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[Page 91]

A. Zionism

 

[Page 93]

History of the Zionist Organization in Radzivilov

by Menachem Goldgart

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

The Zionist Organization in our town languished until Avraham Yehuda, who before then had been active in Zionist life in his own town, Berestechko, came to us. He was devoted to this work his entire life, and he helped many young people in Berestechko immigrate to Israel. When Avraham Yehuda came to us, he found that there was much to be done. Ben–Tsion Betlin helped him a lot. I remember how Ben–Tsion introduced me his Zionist work even though I was but a boy of 14. It was the Sabbath, during the Torah reading in the Great Synagogue, when Ben–Tsion suggested that I take a look at a Zionist library. He brought me to the elderly Mordekhay Betlin's house to show me the library. When we entered the house, he brought out from under the bed a crate that had a few pamphlets and books in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian. When it was obvious that I was surprised that the so–called library was concealed in a crate under a bed, he explained to me that because the Zionist Organization, and, of course also the library, were illegal, there was no choice but to keep the library hidden in the older man's house because the czarist police wouldn't suspect him.

Eventually the library wandered from house so that it would not fall into the hands of the police, heaven forbid. Finally, we decided that the safest place was at Shimon Rayzer's, whose father's house contained the Fivnia Lovka, that is to say, the beer pub, and this, of course, was because the policemen and the pristov–the police chief– themselves would come there to drink forcibly without paying for their drinks. Therefore, we were sure that even if suspicion were to fall on Shimon Rayzer, one glance at his father and a few bottles of beer would be enough to keep the peace.

After Avraham Yehuda got a sense of how things worked in the town and was convinced that this was a place to cultivate Zionism, he decided to begin by organizing free night classes in Hebrew in his apartment. He was decisive and energetic: he gathered a group of young people around him and began to instill the tenets of Zionism in them. Ben–Tsion Betlin, Tsvi Luzman, and the writer of these lines were in the first group, and they shortly became the advance party of pioneers from our town to the Land of Israel.

[Page 94]

Ben–Tsion had little practical experience, so after a while he returned to the Diaspora. But Tsvi Luzman endured and found his vocation in farming in the Galilee. I'll relate my experiences later.

I recall that in 1904, at midnight, Velvel Zaks came to my father and reported Herzl's death to him. Heavy mourning descended on our house, and my father argued with Zaks until the dawning light; it seemed that they had decided that very night to join the World Zionist Organization. The Great Synagogue sexton did the same, as did the city's highly respected men and factory owners. These people were counted among the first Lovers of Zion, and my father was one of the first officials of the Odessa Committee founded by Ussishkin. The philanthropic Odessa Committee [1] did not fund my father, and then he brought me to request funding. I didn't succeed in getting funding, but I decided that it was very important to immigrate to Israel. So little by little, I found work in order to earn money for the Land of Israel.

After some time, the holiday of Sukkot arrived. I had the idea of doing something to promote etrog [2] production in the Land of Israel. I brought some materials to the study hall beadles, but not one of the 15 study halls in the city agreed to give up using the Greek etrog for the preferred Land of Israel etrog. The Greek etrog, they claimed, was more “beautiful, more refined.” Only those in the Great Synagogue agreed to acquire the Land of Israel etrog, and this only after long negotiations.

After R' Moshe, beadle of the Great Synagogue, brought the etrogim to the synagogue leaders to make a blessing over them, I explained to each one who was making the blessings that the Land of Israel etrog was preferable to Greek etrog because it was more “beautiful, more refined.” But when my explanations failed to have much impact, the beadle gave the cantor both etrogim, the Land of Israel etrog and the Greek etrog, and asked him to choose. I got angry, and in my anger I broke the stem of the Greek etrog and fixed it by putting a pin in it. The cantor, of course, was shocked at the sight of what I had done, but the congregation did not notice anything, so I was saved from the hands of those who might “lynch” me, God forbid.

