by Yakov Indershteyn, Kibbutz Eilon
Translated by Janie Respitz
1926 was a year of renewal in Zionist activity in Zhetl and it would not be an exaggeration to say this year brought radical changes which decided and defined the activities of the national movement in town during the following years.
The most obvious expression of these manifestations was the emergence of two important institutions which were busy educating the young generation and with their existence ensured the flood of fresh blood in Zionist activity meaning the Tarbut School and the Hashaomer Hatzair organization which were founded in the same year. Here we will speak about Hashomer Hatzair.
It is known throughout the world the Hashomer Hatzair attracted masses of Jewish intellectual youth from well off origins. The organization appeared in the Jewish public as a revolt of the youth against the hardened lifestyle of their parents.
The youngsters went out to the fields and forests with their scout's wandering sticks. Wanting to protect what they called youth culture, the Hashomer Hatzair demanded self accomplishment of every member.
This was expressed in emigration to the Land of Israel and life on Kibbutz. This is how the Hashomer Hatzair crystalized as an educational organization which embraces children from a young age and teaches them self accomplishment in order to crystalize the pioneer who was suitable for the needs of the land.
In our towns the idea of Hashomer Hatzair did not take its original form. Firstly, our human material was simple and we did not have the leader type who could have provided the above mentioned educational tasks. Therefore, the Hashomer Hatzair in our towns had only an outward resemblance to the organizations in the larger cities. Above all we imitated the outward form, the Land of Israel song, the scout uniform, the style, but the development of the individual, his individual education was inadequate. Here we must look for the reason why so few members of the Zhetl branch of Hashomer Hatzair live in Kibbutzim. (Most Zhetl Jews in the Land of Israel live off the Kibbutz).
If the Zhetl branch did not belong to the outstanding organizations of the movement in Poland,
From right to left: Leyzer Lusky, Khaim Yoselevitch, Berl Senderovsky, Moishe Breskin
Second row: Hirsh Berman, Yitzkhak Leyzerovitch, Moishe Levit, Kalmen Shalkovitch
Standing: Boreh Krigel, Moishe Breskin, Yisroel Goldberg, Shloime Kravetz, Aharon Butkovsky, Moteh Zakraysky
It did fulfill the utmost important tasks in communal life.
It is sufficient to mention the activities of Hashomer Hatzair for The Jewish National Fund, for the Tarbut School, for the drama club or the activities in the League for Workers in the Land of Israel, in Hechalutz and many other areas.
However, the most important thing the Hashomer Hatzair gave our town was a corner of the Land of Israel in Zhetl. A corner ruled by the song of the Land of Israel and the Hebrew word. This corner attracted and enticed the youth. Through this branch of Hashomer Hatzair the youth that went to the Polish school connected to Jewish history, the geography of the Land of Israel and crystalized their national and socialist world philosophy with a strong emphasis on self accomplishment.
It can be said that the majority of Zhetl's youth participated in Zhetl's Hashomer Hatzair organization during its 13 year existence. Something appealed to everyone, something from the special Shomer style whose expression was simplicity, open heartedness, and hatred of phraseology.
The Hashomer Hatzair in Zhetl respected friends and opponents. They valued general Zionists despite the fact that they did not like their leftist stance and devotion to the League of Workers in the Land of Israel. They showed respect to the Bund and the communists despite the fact they were seen as bourgeois and nationalistic. The specific Shomer style roused respect especially in its goal toward self accomplishment.
Those brought up in Hashomer Hatzair were not ashamed of their movement, even during the bitter days when the town was under the boot of the Nazi animals.
I am not competent to write about this tragic period, but it is enough to mention the first leaders of our branch of Hashomer Hatzair Hirshl Kaplinsky of blessed memory, who stood at the head of the partisan movement; Yisroel Busel, of blessed memory who excelled with his technical ideas in the partisan's sabotage activities, and many many others.
The writer of these lines left for Zionist training camp in 1933. From then on he would come to Zhetl only for short visits until his immigration to the Land of Israel; this is why he had no idea about the activities of Hashomer Hatzair in our town during the last years. However, having known the organization for many years I can say:
The Hashomer Hatzair during its 13 years of existence in Zhetl brought a refreshing spirit to the provincial ideas of our town's youth. It raised the value of Jewish young lives in their own eyes, straightened their backs and helped them fulfill their tasks in Jewish communal life in Zhetl in the 1920s and 30s.
by Avrom Alpert, Hadera
Translated by Janie Respitz
On an autumn evening in 1929 we gathered at the home of Khaim Lemkin. He was living with Frumka the baker. We were a group of boys penetrated with national thoughts and in no way could we feel complete with moderate Zionism and the unnatural pairing of Zionism and socialism. We decided to create a division of the Zionist Maximalist movement of Ze'ev Jabotinsky which does not recognize dualism and fights for the primacy of Zionism and the blue and white flag.
The main organizer of the movement in Zhetl was Mitye Lusky who was at the time studying at the Vilna University and was a member of the movement.
