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Page 37

Chapter 2

Sopotkin as Zionist and Cultural Center

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"Not the place honors the person,
But the person honors the place."

(The "religion and the nationality" – Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, the spiritual leader (Rabbi) of Sopotkin, published by the Zionists of Kovno.)

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The writer and Rabbi Samuel Yaakov Rabinovitch (1857-1921)

Sopotkin as a Zionist center of the Grodno district

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Rabbi Samuel Yaakov Rabinovitch,
the Rabbi of Sopotkin

After the foundation of the Zionist Organization, Sopotkin turned to be, thanks to the great and prominent personality of the Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, the zionist center of Grodno district, the center of propaganda and intensive zionist action.

The writer, the scholar, the zionist public worker and the Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, was from the first zionist public workers and the active workers of the "Lovers of Zion" (Chovevey Tsiyou") in Russia. He was one of the leaders of the national Zionism. He was born in the year 1857 in the city of Kalm, district Kovno. In the year 1887 he was appointed as Rabbi of the city of Ivyah. From there he took over the Rabinat in the town of Aliksut near Kovno, and in the year 1898 he became the spiritual leader of Sopotkin.

In August 1898 he was chosen as a delegate to the second Zionist Congress in Basil, Switzerland. He was one of the five Rabbis who were chosen as delegates to the Congress.

In the above mentioned Congress, among the Zionists of Russia Executive Board: M.M. Usishkin, Dr. Yaakov Berenshtenyn-Cohen, Zeev Tiomkin, Dr. Pinchas Yampulski, attorney Yisraek Yasinowski, Dr. Y. Yilski, Professor E. Mendelshtam, Yehoshua Sirkin, Dr. Yechiel Tchlenor, Rabbi Schemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch.

These ten chosen were assigned as representatives of Zionism in Russia. they stood as heads of the Zionist action in Russia. They were the Zionist leaders.

Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch was appointed as representative of the Zionists in the district of Grodno. Also in the Fifth Zionist Congress that took place in Basil in the year 1901, Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch was chosen to the Zionist Executive Board.

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In the regional Zionist conference that took place in Minsk in the month of Elul 1902 participated again three delegates from Sopotkin, Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, Shemuel Tchernovitch and Yaakov Moreynu (Moreyn).

The first Zionist conference took place in Vilno in 1900. There participated three delegates: together with Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch, Shemuel Tchernovitch and Yaakov Moreynu. In both conferences took part the same three Zionists.

From his literary activity

During his stay in Sopotkin, Samuel Jacob Rabinovitch published two books: "Religion and Nationality" which was published by the Zionist of Kovno, Warsaw 1900, and "Straight Path".

His book "Religion and Nationality" that appeared in 1900, had his articles, which were printed in the magazine "Hamelits" in the years 1890-1895. In the preface it is said that the purpose of the book is to persuade, that the nationality is a tool which contains a blessing for Israel.

In the last chapter of the book he turns to the Rabbis of Russia with a request to send to him, everyone of them, his opinion for the benefit of Zionism. Until his book was published and appeared in public, he received over hundred answers from Rabbis with their declaration as supporters and pro Zionism. At the end of the book is said:

Let us hope that the renowned and learned Rabbis who have not sent their opinion about Zionism will not miss this time to send over to me their important words after listening to my public lectures.

This request from the year 1900 was signed, Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch – Rabbi in Sopotkin.

The speakers for "Mizrachi" (Religious Zionist Organization) were: Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch and Rabbi Yitschok Yaakov Raynes.

In the conference mentioned above, a resolution was adapted about an obligatory national education and there were formed two independent committees, not dependent one from the other, in order to lead the cultural work. Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch was elected to the national –, traditional committee.

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Rabbi Samuel Yaakov Rabinovitch,
member of the presidium of the 2nd conference of Russian Zionists in Minsk (1902).

