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[Page 226]

Visits by Writers and Speakers

by P. Dov, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

The proximity of our town to Warsaw had the advantage that all the “great speakers” would stop in on a Sabbath or holiday and “make themselves heard.” In my time, it was the Sholem Aleichem Library that would arrange lectures on literary themes. Who didn't pay us a visit? When Dov Ber Malkin would go off to the provinces to give a talk on Sholem Asch's “Motke the Thief,” his first stop would be Nowy Dwor. If the quiet, lyrical B. Karlinus put together a lecture about Yiddish folksong, he'd set off for Nowy Dwor. We had visits from Heftman, Segalovitsh, Nakhman Mayzil, B. Khilinovitsh et. al.

Later, when political activities were legalized, the parties began to compete, each party trying to outdo the other in bringing in “stars.” If the Zionists brought in “the student” Provalski, the Bundists immediately brought in “the eternal student,” the later famous Bundist leader Shloyme Mendlson. The Zionists then brought in the very popular Moyshe Klaynboym (today, Moshe Sene). Then the Bundists brought in the no less famous popular public speaker, our homegrown townsman Hershl Himlfarb. And if the Bund brought in the leader Victor Alter, the Zionists could not swallow this for long, and would with great ceremony bring in their top dog, Yitshak Grinboym.

The Nowy Dwor Jews were a good audience, and we never had an empty hall. They would enthusiastically receive the modern emissaries of Yiddish literature, culture and politics. Things didn't end with the conclusion of the speech. For weeks afterward, it would be discussed and analyzed. The debate of the judges continued in full force, whether the subject was literature or art, and even more so if it was political. People sharpened their minds and their tongues. Each group had its spokesman and “local representative.”

The discussions strengthened cultural and political interest and awareness. After these debates, people read more and bought Yiddish newspapers. They would even read the newspapers of the opposing sides, analyzing what was said directly and between the lines, so they could be ready for battle. These special traits, our cultural awareness and thirst, evoked a warm response from the writer–speakers who visited us.

Nakhman Mayzil, in his very interesting book, “There Once Was a Life” (published by the Central Association of Polish Jews in Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1951) describes the cultural life in Poland between the two world wars and various events and curiosities during his visits to the “lovely provinces.” He writes about Nowy Dwor:

“Another time I came to Nowy Dwor to speak in the library. I was met at the train, and we walked to town. I wanted to stop at a restaurant for a glass of tea and something to eat, but the young people from the library wanted me to walk with them through the main streets so people would see that the speaker had in fact arrived, because recently they had been stood up, a speaker had not come, and people had lost faith. So I had to walk through the streets, albeit without a drum accompaniment, the way the circus used to parade through town to announce its arrival.”

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Mayzil's account reveals the kind of cultural movement we had in our town, with all the events and literary performances of the Sholem Aleichem Library, and with the eagerness of the Jewish audience to hear about issues of the day, because “Man does not live by bread alone.”

*

But there was another connection between a Yiddish writer and Nowy Dwor, one that did have to do with “bread alone.” In his book, “In My Father's Court,” Isaac Bashevis Singer writes:

“My brother Yisroel Yehoyesh (the famous I.I. Singer) for a certain time worked for the Germans during the [First] World War, repairing a bridge. He portrayed that experience in his novel, “Steel and Iron.” I remember that he came back from that town with a huge bread – the most enormous bread that I've ever seen, either before or after. It was as big as a wheel and almost as flat. This was the best present he could have given us. We cut slices from it for weeks. The work my brother had to do was too hard and too dangerous for him.”

This occurred during 1917–18. My friend Lipa Mundlak worked at the same worksite as a kind of supervisor. It was when they were rebuilding the bridge over the Vistula, which the Russians had blown up as they withdrew from Poland. I had heard from Lipa Mundlak about Singer, a boy from Warsaw, the son of a Lantshiner rabbi, who was working on the bridge and who was already a bit of a writer. That was the I.I. Singer who later brought different gifts to Yiddish literature – the “big bread” of his impressive works.

Nowy Dwor also had the honor of encountering other Jewish personages, whom the Tsarist government had shut up in the damp cells of the Modlin Fortress, where they served out their prison sentences of various terms. One of the Modliner prisoners was the veteran of Poalei Zion, the current deputy chairman of the Knesset in Israel, Nokhem Nir. In his memoir, “Chapters of a Life,” which covers the years 1884–1918, Nir writes:

“The Passover holiday arrived. The Nowy Dwor Jews, led by their rabbi, brought in matzos and potatoes for us.”

