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[Columns 737-738]

I Saw the Cream of the Crop,
and They Are Few

Translated by Yael Chaver

(“Rabbi Shim'on bar-Yochai said: I saw the cream of the crop, and they are few,” Mishna Sanhedrin, 97b)

Author's note: More than thirty years ago, young men of Hrubieszow left their warm homes, left the town, left behind relatives and acquaintances, parted from dear friends who had been their bench-mates in the cheder and later their debaters in arguments over political ideology in Jewish society. They parted from their dear ones, feeling that they might never see them again.

With this feeling of leaving my intimate world and entering a longed-for world that was nonetheless mysterious and full of anxiety, I came to the Land of Israel along with a few friends in 1930. We found a small group of Hrubieszow natives who had arrived earlier. These townspeople encouraged and strengthened us through times of unemployment, loneliness, and helplessness. Some of us had gotten steady, well-paid work (according to the standards of the time), whereas others were struggling to find a day's work and minimal sustenance.

We were different from them in age and had moved in the same social circles, but we had in common our profound love for the Land of Israel and its charms, and a wish to assimilate into the life of the community rather than retreat into a solitary corner in distress on the one hand, or have elitist feelings and exaggerated self-confidence on the other. These special people served as an example for the townspeople who followed in their tracks: examples of simple and modest living, and of firm comradeship.

The following sections are devoted to these natives of Hrubieszow.

 

Baruch Yanover

We knew that Buni Yanover had emigrated to the Land of Israel in the summer of 1924. We knew him and his ancestry: he was learned and came from a good family. His scholarly father, Yisra'el David Yanover, was an adherent of the Husiatyn Hasidic leader, and set aside time regularly for study as well as for enjoying the newspapers his son sent him from Tel Aviv.[1] He was strictly observant, yet tolerant towards the younger generation of Hrubieszow, which had abandoned traditional ways.

Yisra'el David Yanover (may his memory be for a blessing) was respected by all members of society in Hrubieszow, He would walk every evening on Panska Street, which was always lively with young men and women. On Friday nights, his slow steps served a signal to the young folks to hide their lit cigarettes in their coat pockets so as not to annoy the beloved older man. He was aware of this, but appreciated their considerateness.

Buni Yanover was one of the activists of the small Hrubieszow group that established a number of Zionist-cultural institutions in the town. Among there were the Tze'irei Tziyon party, the HaTikvah school, the Hebrew library, and the like.[2] He was the first to hold Zionist speeches for a varied public, in the Great Synagogue as well as in Manikov's cinema.

We had Buni Yanover's address with us when we came to the Land of Israel. His wooden shack on Peretz St. in Tel Aviv was our meeting place with other natives of Hrubieszow. The owner greeted us with joy and excitement, and began to help and guide us on our way. He set up lodgings for us, and joined [assisted] our search for employment. Once these items had been taken care of, he helped with long-term needs.

Buni Yanover and Ya'akov Cohen, both permanent employees of the Tel Aviv municipality, guaranteed a loan with Bank HaPo'alim, enabling our townspeople to apply for housing in Labor Federation complexes in Tel Aviv and its environs.[3]

Buni Yanover would take us to the synagogues of non-Ashkenazi Jews on holidays, to acquaint us with their particular style of prayer. He always made you feel that he was thanking you for giving him the chance to help you.

Many of our townspeople settled permanently in Israel and were absorbed into its society thanks to the help and guidance they received from Buni. I am sure they are thankful to this day.

 

Adina and Yisra'el Kahana

The Kahana family originated in the village of Gródek near Hrubieszow, on the banks of the Bug river. The river powered the grain mill in the village, which belonged to the landowner and was leased to Yosef Praktor, a well-to-do Jew from the nearby town of Ustilug. The Jews of Hrubieszow would mill their grain at this mill, then sell it in Hrubieszow and nearby towns.

Yosef was respected by both Jews and Christians. It was said that when Yosef would go to the landowner about the lease, the latter would see him through the window and would come out to greet him, then link arms and take him into the palace.

Many Jews made their living thanks to the mill in Gródek – grain and flour merchants, cart drivers, and the workers who packaged the flour, weighed it, and moved it to the warehouses. Yosef was proud of the many Jews he provided a living for.

One of the Jews who worked at the mill was Menashe Gartl, a short, elderly man, with smiling eyes and a kind face. Menashe was a scholar, and adhered to the Belz Hasidic sect. His work at the grain mill was too hard and barely earned him a living; but his requirements were modest, and he was happy with his lot.

Menashe had three daughters, the youngest of whom was Adina (Eydl) Kahana, and one son, Shlomo Gartl (may his memory be for a blessing), who became the Tel Aviv city treasurer and the director of the Savings and Loan Bank.

The grain merchants included some who were proficient in Talmud and later commentators, such as Yisra'el David Yanover; secularists who had studied the Hebrew Bible, such as Yisra'el Cohen and Yisra'el Tevels, father of Ya'akov Cohen; fervent Hasids who were familiar with the sayings of the Hasidic leaders and the Talmudic commentators, such as Moshe Ayzen and Moshe Tehilot, the father of Sarah Fogel and Rivka Lastigman.[4]

Often, when grain merchants, scholars, and Hasids would be in the village overnight, they would stay in the home of Menashe Gartl. His wife, Chana, would prepare a good supper, and the guests would take their time dining and conversing on matters such as the sayings of the sages and moralizing Hasidic tales. The housewife would stay in the corner of the room, looking on happily at the important guests who were staying in her home and discussing scholarly matters. The young daughter, Adina, would sit close to her mother and listen raptly to the wondrous stories that ignited the imagination.

[Columns 739-740]

Yosef Praktor had two sons, Getzl and Efrayim. The sons were secularists who behaved according to the spirit of the times. They shaved their beards, wore short jackets, and did not wear a head-covering; however, they were very respectful of their father, asked his advice about business matters, and followed his instructions.

The wedding of the oldest son, Getzl, was memorable. The ceremony was held in the halls of the landowner's palace, which he had placed at the disposal of Yosef Praktor. All the Jews who had connections with Yosef attended – merchants, laborers, rich, and poor.

The hall was decorated in a fashion that the Jews of Hrubieszow had never seen. Artistic pictures hung on the walls, expensive drapes covered the windows, and the floor was carpeted with a costly fabric that “swallowed up” the noise of steps. There were colorful flowers all along the walls and on the tables; the latter were covered with snowy tablecloths and shining silverware. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling and illuminated the hall, turning night into day.

This magnificent scene impressed all comers. Most of them were Jews of Hrubieszow, who had never seen such splendor. Some guests brought their small children along to enjoy the scene. They stood open-mouthed, pointing out objects to each other.

The wedding ceremony was traditional. The guests sat at the tables and were served the lavish meal, while two klezmer bands (from Ludmir and Hrubieszow) played for their pleasure. The party continued until dawn, and was the main topic of conversation among the Jews of Hrubieszow.

However, matters soon took a tragic turn. On summer night, the mill burned down. Jews who had kept their grain and flour inventories in the mill lost their property. Many lost their jobs; and the old worker, Menashe, became unemployed.

His older son, Shlomo, went abroad to teach; the two older girls had to sustain the household. When they married and left their parents' home, Eydl went to work.

