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[Page 112]

The “Akiva” Hebrew Youth Group in Turka

by Hela Kaspi-Schreiber of Jerusalem

 

Uncaptioned: Hela Kaspi-Schreiber

The city, located between mountains and valleys, with a splendid natural environment, was destroyed and burnt completely during the First World War. Its Jews scattered as refugees in the neighboring countries in order to save themselves. When they returned to Turka at the conclusion of the war, they found their houses burnt and the city desolate. Failed farmers of that area would not be able to restore themselves. They were illiterate and completely destitute. The Polish government did not pay much attention to that district. The Ukrainians did not excel in their appreciation of the national aspirations of the Polish government. Their leaning was toward a free Ukraine. Therefore, the city may not have been resurrected at all were it not for its diligent Jews, full of initiative and Jewish culture. Indeed, the Jews of Turka were not only erudite scholars and enthusiastic Hassidim, but also carpenters, tailors, builders, shoemakers, and experts in all other trades needed to reconstruct life in the city. Of course, there was also no shortage of businessmen with initiative – and the city had been rebuilt with their own hands and money within a few years after the war. It bustled with life.

Despite the hatred of the Jews and the “numrus clausus” (quotas) in the universities of Poland, the Jews of Turka, as in other cities, aspired to raise their children on the social ladder. There were many Jewish children in the city high school.

 

Angst in the Midst of the Youth

Prior to the Second World War, the youth of the city tended toward various directions. There were some who turned their ears toward the disseminators of Communism and Socialism. As in the entire world in that era, the Jewish youth in particular felt the pain of the oppressed, the failed, and the unemployed whose numbers were very high in Poland at that time. The youth asked themselves whether the solution to the human problems would also bring redemption for themselves as Jews. For the most part, these were Jews who were immersed in Jewish culture.

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A small portion of the youth even aspired to shake themselves free of Jewish culture, “to hide their Jewish essence,” and to assimilate and lay down roots within Polish culture.

 

A New Movement Arose…

A group of members of the Akiva group of Turka

It was 1931. A group of high school students of the city began to articulate new ideas and founded a chapter of the Akiva Hebrew youth movement, which was headquartered in Krakow. To their dismay and the dismay of their parents, they interrupted their studies, and did not agree to become the succeeding generation of the Diaspora. In this manner, they smashed their parents' dreams and aroused their anger. The group indentified with the ideals that were promoted by the Akiva movement, and with great enthusiasm “stalked and ambushed” every male and female young person who was not yet a member of an organization. They were particularly enthused with the Zionist idea of personal actualization as well as with the kibbutz idea. To them, this was not an objective in of itself, as with the leftist movements, but rather a means for building up the Land and setting “the state on its path.” The uniqueness of that movement in those days was that the Akiva Movement already awakened the aspiration to restore Jewish consciousness. At that time, its leaders already sensed the empty vacuum in which the Jewish youth was immersed. They were enthusiastic for a “change of values” with respect to the ancient storehouse – without knowing with what to replace it. Therefore, the members of Akiva began to delve into

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the articles of Ahad Haam. They studied Hebrew not only to master the language, but also to be able to understand chapters of the Bible. They also delved deeply into Jewish history. They set up special courses for counselors dedicated to mastery of the aforementioned subjects. Large gatherings were organized, dedicated to words of warning about the enemy that was lurking at the gates of Poland. All the members of the chapter were honorable, and enthusiastic toward actualization of their dreams. Many were also alert to the problems of justice and equity in the world, and also wished to actualize the ideas of Socialism in the work life in the land and in the kibbutzim. Even though they did not affiliate with the leftist faction, they stood for the ideas of A. D. Gordon and studied his writings.

All the members of the Turka chapter knocked on the doors of the leaders of the movement, and pleaded to be sent to hachshara and to be granted permits for aliya. However, only a small number received what they wanted. The remainder waited impatiently and often bitterly. Great disappointment and despair was their lot, for who knew better than them what was impending?... We will appreciate their honorableness and faithfulness toward the national idea if we recall that the parents were very much shaken by the aspirations of their children, and they opposed and fought against them. A Zionist son or daughter in the family was considered to be a greater tragedy than a child who became attached to Communism. Indeed, the Jewish father knew that the youths would be “cured” of Communism when they got older, but Zionism was a “snare” for their children. It robbed them from their house and bore them to a far-off place from where there is no return. Even at that time, on the eve of the Holocaust, the Jews deluded themselves with false ideas, for they were afraid of the reality, and immersed in concerns regarding livelihood, some in comfort and some in poverty.