On Tisha B'Av, the day of destruction of the Temple, I used to sell shekalim [3] for the Zionist Organization members. The members sent me a list of the local bourgeoisie to canvas. I went to the Fayfel family. I found them all sitting around a set table, something you wouldn't expect on one of Israel's fast days. They greeted me, saying, “Blessed is he who comes,” and said, “Here comes the Land of Israel Jew!” After all the family members left the dining room, only the elderly mother remained to talk with me. She posed a few questions to me, and I tried to answer them, while also trying to understand their relevance. Here are the questions that I remember:

[Page 95]

 

rad095.jpg
Group of Zionists hosted by Dr. Kopeyka and his wife for immigration to the Land

 

[Page 96]

“Who will be the gorodovoy, that is to say the policemen, in the Land of Israel if all the Jews want to be officers?”

“I will be the gorodovoy,” I answered.

“And who will clean the sewer pits?”

“Indeed, I am willing to do this, too, in the Land of Israel.”

At my words, the old woman nearly fainted with emotion and offense, and after she had composed herself, she said, “Is it possible that the honorable R' Chana Goldgart's grandson would do this sort of demeaning work?”

“That's right,” I answered. “For the sake of the Land of Israel, you must be prepared to do anything.”

After I had satisfied all the concerns expressed in Mrs. Fayfel's questions, she told me that she was ready to give a charitable donation to the Land of Israel. I explained that I wasn't collecting donations but, rather, raising money for members of the Zionist movement who were going to build the Land of Israel. And thus she agreed to buy a shekel with the explicit condition that doing so would not obligate her in any way.

With Poltorak, it was much more difficult. He didn't want to buy a shekel, and he didn't want to contribute to the Jewish National Fund or the Foundation Fund. He had an ideological problem with what he called “the gangsters”–what he called pioneers –– because they played football on the Sabbath “in the brigade,” that is, in the yard belonging to the firefighters, and also smoked on the Sabbath. It was difficult to change his opinion, and the Zionist Organization sent “their big guns” to influence him. They also asked me to go help with this, as a Jew from the Land of Israel, but not even I could do anything about this.

I used to go visit Rosye Mos, the mother of the Port Arthur millionaire Moshe Mendil Ginzburg, once a month on Saturday night on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. At first the elderly woman would criticize me, saying that the boys in the Land of Israel were accustomed to dancing with girls. After I convinced her to stop shouting and pointed out that there wasn't even a pruta [4] in her Jewish National Fund can, the good lady gave me a whole ruble to benefit the Jewish National Fund. This was a large sum, and suffice it to say that all of the Jews of Radzivilov together would not have contributed a sum like this in a whole week …


Footnotes

  1. Translation editor's note: The Odessa Committee, officially known as the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine, was a charitable, pre–Zionist organization in the Russian Empire that supported immigration to Israel. return
  2. Translation editor's note: The etrog (plural: etrogim) is the yellow citron used by Jews on the weeklong holiday of Sukkot. return
  3. Translation Editor's Note: Shekalim (singular: shekel) were tokens of membership in the Zionist Organization. return
  4. Translation editor's note: The pruta was an ancient copper Jewish coin worth about one thousandth of a pound. return

[Page 97]

The Haganah in Radzivilov (1918–1919)

by Aleksander Balaban

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

With the close of World War I, Jews began to return to town in order to recreate a normal life in their homeland. This didn't sit well with the gentiles, as they still nursed their hatred of Jews, so they began systematically to set fire to still–unclaimed Jewish houses every night. It was obvious that these arson attacks were malicious, and the Jews therefore decided to protect themselves and their property. They organized a nightly watch, with two guards patrolling every street each evening. But this guard was not enough, because the agitators would watch for them in the gaps between the streets, hang a few burning kerosene–soaked rags on an abandoned house, and flee. Because of this, an incentive was issued: arson for arson–and so the arson stopped.

When the Community Council was established in the town, it also immediately set up a Haganah [self–defense], and two council members who were well suited to the role were appointed: Dr. Gredenshtin and A. Balaban. There was no lack of weapons then, because warehouses full of stockpiled weapons were located very close to the railroad station. The civilian government was there to collect taxes, and the commander of the army was not at all interested in civilian affairs (he was satisfied with occasional bribes from the council …), so, for all intents and purposes, the Haganah found itself fulfilling the role of town militia. The Haganah kept the peace, collected taxes for the community, and took care of other matters. When stray soldiers wandering in Ukraine organized pogroms against the Jews, the Haganah summoned the Jewish youth in our town, organizing them into groups–commanded by a very courageous man, Maumon–to scare off the rioters. These groups demonstrated that agents of destruction would not be tolerated in our town, and they left town without harming a single Jew.