Every morning, she would bring village produce to Hrubieszow and hand it to the regular customers. This was very hard and troublesome work, but Eydl knew that she had to sustain herself and her old parents. She worked hard to fulfill this duty, taking courage from her satisfaction at the fact that her aged parents did not have to resort to alms.

Eydl married Yisra'el, from one of the villages, in 1921. They emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1922.

Yisra'el Kahana was an honest and expert builder. After he emigrated, he was given small building jobs, at which he succeeded.. He might have become a contractor and done jobs worth tens of thousands of Israeli pounds, but Yisra'el Kahana did not seek fame or aspire to be a contractor employing dozens of construction workers and growing rich at the expense of their labor.[5] He is a modest man who prefers the quiet, honest life of a worker.

He comes to work every morning, riding his bicycle, and works on the scaffolding all day alongside his few employees. Kahana feels an affinity to the Labor Federation, and considers it a pioneering, constructive entity. This is why his workers consider him one of their own.

Adina Kahana resembles her late father, Menashe, in character. She is even-tempered, enjoys the company of people and is accepted by all. She is a gracious hostess who feeds her guests well, and knows how to start a pleasant conversation that involves the visitors.

Our dear friend Shimshon Cohen (may his memory be for a blessing) brought us, new emigrants from Hrubieszow, to the home of Adina and Yisra'el Kahana. She greeted us like a mother welcoming her sons home from a long journey. The children were glad to see us and climbed into our laps. We felt that we were guests of a warm welcoming family; we felt as though we were in our own parents' homes.

Adina asked about our health, whether our rooms had enough air and light; and, most importantly, about our work. She made us promise not to work too hard, for God's sake, and to make sure we had enough rest.

This heartfelt concern was a feature of every visit; and we visited her often. Sometimes we were very homesick for the town and all our nearest and dearest whom we left there, and sank into despair. At that point, someone would say,

“Guys, let's go to mother, to Adina.

When we came to the Kahana house and Adina showered us with warm looks and heartfelt questions, we became once again halutzim, free of cares, who found their fulfillment working for the reviving homeland.[6]

One of us would start singing and others would join in, until we were all singing fervently, so that the song was audible outside. When the fervor mounted, the table was moved, and we would all join in a fiery hora.[7]

Adina then looked at us maternally, her face aglow with joy that the halutzim from Hrubieszow were dancing in her home in the Land of Israel. It resembled the look on her late mother's face when the flour merchants of Hrubieszow ate at her table in the village and discussed scholarly matters.

1948 arrived. The State of Israel was established. The armies of the Arab states invaded and plotted to exterminate us. All young men joined in the struggle to beat back the invaders and ensure the existence of Israel. The young man, Menashe, the only son of Adina and Yisra'el Kahana, who had been active in the Haganah, fought on the front south of Tel Aviv and was killed in battle.[8]

But the family was stoic about their loss. Adina, the good mother, continued to host her guests with cordial, pleasant conversation, and begged them to continue visiting as before. The bereaved father, the modest Yisra'el, reinforced his wife's words and repeated her requests. However, we knew that deep in their hearts the pain at losing this young life, their only son was heavy.

All the natives of Hrubieszow who often visited the home of Adina and Yisra'el Kahana and knew the fine young man Menashe Kahana join in the sorrow at losing this gifted person. May his memory be blessed!

 

Re'uven Tzigl (may his memory be for a blessing)

A short man, whose beard was short and blond, with quick movements and clever eyes, a lively conversationalist and an experienced merchant – this was the figure of Re'uven Tzigl in his home town, Hrubieszow. He had eight children; expenses were high and he had trouble making a living. Yet he was never depressed.

Some of his children were active in Tze'irei Tziyon in town. The merchant was interested in his sons' Zionist activities

 

Early in the morning, Re'uven Tzigl would load his donkey with two crates of loaves of bread and take them to the HaTikva neighborhood[9]

[Columns 741-742]

and approved of them, though most parents of party members considered these activities frivolous and impractical, and urged their children to ensure their personal future. Re'uven Tsigl's house became a center for party members; they would meet and discuss their future plans.

Two of his sons, Moshe and Avraham, emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1933. He, too, began preparing to emigrate. Two years later, at age 54, Re'uven immigrated to the Land of Israel along with his wife Rivka and their youngest son, Shmuel. Some friends advised him to seek an easy living, such as opening a grocery store or being a broker; these occupations suited his way of life in Poland as well as his age.

However, Re'uven Tzigl disregarded this good advice and went his own way. He changed his way of life completely and began working as a construction laborer. That work proved too strenuous, and he decided to seek a different line of work that would still involve physical effort. He found work in a small bakery in Tel Aviv, distributing loaves of bread to the stores in the HaTikva neighborhood. Early every morning, he would load his donkey with two crates of loaves and take them to HaTikva.

He was happy to be in the Land of Israel and make a living by his labors. On one occasion, the bakery workers made certain demands of the owner; when these demands were not met, they declared a strike. The owner refused to give in and continued to run the bakery with his sons. It seemed that Re'uven Tzigl was remaining neutral; the workers did not include him in their list of demands. But Re'uven stopped work and announced: “Under no conditions will I be a strikebreaker!”

In 1936, bloody riots broke out in the country.[10] Arabs attacked isolated Jewish settlements, ambushed Jews and shot them. At that time, the HaTikva neighborhood had no regular transportation connection with Tel Aviv. Its winding alleys were populated by large families of Jews from Arabic-speaking countries. The neighborhood suffered from these attacks; Arabs shot at it daily, and casualties ensued. Re'uven's family demanded that he stop deliveries for the time being, as he was putting himself in danger. His only response to all their efforts was, “If I do that, what will they eat?”

And he continued to deliver bread to the neighborhood with his donkey.

In 1939, World War II broke out. Hitler's troops invaded Poland and caused many fatalities in that Jewish community. Re'uven Tzigl had two daughters and a son in Poland: Bat-Sheva, Etl, and Yehoshua. As a father, he was anxious about his children; but he remained outwardly calm, and continued his bread deliveries.

His household expenses increased; his youngest son Shmuel was growing into a handsome, gifted young man with many needs But Re'uven Tzigl was happy with these expenses. He was very worried about the fate of his children who were under Nazi rule. He was unable to sleep for worry, and groaned with anxiety at night.

The war finally ended. The Nazi enemy was defeated, but it had succeeded in exterminating the vast majority of Poland's Jewish population. Only a few remnants, who had been able to escape to Russia in time and had overcome the starvation and disease on those wasted steppes, survived.

 

Friends meeting at Purim, 1931

Standing: Tzvi Plut, Yosef Almogi, Rachel Plut, Shifra Almogi, Avraham Zayd, Meir Plut, Pnina Fogel, Ya'akov Viener, Esther Viener, two from Horodło[11]
Seated: Azriel Yosef Berger, Noach Gartl, Buni Yanover, Avaham Tzigl, Avraham Tzimerman, Yehoshua Shifman, Gila Cohen, Shimshon Cohen
Bottom row: Eydl Gelernter, Tova Viener, David Tzimerman (holding Rivka Cohen)

[Columns 743-744]

Among the survivors were Re'uven's daughter Etl and his son Yehoshua.