 

The Delusions of the Generation

The delusion regarding the following generation, of their financial and cultural heirs, to them was like craziness in the face of despair. In 1937, I received a gift from home – a travel ticket to Poland. This was after two years of living in the Land as a member of the Beer Yaakov group. These were years of struggle for Hebrew work in the orchards, years of want, austerity and other difficulties. The group stood up to the challenge and believed that it would attain its goal. When I arrived home to Turka, the entire family gathered together for a festive meal in honor of the guest. I felt that the hope fluttered in their hearts that I may have “smartened up” and may even wish to remain with them. Apparently, the fear that was embedded in the hearts of everyone constantly aroused debates between those present at the feast. With the enthusiasm of the conversation and faith in the correctness of my words, I forgot that I was standing before my own family members, and I portrayed the cruel enemy that would come to Poland, steal their property and even attempt to take their lives, as he had promised in his book[1]. My words were not novel, but everyone was afraid and shaken. They lectured me – how can a daughter state such curses before her parents. With contrite and apologetic language, I attempted to sweeten my words, for in those days, I myself was afraid of them…


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The “Akiva” Movement – the Dream and Realization

by Moshe Zauerbron of Beit Yehoshua

 

Uncaptioned: Moshe Zauerbron

I merited being among the first in March 1939, when I received a permit for aliya to the Land after several years of hachshara. This was approximately a year prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. During that timeframe, the expectations for Aliya Bet[2] began to awaken in our town as a result of the severe restrictions on legal aliya by the Mandate government. Already then, people began to feel some sort of internal insecurity and insecurity; and fear of what was to come increased, especially in Eastern Europe.

I well recall the days before I left Polish soil (Turka) . My feelings of joy were tempered by sadness. I parted from my family with a heavy heart, as they grasped my hands and expressed their feelings of jealousy. They did not understand exactly the meeting of the thing, but everyone sensed instinctively that something was about to happen (even though nobody would have imagined such a terrible Holocaust!) The atmosphere where we were was already oppressive and poisoned from the perspective of the Polish population on one side and the Ukrainian population on the other side.

My parting from my eldest brother Naftali was a particularly moving scene. His strong desires and aspirations for aliya formed a part of his life after many years of Zionist activity in the Hechalutz organization. However, due to family responsibilities, he filled a holy duty: After the death of our dear parents, he was the sole livelihood earner who cared for his two younger brothers.

*

We lived for many years in a single story house with Alter and Etti Montag. (He died in the Land and she died in Turka several years before the war). We lived downstairs and they lived upstairs. Their private residence served as a house of worship on Sabbaths and festivals until the completion of the building of the “Shul” (there were many kloizes). Alter himself and his close

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friend Ben-Zion Ferbel exerted themselves greatly in gathering donations and collecting names for contracts for completing the building. They did not stop until they completed their work.

When the month of Elul and the days of Selichot [3] approached, Chezkele Chomitz would pass through at 2:00 a.m. with a kerosene lantern, knock a the windows and chant the customary melody for awakening people for Selichot. If someone did not arise upon hearing his strong voice, he would be forced to wake up. Avrahamche Bruner served as the usual prayer leader during the High Holidays. He conducted the services with emotion and good taste. He was already about 70 years old, and I am still amazed to this day as to how a man of that age would be able to stand at the prayer podium constantly from Kol Nidre until Neila, including Shacharit and Musaf! Apparently, physical power was not the sole explanation. One requires strong faith and a warm heart.

