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[Columns 349-350]

Two Years in the “Hatikvah[1]” School

by Yitzchak Blumshtein, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Bulwar David–Hay and Elena Hoffenberg

 

Yitzchak Blumshtein

 

The HaTikvah School in its first year of existence bids
farewell to a friend who is departing for America

First Row: Chaya Zak, Toyer, Beyle Zak, Tile Ayzen, Bashe Harfin, Shoshana Morgenshtern
Second Row: Rikl Ayzen, Sarah Hon, Shoshana Nadler, Sonya Burshteyn, Mila Lerer, Sarah Morgnshtern
Third Row: Gita Morgnshtern, Shoshana Zak, Khane Nadler

 

Jewish Hrubieszów – if not in Israel, then a sister to it, this city that did not pretend to have a pedigree of forefathers and foremothers.[2] Modest was Jewish Hrubieszów, comfortable and folksy – a sister in trouble and in joy to hundreds of cities and towns across Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

 

On a Cloudy and Rainy Day

I remember: That same cloudy and rainy day in 1919 on which I arrived in Hrubieszów, where I had been sent as a teacher by the Education and Culture Bureau in Warsaw. The sidewalk in the street was dilapidated and breaking apart. And with every step and pace there burst out from the cracks a spray of filthy water. The street had sunk into the mud, and the passersby, who hurried as they went, hunched over and wet from the rain, looked as if they had been persecuted by fate. The first impression was not a glowing one: The swaying sidewalk created in my mind the association of something not stable, and the mud with the puddles, in which the drops of rain flickered with a subdued and desperate sheen, aroused in me fears of a dull and boring life and clouded my spirit.

 

The Discussion with the Teacher Levin

The first of the group of teachers, whom I met in the house of the Katzhendal family, was the teacher Levin, a fellow who was strong and tall, which, added to his thick black mane, presented a figure that was hard to categorize, whether it was of an athlete, or of a bohemian poet, or of both of them together. At our first meeting he informed me that he was about to leave Hrubieszów. I said to him:

– Nu, and the young ladies of Hrubieszów are allowing a fellow like you to leave this place?

He replied and said:

– Who takes into account the wishes of girls? The money, aha, the money is what decides. If you are knowledgeable about commercial trade, about the passions of “Valuta” and similar, then you can dare to talk about the ladies, otherwise – sit in silence, as you must.[3] He finished his complaints and struck his brave hands on his hips, like a man whose ship was sinking into the sea.

At that moment I saw before me not a bohemian poet and not the body of an athlete, but a Hebrew teacher in Poland with the characteristic identifying signs: recognition of his own value beyond this, and feelings of inferiority, through constant complaints about the bitter poverty that was his lot in those days.

Behind us appeared Baruch Yanover, from whose words I understood that in the school he was functioning in three roles: teacher, secretary of the [school] committee, and member of the parents' committee – a sort of triple thread, which would not be detached quickly. (To his good fortune, this saying did not hold true for him, and actually he succeeded in detaching himself from the place while there was still time …)

Afterwards we met with all the gang, the teachers of Polish and of general subjects: Henrich Oks, Sapir, the kindergarten teacher Rivka Erlich, and more teachers; with the members of the parents' committee – Jews who for the most part were determined and lovers of progress – and with the last but not least: the male and female pupils of the school.

Nearly 40 years have passed since those days. Our country[4] was then still a “state on the way,” but in the Hebrew school “Hatikvah” we were privileged to see a generation that was fresh and healthy, educated in the spirit of national Judaism and suffused with appreciation for the period – the period of revival in which they lived. And I do not hesitate even for a moment to emphasize that in our modest work in the school, we paved the road of success that was chosen by our students – that is, the road to the Land of Israel, which we were privileged to see as a free and independent country. This was for them a path to shelter that was natural, consistent and straight, suited to the education they had received in their youth, a road without complications and without spiritual upheavals.