They both came from Russia to the Land of Israel with their families. The older daughter, Bat-Sheva, did not escape death. The bereaved father was stricken, yet he made efforts to continue his work. However, another blow landed before too long. His youngest son, Shmuel, who had risen in the ranks of the Haganah and become an officer, was killed fighting the Arab armies in Israel's War of Independence in 1948. This calamity was too much for the old father, who no longer had the strength to continue his bread deliveries.

His sons were able to find him work taking care of new immigrants who had settled in Pardes-Chana.[12] Many of the immigrants were lone survivors of large families, and the father felt they were kindred spirits. Talking with them eased his sorrow; he sometimes derived satisfaction from helping someone in need.

There was a young widow from the village of Wojsławice, near Hrubieszow, whose entire family had been killed. She reached Pardes-Chana very depressed and in deep mourning, and was placed in a tent with a large family. She could not connect with the family, and the noisy children exacerbated her depression. When Re'ven Tzigl found out, he wanted to help the lonely woman and offered her lodgings in his own apartment. “There are only two of us, my wife and myself,” he said. “The room is spacious and we can accommodate a third person.” When the widow refused the offer, he found a family that was willing to add another person to their tent. The widow moved into the new place.

His wife, Rivka, died in 1953, aged 72. Re'uven Tzigl mourned her deeply. He did not have the emotional strength to continue living in Pardes-Chana; memories of his wife were everywhere. His children suggested that he move into one of their homes, and they would look after his every need. But the father did not want to be dependent on his children. They then found a retirement home in a small quiet town in southern Israel, where he would be able to rest after his long years of labor. He agreed, and moved into the facility in the town of G.[13] He was able to find people akin to himself, and spent the remainder of his years in relative peace and quiet. He died on March 12, 1957, aged 76.

May his memory be for a blessing!

 

Dov-Berish Alter[14]

Berish Alter of Hrubieszow was compact and average in height, with a bony, resolute face, and eyes that were calm and slightly sunken. He was a merchant, energetic and capable of hard work. He had no specialty, but could identify a product that was difficult to obtain, find it, and then sell it at a minimal profit. However, when the product became more common and he had more competition, he would leave that field and seek another that was in short supply.

His ingenuity was especially marked during World War I.

When the Austrian army invaded the Lublin region, and the roads were insecure, Berish Alter managed to reach Lviv. He returned with carts full of varieties of Hungarian wine in colorful, eye-catching bottles, as well as Viennese chocolate bars in tempting gold-foil wrappers. The Austrian soldiers grew emotional at the sight of “Rus” wine and Orion chocolate bars from their Vaterland (homeland), and paid handsomely for them.[15] However, when travel was safe once again, and the Hrubieszow market became flooded with wine and chocolate, Berish Alter left that line of commerce. One fine day, the town's traders in manufactured goods were surprised to hear that Berish Alter had found a way into the German-occupied region of Poland, which was closed to travel, and had brought a large amount of fabric and knitted goods from the factories of łódź.

This was Berish Alter's practice in commerce: he would chart his own course and by his daring efforts overcome the many obstacles – as if the challenge itself was the attraction.

Berish Alter worked hard and was successful. However, he was not wealthy, as he would make interest-free loans to small merchants and peddlers. Before market day in Hrubieszow, people would visit Berish Alter, receive a loan from him, buy village produce brought by farmers, sell that produce in town at a small profit, and repay the loan. Many Hrubieszow families were able to make a modest living thanks to these loans, but Berish Alter barely broke even. Many of the loans were never repaid, either because of need or malicious intent. But this did not prevent Berish Alter from continuing to make loans. He would say, “No need to punish one person for another's deeds.”

Berish Alter was a man of action and did not spend time in idle talk. In the evening, once he had finished work, he would come to the synagogue of the Kuzmir Hasids, sit down and study a page of Talmud – he loved to study and excelled at it.

In the 1930s, anti-Semitism in Poland increased. Berish Alter realized that his living was being destroyed. According to his character, he took a daring step. In 1935, at age 56, he liquidated his business in Hrubieszow and emigrated to the Land of Israel. He was reunited with his son Mordechai, who had been there since 1919 and whose economic situation was good. However, Berish Alter did not want to be dependent on his son. He charted his own route once again: he leased a plot on Bar-Kochba St., Tel Aviv, and dug a pit for hydrating quicklime, which he then sold to contractors. He had no employees; he himself hydrated the lime and hauled it out of the pit. He worked hard, and served his customers; eventually, he was able to save some money. As in Hrubieszow, he would make interest-free loans to members of the congregation of the Borochov Street synagogue, and needy natives of Hrubieszow. He also continued his Talmud studies, and joined evening Talmud lessons at that synagogue.

In 1950, he became very ill, and underwent surgery. Afterwards he did not have the strength to continue his business as before, yet did not want to employ anyone. Nonetheless, he continued making loans beyond his capacity.

In the final years of his life, he would spend the mornings in the Gan Meir park on King George St., enjoying the sight of babies in strollers being wheeled by their young mothers.

Berish Alter died in March 1956, at the age of 78.

May his memory be for a blessing!

 

Mordechai Zaken

It was 1919. World War I had just ended, but its traces were evident everywhere, on land and on sea. Seventeen-year-old Mordechai Alter-Zaken left his family home in Hrubieszow, en route to the Land of Israel.[16] His father was Berish Alter, the merchant. There was no Zionist pioneering movement in Hrubieszow at the time. Mordechai Zaken took the most daring step on his own. The decision to embark on an unconventional, difficult road seems to have been inherited from his father.

[Columns 745-746]

He left Hrubieszow without any publicity; few, if any, knew what his destination was. He went to Krakow, stole across the Czech border, and reached Pressburg, where Zionists from different places had gathered; some thirty people altogether.[17]

They went to Vienna, hoping that the Palestine office there would be able to obtain immigration certificates from the local British consul.[18] A few weeks later it became clear that they would not receive immigration certificates. They then went to Istanbul by way of the Balkans.

The British consulate in Istanbul refused to grant them immigration certificates. Their last choice was to travel to Alexandria and board a cargo ship bound for Haifa. While at sea, they met up with an American ship that was bringing volunteers for the Jewish Legion; apparently, the meeting was planned.[19] They boarded the American ship.

Mordechai Zaken spent eight months en route to the Land of Israel. He came ashore at Haifa in February or March, 1920.[20]

He worked for a year building the Tzemach-Tiberias road. In 1921 he joined the British police in Haifa, at the instruction of the National Institutions.[21] He was later transferred to Hadera, where he opened the first police station. He then served in Jerusalem, just before the 1921 riots.[22] Mordechai headed a unit of Jewish policemen in Jerusalem's Old City which defended the Jewish residents. In 1923, he married the daughter of Eliyahu Agranat of Jerusalem. He worked for the British Police until 1925. During this time, he was also a member of Haganah. As a policeman, he knew how to hide weapons and move them around, according to Haganah needs. He was also able to warn Haganah members against searches and impending arrests by the British Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

M. Zaken resigned from the British Police in 1925 and started serving in the Tel Aviv Municipal Police, which included more Jews. He worked there for almost ten years, until 1936, when he started working for the Tel Aviv Municipality.

The following year, he built a modest wooden home in the HaRakevet neighborhood. It was a new neighborhood (Zaken's home was the third to be built), surrounded by Arab-owned orange orchards. Jackals howled at night, waking children in fright. The residents, mostly laborers who had trouble getting a day's work, felt isolated and lonely in the neighborhood, which lacked electricity and transportation. To counter their loneliness, they would meet in one of the homes on Friday nights, for conversation and company. Zaken's home was the regular location of such meetings.