 

Activities in the Chapter

Despite the fact that I belonged to a different movement than my brother Naftali, and despite the internal debates and differences of opinion between us, our family relations were not impacted by the disputes that we had witnessed in other homes. I belonged to the Akiva chapter (of the General Zionist stream) that was founded in Turka in 1930 by Chaya (Hela) Schreiber (who lives in the Land today), and was centered in Krakow. She studied in this city for many years, imbued the city with the ideology of the movement and later imprinted her stamp upon the local chapter. At first it seemed that this meeting place was designated solely for students and well-placed people. However, the error was quickly clarified: within a brief period, this became a populist framework that encompassed the best of the local youth from all strata of society. During those years, specific parents, especially the Orthodox, objected to their sons and daughters belonging to such movement (as they called in “Farein”) out of fear of demoralization and leading them off of the straight path. However, they expressed their agreement once Akiva entered the scene. They felt that this was not like the other organizations where people cut themselves off and freed themselves from the past immediately upon joining. Here, the situation was exactly the opposite: Tradition and the Jewish reality were nurtured; the connection between Judaism and nationalism was strengthened; the Sabbath was observed or at least not violated publicly; there was respect and proper regard for other sacred values, etc.

The celebration of the Sabbath during the twilight hours was a natural way of doing things within the Akiva movement. We would gather and sing together. A pleasant social atmosphere of love for one's fellow was forged. We would organize clubs for Bible study. A group of people would get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning during the summer holidays to go to the mountain atop the tunnel. They would study and

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delve into the explanations of Gordon[4] until the train rushed through the tunnel at 7:15 and passed through the entire city over the viaducts, with a plume of smoke ascending, as if hinting to us, “Sirs, the time has come to eat breakfast!” We would close our Bibles and prepare to descend from the mountain.

A member joined us whose calm, quiet demeanor stands before my eyes to this day, and whom I will never forget: Aryeh (Leib) Kraus, a refined soul, intelligent, and a symbol of conscience. We always compared his facial appearance to the Idek (Yehuda Ornstein, one of the leaders of the movement) of the Turka chapter. Here, I have fulfilled one of the three adages of Yehoshua ben Perachia[5]: “acquire for yourself a friend.” Indeed, he was my close friend. I placed great faith in him, and he never disappointed me. We always had a topic for conversation that was never completed… When we returned home from the chapter late at night, I would always accompany him for half the way – he lived in “Oiben Dorf”. We conducted discussions in Hebrew, despite the mistakes that we made. There was always a struggle for a morsel of bread in Turka, as with all Jews. Livelihood was not plentiful in his family as well. He earned his tuition fees by giving lessons to students, on the advice of his teachers who held him in great esteem.

 

The Ideological Connection with the Movement in the Land

At that time, life in the chapter was vibrant. This was the bright era. There was wonderful internal sense of fulfillment and full understanding and cooperation between the group heads and their charges. The youth heeded everything stated by the group head. At one of the meetings, the chapter leadership had a serious discussion about the need to prepare the youth while they were young for aliya to the Land of Israel, by having them learn a trade. We preached morning and night that the Land and the kibbutz had a need for tradesmen. Within a brief period, we were witnesses to positive results in this activity. We began to study carpentry, locksmithing, blacksmithing, etc. We must feel great sorrow for the wonderful youths who did not complete the task and actualize their dreams and aspirations.

In 1933, the fist members of the local chapter made aliya to Kibbutz Akiva in Petach Tikva. We were always eager to find out what was taken place, and the happiness was very great when we received letters from the Land in general, and from the Kibbutz in particular. To our sorrow, the news about what was transpiring at the Kibbutz was not always encouraging. Frequent crises affected life therein, as well as internal debates and disputes regarding the way of life and characters. The human content was also variegated. There were differences of outlook and opinion regarding Jewish life and the relation to Jewish tradition. All of these of course affected the communal life.

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After difficult and unsuccessful attempts, a new idea was floated – to create hachshara units while still in the Diaspora, so that the members will affiliate with a specific group from the outset. The older members from Turka belonged to a group that was called “Retzon Haam” (The Will of the People), and their hachshara location was in Krakow. Its goal was to establish an independent settlement somewhere in the land. In the interim, the Petach Tikva Kibbutz split up. One group established a new settlement called Neve Eitan in the Beit Shean Valley. Several Turka natives live there to this day. Another group, including the leadership of the movement, established the Beit Yehoshua settlement in the Sharon, named after the prominent Zionist leader who has served as the head of the Jewish faction in the Sejm (Polish parliament) and strongly protected Jewish rights – Rabbi Dr. Yehoshua Tahon of blessed memory.