 

The Historic Event at San Remo

I will not forget the excitement and the high spirits that the historic event at San Remo[5] brought into the school. The students knew that the Balfour Declaration[6] had been nothing but the beginning of the redemption, but the experience at the school ahead of the event turned into an experience of the redemption in actuality. Only now, as we find ourselves under the skies of our free land, do we feel as if something instinctive and prophetic was bubbling away inside the joy that swept over the students. Who knows? Perhaps in the sub–consciousness of some of them beat the hazy feeling of gratitude and praise for that same faraway–nearby land that was destined to be the shelter of their lives in the future.

The parade of hundreds of children with flags and decorations, which continued along the lengths of the central streets of the city, was a demonstration of their national pride, and its [the parade's] educational value and influence on the soul of the Hebrew child was invaluable. Not the speeches that were heard in the synagogue, and also not the songs and the cries of joy, presented the full expression of the national awakening like that one demonstration by the young generation, who went out into the streets, festive and radiant, towards the first beats of the salvation of the nation, despite the jeering of the gentiles and the wave of hatred that rose all around.

 

Like “B'nei Maron[7]” They Pass Through My Mind

The adults among the Jews of Hrubieszów who remained alive in the storm of the Holocaust have grown old. The children from those days are today men and women of mature age, fathers and mothers, although as I write these memoirs of mine, it is my desire to stop and to turn back the flow of time, and to see those same students in their childish forms, with all the charm and the beauty that was in them. And it is thus that I see them with my spiritual eye. Like “bnei maron” [one by one, as sheep in a flock] they all pass through my mind, the children of the wealthy, apparently, with the children of the poor: the first, who brought bags of food from their houses, and also those who sufficed with a sparse portion that, thanks to the support of the “Joint[8],” was presented to them at school.

This was a healthy population of children, with the fitness to learn, and with a lovely sense for observation. How sorry I am at this moment that I do not remember their names, but what is a name if their faces and their eyes appear afresh in my memory: brown eyes, black eyes; a face that trembled with joy and excitement, and a face that was quiet and pensive; a face that smiled with a smile that was alert and daring, and a face that was sad, with the signs of poverty and lack embedded in it. I do not remember in this population of children

[Columns 351-352]

One of the classes of the Tel–Chai School in 1932

In the second row: Shimeon Glazberg, Shmuel Hovel, Liyuba Kaplan, and Leybish Atler

 

A class from the Tel–Chai School in the year 1932

The first in the first row: Binyamin Viniazh
In the second Row: Shimeon Glazberg, Liyuba Kaplan, Shmuel Hovel, Leybish Atler

 

a single exception from the perspective of educational difficulties or psychological inadequacy. And what a serious approach to the work in their lessons! And the respect and affection for the teachers!

And a baffling puzzle to me immediately was the mental balance that was in these children. After all, these children were actually under the oppression of a hostile environment. I remember the murderous face of one of the neighbors who once caught a child whose ball had rolled into his yard. That Pole stormed at the child as if he truly intended to run him over, and when I intervened and offered an apology on behalf of the youth, I was convinced by his venomous reply that the matter of the ball was not, for the gentile, anything but an excuse to pour out his poisonous anti–Semitic rage, which had been stopped up inside him for all this time. Phenomena like this and many similar ones did not, despite this, break the innocent souls of the children or their quietly proud spirits.

 

Where is this Lovely Gang?

Where is it now, this lovely childhood gang? What percentage of them was saved from the hands of the executioner? And who will avenge its members who were devoured in the dawn of their lives and are no longer?

In my memory arises the portrait of the face of one girl, dark–haired, tall, and pleasant. Her black eyes always expressed a quiet anguish of yearnings. Those were then the days of the last rehearsals of a children's play by the name of “The Night Dwarves[9],” which we were preparing for a show. At one of the rehearsals I found the girl standing in a corner of the hall sunk in sadness, and when I asked her the reason for her sorrow, she said through stifled weeping:

– I was supposed to be the queen of the forest. I can be a queen …

– Why not? – she stood her ground – why should there not be two queens? I looked into her deep black eyes, in which the hidden shine of longing was burning, and at her tall body: Yes, indeed a queen stands before me, the queen of innocence and of beauty, and then I thought to myself: If only all the children of Israel would not lack for anything but thrones …

To our great despair, that same legendary forest of the children of Israel in Poland, with its mystery, its secrets and its charming illusions, passed by and vanished with the outbreak of the Hitlerist plague, and another forest, a forest of predatory animals, took its place. The innocent dreams of the children of Israel – who will care for you and for your destinies; and what is a girl's dream of thrones that is not fulfilled, when it was as if the kingdom of the heavens itself in all its dignity collapsed in the days of the Holocaust, and it became as if it never was …

And what did our wretched children dream of in their dark hiding places in the ghettos? In the bunkers? In the forests? How was it that the face of the Prince of Dreams did not darken with the destruction of worlds full of radiance and innocence?