Sitting (right to left):
1. Prof. Tsevi Belkovski, 2. Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch,
3. Dr. Yechiel Tchlenov, 4. Menachem M. Usishkin, 5. Attorney Yisrael Yasinovski,
6. Yitzchak Leyb Goldberg.
1. Dr. Tsevi Baruch, 2. Attorney Shimshon Rosenbaum, 3. Zeev Tiomkin

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Rabbi Rabinovitch's second book "Straight Path" contains questions and answers, research and debate in different matters. Signed by Shemuel Yaakov the son of Shimon Meir Rabinovitch, Rabbi of Sopotkin (Vilno - 1903).

This book he composed in Sopotkin and completed it on Lag Baomer 1903. He saw in it a memorial monument to his parents, to his father Reb Shimon Meir and to his mother Tsipa who died on the 22nd day of the month Elull 1903, before the book was printed. The last years of his life he was Rabbi of the Congregation Israel in Liverpool, England.

In the year 1907 was published another book "Litkufot Hyamin" ("Seasons of the Days"). It contains sermons for the holidays according to the order of our holidays. This book was published in Liverpool, England in the year 1925.

The next book written by Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch was "Yashresh Yaakov" ("Righteousness Yaakov") – a collection of sermons and renovations in the Torah. In the preface of this book it is said:

It was a very sad situation. People did not recognize and did not appreciate those who were engaged in very important public work for the benefit of their fellowmen. They did not recognize their big contribution in the world of Torah and science, they did not appreciate their great wisdom.

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And this is what happened to the Rabbi and author of blessed memory. All because of his great work for the good of the public and because of his active participation in the Zionist movement. They did not know how deep and great was his part and wisdom in Torah and Halacha (Practice). And behold! He is the author of very important books, books which show his greatness in Talmud, his sharpness and erudition. He was just like a captain in the sea of the Torah and Talmud. His private life was not a happy one. It was full of misery and pain because of many sad events that happened in his lifetime. Despite distress, oppression and compulsion, Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch did not stop learning and teaching the Torah, even at the time when he devoted himself to the public work. He was respected, adored and beloved by all people, not only as a public worker, but, in the first place, as a great scholar.

First public appeal for the benefit of the Hebrew worker

The first public appeal to the diaspora Jews to mobilize themselves in order to help the Hebrew worker in the land of Israel, came out from Sopotkin. Just as the writer and Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch made Sopotkin the center of the propaganda on behalf of Zionism, so he also led propaganda on behalf of the Hebrew worker in the land of Israel.

In the time of being Rabbi in Sopotkin he stirred up the Jews in the lands of the diaspora, to come and to help the Jewish worker in the Land of Israel.

In the time of the first immigration ("Aliyah") after Baron Rothchild's settlements came under the refuge of YKA ("Jewish colonization of Argentina") which was founded by Baron Hirsh, began a discharge of many workers, and unemployment spread in the Land of Israel. Facing such a severe situation, it was a necessity to start a workers organization. They began to make up a list of all workers in the settlements in order to know their number and to unite them in one association under the leadership of a "General Committee" of workers. The members of the "General Committee" would consist from one member of every settlement chosen at the meeting of the workers.

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According to the result of the counting, the number of the workers was over five hundred. After the census there was established the "Organization of the workers-farmers" ("Histadrut Hapoalim-Ovdey Adams"). The Worker Organization (the "Histadrut") did not prevent, as much as it tried, the discharge of workers who labored in the Baron's settlements. Baron Rothschild's officials chose to employ Arab workers with the purpose to increase the income of the farms. All these factors were the reason for not having any work for the Jewish workers who, in turn, many left the land of Israel.

And the man who lifted up his loud voice, his outcry against this grave situation which took place in the land of Israel, and together with his outcry he stretched out his hand to help the workers in the land of Israel was the Rabbi and writer Shemuel Yaachov Rabinovitch from Sopotkin.

In the beginning of the year 1901 published Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch an appeal "For the sake of Zion" which appeared in the paper "The Jew" in London (page 15) and added signatures of eighty Rabbis who supported his appeal.

In the appeal he turned to the Jews in the diaspora to speed up their help for the workers in the land of Israel and help them with a faithful hand.