 

Changes and Actualization

After a decade of existence, the Beit Yehoshua Kibbutz was forced to disband and turn into a settlement of workers. Among other reasons, there was the issue of the loss of the human resources of the movement in the Diaspora due to the complete Nazi annihilation. Even according to our kibbutz-oriented understanding based on the ideological foundations of the movement, this was a case of ideological actualization – for the Kibbutz was only supposed to serve as a means toward the ultimate aim of establishing a Jewish State, and not a way of life in of itself. It is worthwhile to note here that the Kibbutz turned into a workers' settlement immediately at the conclusion of the War of Independence, as if this was a prophetic actualization… Today, the village has more than 70 families and is located in the heart of the country. Four Turka families who have been there since 1940 have bound their fate to that place eternally. The traditional character that existed at that time was carefully preserved to this day thanks to our spiritual leader and friend Yoel Driblatt of blessed memory, who was sensitive and concerned about that spirit, and instilled the love of Jewish tradition within us. The fact that the next generation was educated in this spirit brings us joy.

Last year, we built a splendid synagogue in the name of Yoel of blessed memory, which beautifies the landscape of the entire village, and not solely from an external vantage point… It infused an internal light: Every Sabbath, one can find youth and children in therein, forming close to three minyanim [30 people]. The synagogue is a vibrant center of cultural and social life. No form of cultural activity or entertainment can replace the traditional Jewish reality.

The terrible Holocaust that affected this generation has provided us, as reparations, with a sovereign state to ingather the survivors. Despite the fact that it is surrounded by enemies, we believe that they will not have the upper hand, and the longed-for peace will come. Indeed, through the establishment of Israel we will be comforted from the loss of the dear life in the Holocaust.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Presumably Mein Kampf. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliyah_Bet Return
  3. Penitential prayers recited early in the morning during the period prior to Rosh Hashanah, and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._D._Gordon. Return
  5. A Mishnaic sage. The quotation is from Pirke Avot.. Return


[Page 118]

The Gordonia Movement in Turka

by Pnina Vamushi-Sternbuch

 

Youth Without Prospects

The strongest and largest youth movement in Turka was Hashomer Hatzair, to which the majority of the youth belonged. However, not everyone joined Hashomer Hatzir, and for various reasons, a large portion fo the youth remained outside of any organizational framework, and had not yet found its way. It was clear to everyone that great danger awaited the Jewish youth in all the cities of Galicia, and the youth themselves knew that they had no prospects for the future in Turka. The question “to where”” gave them no rest and always boring through their brains.

It is no surprise, therefore, that this youth always welcomed with blessing and enthusiasm every new idea in which they hoped to find a solution for their lives. The Youth of Turka was alert to everything that took place in the Jewish world. One day, a law student appeared in Turka. He was a tall, think youth full of energy. Ha gathered together a group of studying youth, and delivered an enthusiastic and convincing speech on the subject of A. D. Gordon. This student was Pinchas Lubianiker, today Pinchas Lavon[1].

Since the youth in Turka lived in the bosom of nature, in the region of fields, groves and forests, it wsa easy for them to understand the doctrine of Gordon. One of the most active people who joined the movement and was taken by the ideas and doctrine of Grodon wsa Manis Branis of blessed memory. He was the first to immediately begin to organize Gordonia, to which he dedicated most of his time and energy.

 

New Motto: “Actualize!”

The Gordonia motto, “Actualize!” was particularly enchanting. In the streets of Turka, in which to this point only the blessing of “Be strong and of good courage” had been heard, a new motto was heard – “Actualize”. This enchanting word brought a stream of members into Gordonia. Many debates began on the means of actualization, with the labor doctrine of A. D. Gordon being at the center of the aspirations. This included the love of the land of the Land of Israel and agricultural work, “To participate in life and creativity,” etc.