Over the course of two years, I saw you in various situations, the community of Hrubieszów.

I saw you in your quiet life, in the days of “peace and quiet,” which were always relative for the Jews of Poland, in which you knew how to combine your concerns for the needs of the body and the soul together, as was proper for a community with an established tradition and a productive past. I saw you under oppressive anti–Semitic suffering and the burden of heavy taxes, and also in the confusion of days of war, at a time when raining down on the city were balls of death and cannon shells from the war front between the Bolsheviks and the Poles[10]. Those terrible nights of murders and robbery, attacks and retreats – who can forget them! I saw you under the conquest of the Red Army, which lasted a few short days, a time in which during the day they would tempt the residents with flamboyant speeches about the salvation of the laborers and the liberation of the world, and at night those same “saviors” would break into the grocery stores, loot them and empty them, and then present the city as an empty vessel. From all the riots you emerged in one piece and continued, through certainty and faith, to carry the burden of your heavy life. But who is wise enough to understand the terrible mystery, that it was as if the heavens too had joined up with all sorts of traitors and murderers, and not even one star extinguished itself within them, at a time when your existence, and the existence of all the rest of the communities, trusting and faithful like yourself, was being cut short.

 

Why Did You Deceive Us, Teacher?

Sometimes there pass through my mind all those cities in Poland and in Lithuania in which I taught and educated Jewish youth over the years. I wander in my memories around the cities: Mariampol, Kalwaria[11], Hrubieszów and Ostrów. I see myself striding again through the same fields and forests in which for our students we arranged trips that were festive and educational, fields and forests that in the hands of the destroyer became gigantic cemeteries.

And here before me are the surroundings of Hrubieszów: a broad meadow, sun, greenery and flowers, and here are our joyful students … at a game, on a run, in various competitions … the picture suddenly vanishes and a shocking voice is heard, the voice of the blood of children that shouts to me from the earth.

– Why did you deceive us, teacher? Why did you lie? You taught us: “And by thy seed shall all the nations of the world be blessed[12]” – is this how we were blessed by the gentiles? You read to us and you explained the words of the prophet: “I have taken out of thy hand the cup of trembling [poison] and I will place it in the hands of those who afflict thee[13]…” – did anyone punish the murderers of our souls who were innocent of any crime? Here on our graves they run riot on their holidays, on the labors of our forefathers they gorge and swill, in the dwellings of our parents they live in safety, and there is no horror [for them].

Forgive me, dear students. No answer to the question of your blood have I brought you this time – I have no answer in my mouth. And if I will tell you that the same “Hatikvah” that your school carried with pride as a name and as a symbol was realized in the redemption of the nation[14], then the pain is greater seven times over: Why, Lord of the Heavens, why did you not shine the radiance of this redemption also on those innocent dreaming eyes?

There is no compromise under the heavens and there is no apology. I have only placed your dear memories on paper, my column of memories soaked with pain and tears.

Let this be a modest wreath of flowers on your sacred graves.