This is a reference to the selfless concern shown by the Nowy Dwor rabbi, Reb Ruven Yehuda Neufeld, for the prisoners in the Modlin fortress. I relate more about the efforts of Rabbi Neufeld and of the people who worked with him to aid the prisoners in my article about him in this book. One of those whom he helped on that sad Passover, who received holiday charity inside the walls of the fortress was the renowned activist Nokhem Nir. Imprisoned along with Nir at that time was the “Khone” Modzhibitski, now well known in Israel. Recently in Israel on the occasion of Nir's 80th birthday, he fell upon Nir, kissing and hugging him, and saying, “Dear friends, 60 years ago I was imprisoned with Nokhem Nir in the Modlin Fortress.” They both certainly remember that Passover when they dreamed of liberation from slavery to freedom.

*

Among those who visited Nowy Dwor was H.D. Gomberg. A quiet and intelligent skeptic, he wasn't affiliated with a political party nor was he among the literary travelers who dragged themselves from town to town with their literary themes. So what brought him to Nowy Dwor? He was brought there by a small group of Folkistn [members of the Folkist (Popularist) party],

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among them Nokhem Neufeld, Dovid Lerner, Ben Tsion Landsman, Hershl Holtsman, Binyomele Zeygermayster (Vaynshteyn), Ahron Shulbank and myself. Our efforts to build even a small Folkist party in Nowy Dwor did not succeed. The Zionists made our lives miserable. The Bundists – as the “true Socialists” –– disdained us as backward petit bourgeois. So we had to carve out a small place for ourselves with cultural activities in the field of Yiddish and Yiddish literature.

We began of course by bringing in speakers and well–known personalities. We brought in the journalist Sh.Y. Mendlson (who then belonged to the Folkist Party) and Dr. Goldenberg (then a veterinary doctor, but a doctor nevertheless), and they packed the hall, but we still remained a tiny Folkist group. So we aimed higher, organizing a Peretz memorial on the second yahrzeit [anniversary of death] of I.L. Peretz (before Passover in 1917) and brought in the big gun, H.D. Gomberg, who was then one of the most beloved columnists for [the Yiddish newspaper] “Moment.” The readers devoured his brilliant articles and we hoped that Peretz's yahrzeit, combined with Gomberg's name, would be a big attraction.

I was in charge of the arrangements. I went to Warsaw and obtained Gomberg's private address from the “Moment” offices. He was subletting a room from the mother of Shloyme Mendlson on Gzhibovska Street, not far from the Jewish community. I entered Gomberg's room with trepidation. He kind of recognized me and didn't recognize me from meetings at Folkist conventions in Warsaw, and I got right down to business regarding his participation in a Peretz memorial. He looked at me with his big blue eyes and said in his drawling Warsaw Yiddish, “What do you mean? You've made a decision, but what about me?”

He said he didn't travel, he couldn't promise, he had no time and more and more excuses. Froy Mendlson came to my aid, joining the conversation, looking at me with pity for my persistence as he kept saying no. Gomberg had great respect for the intelligent Froy Mendlson. It was a big deal that she was the daughter of the Koyler rabbi, Rabbi Avigdor Levental and on her husband's side related to the Chamdes Shlomo [Rav Shlomo Zalmen Lipschitz, Warsaw's first chief rabbi]. She prevailed, and he promised to come.

Before we parted Gomberg added that he had a habit of forgetting. “But send my landlady a fat turkey for Passover and she'll make sure I don't forget.” This was during the hungry times under the German occupation [in World War I] and a turkey for Passover would come in very handy. I didn't forget my promise. A few days before Passover, Moyshe Shmuel (Kshonshko), the purchasing agent, filled the order and smuggled a fat turkey to Gomberg's landlady, Froy Mendlson, and Gomberg did come to us on chol hamoed [intermediary, non–holy days] Passover, speaking nearly two hours about Peretz at his memorial. It was a wonderful discussion, interwoven with personal memories and with a deep analysis of his work. This talk became the basis for a later brochure published by Gomberg.