In this appeal is said that the fund which was established by the charity society in Odessa was not sufficient. It is necessary to demand help for the workers from all the Jews in the world. "We, the Rabbis, who signed the appeal, turn to our brothers in every corner of the globe to come with help for our workers, the first pioneers of our land."

"Wake up our brothers and go out to help our working people on the mountains of Judea."

And so Sopotkin had the great privilege to be the first place from which came an appeal to help the Jewish workers in the land of Israel. These workers had the good fortune to be the first pioneers of our beloved land.

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The chosen saying from Rabbi Rabinovitch's writings

"My brothers! Keep on learning! Be people of understanding, wisdom and reflection. In your power is also to learn seven wisdoms and seventy languages and all other knowledges a person has to know wherever he is. Be people of the settlements, but be also Jews."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

"A very wise man in one subject can be also a very big fool in another subject. And the wise man who is perfect in his profession is an ignorant in the profession that is strange to him."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

"I love Aplaton, but I love the truth most, and the truth we must defend every time."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

"The eyes of a man foresee very often the big world from far, the same eyes very often don't see his own world from near, he does not see himself."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

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"The place does not honor the man, the man honors the place."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

"The lie has many roads, the truth has only one road."

"Who wants to be a scribe must be also a sword-bearer to defend himself from well known beasts and bad occurrences."

(From: "Religion and Nationality")

"Zionism is not an abstract idea, it gets a shape and form according to its topics."

(From: "Religion and Nationality")

"Success or no success of Zionism depends only on ourselves."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

"Our deeds here on earth influence what G-d does in heaven."

(From his book: "Religion and Nationality")

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Samuel Tchernovitch (1879-1929)

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His childhood and development

We see the photo of Samuel Tchernovitch. After Rabbi Samuel Jacob Rabinovitch was chosen in the year 1899, on the second Zionist Congress, as the representative of the Zionists in the district of Grodno, he appointed as his secretary, Samuel Tchernovitch, who for this purpose came to settle in Sopotkin.

S. Tchernovitch was born in the year 1879 in the town of Sibiz – region of Vitebsk in Russia. He attended the Yeshivot (Talmudical Academies) in Lituvania, Kovno and Slobodkah, and he was an often guest, and a student of Rabbi Samuel Jacob Rabinovitch in the time when he was the Rabbi of Aliksot, a town on the shore of river Nemen. No wonder that he followed Rabbi Rabinovitch to Sopotkin and was there the Rabbi's secretary for four years (1899-1903).

Rabbi Samuel Jacob Rabinovitch and his faithful assistant Samuel Tchernovitch developed a very positive Zionist activity and made Sopotkin the great and famous Zionist center in the district of Grodno.

And this is how Samuel Tchernovitch describes the fruitful and cooperative Zionist work of Rabbi Rabinovitch and his secretary Tchernovitch for the sake of Zionism:

His shining face, the black eyes that expressed goodness, his pleasant way of talking, his politeness, his fine manners, they all enchanted me. I followed the Rabbi – my soul was bound with his soul. I followed him wherever he went – and during our common and beloved work, the border between me, the young man, son of Rabbis, getting ready to become a Rabbi, who was searching for new horizons, and between him, the great and true Rabbi disappeared. One common world was for both of us, a world of work on behalf of our people and his life in our land. He found his world in the many fine and important books of old and I sat on piles of new and modern books.

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At last we both were slaves to the paper, to writings and to books. Just the context was different, the form, the image remained. He was enslaved to his tradition, to his authority, and I to mine.

But in the bounds of our common world there was not any difference between me and him. There he was, young, full of enthusiasm, strong belief in the future of the great work done by him. He was very happy from every new branch of Zionist organization that was founded in any town or city. He was extremely happy from every shekel (money) donated and from every share that was sold. There was not any contradiction, any discrepancy between the Rabbi and between the faithful Zionist. In the morning he was busy praying, learning Torah, arranged questions and answers and wrote debate and dispute books, and in the evening we used to be gathered in his office to debate about many important matters of the organization. He was busy answering letters which came from different branches of the Zionist organization. He used to pay attention to my formula.