[Columns 353-354]

Hatikvah” School in Hrubieszów

The HaTikvah School of the Zionist Organization in 1919

 

A ceremony for graduates of Hatikvah school with the teacher Oks in the year 1928

First row from the top: Milah Lerer, Sarah Einhorn, Yanek Fil, and Roshki Alter
Second row: Shloyme Mar, Yankev Tshechovits, Moshe Zilbershteyn, Avraham Finkelshteyn
Third row: Shoshana Morgenshtern, Hersh Kam, Guta Viner, Sonia Hornshteyn, Hoyzman, Perl Hecht, Shmaryahu Mints, Yosef Hokhman.
Fourth row: Dovid Abrament, Zishe Frimost, Khaye Zak, Khane Finkelshteyn, the teacher Oks, Beyle Zak, Yekhiel Vayntroyb, Yankev Kam
The last row: Avraham Lerer, Pinchas Mar, Yisroel Laks, Gishe Morgnshtern, Ariye Spiler, Hillel Hornshteyn

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Hebrew for “The Hope,” the title of a poem written in the late 19th century that became the anthem of the Zionist movement and then, after Israeli independence in 1948, the country's national anthem. Return
  2. What he means is that towns in Israel had ancient histories and status as the homes of the Biblical ancestors, which Hrubieszów did not. Return
  3. Valuta refers to the value of one currency with respect to its exchange rate with another currency. Return
  4. Israel. Return
  5. The author is referring to the conference held by the victorious World War I allies in San Remo, Italy, in April 1920, at which, among other things, they adopted the Balfour Declaration Return
  6. Issued in November 1917 by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, the declaration announced the British government's support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Return
  7. According to the Mishnah, on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Jews pass like “bnei maron” before God for judgment. Although the precise meaning of the phrase has been debated by the rabbinical authorities, all agree that its overall intention is one by one, so that each person is seen. Return
  8. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, established in 1914 to provide relief for Jews in distress in numerous countries. Return
  9. This would seem to be based on a poem of that name by the renowned Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Return
  10. During the Polish–Soviet war of 1919 to 1920. Return
  11. Then in Poland, now Marijampole and Kalvarija in Lithuania. Return
  12. Quoted from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 26, Verse 4. Return
  13. The author has here combined and condensed two verses quoted from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 51, Verses 22 to 23. Return
  14. The author is referring to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Return


[Columns 355-356]

The Tel–Chai School Was a Corner of Light for Us

by Eliezer Poloshko (Kibbutz Yagur, Israel)

Translated by Elena Hoffenberg

 

The teacher Eliezer Poloshko leads a class in geography at the Tel–Chai school in 1928
Seated: Tzvi Sas, Avraham Bukhtreger, Yehoshue Berger, Yosef Meir Lerer, Meir Flut, Avraham Voygl

 

As if looking through fog I see you, Hrubieszów – a small city on the Poland–Volyn[1] border.

This city did not stand still, because in the meantime there arose a new generation, which was fed up with degenerate life in the diaspora[2], the life of dependence on trade and merchandise, and watching for a customer. A generation has arisen that has known how to turn its dreams of a creative life in the promised land into everyday deeds: raising money for national funds, the linkage between active public life, training and immigration.

At the center of this public life was the Tel–Chai School, where I worked for two years as a teacher. In my memory, I keep these years as the best years of my public activities.

This school was founded as a Tarbut school by the general Zionists. Most of its students were indigent, who could not ensure the budget would be balanced through their meager tuitions. In the absence of government support, the school shrank until it reached the threshold of closure. Then our friends, members of Poalei Zion – Zionist Socialists, came to the school administration with a proposal to hand over the school to them and they would adapt its plan to the nature of the movement and ensure its existence. The board members had no other choice but to save the school, and so the new page began to develop.

After assembling a new teaching staff, after reorganizing, and accepting new students, the school grew and became a living institution whose influence grew. What ensured the existence of the school and determined its public character was the joint work between the teachers, the parents, and the students, who all participated in shaping its image.

At the end of the first school year, the school demonstrated its achievements in the public interest. It was worthwhile to highlight how the eyes of mothers and fathers radiated, seeing their children roam free on stage, singing, reciting, and performing. These banquets became a tradition and included a creative presentation of the students and teachers alike, as well as [raising] financial income which contributed to balancing the school's budget.

In the second year, the students of the upper classes directed [a reenactment of] the life of the prophet of Amos. The dramatic clashes of this prophet, the son of the people, with his prophecies saturated with a warrior social pathos illustrated a chapter in the history of the state of Israel in its struggle for its existence, when it kneels and falls in the great struggle for power along the coast and strives more and more to endure with a moral and social inner perfection.