The young pioneers who arrived from Hrubieszow in 1930 were often invited to visit Zaken and his wife on Friday evenings, when the neighbors would come. People would report on events at work, Zaken's wife would serve refreshments, and the evening would end in rousing song and a spirited Hora dance. The newcomers from Hrubieszow came into contact here with local workers, heard about their difficulties in finding work, and realized that they were singing and dancing happily in spite of these problems. The meetings in the Zaken home served to educate our boys in the daily lives of Jewish workers at the time.

In general, Zaken and his wife made efforts to host the pioneers from Hrubieszow and keep their spirits up. When the Agranats parents in Jerusalem invited the Zakens for a holiday, the latter in their turn invited the pioneers from Hrubieszow to join them. They agreed, and celebrated the holiday in Jerusalem, in the home of the Agranat family. The head of the household, Eliyahu, welcomed the unanticipated guests graciously, as though they were long-time friends. He took them for walks all over Jerusalem and showed them all its beauties and antiquities, from the Western Wall and David's Tomb to the Bezalel Art School and the Hebrew University buildings on Mt. Scopus. He told them about the neglect and lawlessness in Jerusalem under the Ottoman regime (the Agranats had immigrated from Smolensk, Russia, in 1904), and encouraged them to keep up their work in spite of the obstacles they encountered. “These are absorption pains,” he emphasized, “and I am sure you will overcome all the problems and settle in the country.”

It has been about thirty years since we sat with our friends in the modest home of the Zakens in HaRakevet neighborhood, and were the guests of the Agranats for holidays in Jerusalem. Yet the memory of these meetings is fresh. Many thanks to these people for their generous and warm-hearted encouragement.

 

Avraham Tzimerman (may his memory be for a blessing)

 

Avraham Tzimerman
(may his memory be for a blessing)

 

Avraham Tzimerman was one of the first in our town who abandoned his father's shop and started to learn construction carpentry. At that time, leaving a shopkeeper's life was no simple or ordinary thing.

Avraham, smart, quiet, and unassuming, understood what he needed to do, and trained to become a manual worker in the Land of Israel. In 1925, at age 20, he emigrated.

When I arrived in the country, I visited him in his room in Jerusalem. He was living with another bachelor; there were books in the room and a mandolin hung on a wall. Although he had a hard time in Jerusalem, he was a fervent Zionist and spoke enthusiastically about the Zionist achievements in the country.

He invited me to walk in the Old City. In a small synagogue of Kabbalists, we saw a few young men, thin and extremely pale, with a pitcher of water and a slice of bread on the table.[23] They did not respond to our questions, and did not want to talk with us, as they were immersed in Kabbalah books. Avraham, who came from a Hasidic family, could understand the ultra-religious groups in Jerusalem.

These early Zionist pioneers who encountered the religious groups in Jerusalem were able to overcome all difficulties and start afresh. Avraham remained a staunch Zionist throughout his hard life.

He became seriously ill, and died on October 10, 1950.

May his memory be blessed!

 

Mordechai Fogel (may his memory be for a blessing)

Mordechai Fogel immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1935, at the urging of his son Avraham. As he had been living in a village, he did not seek easy profits, but began working as a laborer in a cowshed in Nachalat-Yitzchak, and sustained his family by his hard work.[24] Over time, he acquired a few cows and became a dairy farmer. His wife, Sarah Hinda (daughter of Moshe Tilles) would carry two milk cans and help him distribute milk.

Mordechai Fogel, who had settled in well, was always very generous to the needy. In 1940 he became ill, and died in 1941.

May his memory be blessed!

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The Husiatyn Hasidic sect was founded in Ukraine in 1865 and existed in Europe and in Israel until 1968. Return
  2. Tze'irei Tziyon was a socialist-Zionist party. Return
  3. The Labor Federation (Histadrut) was founded in December 1920 in Mandatory Palestine, and soon became one of the most powerful institutions in the Jewish community of the country and in the early years of Israel. Return
  4. Ultra-orthodox Jews generally do not study the Hebrew Bible beyond the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). Those who study the other parts of the Bible can be considered secularists. Return
  5. The Israeli pound was the currency of Israel from 9 June 1952 until 23 February 1980. Its symbol was “I£”. The Israeli pound replaced the Palestine pound and was also pegged to the pound sterling. Return
  6. Halutz (plural halutzim) is a Jew who immigrated to Palestine, especially as part of the Zionist movement in the interwar period, to work the land and create Jewish settlements. Return
  7. The hora is a circle dance originating in Eastern Europe, which was adopted by the Zionist immigrants and became very popular. Return
  8. The Haganah (defense) was the main paramilitary organization of the Jewish population in British Mandate Palestine between 1920, and became the core of the Israeli army after it was disbanded in 1948. Return
  9. HaTikva neighborhood is in the south of Tel Aviv. Return
  10. The 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, also known as The Great Revolt or The Great Palestinian Revolt, was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs in Mandatory Palestine against the British Mandate authorities. Return
  11. Horodło is a village near Hrubieszow. Return
  12. Pardes-Chana, south of Haifa, was founded in 1913. In the early years of Israel, it was the site of a large temporary tent camp for new immigrants. Return
  13. Translator's note; This may refer to the town of Gedera. Return
  14. Hebrew names were often translated into Yiddish, forming a two-part name. The Hebrew “Dov” and the Yiddish “Ber” both mean “bear.” The “-ish” suffix is an affectionate addition. Return
  15. I was not able to identify “Rus” wine. Return
  16. The Yiddish alter means “old man”; its Hebrew translation is “zaken.” Return
  17. Pressburg is now known as Bratislava. Return
  18. After World War I the name Palestine Office was applied to Zionist "consulates" in the Diaspora countries charged with the organization, regulation, and implementation of Jewish immigration to Palestine. The first Palestine Office of this kind was set up in Vienna in 1918. The British Mandate Palestine authorities issued a very limited number of immigration certificates. Return
  19. The Jewish Legion (1917–1921) is an unofficial name used to refer to five battalions of Jewish volunteers in the British Army, raised to fight against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Return
  20. The text mentions the Hebrew month of Adar, which in 1920 started on February 19 and ended on March 19. Return
  21. The National Institutions were established by the Zionist movement in Jerusalem before the establishment of the State of Israel, as an infrastructure for the future state, and to implement policy actions to promote Zionism Return
  22. This was a series of violent riots in Mandatory Palestine on May 1–7, 1921, by Arabs against Jews; the riots began in Jaffa and spread to other parts of the country. Return
  23. The Kabbalah is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought in Jewish mysticism. It is popular in Hasidism. Return
  24. The elevation of manual labor over other forms of work was a tenet of Labor Zionism, which was the dominant strain of Zionism in Palestine at the time. Return


[Columns 747-748]

Our Father, Yehoshua Shifman
(may his memory be for a blessing)

by The Shifman family, Pardess-Chana

Translated by Yael Chaver

 

Yehoshua Shifman

 

We will not write a eulogy for our father, nor will we praise him. One does not praise oneself, and our father (may his memory be for a blessing) was an integral and unforgettable part of us. We will recount his first few and crucial years as a pioneer in the fields of the Land of Israel, rich years that gave our father personal satisfaction. He arrived with our mother and three young children on August 10, 1925, at the age of 32 (he was born in Kharkov, Russia, in 1893).