[Page 229]

Jewish Sportsmen and Sports Organizations

by Kalman Pitulski, Haifa

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

The beginning of the Jewish sports movement in Nowy Dwor dates back to a day in May, 1919 when the students in the public school, near [Apteka (Pharmacy) Boleslawa] Konarski, saw, for the first time in our lives, a ball game, played by French soldiers in front of the firehouse. Deeply impressed by this holiday–like sports day, we became passionate devotees of sports, especially soccer.

Another contributing factor was the revival of social and cultural life in our town. Not wanting to lag behind the Christians, the Jews formed scouting groups for young people, which began to make excursions, do gymnastics and later expanded their activities. With the arrival of the teacher Yosef Roznzaft the sports movement took on new tasks – to gather young people and educate them physically and intellectually, to teach them to stand up straight, to awaken human pride and Jewish spirit.

With youthful ardor, the scouts and athletes gathered in the courtyard of the Jewish school (on the road opposite the post office) and lined up amid the sounds of the Hebrew language and song.

The movement gained impetus with the establishment of Hashomer Hatsair [Guardians of Youth], which also provided physical education in the tradition of [the sports club] Maccabi. Thanks to them, older people joined the movement, among them Binyomin Fridman, Yidl and Hersh Roznshteyn, Mendl Knaster, Berish Mundlak, who were among the Nowy Dworers

 

now229.jpg
The celebration of a tournament by the sports association Maccabi in 1916
In the group on the right–first on the right: Binyomin Fridman, founder of the Maccabi; fifth from the right, Ruven Milner, teacher in the kheder metukhen [modern kheder]
In the first row of players, from right: Khaim Mundlak, Khaim Roznshetyn, Moyshe Radziner, Hershel Roznshteyn, Konianski; in the second row of players: Elye Finklshteyn, Khaim Srebrenik and Lipa Mundlak

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who in 1915–16 had formed the first seeds of Maccabi in our town.

Many of us still remember the enthusiasm with which the children followed the work of the athletes, how with shining eyes they would peer through the windows of Roznboym's hall, where younger and older athletes practiced gymnastics, following instructions in Hebrew. When the older athletes saw this, they began to pay attention to the young ones.

The club was always filled with members and sympathizers who found in it a new form of social life. More intensive work began: there was a reading room, four groups for learning Hebrew, a drama circle, and a group of athletes who participated in gymnastic performances. Among the latter were Moyshe Shulman (Canada), Yosl Katsovitsh (Israel) and I.

Because of the departure of Knaster for America and of Roznzaft for Israel, and also because of financial difficulties and conflicts between political parties, the fruits of years of work were weakened, but not entirely given up.

The expansion of the work of Hashomer Hatsair among the very young – ten to twelve year olds – gave the sports movement new direction. I took on the task of working with the young groups. Many remember the walks and marches in Blat's courtyard and after that, on the big square (where I lived) opposite Tall Yosl's.

At the beginning of the 1930's the sports movement revived. The photographer Yidl Roznshteyn, along with the well known athletes Khaim Vermus, Avigdor Garber, and the Roznshteyn brothers, formed tournament groups. They introduced exercises with modern equipment. They also introduced athletic performances that displayed the skills they had acquired.

 

now230.jpg
A group of soccer players
From right to left, standing: Shmuel Simkovitsh, Dovid Papier, Menashe Kohkhalski, Mendl Papier, Avraham Roznberg,Y. Katsovitsh, Yosef Roznshteyn
Seated: Shloyme Kartsovitsh, unknown, Avigdor Garber, Shaul Zakheym, Shmuel Kokhalsi

[Page 231]

But this revival, too, did not last long. Money problems and personal and communal disputes paralyzed the work, to the point that it stopped entirely; all the iron sports equipment rusted away.

The sports club Morgnshtern [Morning Star] made great efforts to establish tournament groups but didn't succeed in doing so until 1938–39. On the sports field at Hirshbeyn's courtyard many young people performed field and track exercises under the direction of the sports instructors from Warsaw and successfully engaged in competitions and exercises.

Despite all efforts, however, field and track athletics were not as attractive as soccer, which had a tradition in town dating to the 1920's. In the beginning, it was played in a primitive and comic way. The ball was made of rags, the goal was marked by two stones or two hats and its height was lined up with height of the goalie. Not until later did they use a leather ball and become real players.