The teachers and students who attended this evening no doubt remember the immense enthusiasm of the audience for hearing the words, known to them from the Bible, emanate from their sons' mouths with a kind of compositional wholeness to give them a realistic character. Today I believe that the significance of this play has gone beyond the bounds of the hour, although at that time we did not yet know it.

The members organized various enterprises to benefit the school. The teachers, some of whom were recruited by the movement's activists, cooperated with them. Meanwhile, the party's influence in the city also increased, as expressed in its victory in the municipal elections. It was at the head of the community in the city, both in the Zionist movement and in the local labor movement. The party members in the municipality even managed to establish a budget, a fixed allowance for the school, and by doing so ensured its existence to some extent.

As for the internal life of the school, it should be noted that it differed from the Polish schools and even from the Tarbut schools in the almost family–like relationship between the teachers and the students. We, the teachers, thought about how much suffering and gloom our children have in their lives at home. The rich mostly preferred the Polish school, in order to train their children for their future as tradesmen or in liberal professions, although we too had allocated a certain place to Polish studies in accordance with government requirements. However, there were cases in which even poor children were transferred to the general school for lack of means. For our part, we struggled with these departures and fought for our students by introducing graduated tuition, even to the point of cancelling it in certain cases.

The school was a corner of light in the gray lives of our students. We knew that many of them lacked the minimum conditions need to prepare for lessons at home, so we opened the school in the after–school hours and one of the teachers would be on duty to supervise them and help with lessons. Over time, the school became a club for students during these hours. The children simply did not leave and would spend their time reading and playing until later hours. The trade of goods also served as a basis for the development of student entrepreneurship and laid the foundations for public life. We determined that the school would budget for these purposes an amount equal to that which the students collect among themselves. It would have been worthwhile to see how willingly the children deposited their pennies into a designated fund, often saving them a penny from their bread. In time, the same arrangement was made for a library, which grew day by day, to the delight of students and teachers alike.

We did not have a gym. In the summer we used the schoolyard, while in the winter we sled down from the mountain that sloped to the river. By the way, this “substitute” was liked by the school superintendent.

There was cooperation between the teachers and the students, accompanied by expressions of friendship and indebtedness. These children of poverty, whose lives were not rosy, knew how to appreciate the dedication of the teachers and their response to their needs. I remember, once in the hours of rest in the afternoon, on a day when I did not have to be on duty, I was surprised to hear a light knock on the door to my room. It was the student Kupla, z”l, one of my favorite students. He came accompanied by his friends, and with an apology he begged me to agree to play cricket with them. Although I was tired from the day's work, I complied with their request. Usually, I would not refuse the students in the case of such requests. On the other hand, the students knew not to overdo it with these requests, given the difficult working conditions of the teachers.

There was a great thirst for knowledge among the students of the Tel–Chai school. In classes, you felt that you were opening new horizons for them. Their gazes were concentrated, in order to receive and understand what was said and what was explained, and their eyes radiated from feeling satisfaction. I do not know if this is a coincidence or a success, but the fact is that the teachers' council recognized the class in which I taught as an outstanding class.

Six years after I left Hrubeszów, I had the opportunity to visit it while on a mission to Poland from the land of Israel.

I did not find all of my students in the city. The adults were already in training[3], and some had immigrated to Israel. Young people have filled the place of adults in the youth movements.

The atmosphere in the city was saturated with an ominous mood.

The fog of sorrow and tears hides Hrubieszów from my eyes. The city and my mother that came up for me is a small and important part of my life.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Volyn is an administrative unit within the Ukraine. Return
  2. The diaspora refers to the dispersion and exile of Jews outside of their ancestral homeland in Israel. Return
  3. Training refers to Zionist programs to prepare for emigration to Israel. Return


[Columns 357-358]

The Tel–Chai School Conquered Our Hearts

by A. Richman (Kibbutz Galil–Yam, Israel)

Translated by Elena Hoffenberg

 

The preparatory class at Tel–Chai School in 1929 with teacher Khane Organ

 

The teachers and the students of the Tel–Chai School in 1929
Teachers – Sitting: Gershon Khanovits, Eva Poloshko, Eliezer Poloshko, Bluma Goldman, Meir Hofman … Shimon Glazberg

 

1.