He immigrated as a member of the middle-class settlement organization, which was established in Poland by rabbis and Hasidic leaders, headed by the Rabbi of Kozhnitz.[1] For him, the day he arrived in the Land of Israel was a day of spiritual transcendence over debilitating Jewish life in exile. The small group settled on a barren hilltop near modern day Kfar Hasidim.[2] The hill was named Avodat Yisra'el after Rabbi Yisra'el of Kozhnitz.

 

Years of Hardship

The years of hardship began, years of settlement in the uncultivated, wild Zevulun Valley, with all the attendant work and dangers.[3] Father worked from dawn to dusk, draining swamps and preparing the soil for cultivation, facing natural dangers. Malaria was constant. Tiny biting midges penetrated the nose and ears and were a torment. The hot dry winds that we were not accustomed to were exhausting. Once the fields were sown, rodents damaged them.

Our neighbors, our enemies, often came and stole our property. We would tether the cows to the thick trees at night, and for good measure keep our weapons nearby: hoes, rakes, and pitchforks.

But all these obstacles and problems did not change Father's way of life. He had a wide-ranging education in Jewish and general matters, and was able to blend good sense with national feelings. The obstacles increased his pioneering zeal. Father immersed himself in his work. During the day he worked at draining swamps and building roads; at night he transported hay to the granary or harvested chickpeas on the area then known as Hartiya. He also participated in public activities: he was a member of the moshav's operating committee and went to its meetings.[4] He loved nature in general and was a gentle soul. After six days of hard toil, he would take his children for walks in the moshav's fields, watch the crops as they grew, and infect the children with his enthusiasm.

 

Saturdays and Holidays

Friday and holiday evenings at our house were beautiful. A gleaming white cloth covered the table. Mother blessed the candles, and Father sat at the head of the table and blessed the wine. Friday evening and holiday meals were not lavish, and sometimes there was not even enough bread. But Father knew how to create a festive atmosphere at all family gatherings. Before the Succot holiday he would have the children join him in building a Succah adorned with greenery and flowers. Everyone was excited and inspired. On Passover he would lead a proper Seder, enchanting us children. Singing would spill out into the street, and Father's face shone.

 

Isolation

Our life was difficult. Today, when Kfar Hasidim is only a few minutes away from Haifa, it is difficult to imagine its isolation in the early days. Cart travel to Haifa took several hours. During the rainy season, the road became a stretch of deep, sticky mud. Cart transportation ceased, and we were cut off from other Jewish settlement. If we had to, we went on foot, crossing the Kishon River.

This river was important in our lives. The women carried pans full of laundry on their heads for washing, as did the Arab women. We filled our water cans at the Kishon and loaded them onto the donkey, who carried them home as drinking water for man and animal. Over time we “progressed” and transported the Kishon water in barrels.

 

Jackals' Wails and Snakebites

When we moved to the hill, we set up a temporary shack as living quarters; but it also served the jackals as a corridor. They would jump over the heads of the sleepers at night and sound their wails, which resemble the cries of infants. We later built a wooden house, which solved the problem of the intruding jackals, but that was replaced by scorpions. In the dark of night, a scorpion would crawl out of a crack and sting one of the sleepers, causing agonizing pain.

However, we were not yet considering a stone-built house. Most of our attention was devoted to the livestock. During the rainy season, when there was less fieldwork, we prepared gravel and built a cowshed. We saw that the fine, pedigreed cows were sinking into the mud, so we added a concrete floor. Those were years of hard, never-ending work; Father was in charge of everything and worked ceaselessly, day and night.

 

Father Falls Ill

Due to the hard work and poor nutrition, Father became ill with a serious disease, and lost much of his strength. Now Mother took on the burden of work. She milked the cow before dawn, took the milk cans to the dairy, cleaned the floors, and so on. We children saw our weak, helpless mother doing tasks that were beyond her capacity, and couldn't help, as we were too young. Once, a cow butted Mother; the attack left traces on her head that are still visible.

Years of struggle then followed. The farm had to be scaled down, a cow and a heifer had to be sold to allow us to subsist and pay a worker. Our sources had run dry, and we had to consider leaving farming. Father's suffering was mainly emotional; he was ready to live on next to nothing rather than continue his former exilic existence in the Land of Israel. He sought a solution for a long time, hoping to practice a less strenuous type of agriculture, such as bee-keeping or chicken-raising. This plan did not work, and not by his fault. For a while he ran the town's storehouse, until it closed down.

His letters express his emotional torture at his illness. He complained about premature old age, and compared his condition to that of a sapling that keeps being transplanted; by the third move, its life is in danger. During his last year he ran the cooperative grocery of Pardes-Chana, where we had moved. After years of battling ill health, Father died on June 22, 1932, and was buried on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

We were young children, who never got to know Father well. But reading the notes he left behind, we feel that we lost not only a devoted father but also a valued teacher, educator, and friend.

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The Kozhnitz Hasidic dynasty was founded in the 18th century in the town of Kozienice, Poland. Return
  2. Kfar Hasidim is in the area of Haifa, in northern Israel. Return
  3. The Zevulun Valley is north of Haifa, in northern Israel. Return
  4. A moshav is a cooperative farmers' community. Return


[Columns 749-750]

Notes on Shimshon Cohen
(may his memory be for a blessing)

by David Tzimerman, Giv'atayim

Translated by Yael Chaver

It is with great sorrow and pain that we remember our townsman, Shimshon Cohen (may his memory be for a blessing). His father, Dov Berish Kagan, was a member of the Belz Hasidic synagogue. As a child, he absorbed the enthusiasm and fervency of the Belz Hasids. He went to the cheder of the Belz Hasid, Zaynvl, a teacher who was a devoted Hasid and extremely poor. Shimshon was impressed by Zaynvl's abstemious way of life, and always continued to admire his teacher.

Shimshon left Hrubieszow in 1919, crossed the border into Poland, went to Berlin, and started working in the office of the Po'alei Tziyon party, along with Melech Noy (Noyshtat) (may his memory be for a blessing).[1] He sent Buni Yanover both volumes of Dr. Bernfeld's book Introduction to the Scriptures that had just appeared in Berlin.[2]

He immigrated to Palestine in 1923, and joined the Ma'avar group in Petach-Tikva, which strove to ensure that Jews were the sole workers in this well-established town. Due to unemployment and widespread malaria, Shimshon moved to the Gdud Ha-avoda unit in Nes-Tziyona, and later to the contracting office in Tel Aviv.[3]

He started working in road building and construction, and also joined the Labor Federation offices in Tel Aviv, where he participated in meetings and disseminated information among the construction workers. He carried out his political work in the evening, without pay. This effort proved taxing, and he moved from construction to office work in the Tel Aviv Labor Federation. Shimshon was always in good spirits and made light of his personal problems with a joke and good-humored remarks.

In 1925, he married the Hrubieszow native Gila (née Hornshteyn). The couple rented a tiny room on Tsfat Street, then unpaved, near the silicate block factory. This is now the lively area of Dizengof Square, Tel Aviv. Their daughter Rivka (named after Shimshon's deceased mother) was born in 1928. The family then moved to a more spacious room on Bar-Kochba Street.