Samuel Tchernovitch was well known as a writer, a famous newspaper man, editor of many papers, secretary of the writers association in the land of Israel, the main secretary of the national committee for the Jews of the land of Israel, etc. His training as a famous Zionist came from communal work he received in Sopotkin.

He married in Sopotkin. The name of his wife was Bella Feldman, daughter of Jacob Feldman. One of the oldest families in Sopotkin. His wife was his right hand in his Zionist work.

Samuel Tchernovitch worked under the guidance of Rabbi Rabinovitch until 1903. That very year he moved to Warsaw and worked in publishing books "Tushiyah." In 1905 he moved to Vilno where be became a member of the editorial board of the daily paper "Hazman" (the Season). His articles he signed with the name "Sefog." In the years 1910-1914 he was the deputy editor of the "Hatsfirah" and was a substitute for Nachum Sokolov when he was absent.

In the year 1917 he became a member of the editorial staff of the newspaper "Haam" (the Nation, the People) which was published in Moscow.

In 1921 he immigrated to Poland and from there he made "Aliyah" (immigrated) to the land of Israel in the year 1922. He was an editorial member of the paper "Haarets" (the Land) and after that he was the main secretary of the National Committee (National Board) for the Jews of the land of Israel.

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He died in Tel Aviv on the 22 day of the Hebrew month Tamuz in the year 1929.

He published hundreds of articles. Only a small part of them he published in two books

A) "Bney Moshe" ("Sons of Moses"). His articles appeared in "Hatsfirah."

B) "Im Shachar" (1927) – "With the Morning." The articles appeared in different newspapers.

His descendants:

1) Yemima Tchernovitch – author.

2) Dr. Jacob Tsuz – Israeli ambassador in Argentina and in France. From 1960 – a member of the Jewish Agency.

The influence of the town on Samuel Tchernovitch

We find the consequences of the influence of the town on the life of Samuel Tchernovitch in his book "Im Shachar" ("With the Morning"):

"It is very dear to me the past and everything in it, the good as well as the bad, its blossoming and its softness, because it is ours."

"From the walls of the big cities we are coming back to the town, which does not possess neither appearance nor splendor." "Our desire is to fill up the vacuum of our heart and to find there what we could not find here." "Ours it is the pigmy city, for others it is a city of giants."

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"Oy, how big is the horror in life which is full of something profane without any holiness. Big is the horror in a long week day without a Shabbat for the body and soul. And the Shabbat and Holidays observed by others from time to time do not bring any feeling of holiness, the peace of the soul, the holy quiet which filled the homes of every Jew in the small and wonderful town."

"And the Jew, whose soul is longing for G-d, for his faith, his people, he remembers the past, the songs which mother sang for him at his cradle and the beautiful Shabbat and holidays observed with such piety in his old home. The myth of the past and the future – these are the two factors that give him contentment in his life."

"The Jewish town is the continuation of the ancient Judaism."

The Jewish town gave the Jew much. In it we created special life, a special world look. Here we dreamed golden dreams, here we hoped and fulfilled the desires of our minds.

P. S. From Samuel Tchernovitch's book "Im Hashachar" (With the Morning) Jerusalem 1927

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sop053.jpg [24 KB]
The visist of S. H. Tchernovitch to Sopotkin
Standing (right to left):
1. Batya Zelkin, 2. Shmaryaha Zelkin, 3. Jacob Mareyn, 4. Zelig Ber Freedkovski,
5. ?, 6. Samuel Tchernovitch, 7. ?, 8. Yehuda Menchinski, 9. ?,
10. Esther Menshinski, 11. Mrs. Shmukler

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Yaakov (Jacob) our teacher – Zionist social worker

The Zionist

Jacob MOREYNU (our teacher) (MOREYN) was the right hand and the main assistant of Samuel Tehernovitch in his Zionist work in Sopotkin and in its surroundings. It was said about him, that Zionism was burning in his bones. He was devoted to his work with all his heart and soul.