The following things happened thirty–odd years ago, during the rebirth of the Polish state. Increased capitalization, atheism, and a state monopoly gave rise to the stratum of the rich bourgeoisie and bold bureaucrats who claimed control of the state economy and thereby also the masses of the Polish people. In its quest for power, this class encountered masses of peasants, the landless and job–seekers, an impoverished middle class and Jews who appeared like the devil to this class on its way to rule and consolidation. The horror of the frequent crises that plagued Poland from its inception in the desire to build and establish the young state created the typical exploitation of the bourgeoisie and the nobility. Anti–Semitic ideology was created in the uniting of the clash between the city and the village.

Polish Jewry felt in its flesh the taste of flourishing anti–Semitism. A systematic war broke out against Jews in all sectors of the economy. This war had several facets: a complete boycott of the Jewish worker and clerk in preferences set up by or with the help of the government and the expropriation of Jews from all branches of industry that were under government monopoly, such as tobacco, spirits, charcoal, coal mines, forests, estates, and so on. This anti–Jewish act was accompanied by wild anti–Semitic incitement, in all its flavors and manifestations. The injury was felt in everyday life, in addition to which the lack of security and prospects [for the future] led many to seek refuge. Palestine, at that time, was more open to Jewish immigration than any other country in the world. And so a channel was opened for the Aliyah of Polish Jews, and especially the middle class, to become known as the Fourth Aliyah.

2.

The tide of the Fourth Aliyah, which was a large popular phenomenon and the fruit of the troubles of the Jews and hopes for Israel, did not last long, since the middle–class immigration lacked a healthy national backbone and did not turn to face the crumbling of social divisions, manual labor, or the village. The immigrant would, for the most part, fall prey to the eruption of the street, to the group of speculators and Zionist trustees that promoted this eruption. Here small and large capitalists were swept away in a whirlwind that was not controlled by the Zionist movement. Good qualities were ostensibly swept up in it as well. Then the Fourth Aliyah crisis broke out.

Defamation of the land of Israel in the mouths of those who “descended” [i.e., emigrated from Palestine] came to cities and towns in Poland. The labor parties, which hated Zionism, rallied and in March launched a campaign of defamation against Zionism and the land of Israel.

There was no sign among Polish Jewry of a sense of the future, of creative imagination, of flight and vision, which were needed to make the double crisis in Poland and in Israel a starting point for great, creative, and constructive action. There was no vision.

In the atmosphere of those days, there was a longing for a Jewish, socialist and pioneering party, in its consciousness and character free in the fluctuation of conjectures, inferiority regarding the kosherness of its Zionism and status, which was ready to worry about the future of the Jewish public and daring to turn their sons' future into a struggle.

3.

The unification of Poalei Zion with the Zionist Socialists in the year 1928 became a turning point in the life of the masses of Israel in Poland. The united party wrote a page of glory in the book of humility of Polish Jewry of the previous generation. It brought about a political and social awakening in the towns of Poland and took the Jewish public, and especially the youth, from secluded paths and onto the King's Highway.

The pursuit of historical continuity, a synthesis between past, present, and future, was one of the hallmarks of the united party. The life of the people of Israel is crammed full of contrasts: the land of Israel and the diaspora, Yiddish and Hebrew. In the fulfillment at the end of this enterprise, the extremes unite and a new Jewish reality is created. Adherence to both sources gives us strength. The ties with the people strengthen us in the present war. The languages complement each other, our [Jewish] culture illuminates our lives in the diaspora and makes them fruitful, and so on in other areas.

This is why the Poalei Zion party chose the Zionist Socialists on the path of “school culture,” because it has the beginnings of a new school that will appeal to the child in Yiddish, the league of the masses in Poland, and at the same time bring him closer to the treasures of culture and the Hebrew language, to the writings of the days of people of Israel in the land of Israel, to its past and its future, and will prepare the child for a working life, for a fruitful struggle against the Jewish reality and for the building of the land of Israel.