At about that time, in early 1930, we, his friends, came to the Land of Israel. One evening Buni Yanover took us to Shimshon's room. Shimshon was happy to see us, started joking and bantering, and offered us “delicacies”: bread, tomatoes, jam, and olives. We felt at home.

Shimshon recounted an episode from his Ma'avar days, when he had fallen sick, and no physician was available. One of the men stood up, announced that he was a physician, and began caring for him in an experienced way. This was Moshe Beilinson, who later worked on the editorial board of Davar, along with Berl Katznelson (may his memory be for a blessing); after the latter died, he was appointed as the editor of Davar.[4]

When he was a member of Gdud Ha-Avoda, he was invited to come to the Tel Aviv Municipality to discuss the possibility of a job as a clerk in the Municipality. This was probably at the initiative of Shlomo Gartl, who had a special relationship with natives of our town. Shimshon accepted the invitation, so as not to slight Moshe Gartl; he appeared before the committee wearing short work trousers and heavy work boots, introduced himself as a halutz who loved physical labor and was not interested in the work and life of a clerk. After this “performance,” he “managed” to be disqualified for the Municipality job.

Shimshon used to walk the streets of Tel Aviv with newcomers from Hrubieszow, and point out notable personalities. “Look, guys,” he would say, “at this redheaded man standing at his refreshment kiosk. His history is interesting. His name is Vitman. He was a good construction worker, but a work accident caused his leg to be amputated. Was he going to become a beggar? With the aid of Zvi Lubyaniker (do you know who Lubianiker is? He is the workers' representative in the Tel Aviv Municipality; any worker with a problem knocks on his door) our redhead received a permit to open a gazoz kiosk in Tel Aviv.”[5]

“Now, look at the blonde woman coming towards us. She is Rosa Cohen, the sister of Virgil Cohen, leader of the Vilna Bund. Rosa is active in the Tel Aviv Labor Council, and looks after the interests of woman workers.[6]

In this way, he helped us to become acquainted with the politicos of the country.

Shimshon made sure that his townsmen got suitable jobs. Buni Yanover recounts: A young woman from Hrubieszow was a member of Kibbutz Tel-Yosef. Because of poor health she could not adjust to life in the kibbutz. She left Tel Yosef and came to Tel Aviv penniless; she registered in the labor exchange and waited for a job as a clerk. In the meantime, she went hungry.

Buni and Shimshon decided to turn to the Tel Aviv city treasurer, S. Gartl, and ask him to give their townswoman a job in the accounting department. When he met with Gartl, Shimshon began praising the young woman's fine qualities and her lineage. She was descended from a Hrubieszow family that included scholars as well as very wealthy people, “greatness in Torah knowledge and unparalleled greatness in secular matters, including wealth and high political office, combined” -, i.e., in a single individual.[7] She was educated and cultured, and a first-class accountant. Her supervisors would undoubtedly be happy with her work. However, a problem needed to be solved. There were previous applicants on the list at the Labor Exchange, who could not be skipped over. A previous applicant had to be accepted, and the exchange could then send the young woman.

Gartl hesitated. He feared that the Exchange would take the opportunity to send him an unsuitable candidate. After a long conversation, we managed to set his fears at rest, and he agreed to our proposal.

“Make sure that things will work out,” Gartl requested.

“Don't worry, it'll work out,” Shimshon repeated. We left Gartl's office.

“Now, it really is working out,” Shimshon said as we left the Municipality. “If we hurry we can get it done today.”

We went to B.N., then the head of the clerical employment office in the Tel Aviv Labor Council (he was later appointed Israeli consul in Poland).[8] In his usual good spirits, Shimshon said,

“Well, sweetheart, we brought you a dowry. If you send our friend to this job, you'll be able to send another unemployed person from the list. But be careful, sweetheart, don't send some useless person who can't do the work, because he'll be returned immediately, and all our trouble will be for nothing.”

Another of Buni's stories: One day, while he was busy at work, Shimshon came running in and said, “Do you have 50 pounds?”[9] Buni looked at him questioningly. At the time, it was a large sum (his own monthly salary was 17 pounds).

“Why are you staring at me?” Shimshon continued in the same tone of voice. “Do you think I need the money? It's for your sake, sweetheart,” and he burst out in laughter.

It turned out that the Labor Federation's housing company had begun registering people for housing in the “Shikun Po'alim 9” project, and registration would close that night. Shimshon registered Buni and had promised to pay the company 50 pounds within 24 hours. In this way, Shimshon enabled him to register for housing in the project on Vitkin Street in Tel Aviv.

This was Shimshon Cohen, a good, cheerful friend, and a fine conversationalist, who understood others and was ready to help. His home was open to all, and all comers were “infected” by his good cheer and comradely feelings. He was also a book-lover, and owned a rich library that contained the best belles-letters and scientific works that were published in the country.

This man, who enjoyed life to the full, endured a painful illness, and died on December 6, 1957.

May his memory be blessed!

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The Po'alei Tziyon movement of Marxist-Zionist workers was founded in various cities of Poland, the Russian Empire, and Europe around the turn of the 20th century Return
  2. Simon Bernfeld's book Mavo Sifruti-Histori le-Khitvei ha-Kodesh (Literary-historical introduction to the Hebrew Bible) was published in 1923-1925. Return
  3. Gdud Ha-avoda was a socialist Zionist labor group in Mandate Palestine in the 1920s. Return
  4. Moshe Beilinson (1889–1936) was a Hebrew writer, journalist, and one of the chief spokesmen of the Jewish labor movement in Palestine, A major hospital in central Israel is named after him. Berl Katznelson (18817-1944) was one of the intellectual founders of Labor Zionism and a leader of that movement. Katznelson was the founder and first editor of the daily newspaper Davar, published 1925-1996, the main organ of the Jewish labor movement in the country. Return
  5. In the mid-1960s, Vitman's son opened a large ice-cream factory in Israel that continued operations in various forms until 1991. Return
  6. Rosa Cohen was the mother of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. I was not able to determine the reference to Virgil Cohen. Return
  7. The quote is from Tractate Gittin, p. 59a. Return
  8. I was not able to identify B. N. Return
  9. The Palestine pound was the local currency, and was pegged to the British pound. Return

 

Shimshon Cohen
(may his memory be for a blessing)

[Columns 751-752]

In Memory of Shimshon Cohen

Translated by Yael Chaver

Shimshon Cohen's path in the Land of Israel was that of a halutz from a Polish town. I met him at the entrance to the Valley of Yizre'el, the beginning of Wadi ’Ara, in the spring of 1924.[1]

The hiking season had begun, and we – a group of workers from Petach Tikva, members of the “Ma'avar” group who wanted to have Jews work the fields – had just finished hoeing the Jewish orange orchards, a prolonged, strenuous job. Some 50 of us now set out to hike to the Yizre'el Valley; there was then no paved road from Petach-Tikva to the Yizre'el Valley, but only a dirt road. The shortest route led through Wadi ’Ara, a well-known danger area. We, young halutzim, full of energy and courage, grasped our weapons and passed through the valley. We had left Hadera in the morning, and reached the southern Yizre'el Valley in the late afternoon.