To our great delight, the gentiles in the area weren't interested in pogroms, because Ukraine was then in complete chaos, and there was a severe lack of trade in many commodities that were available in Galicia, which was close by. The Jews would buy these goods in Galicia, and the gentiles would transport them, because the railroads were not available for civilian use. Hauling commodities allowed the gentiles to engage in currency–based transactions, so they weren't interested in disrupting this kind of order. They also took into account the Haganah's existence; it had become renowned in the area as a strong organization.

[Page 98]

One reason for the disturbance of this peace that was bound to cause bloodshed was the deflation of Ukrainian currency. The rioters wanted nothing to do with currency at any cost. What did they do? They used to go into a Jewish shop, buy something, pay for it with a big 50–karbovanets [1] paper note, and then demand change in coins, something that Jewish shopkeeper could not abide. The Community Council, understanding the tenuous commercial situation, decided to do everything in its power to prevent a confrontation and not allow matters to evolve into a disturbance. The council collected a large sum of money in silver coins, and, when there was a conflict between a rioting gentile and a Jewish shopkeeper, the Haganah would intervene and hand out the requested sum to the gentile in coins.

Out of a concern for maintaining peace and good relations between the Jews and their neighbors, the Ukrainians, the council also became involved in cultural affairs, because the Ukrainians had a cultural committee, although it hardly did anything. But to maintain good relations between the community's and the Ukrainians' cultural committees, the latter was invited to our plays from time to time for the purpose of being sociable.

 

rad098.jpg
Maccabee Soccer Team

Yosef Albert, Moshe Bespoyasnik, Avraham Fayfel, Beybik Shternberg, Shalom Fayfel, Yudke Chotiner, Duvid Lekhtman, Yakov Kletsel, Avraham Prochovnik
Seated: Dr. Veber

 

[Page 99]

It was also intended to give them an impression of our organization and make them aware of our abilities. In connection with our power, the following event must be recounted.

Once a revolt broke out in the region, and the Radzivilov commander sent forces to suppress a revolt in the Kremenets area. He came to us with a request for forces to join in suppressing the revolt. This did not appeal to us because we didn't want to interfere with matters involving them and others. We convinced the commander that it wasn't our role to interfere in political affairs; we were involved only in keeping the peace. After some time, the government forces returned, bearing with them the dead and wounded. In our desire to show our friendliness, we decided to participate in the funeral for their fallen. The funeral left from the hospital, which was on Railroad Street. Many Christian holy vessels led the procession. Then came the coffins of the dead attended by relatives, and at the end of the procession was a platoon of 120 Jewish Haganah boys with ceremonial rifles. The procession was solemn, and the band played songs of mourning from the start. In the cemetery, after the lamentations, the platoon fired a round of shots to honor the dead. This honor shown by the Jewish Haganah to the memory of the dead made a great impression on the residents, and their conversations were different during the following months.

The Haganah's reputation was so strong that the commander preferred to transfer the watch over the weapons warehouses near the train station to the Haganah boys because he could trust them more than he could trust his own soldiers. Furthermore, you might say that we had an interest in guarding the arsenals. But there were a few unpleasant events that caused us sorrow.

Once, one boy lost an eye while playing with a bomb that exploded. And another time, there was a more tragic event. One of the boys returned from guard duty believing that his rifle was unloaded, having taken out the magazine and emptied it of bullets. But he forgot to check the barrel chamber, and one bullet still remained, ready to be fired. He got home and was boasting to his bride that, he, a yeshiva boy, knew how to wield a weapon. Certain that the rifle wasn't loaded, he pointed it at his bride, and believing this to be only a joke, she raised her hands and said, “Fire!” He fired. The bullet inside pierced her heart. This was an unbearable tragedy…

Hearing of the sad incident, the commander ordered the Haganah to disarm, but we succeeded in reversing his decree only after great negotiations, because worse incidents were to come for our townspeople.

