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[Page 261]


S.S. – Zionist Territorialists

By Gedaliah Kaplan
based on information from Yitzchak Cooper

        The great revolutionary movement called the S.S., or the so-called Sisters and Brothers Organization, which spread across Russia in 1905-1906, had the goal of struggling against Czarist despotism and the improvement of the conditions of the working class. Naturally, it also swept up the young people in Drohitchin who were the children of poor laborers, and was led by wealthy students.

        The first battle signal took place when the two original founders of the S.S. in Drohitchin, Velvel Poliak and Godel Katzenelson, demanded that Yitzchak Cooper to dismiss the workers at Kravetz's workshop. Yitzchak Cooper was then working as a tailor journeyman. In those days a tailor employee had to work from 5 AM to 10 PM. He also had to chop wood, carry water barrels, take the animals into the field, etc.

        The leaders of the S.S. demanded an end to the long workweek (that ended on Friday afternoons before the Sabbath), shorter working hours, better working conditions and more money.

        A major conflict erupted between the Jewish employees and employers, and for a time there was a strike during which time the workers were assisted with money from the S.S. committee. One employee, Avigdor Tsipulnikes, who didn't want to leave his job with Yaakov Shimon Lev, was beaten by the workers and forbidden from returning to his work. Yaakov Shimon's son, Avraham Yitzchak Lev, was one of the leaders of the strike in his own father's workshop.

        The businessmen in town didn't want to comply with the workers' demands, and the district police officer from Kobrin was called in, and several people were arrested. Finally, however, the workers won. Working hours were changed, reduced to 7 AM to 7 PM etc. The protestors also won shorter working hours and better salaries for the straw workers.

        After that struggle, and because of the arrests, things remained calm for a while. However, the S.S. leaders continued with their work in secret. In the attic of Zalman Volevelsky they had a printing press where they printed announcements in Yiddish, Russian and White Russian, calling for a revolution against Czarism. The chairman of the S.S., Eliyahu Noach Mendelson, was planning to make the workers conscious of their situation.

        In the slaughterhouse outside of town, classes for the workers were given in Russian, Arithmetic and Bible, together with socialism and Hebrew. The lecturers were from the young intelligentsia in town: Epstein, Yosef Halpern (from Pinsk), Yaakov Siderov, Rosa Shafit (Kobrin), A.N. Mendelson and Todres Leib Milner. Milner was the treasurer of the movement, and was involved in putting out press kripps, new books and the Socialist Zionist publication, The New Way.

In addition, a lecture was held every Friday evening behind the old cemetery for the workers. On one occasion Shmuel Deutsch from Pinsk came to speak. The lecturer explained the natural phenomenon of rainfall. Zechariah Schmid heard the lecture from his garden next door, and the next morning on the Sabbath he raised a ruckus in the synagogue, accusing the S.S. of preaching heresy. This caused a violent confrontation to break out, and Yitzchak Cooper was struck by his own father; Eliiyahu Leibkes did the same thing to his son Yisrael Baruch for listening to the heretics. The group, therefore, chose another location – behind the new cemetery. The businessmen in town, Schmid and the elder spied on the group, and interfered with the S.S.

        Eliyahu Noach Mendelson then organized a group called Tiferet Bachurim [Glory of the Young Men] and pretended to study the halachic text Mishnah Brura. Under that book they studied Jewish and general history and disseminated Zionist-Socialist ideas. Itka Valevelsky and Yonah Menashe's would give out paper and pencils to each participant.

        Their opponents didn't stay quiet either. Someone told the police about the

[Page 262]

activities of the Sisters and Brothers. The district officer from Kobrin arrived in town with 50 policemen who interrogated all the members of the S.S. Fortunately, Yitzchak Cooper buried the party stamp and illegal literature just in time. Rivka Valevelsky and her husband Zalman buried the printing press and all of the tools, and the police didn't find anything. Only Eliyahu Noach Mendelson was arrested and sent to prison in Kobrin. He was soon released after his father provided some money.

        Moshe Shachat then brought a new printing press, and announcements in Yiddish were published at the cemetery building. These were distributed in all lecterns, pulpits and tallith bags. Yitzchak Cooper and his friends would go around to nearby villages at night and put out announcements (in White Russian) calling on the peasants to join the struggle against Czarism. Moshe Warshavsky was one of the leaders of the S.S.

        Zavel Averbuch was also one of the S.S. activists. After the tragic pogroms in Kishinev and Bialistock, Zavel called a protest meeting in the Old House of Study, where he fearlessly condemned Czarism and the Black Mahaidik pogromists. Velvel Poliak and A. N. Mendelson also gave fiery speeches.

        Rabbi David Yudovsky gave the eulogy over the murder victims, which evoked tears from everyone.

        Among the youngest people who participated in the work of the S.S., there were Gedaliah Kaplan, Yerachmiel Lopatin and Aharon Neiditch. The opposition of the police to the S.S. members became even stronger. Many members of the S.S. were arrested, and some went off to the United States. Life continued, and the S.S. planted the seeds of the Zionist-Socialist movement.

[photo:] From right: Yosef Halpern (seated), Velvel Poliak, Moshe Horowitz, Eliyahu Noach Mendelson, Yitzchak Cooper, Moshe Warshavsky and Shlomo Pisetsky. Below from right: Yonah Menashe's, Tordos Lieb Milner and Avraham Yitzchak Lev. A group of leaders of the S.S.

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