In excursions in the vicinity of Turka with the beautiful landscape in the background, we saw before us the fields of the Land of Israel. Instead of the coniferous trees that grew in abundance in that vicinity, we imagined the mountains of the Land of Israel forested with palms, olive trees, and citrus trees… In our imagination

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We not only strolled in the fields and groves of Turka, but also in the fields of our Land… To the joy of the first members of Gordonia in Turka, many joined the movement, and there were already approximately 200 members of the movement in the first month. The movement continued to grow from day to day. Apparently, this was also due to the fact that many conventions of the national movement took place in Turka, on account of the wonderful scenery that nature bestowed upon the area.

I recall the convention that took place on the peak of Zawizonicz. Indeed, this was an unforgettable experience!


Translator's Footnote:
  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinhas_Lavon. Return

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The “Poale Zion” Organization and Around it

by Chaim Pelech

 

Members of the Poale Zion organization in Turka taking leave of their member Dr. Manes Brenes just before he made aliya to the Land

At the beginning of 1919, Shlomo Pelech founded and organized the Poale Zion Zionist workers' party in Turka. Moshe Shein, the former Zh. P. S. member, joined it. Since at the time there were no other workers' organizations in Turka, Poale Zion encompassed all of the workers in the city, and even many small-scale businessmen from our city. It conducted wide branched cultural and societal work among the poor Jewish population.

 

Work Committees

The work was organized into work committees. Each committee made several improvisations. The cultural committee arranged readings on various themes. Those readings attracted workers and young people due to their interesting repertoire. Yosel Brenes undertook the dramatic work. His task was to organize a dramatic club, and he did this successfully. He assembled a dramatic group that played the best literary pieces. Melech Meiner worked in that group. There was a story that Melech Meiner had it in his head to perform “The Robber” of Schiller and Yossel Brenes was against it: “For you cannot do such a thing with amateurs!”, he said. Melech Meiner continued to persist, and said that he would take the entire task and responsibility upon himself. Thus it was. Melech Meiner toiled and led that undertaking – and Turka had what to laugh about for two years… The performance went from 8:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. You can imagine what took place after that in the town…

 

Uncaptioned: a photo of a group gathering

However Melech Meiner, who was influenced by German literature, was not behind the times… He then had the idea of holding a debate about “Virtue and Addiction – a Philosophical Contract”. Yossel Brenes and Mordechai Pikholtz complained: “Melech, this is not for your sake; you cannot hold such a debate…” Melech Meiner did not obey (Shlomo Pelech supported him)… On fine Sabbath, Melech Meiner held his philosophical debate… Do not ask what went on… The audience confused him, and they laughed a great deal. Such a topsy-turvy piece of work had not been seen in Turka for a long time.

The Poale Zion party was very popular in town. They had a large premises in Yaakov Liber's house. In that premises, they performed Yiddish theater, made balls, and conduced widespread activity.

Poale Zion worked in all the institutions that existed in Turka at that time. Their representatives were included among the assistance committee of the Joint, they were volunteers of the Jewish orphanage, and they worked on the Jewish national committee. And conducted a struggle against the bourgeois Zionists.

 

Rifts

Things went on as normal until… discussions took place in the party regarding the right and the left. Melech Meiner, Chaim Chiel, Chaim Pelech, Yosef Ortel and Ziel Zawel were among the left group. The discussions were dogged. Shlomo Pelech warned that they should not break up the party, and if such is not possible, the dictatorship must be from the proletariat, so it will be good for us…

One fine Friday, a delegate came to use from Lemberg. He was a Hebrew teacher by the name of Barkowski, and completed the rift. Both sides remained in the same location, and conducted joint activities on occasion. The youth group, consisting of 48 people, went over to the Left Poale Zion. After some time, the Right Poale Zion united with the Hitachdut Party and became very active, particularly in various election campaigns, in the city council and in the cultural organization, they had their representatives in the orphanage, in the Gemilut Chasadim (Benevolent) Bank, in the certificate committee, in the Keren Kayemet committee, and in Keren HaYesod.

The party conducted cultural activities. I remember the literary judgement regarding Strindberg's[1] wife, which went on for four Friday evenings, and arose great interest among the Turka public.

 

The Hechalutz organization in Turka, 1933


Translator's Footnote:
  1. August Strindberg was a Swedish dramatist, 1849-1912. Return

 

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