4.

In Hrubieszów, like in other cities and towns in Poland, a new type of Tel–Chai school arose, which drew from the sources [both] of the historical past and close to the daily lives of the masses of the people of Israel, and educated the child in work and defense, mutual aid, equality, equality, national and personal sovereignty, being a member of the working people, involved in its historical homeland as a part of the free family of worker nations.

Hundreds of children received their education at the Tel–Chai school and had the honor of completing their legally–required studies there, and many, many of them found their natural continuation in the Dror and HeChalutz youth movements, on the training kibbutz, and in immigration to Israel.

The Tel–Chai school captured the hearts of the progressive Jewish public in all parts of Hrubieszów, lending a shoulder and being a relief in struggle for existence and development.


[Columns 359-360]

A Fresh Breeze

by Yehuda Tsimerman (Ramat Gan, Israel)

Translated by Elena Hoffenberg

When the Tarbut school in Hrubieszów moved to the Poalei Zion party, we, the students, felt a refreshing breeze. Until then, we were indifferent to all. We did not ask anything from ourselves or from the world. The course of our thinking was limited. It never occurred to us that things could change and that we would be among the ones to make a difference. So we thought [that is the way] it was and would be forever.

But the changes to the schedule of the school and curriculum caused a stir, uprooted our concepts of contentment from our soft hearts, and we began to recognize the gray reality.

The school's teachers educated us in the Zionist–Socialist world–view and we accepted it. Knowing reality as it is did not depress us. To the contrary, it caused an awakening, an impetus, and a desire to rebel against what exists and to change it.

What did we revolt against? We were tiny sons of mercy, whose livelihoods were very meager. We were fed up with hypocritical bowing before the gentile wage earner. We resented the fierce competition of Jews among themselves and the deceptive acts involved – all to ensure the family subsistence on thin bread and pressurized [seltzer] water. We scorned livelihoods – impractical. We were fascinated by the open fields [planted] with fragrant straw. We aspired to lie down and roll in it as we pleased. We were drawn to the forest with its mysterious gloom. We set sail on the river on quiet and pleasant summer evenings, saw the peasants at work in the field, compared the peasant's labor with Dad's poor position in the dark shop and came to the conclusion that agricultural work has some mental and moral integrity.

As a result we started to be absent from the store more often. We dreamed of manual exertion and the life of the commune. We acquired these “revolutionary” ideas within the walls of the school, from lessons and conversations with the teacher–educators.

We had a strong longing for the land of Israel. I remember that I and my friend “K.” made a plan to reach Israel on foot via the Caucuses. My grandfather had bought a plot of land in Israel during his time and our goal was to establish a commune of Jewish workers on the land of my grandparents. Our classmates, who knew about our plans, called us Don Quixote. But Teacher “P.”, the educator of the class, did not mock us. On the contrary, he listened to our words in all seriousness and explained to the students of the class that the plan is realistic, but that its execution should be postponed for a specific time.

We accepted the words of the teachers not as a matter detached from life, but as a real Torah which can be fulfilled in practice. We have seen the social contradictions that exist in human society in general and the people of Israel in particular. We have not come to terms with the exploitation of apprentices and housekeepers. We poured all our anger on the “capitalists”–the exploiters on the Jewish streets, on the artisan who employs a day laborer. Those of us who, for various reasons, were forced to continue praying in the synagogue, (or in our father's prayer house), were swept up in idle arguments with the regular worshipers and came into verbal conflict on a daily basis.

Once upon a time, the local Zionist organization organized a Purim party dedicated to the Jewish National Fund. I was required to greet the party on behalf of the school. In my address I said, among other things: “Gone are the days when we believed that the Messiah would appear, riding on a white horse, to deliver us from his exile. We, the pioneers, will bring salvation ourselves through our own hard work.” A storm arose and I was almost torn to pieces. My poor father was mocked in the prayer house. For a long time he could not forget it.

Devout parents saw the school as a source of all “evil” and demanded a boycott of parents who sent their children to this school. So many began to avoid paying tuition, expecting their children to be expelled from school. But the school administration decided not to expel children for not paying tuition.

