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[Page 105]

From Within the Walls of the
Beis Midrash to the Hashomer Hatzair Chapter

by David Y.

The Hashomer chapter in the town of Turka on the Stryj River in the Carpathian Mountains was one of the earliest of our movement. The influence of the chapter was great in the Jewish street, especially among the youth of the academic, bourgeoisie and poorer classes.

It was first founded within the general background of the times, the economic anomaly, the cultural detachment, the severed community, the destruction of the Jewish town in the wake of the First World War, the lack of public schools and modern cheders – all of this strengthened the blessed work of the Hashomer chapter among the youth of the town.

The cheders of the city waged a holy war against it. They regarded the movement as the troubler of Israel and apostates among the nation. Despite all this, the chapter and its organizers found the proper path with which to arouse the hearts of the youths. It is clear that the revolutionary changes of the era that shook the general world as well as the Jewish world (the Balfour Declaration) laid the groundwork for fruitful Zionist activity and instilled faith in a national revival.

The influence of the conventions and summer camps that took place in our region, the region of the enchanting Carpathians, upon the activities of the chapter was great. The scouts who spread through the streets of the city instilled Jewish pride and reverence for the Shomer, for our special uniform, and for our independence. Indeed, the life of the chapter attracted many people from all strata of the youth.

The Jewish youth in the town felt himself boxed in by his way of life, his family, his school, and the cheder. He was living in the area of mountains, forests, an enchanting landscape, and a wide open world – and he was not able to enjoy the beauty of nature at all! With the influence of the movement, they were attracted toward the vibrant life of the Shomrim in the chapter and in the cap. The singing and bonfires at the peaks of the mountains hinted to and lit up the dark corners of the lives of the youths, and summoned them to come up!...

I will not write about the entire story of my life – but I will relate a bit about it: We were a group of friends who studied together in the cheder and in the public school, and remained together for some period within the walls of the Beis Midrash. Over and above the page of Gemara, we would read and philosophize about the values of Judaism and the influence of the revolutions and changes in the world in general, and the Jewish world in particular. We secretly delved into new doctrines that awakened the thoughts. We read the “invalid books.” We read and were affected. From this stemmed our own great “revolution.”

[Page 106]

A few of us (some of them are presently in various kibbutzim) “rebelled” and entered the chapter immediately. This deed caused a very serious debate and self-reflection. We felt that that the ice within us had melted. Something trembled in the strands of our hearts. We became “others”[1]. The leadership of the chapter took advantage of the situation, and we forged a connection with them. They provided us with literature on the values of the movement and the worker's movement, all mixed together: the books of A. D. Gordon, Lenin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, etc…

Of course, an internal debate took place within each of us. Everybody struggled fiercely… This was an issue of abandoning the tradition of the generations… The toil was difficult, and what wonder is in that? It was not easy to cut oneself off from the past, from the petite bourgeoisie social class, from the family, etc. However, the opposition grew day by day. The internal revolt against the way of life of the home and the street increased. Some among us fell off, for their ideas were immature. The remainder forged their way along path that led to a lovely, bustling life – to the chapter and the Shomer movement.

We came to the chapter when we were old enough (the average age was 15-16). We appointed a group head for us. We took upon ourselves the principles of the movement, its realities and its banner. In its arena, we saw the path toward a new life and self actualization: to a life of work, and an aspiration for aliya to the Land.

 

A group of members on a hike near the Turka tunnel

 

[Page 107]

Sections on the Akiva Youth Movement in Turka

by Shimon Keller of Tel Aviv

 

Uncaptioned: Shimon Keller

It is difficult to write solely from memory; therefore it is possible that this article will be lacking some substance. Indeed, it is only possible to draw from the past those episodes which remain etched in the memory.

