any member of the organization despite us asking them, we must suffice ourselves with the small amount written above.
The image of my dear native town Ruzhany is constantly etched in my memory, and stands as living before my eyes. I cannot give a full description of the fullness of life that was lived in my quiet, beloved town, in which my cradle stood. However, I will attempt to draw forth from the abyss of forgetfulness some details of the life of the youth of the town from the years 1929-1933.
As far as my memory serves me, the youth had a strong desire for social and political activity. From among the political parties, the Bund had great influence during the first period. They did not have a hall or headquarters for their gatherings and activities. For the most part, their gatherings took place in the Y. L. Peretz Di Yidishe Bibliotek library, which was located on the second floor of the home of Rivka Rabinowich. Otherwise, they would gather under the open skies on the road to Slonim, not far from the Christian cemetery.
Several Communist youths and students who came from outside had influence on the youth of the town. At times, this aroused a fierce battle, and vibrant debates took place about various world outlooks and dreams of a better future. Many of the youth followed the propaganda, and were caught in the net of provocation. One bright day in August 1934, several of them were captured and led to jail in chains.
A great deal of Zionist and social activity took place in the ranks of the youth who were members of Hechalutz and Hashomer Hatzair. Hechalutz was a strong organization in town. Until 1929, the meeting place at the home of Sheina Pitkovsky on Blizonoj Street was at its disposal, and from there it moved to the home of Yona Epshteyn. The meeting place was always bustling with members. It was always like a boiling cauldron, with stormy debates taking place within the house. Hechalutz would often organize celebrations at the Tarbut School, with the proceeds going towards the Jewish National fund.
The members of Hashomer Hatzair had the lion's share of the Zionist activity. This was the strongest organization in town, and bore the mark of a scouting organization. The head of the chapter, Yudel Sokolovsky, along with Elka Rabinowich conducted the work of Hashomer Hatzair in Ruzhany. Both of them are in Israel today. The roles of Chaim Sapir, David Rabinowich and Dinale Pomerantz were also significant. The three of them perished in the terrible Holocaust. May their memories be blessed forever.
The importance of Hashomer Hatzair in the town was great. The members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement passed through all the educational ranks from cubs to older members. They would then go on hachshara, having been imbued with dedication to the national idea and the true Zionist scouting spirit. The work for the Jewish National Fund, including the collection of monthly donations via the blue box, was one of the special tasks which Hashomer Hatzair took on.
Decades have now passed since then, and more than a decade has passed since the terrible Holocaust brought destruction upon my dear birthplace, but I will never forget it. Its precious image, spices with green upon a spring landscape, will remain with me forever.
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