The graduates of the school had a positive influence on the Jewish youth in the city. Many joined Chalutz–Tzair and later Frayhayt[1]. We, the graduates of the school, were the youth counselors for youth who were almost our same age. Over time, a group of activists and counselors formed from the youth who did not attend the school. In particular, the local Jewish youth were drawn to the discussions and hikes in nature.

The teacher Meir Hoffman (Maytshe) did a lot of work, in an educational and organizational perspective, among the students of the school, among the youth outside of it, and also within the ranks of Poalei Zion. Maytshe was a teacher of Yiddish literature. In his classes, he fascinated his students and managed to get them to love the Jewish book. He cultivated in our hearts personal integrity and educated us to be honest, in terms of making great demands and realizing them. He said: Zionism – its meaning is self–actualization.

At the end of the last school year we found ourselves aimless and looking for a life path for ourselves. We knew that this was our primary test. There were various programs, such as opening a vocational school for graduates, leaving for training[2], and so on. We fiercely debated between these two main trends: continuing our studies and going out for training. The two trends had, of course, one goal – immigration.

The way of learning in the school had taught us to love learning for its own sake. Students formed groups to continue in self–study after graduation. It may have been influenced by the fact that we are a people in which generations have devoted their entire lives to study.

Tearch Poloshko put a lot of effort into helping graduates of the school. He started free classes for graduates preparing for the Vilna Teachers' Seminary, helped two graduates to get into a vocational school in Piotrkow and helped two other graduates to go to agricultural training. These were fifteen–year–old boys who had not yet left their hometown and still held on to their mother's apron. The help of the teachers was, therefore, necessary and very effective. Sadly I must state that many of us failed and this structure of ours did not endure. Yet we did not speak of desperation. On the contrary, our desire to continue and to go out for training grew, but was postponed until a later time when we grew up a little.

We reached the age of 17. My friend I. and I went out to an agricultural training farm in Konkad, near Siemiatycze in the Podlaskie region. The winter was in full swing and the work was hard. We got up early every morning. We encouraged each other to persevere. And here we were attacked by a disease that exhausted our power. The doctor forbade us to continue working and demanded that we leave this place. We tried to ignore his demand, but the members of the group insisted that the doctor's order be followed and we were forced to return to Hrubieszów.

When we came to town, we found the Frayhayt branch in an internal crisis. On the one hand, there were many young people who had sunk into cynicism and were reluctant to live their lives. On the other hand, the communist underground had infiltrated the Frayhayt branch and robbed it of some of its best members. The cult of the cynics was bored in its cycle of emptiness. What did they do? They went and arranged personal desires and parties of debauchery for them, in which they poured out scorn for the people of Frayhayt, the idlers who believed in regime reform and change for the improvement of human society. The influence of this mocking was not significant. We saw them, standing with pleasure in their father's shop and boasting in commercial conversations, so to speak, with the buyers, the peasants of the village, and we discussed them and their future. On the one hand, we had a hard war with members of the communist underground. Finally, we were able to eliminate the communist cell in Frayhayt and to vaccinate the masses of members against the destructive incitement. Admittedly, we regretted that good friends moved to the communist camp. However, it should be noted with satisfaction that those from the same group who survived returned to our camp and also immigrated to Israel.

Then we concentrated all our efforts on the war against a spirit of emptiness and cynical ridicule. We understood that without educational action for self–actualization there is no value in explaining it. We also knew that we wanted to influence the youth who would go out for training. It was up to us, the activists, to set an example. There were some among us who feared the departure of many of the activists for training, which would weaken the power of the branch and lead to paralysis. In the end, the opinion prevailed that local organization is only the means and immigration to Israel is the goal, so departure for training could give the branch rich spiritual content and serve as an example for the masses of youth.

When they arrived in Israel, the pioneers from the training program carried the heavy burden of the labor of conquest and defense on their shoulders, thus paving the way for the rebirth of the state of Israel.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Chalutz–Tzair (Young Pioneers) and Frayhayt (Freedom) were Zionist groups. Return
  2. Training to learn skills needed for agricultural work in Israel. Return

 

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