[Page 100]

Another incident happened to the wagoner's son. A rioter dressed in officer's clothing accosted him and asked him to help collect of a large tax in a neighboring village, Kripits, where his platoon was already located, so he said. The son agreed to his request and went with him. En route, the “officer” shot him in the back and killed him, and ran away with the wagon and horses. Afterward, we found out that the platoon of which the imposter spoke had never been there.

The Haganah continued to operate until the Polish army appeared. The fact that our town fared peacefully during that chaotic time and did not suffer from pogroms angered gentile rioters. So they brought accusations to the Polish military government against several Jews and Ukrainians who fought more, so it would seem, with the Bolsheviks. The Poles arrested and questioned six Jews, among them Tsvi Kuperman and the writer of these lines. We were all brought to a military prison in Lemberg, and we returned in a week, only after great efforts by the town's businessmen and Rabbi Chayim the elder; none of us had any connection to the Bolsheviks, so we were freed.


Footnote

  1. Translation editor's note: The Karbovanets was a unit of currency in Ukraine. return

With the First Ones

by Rachel Gurman

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

When he was lad of 14, Menachem Goldgart joined the Zionist Organization in our hometown, Radzivilov, and undertook a significant portion of the public Zionist work there. But he wasn't satisfied just working for Zionism; he aspired to make his own immigration to Israel, and in 1912 he set out for the Land of Israel in spite of all his parents' attempts to dissuade him. And so Menachem became “the first” from Radzivilov.

When he came to the Land of Israel, he found work as a laborer in the Rehovot orchards. For two years, his parents continued inundating him with letters, wanting to know what his “plans for the future” were, until finally he responded to them and told them that he had decided to become a pioneer in the development of industry in the Land of Israel. He ordered machines from Germany to make candles and soap, and also to make stearin, but the for factory to be set up and financed, he had to enlist partners, and because of this, he went to Russia to create a company that would take up the factory's organization and financing. Then World War I broke out, and his connection to the Land of Israel was severed.

Menachem remained in the Diaspora waiting for the fury to pass, and in the meantime, he did not to rest and was certainly not idle. When the town of Radzivilov was set on fire by enemy forces in 1915, Menachem went to Kremenets to represent an agency for refugees and became the head of the Relief Committee.

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But he never forgot his plan to return to the Land of Israel, and when the first opportunity arose, he set out immediately.

He got to Harbin in Manchuria and settled there. What did he do? Not just sit with his arms folded! No. He started by taking part in civic life there as a member of the local Jewish community in 1918. He founded and chaired the Hebrew Legion, with the hope of uniting with the Jabotinsky Legion [1]. His friends from the Young Zionists had different opinions. Most of them were in favor of neutrality with Turkey. But not Menachem. Now was the time to act, in his mind! But in the meantime, the war came to an end, and the legion dispersed.

Meanwhile, Menachem married Rive, and the two of them left for the Land of Israel. Theirs was a very long route, from Japan, China, and Indochina, then on a boat to Egypt, and from there to the Land of Israel. To Menachem's great disappointment, he did not find the machinery that he had brought to the Land of Israel before the war. Because of this, he had no choice but to work building roads and buildings. Meanwhile, his wife played in an orchestra and taught at Ron Shulamit, the first music school.

In 1928, the Goldgart family decided to live in a village. They settled in Ramat HaSharon, which was then in the middle of an Arab area, one of the first from this point of view. Bread was brought to them from Herzliya or from Tel Aviv. Water came on trucks from Herzliya. They had no electricity, certainly, but in spite of these conditions, they built a house and a small orchard. The difficulties were great. But they endured, believing that better days would come. And then World War II broke out, and it became difficult to maintain the orchard and harvest the fruit when it was ripe. The Goldgart family returned to Tel Aviv, and Menachem, who had once dreamed of establishing an industry in the Land of Israel, began working for others in a factory.

In 1947, Menachem became an active Haganah member, as a policeman and warehouseman. With the establishment of the state of Israel, Menachem was sent on border patrol. When the Israel Defense Forces were created, he was released from his position.

Today, at the age of 75, Menachem Goldgart assesses his life with great satisfaction, very glad to have been able to come and see with his own eyes the restoration of Israel in its land.


Footnote

  1. Translation editor's note: The Jabotinsky Legion probably refers to the Jewish Legion of the British army in World War I, cofounded by Zev Jabotinsky. return

 

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