Settlement in the Valley was just beginning; the land had just been purchased from the local Arabs, and was completely desolate. Here and there were the beginnings of a new Jewish settlement: Nahalal lay ahead, and En Harod further away, at the foot of Mt. Gilboa. The Valley was enormous, surrounded by hills. There was a sense of ancient glory, and we stood amazed at the sight.

Right at the entrance to the valley, under the sycamore-fig tree, we saw two young men with an old Arab shepherd. They told us that they were newcomers to the land, and had been hiking for three days free of fear as they were not aware of the lurking dangers. The person in charge of their group attached them to ours. The aim was to reach En Harod, for the opening ceremony of a Zionist-Socialist convention.

We rested in the open for several hours, and set out before dawn. That was when I met Shimshon. We spread out blankets in the moonlight and opened our food bags. Shimshon had delicate features, and a serious, assured look. He was wearing a modern city suit. I invited him to share my food. We talked in Hebrew, and eventually shifted to Yiddish. The floodgates opened. In fine literary Yiddish, he told me that he had just come from Berlin, where he had worked with Melech Noyshtat (Melech Noy, may his memory be for a blessing) and Zalman Rubashov (Zalman Shazar).

We became lifelong friends.

After this hike, Shimshon joined our “Ma'avar” group. We lived in the same tent, on the granary lot, near the workers' meetinghouse. During the days, we worked in the orange orchards of Petach Tikva, and danced the hora in the workers' meetinghouse at night. Shimshon would play the harmonica, inspiring everyone to dance.

He quickly adapted to our group. He learned how to play the violin, use a hoe, and was considered one of the best workers. When we were asked to do piecework in Cohen's orchard, Shimshon was in charge. He was always in good spirits, telling jokes, which dispelled our fatigue and anger. He had stories of Berlin and the Hebrew authors with whom he worked at the Po'alei-Tziyon publishing house in Germany. He had ties with H. N. Bialik, Z. Shneour, D. Bergelson, and S. Dubnow, as well as encyclopedic knowledge of Yiddish writers and literature.[2]

The group would gather around our tent, and Shimshon would sing pensive, beautiful songs about love and liberty, and would lay out his vision for the future: roads in the Negev desert, and the creation of a new society.

The dreams began coming true. We, a small number of idealists, decided to move to the Negev and live there, with no official help such as financing and the backing of Zionist institutions. We would learn from the Bedouins how to subsist meagerly, grow attuned to nature, and create a new Hebrew-Bedouin tribe.[3]

Our first stop was Nes-Tziona. Some ten young men and women, most of them following vegan ideology, decided to break free of civilization and start afresh in nature, with no institutional support. For a time, we lived in the woods near the synagogue. We became acquainted with the Negev Bedouin in the orange orchards; the vegans among us joined them and left with them to live a natural life in the Negev.

Shimshon led a number of comrades to join Gdud Ha-Avoda, which had then started a new unit in Nes Tziyona. At that time, we were building the main road, and were assigned the section between Nes Tziyona and Rehovot. Shimshon was in charge once again. He soon became a master at stone-working and road-laying, and instructed new workers.

About six months passed. The road building was finished. The orchard owners did not want to employ Jewish workers. For a while, we were unemployed, until Gdud Ha-Avoda formed a unit in Tel Aviv. The Nes Tziona unit became the nucleus for an urban unit.[4]

Our first job in Tel Aviv was constructing the house of the poet H.N. Bialik.[5] Bialik Street was then outside the Tel Aviv city limits, bordering on an Arab-owned orange orchard. We pitched our tents next to the construction site.

Bialik would come to visit the rising house after working hours. He made the acquaintance of us all. He knew Shimshon from the Berlin days, and enjoyed talking with him. The poet was happy with the house we had built.

In the meantime, our camp had become a key site, housing the Municipality building. We picked up and left for a spot far from the city, on the beach, and pitched our tents near the Delfiner factory.[6]

Our unit, the Nes Tziona unit of Gdud Ha-Avoda, supplied good laborers. After the failure of the “Negev Bedouins,” as we were known in Gdud Ka-Avoda, we devoted ourselves to construction work. We built the Lodzia factory on Nahmani Street.[7]

The “Grabski” wave of immigration had just begun.[8] The Mizess, Braun, and Tenenbaum families had emigrated from Poland, and decided to establish a textile industry. We devoted all our efforts to this work, with Shimshon our best worker.

Gdud members who had finished building roads in Galilee began seeking new directions in Zionism. Among other things, they were interested in the Palestine commune.[9] The chief ideologues of the group were David Horovitz and Elkind, who visited us from Tel Yosef. They held nightly propaganda meetings and finally decided…to leave for the U.S.S.R.

We younger members did not participate in these meetings; after a long day of manual labor, the meetings did not appeal to us. The outcome is well known. The unit dissolved, and about fifty of its members left the country and went to the U.S.S.R. to establish kibbutz settlements. As far as we know, not one of them remained alive. They died in prisons, or were killed by the Soviet authorities.

So it was that we were left on our own in Tel Aviv, with no employment or housing. By this time, Shimshon was an expert at building concrete roads, and was employed by a road-building group. He had started building his own home. His childhood sweetheart, who was not yet 18, was a radiant, blooming bride who immigrated and married him. They built their small home and filled it with light and joy.

Available work was usually divided among the unemployed, one or two days weekly for each. But Shimshon was irreplaceable–he was the chief expert on road building. The city engineers demanded that he be in charge of the work. We, the overlooked, were annoyed. But it was impossible to be angry at someone like Shimshon. We, who were ready to give anything for a day's work, agreed that Shimshon was in a different category and deserved more; besides, he had a family.

At that time Shimshon began devoting time as a volunteer community worker. It was during the elections to the Zionist Congress, the Tel Aviv municipality, and the Labor Federation convention. His time after work was dedicated to the labor movement. He was an expert at organizing elections; the only one who knew how to prepare a voters' list, and knew

[Columns 753-754]

A meeting of Hrubieszow natives at the home of Gila and Shimshon Cohen in Tel Aviv, 1931

Standing: Yitzchak Rubinshteyn, Esther Shnirer, Ya'akov Viener, unknown, Sonia Horenshteyn, unknown
Seated: Perl Rozenshtok, David Tzimerman, Shimshon Cohen and his daughter Rivka, Eliezer Hochman, Tzvi Plut
At bottom: Gila Cohen

 

the group. When a worker's name was mentioned, he immediately knew the person's address and his family situation.

He soon became popular among the workers. Kitzis knew that elections could not be organized without Shimshon's aid.[10] Shimshon occasionally had to stop work for several months and devote himself to organizational work, especially the setting up of voters' lists.

During election preparations. everyone worked for him: Arlosoroff, Melech Noy, Beilinson, and others.[11] But Shimshon did not want to leave his road building work, and his presence was always needed there. He inspired the workers with energy and creativity. The Labor Exchange would often send new arrivals to work on the roads. Whereas the city engineer could be short-tempered and irritable, Shimshon would take the new arrivals under his wing and teach them patiently and helpfully.

He made connections with many workers and became familiar with their problems. Later, when he started working for the Workers' Council, he could voice their concerns. Thousands of workers considered him their representative and close friend, and would come to his office in Beit Brenner to unburden themselves.[12]

The workers remembered his help, and Shimshon never forgot his beginnings…

He made the impression of a clerical functionary, but that impression was underlain by warm feelings. In the course of his work in Mish'an and the Labor Federation Housing projects, he witnessed the suffering of society's weaker elements who were near desperation; his sharp senses could sense the difference between cases.[13] He saved many from failure; the members knew that they could approach Shimshon even if all other options were closed off.