It was a great event in the life of Jewish youth in Nowy Dwor when the Yehuda players showed up with their blue and white shirts and demonstrated that Jews are not just “people of the book.” They trained on the “free lawn” (beyond Kupershmid, on the Modliner Road) and later on the open field along the way

 

now231.jpg
The sports organization Morgnshtern –Girls' group with instructor Dovid Papier

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to the shipyard, where they held soccer competitions with other groups, Polish and Jewish.

The first founders of Yehuda were Moyshe Shulman (Canada), Motl Kupershteyn (Argentina), Kalman Pisulski, Nosn Zilberman, Yitshak Riba, Ahron Blank, Shmuel Kokhalski and those of blessed memory –Khaim Shaynboym, Khonan Knaster, Avraham Roznberg, and Leybl Vermus.

The Yehuda players later became the seeds of the sports club Kraft [strength], which was created by Poalei–Zion–Zionist Socialists. The club had good quarters and a fresh reserve of manpower in the Frayhayt movement. Together with the politically unaffiliated they formed the basis for sports activity.

Great physical and technical difficulties impeded the activity of all five sports clubs during the 11 years of sports activity before World War II. First of all, all the young participants were workers who had to do their training after a long day's work. The sports fields were moved further and further away from town, first to the cattle market, then beyond the railroad tracks, then to the sawmill on the road to Okonin, so that the proletarian players arrived even more exhausted.

Still, the Jewish young people, thanks to their ambition and dedication, accomplished a lot in the field of sport. Kraft conducted intensive programs, and almost every Saturday held matches with the Jewish and Polish clubs from Nowy Dwor and its environs. Most influential in raising the prestige of the Jewish athletes were the competitions with the military club from [the] Bayon [Legion] and we were proud to see how the Jewish boys fought to win. It was the same with the sports competitions in the fortress.

Soccer gained a lot of impetus with the founding of the autonomous workers' soccer association of the general association in Poland. Kraft and Morgnshtern joined and this enabled them to come into contact with all the sports clubs in the Warsaw region.

The impressive visit of the soccer team Hapoel [“the worker”] from Eretz Yisroel in 1931 did much to advance the sport among Jews. Kraft and its players, under the leadership of Kalman Pitulski (the chairman) and Kokhalski, changed their name to Hapoel and joined the Poalei Zion–Zionist Socialists (in Mundlak's building), regrouped, and attracted new members.

The work brought additional successes and achievements, which greatly increased the prestige of Hapoel and it became increasingly prominent in the area, like Nashelsk, Plotsk and other towns. But the work of Hapoel was affected by an unfortunate accident on the way from the Modliner Road to the bridge, in which several players were slightly wounded and one –Yosl Riba –was barely saved, thanks to the prompt help of Dr. Soleveytshik.

In the ten years prior to World War II the soccer clubs were a part of Jewish communal life. The matches were an opportunity for entertainment and discussion. The town got especially worked up when there was a match between Hapoel and the Bundist Morgnshtern. Despite the heated mood there were never any serious incidents. The players of both clubs had good relations and often set up joint teams to compete with the Polish teams.

Later there was a new club, “Progress,” which then became “Union,” which the extreme leftist young people joined. The players include the Polish Kovalski brothers, Kaligovski, Drohotshiner, Yurek, Moyshe Ravistski, and Hersh Dovid Knekht. Besides soccer they had groups

[Page 233]

now233a.jpg
[Sports club] Kraft in Nowy Dwor 1930

 

now233b.jpg
A group of soccer players

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for field and track and volleyball. Fishl Brotski put a lot of energy into this organization but in the 1920's its far left members joined Hapoel or Morgnshtern.

In 1938 another club called Maccabi was formed into which a group of young people put a lot of energy, but the war put an end to their efforts.

*

In discussing all the important stages in the development of a Jewish sports movement in Nowy Dwor, we should recognize and honor Rabbi Neufeld, who understood the spirit of the times and opposed the fanatically religious forces that wanted to impede our sports programs, as they did in neighboring towns. The rabbi's support gave us a lot of courage and belief in our work.

Honor to all the young athletes who were murdered along with their families and millions of Jews. May our youth, in their striving for spiritual and physical exaltation, remember them and reach the point where no one will ever again dare to destroy our lives and trample our human and Jewish honor.

 

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