An exemplary youth movement in our town from the perspective of its organization and cultural and educational activities existed in our town at that time. From it came the first graduates who made aliya all together along with Abba Chushai – today the mayor of Haifa. Its educational influence spread far beyond the bounds of the chapter in the city. It was known by all of the thinking and studying youth who were not numbered among its members – and who from among the youth of Turka did not study? Its Zionism, its education toward scouting, its songs, and the like were recognized by all the residents of the city. Nevertheless, many of the youths remained outside the walls of the movement.

Hela Shreiber, a charming girl with great energy and ideological inclinations, appeared on the scene during the 1930s. She was a native of the town and was educated in the city of Krakow, where she lived for the duration of her studies. Several youths, male and female, whose hearts were touched by the serious issues of Jewish youth, began to congregate around her. Nevertheless, they did not find their way into the existing movement. Those few began to gather the youths into groups, and a new movement arose…

The new movement was quite similar to the existing movement in its external form, for it was also oriented toward scouting. However, its educational content was completely different than the existing form. The Socialist doctrine continued to develop. The educational foundations were based upon traditional Jewish values in the progressive spirit. Ahad Haam[2] was the personality according to whose doctrine they wished to educate the younger generation. That group that regarded the problems of the Jewish world from a different vantage point than the doctrine of Hashomer Hatzair understood that it must concern itself with the cadre of the youth who would actualize the aspirations of the movement. It began to enlist 15-16 year old youths

[Page 108]

as educators of the new doctrine whose task would be to concern themselves with the youths who were younger than themselves.

 

Day to Day Activity

A group of members of Akiva on the occasion of the aliya of their member Aharon Shefer

In accordance with the protocols of the Akiva Zionist scouting youth movement of Krakow, they gathered youths from among the public school students, and organized them into groups and brigades. Most activities took place on the Sabbath. In the summer they would go to the natural meadows and groves that surrounded the town. The march toward those places, to commands issues in the Hebrew Language, was an experience in its own right, which educated a new generation of proud, disciplined Zionist Jews. The games that took place in the groves also served a similar role, as did, of course, the discussions and songs that filled the time in the grove or the meadow.

All members of the movement took part in such activities, even though they were primarily directed toward the younger members. Throughout the entire week, evening meetings of the older members took place. The locale of such meetings became a financial problem, for one had to pay

[Page 109]

to rent a premises. To solve the problem, the group of those responsible had to impose fees, set up organizational institutions, and do other such things. Thereby, they attained an exemplary organizational situation. They obtained premises for meetings in accordance with their means and the size of the movement (based on the number of members), starting with a small, rickety room in the depths of the city, lacking electricity and minimal sanitary conditions; and ending with a premises of several rooms. The older group, full of energy and dynamic spirit, conducted their meetings in the first, small room. They would remain until midnight, and at times even later, reading articles about the leaders of the generation and conducting lively discussions and debates on any topic related to Jewish life in the Land and the Diaspora. I recall an evening of stormy debate when we read the article of Z. Jabotinsky, “Ya Brechen.” The meeting almost broke up in anger on account of the differences of opinion, and people stopped speaking to each other… However, after a few days, they again sat together for the purpose of actualizing their common sublime goal of disseminating the general Zionist idea among the youth, and calling them toward hachshara and aliya to the Land. That same group of youths struggled to maintain the existence of this youth chapter. They wandered from place to place, from one end of the city to the other, in accordance with their financial means and the number of members, until they reached tens, and more than 100.

*

Between each wandering, meetings took place in temporary locations. There was a time where there was no place for the 11-13 year old members to meet, so they held their meetings outside. They would march together to one of the groves or meadows outside the city, and conduct their discussions and games under the open sky. I wish to note here one interesting episode about the temporary meeting places that will shed light on the period.

This was one room out of two, that was placed at our disposal for out meetings two to three times per week by the older Zionists (I think it was Achva). During that period, the state government decided to work against the Communists, whose movement had flourished greatly despite it being illegal. Several secret policemen were brought to this activity. I was a high school student at the time.