He never sought praise or fame, but only the truth. This often caused him pain. During his last years, before his final illness, he witnessed cases of “the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering.”[14] He had to voice the truth, though he paid for it dearly, to the point that he was felled by illness.

He was a mainstay of “Beit Brenner” and the main executor of instructions, fundraising campaigns, activities and projects, for which other people often received the credit.

There was a group of volunteers who worked with him, and the repository of many secrets, to which he held the keys. He would often relieve the tension by humming a Hasidic tune, or with a joke. Few appreciated his pure soul, but many appreciated his energy, breadth of vision, and the ability to take charge of the big picture.

He had a strong critical sense, and could distinguish between the essential and the incidental. He did not bow to authority, and understood human frailties. He did not forgive failure, even if the people around him ignored it; he complained loudly until the truth came out. At that point he was ostracized: how dare he sound the alarm! He was then prevented from dealing with internal affairs.

Following this incident, he shrank inwards, realizing the pitfalls of life and the worthlessness of ideological phrases; but he devoted himself to helping others even more energetically. His last project, housing for old-timers, was run, in theory, by a 5-person committee, but he was the only one who did the work. He took care of homeless and unemployed people, encouraged them, fought for their rights, and tried to obtain funding. He reached out to every one of his long-time acquaintances, and made every effort to improve the condition of people in financial trouble.

His heart burned with a holy flame, and he did not notice that his body was being consumed. He realized the fact too late.

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The Valley of Yizre'el (also known in English as the Jezreel Valley) and the valley of Wadi ’Ara are in north-central Israel. Wadi ’Ara was a notorious site of attacks on Jews by local Arabs. Return
  2. Haim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry and the pre-eminent Hebrew poet of the period. Zalman Shneour (1887-1959) was a prolific Hebrew and Yiddish writer. David Bergelson (1884-1952) was a modernist Yiddish novelist and dramatist. Simon Dubnow (1860-1941) was a Jewish historian, writer, and activist. They, and many other Jewish writers, lived and worked in Germany during the 1920s. Return
  3. This strand of early Zionism romanticized the Bedouin and the local Arabs, seeing them as both descendants of the ancient Hebrews and examples of people attuned to the land. The term “Hebrew” came to symbolize the Zionists' break with diaspora and the adoption of Hebrew as the everyday language. Return
  4. Gdud Ha-Avoda originally emphasized agricultural work. Return
  5. Bialik's move from Europe to Tel Aviv was enthusiastically welcomed by the Jewish community. His house, on present-day Bialik Street, was completed in 1926. Return
  6. A silk-dyeing factory, established by Bernard Delfiner, originally from Vienna. Return
  7. The Lodzia textile factory was built in 1924 and named for Łódź, the Polish textile industry center. Return
  8. Władysław Grabski (1874-1938) served two stints as Prime Minister of Poland (1910; 1923-1925). He was the main author of the currency reform. His economic policies affected many Jewish merchants, who reacted negatively to what was perceived as an unfair process of tax assessment and an outsized tax burden. Many of them then emigrated to Palestine, especially as new U.S. immigration laws made the entrance of Jews very difficult. Return
  9. Some Jewish socialist immigrants were disappointed in Socialist Zionism and sought to form a true “commune” for a more equitable way of life. David Horowitz (1899-1979) was a major Israeli economist. He was a member of the left wing of Gdud Ha-Avoda, which split along ideological lines in 1926, and a close friend of Menachem Elkind. However, he opposed Elkind's move to the U.S.S.R. Menachem Elkind (1897-1938) led the splinter group to establish a Jewish farming settlement in Crimea. Most of its members were arrested and murdered during the 1936-1938 purges in the U.S.S.R. Return
  10. Yosef Kitzis was a powerful figure in Tel Aviv and its Workers' Council. Return
  11. Haim Arlosoroff (1899-1933) was a Socialist Zionist leader of the Jewish community in Palestine during the British Mandate period, and head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency. Melech Noy (1896-1959) was a socialist Zionist leader. Return
  12. “Beit Brenner” (Brenner House) was the headquarters of the Workers' Council of Tel Aviv. Return
  13. Mish'an was founded in 1931 by the Labor Federation as a support network for members who needed assistance. Return
  14. This is an ironic reversal of the Mishnaic phrase (Tractate Berachot 7a) “The righteous prosper and the wicked suffer.” Return

 

Notes on Yekhiel Fayer

Translated by Yael Chaver

Yekhiel Fayer was born in 1904 in the village of Maslimec, to his parents Hadasa and Shalom.[1] When he was 8, his mother died. His father, who wanted to provide him with a traditional education, brought him to Hrubieszow, and he started attending the cheder of Yonchi Melamed.

As an adult, he was one of the founders of the Hrubieszow Orphan Home. At the time, young Jewish men – especially the best of them – derived much satisfaction from helping the less fortunate. Yekhiel located the most disadvantaged, the orphan children, and devoted himself to them. He created an orphans' home and a circle of community notables that supported it. The children sensed that they were being cared for, and were happier.

Yekhiel started thinking about his future and that of his friends in the town. He decided to join the Po'alei-Tziyon Socialist-Zionist party, and was one of its founders as well as a founder of He-Halutz. He left his father's businesses and devoted himself to Zionist pioneer training in Hrubieszow; he also created a training center in the village of Skritchin.[2] Many of those trainees now live in Israel and remember the dedication of Yekhiel and his comrades.

He emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1925, and settled in Haifa. Later immigrants from Hrubieszow talk about his devotion and help to new arrivals, which included ensuring them of employment. He was interested in every detail. When times were hard, he would lose a day's work in order to help a friend.

His dedication to Shimshon Cohen (may his memory be for a blessing) during the latter's illness was noteworthy. Although he himself had had a heart attack, Yekhiel made efforts to visit Shimshon and to cheer him up. He was delighted when Shimshon smiled or sang one of the old songs.

As a foreman for Solel Boneh and Rassco, he never considered himself better than the others, but always tried to help[3] others. Labor was his life's purpose. When he had to switch to clerical work at Rassco, he claimed to be much happier in the company of construction workers.

He was a member of Haganah, and a faithful member of the Labor Federation and the Mapai political party.[4]

His death has bereaved his family and us of a dear friend and brother. He was outstanding in his modesty and devotion to his family and mankind. He was one of a kind, always first to volunteer, and ready to sacrifice himself for nation and country. Though he was sensitive, he was adamant about

protecting the nation and the country, and knew no bounds where these were concerned.

May his memory be blessed!

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Possibly the current village of Masłomęcz, located approximately 11 kilometres (7 mi) south of Hrubieszów, close to the border with Ukraine. Return
  2. I was not able to determine the exact village name, as the Hebrew letters lack diacritical marks. Return
  3. Solel Boneh, founded in 1920, is the oldest, and one of the largest, construction and civil engineering companies in Israel. It was the operational arm of the General Federation of Labor for construction and public works. Rassco is an Israeli construction and development company, established in 1934. Return
  4. Mapai was a democratic socialist political party in Israel, and was the dominant force in Israeli politics until its merger into the modern-day Israeli Labor Party in 1968. Return

 

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