During many hours, day and night, he walked in the length and in the width of the town in order to distribute shares of the Anglo-Palestine Bank. He used to collect donations for the Jewish National Fund and did all kinds of Zionist work.

And so during a short period of time he succeeded to distribute about 200 shares of Anglo-Palestine Bank. Every share had the value of ten rubles (Russian money). He did not rest in his work and devotion for the cause of Zionism. All the days of his life he was the representative of the Jewish National Fund. J.N.F.

He participated as a delegate from Sopotkin in the regional Zionist Conference, which took place in Vilno in 1900 and in the second conference of the Russian Zionists, which was in Minsk in the year 1902.

The communal worker

In addition to his Zionist activities he was a devoted communal worker. He was a warm Jew, ready to help everyone with love.

He was erudite in many languages: Hebrew, English, French, German, Russian. Whoever had to turn to government with a request or question, turned to him for help. And he helped people to the best of his ability. His house was full of books from one side and from the other side cups and jugs filled with all kinds of drugs and creams. His house looked like a pharmacy. He himself prepared all kinds of creams and anyone who needed some health treatment got it from him free. His door was open the entire day. Many were those people who came to him for advice or for help. He was always ready to help anyone without exception.

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The Rabbi and the writer
Mordechay Eliyahu Rabinovitch

After Rabbi Samuel Jacob Rabinovitch became the Rabbi of Liverpool (England), Rabbi Mordechay Eliyahu Rabinvitch became the spiritual leader of Sopotkin in the year 1908.

In the book "Tents of Shem" which was published in 1912, there we find the biographies of famous Rabbis. And this is what is said about Rabbi Mordechay Eliyahu Rabinovitch:

Sopotkin – Rabbi Mordechay Eliyahu Rabinovitch:

He was born in the year (1856), learned in the Yeshiva (Talmudical Academy). He was very smart and was considered as one of the best students. With his diligence he rose higher and higher. While he was young his name and fame spread as one of the great Torah scholars.

In the year 1908 he was accepted as Rabbi of Sopotkin.

In the year he published a book: "Explanations to the Answers of the Gaonim." (Gaonim - heads of the Babylonian Academy) 1884.

In the year 1900, he published the book "Imrey Ratson" ("Sayings of the Desire") – 40 sermons.

In the year he published a book "Ner Lamaor" ("A Candle to Light").

In the year 1869 he published his big book "Torat Mordchay" ("Torah of Mordechay").

The honorable Rabbi is famous for his clear and pleasant explanation of undefined and homiletic passages in the Rabbinic literature and discovers the beautiful pearls hidden in them.

The honorable Rabbi is not only great in Torah, he is also a fine writer and a good public worker.

His last and best book "Torat Mordchay" he published as Rabbi of Sopotkin.

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"And so I reached the age of 50. The old age came already upon me from my hard work. And nobody knows his time to go."

In the preface of his book he mentioned that the book "Torat Mordechay" he published being the Rabbi of Sopotkin.

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The Glikson Family

Dr. Moshe Glikson (1878-1939)

Among the most distinguished families in Sopotkin is worthwhile to mention the family of Elchonon Glikson. This family lived before in a village by the name Holynka about 7 kilometers from Sopotkin and there their son Moshe Yosef was born in the year 1878.

After a period of time, the family moved to Sopotkin and Moshe Yosef was sent to study in the Yeshiva (Talmudical Academy) in Grodno.

Elchonon Glikson's son from Sopotkin – Dr. Moshe Glickson – became well known as a writer, editor and a fine Zionist public worker.

He edited in Moscow the daily newspaper "The Nation" ("Haam") and later on when he lived in Tel-Aviv he was the editor of "Haarets" ("The Land") and occupied a very distinguished place as a publisher in the land of Israel, a member of the executive committee, the great Zionist, member of the executive committee of the Hebrew University, member of the language committee.

In his name is the "Glickson Village" in Shomzon.

His writings:

  1. Monography of Achad Haam
  2. Monography of the Rambam
  3. A gathering of three volumes of writings:
  1. With the Changing of Guards
  2. Personalities in Zionism
  3. Personalities in Science and Literature.

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