One day in the middle of class, I was summoned to the principal's office for questioning. They examined my handwriting, and asked me all types of strange questions. They finally informed me that they suspect me of belonging to the Communist movement, since the secret police saw me at times at the place known as the “Old Courthouse” – where the Communist meetings would take place. To my good fortune, I lived in that house, and it was therefore easy to explain why I am often found there… One of the secret policemen who was present became distraught.

[Page 110]

In addition, I admitted that we indeed conduct meetings there, but we are Zionists and not Communists. After a long explanation of our goals to all present, including the security men, the police, and the high school principal, the situation was understood. The period of suspicion against us as Communists and the investigations against other members of our group ceased. Furthermore, even though membership in any movement was forbidden by the charter of the school, we received at that time a form of unofficial permit for our meetings, for the principal knew about them and did not object… I recall that a brief time after this incident, the principal spoke before all the students of the high school around the time of the Christmas vacation, and expressed the following, “I am jealous of the movement that is able to attract you to this degree, and I wish that the school, with its various clubs, would have the same power of attraction toward all the students as your movement has toward yourselves.” Indeed, with the passage of time, it was obvious that all of the good students belonged to our movement…

*

With the wanderings of our movement in terms of a premises, I recall two places in particular in which our chapter managed to remain for a longer period. One of them was at Felder's at the foot of the mountain, from where the path led to the village of Jawora. The second was on the mountain, leading to the monastery. During that period, the chapter reached its pinnacle of development, with respect to number of members as well as organizational activities. It was at that time that a dispute broke out among the leadership, which brought the organization to the threshold of a chasm. It turned to the highest institutions in Krakow for mediation. After an investigation by a representative of the high leadership in Krakow, the dispute was settled and matters continued on as previously.

*

One event, apparently not unique, is etched in my memory. I will describe it here. It took place on the night of Purim during a celebration in the chapter.

To this time, all of the institutions of Jewish societal life existed in the fashion that has crystallized during the final generations of the Diaspora in Poland. One of them was the night of Purim, centered on the Purim feast. All honorable families would partake of a feast at a table decked with delicacies and special foods. The feast would continue until a late hour at the night, for on that evening, children in costume would visit the houses in order to receive Purim donations. Groups of people in costume also came around and performed snippets from Biblical stories or complete skits; as did groups of people who were not in costume, whose task was to collect donations for various charitable purposes. These people stayed for a little while for a snack, general conversation, or to listen to words of Torah and issues of the holiday.

[Page 111]

This was the first time that the feast in our home did not run to a late hour, as was customary. I believe that this was in 1933. The number of people in costume and the number of groups declined, and there seemed no point to sit around the table and wait… I recall the mood of my father of blessed memory – and he gave us permission to leave the house and go to the chapter.

There, we gathered together in large numbers to celebrate Purim together, without any preparations. We began to sing spontaneously a tune related to the words, “Sacrifice, sacrifice in righteousness, sacrifice for G-d.” The song was brought from Krakow. It was a “circular” Hassidic melody that had no end… We all then joined together in a dance, in Hassidic fashion, with both hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, and we all, without exception, danced. Hand on shoulder, we circled the rooms, mounted the tables, went out to the yard, and then returned to the rooms… This continued for a long time, and the enthusiasm brimmed over. As the singing continued, the dancing turned into a drawn out singing parade that filled the space. There was a mystical devotion that was not connected to the words that were sung. All the participants felt a full sense of happiness, joy and mirth.

To me, this evening symbolized the past era stamped with the Diaspora Jewish lifestyle merging with a group with a different lifestyle. The singing, dancing procession was the beginning of the march toward these new paradigms…

 

The Akiva group in Turka at a Purim celebration. 5695 (1935)

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. There may be a play on words here with the word “acher” (other). This is term used in the Talmud for the sage Elisha ben Avuya, who abandoned his belief in Torah. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahad_Ha%27am Return

 

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