As I remember, the following partook in the founding meeting: Khaim Lemkin, Moishe Bitensky, Khaim Meir Epshteyn, Dvoyre Garadaysky, Yakov Indershteyn, Antzl skolevsky, Yidl Lusky, Leyb Zhukhovitzky, Avrom Alpert, Shloime Levenbuk, and others. Those gathered also decided to create a branch of Betar and chose Shloime Levenbuk as commander. After he left for the Land of Israel he was replaced by Yidl Lusky.
As in all branches, there were three ranks in the Zhetl branch. Rank A which consisted of the youngest until the age of 14 was led by Moishe Alpert. Many youngsters from Zhetl completed Rank A under Moishe Alpert's direction.
During its ten year existence (from 1929 1939) the Revisionist organization and Betar carried out diversified work in all
Seated from right to left: Yidl Lusky, Raya Khabibi, Mania Romanovsky, Khaim Lemkin
Standing: Yisroel Raytzer, Leybl Zhukhovitsky, Avrom Vernik, Borukh Kaplinsky, Veveh Kravetz, Zavl Mankovitch, Shloime Levenbuk
spheres of political and communal activity. They raised sons who were faithful to land and nation, and who while in the movement learned Zionist monism, and understood they must learn to put their own lives in danger.
This doctrine reverberated among the members of Betar when the Germans occupied Zhetl. The members of Betar who joined the partisans were: Yoineh Medvetsky, Eliezer Vinarsky, Peysakh Finkelshteyn, and others.
We also organized a sports club called Nordia, participated in summer colonies and founded a training camp at Khaytche Levit's house.
Both movements, Tzhar (Revisionsits) and Betar excelled in their work for the Tel Chai Fund as well as cultural literary activities led by one of our members B. Kaplinsky. We often organized literary trials. For example: the trial of Bontche Shveyg. (Translator's note: Bontche the Silent, a character in a story by Y. L. Peretz).
I remember in 1939 under the Soviet regime, our branch worked secretly for the illegal escape, directed by the Baranovitch branch, smuggling people to Lithuania and Romania. The N.K.V.D found out and arrested two members from Lida. This is when our work in Zhetl stopped. Members who wanted to escape remained and were killed in Zhetl.
This is how we carried out our work until Hitler's occupation.
by Yisroel Karpl, Ra'anana
Translated by Janie Respitz
Wanting to eternalize the memory of our beloved town Zhetl I feel it is my obligation to describe what until now has not been described, namely: the founding of the Agudas Yisroel in Zhetl.
The movement began here with the distribution of the Aguda newspaper Dos Yiddishe Togblat (The Jewish Daily).The first subscribers to the newspaper were the respected business owner Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky of blessed memory, Reb Moishe Tentzer of blessed memory, the cantor Reb Yitzkhak Kogan and Reb Avrom Goldberg (The Tiller) may God avenge his death.
Among those who distributed the newspaper were: Yehoshua Abba Busel, today in America, Yisroel Meir Rozovsky, Yitzkhak Akhanovsky, as well as Alter Senderovsky, may God avenge his death.
The main activists were the older Yeshiva boys returning from Aguda's pioneer training camps. This is when we ordered propaganda material from the central office of Agudas Yisroel in Warsaw with posters which we nailed to the walls of all the Houses of Study. We also distributed charity boxes to collect money for the Settlement Fund which Zhetl's Jews contributed to.
At this time, the well known preacher Rabbi Naftali Rafaelovitch, may God avenge his death, was in Zhetl. He later died a martyr's death during the war.
He violated a German ban. It was ordered that an entire congregation would be killed if they would not betray a culprit.
Rabbi Rafaelovitch, may God avenge his death, was asked by the head of the Yeshiva, to remind all the religious Jews during his sermon in the old House of Study that they must organize. In a packed House of Study the founding of Agudas Yisroel took place with many signing the declaration.
The strengthening of the Agudas Yisroel's activities brought about opposition in Zionist circles. Threats were made saying those belonging to Agudas YIsroel would not receive certificates from the local Land of Israel committee for travel to the Land of Israel. However, Agudas Yisreol already had an agreement with the agent that with their payment to the Settlement Fund they had the same rights to emigrate and the division of Agudas Yisroel in the Land of Israel would take care of all the formalities. Such announcements were published in Agudas' newspaper Togblat and were plastered on all the walls of the Houses of Study.
This had appropriate reverberations. A committee for the Settlement Fund was created in Zhetl led by the head of the Yeshiva. Money was raised for the fund with yearly declarations and promissory notes to achieve their goal.
The writer of these lines was one of the participants in the various activities of Agudas Yisroel and was even punished for it when he did not receive an honour in the middle House of Study where the manager Yenkl Borukh Kaplinsky, may God avenge his death, was a passionate Zionist.
This is how the Agudas Yisroel slowly penetrated into the region and into our town Zhetl.
The last few years before the war a Beys Yakov School was also founded. That happened thanks to the initiative of a dear simple Jew, Avrom Goldberg and the teacher Rokhl Ginzburg, the daughter of Rabbi Hillel Ginzburg from Radon, the son in law of the Chafetz Chaim of blessed memory, who was devoted to education.
This is how religious Zhetl lived until its rich pulsating life was annihilated by the cannibals of the 20th century.
Land, land, do not cover my blood!
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