From Seini Via the U. S. A. to Yissud Hama'ala
by Arik Lubovsky
When 16 members of the Mezrich society founded in 1883 decided to liquidate their affairs and to settle in Palestine, they already knew that the settlement which they would found and in which they would live would be called Yissud Hama'alah. What they probably didn't know was that they had received this beautiful name by default. The Yissud Hama'alah society had earlier been established in Suwalk, headed by Eliezer Mordechai Altschuler, a well-known scholar and Hovev Zion (Lover of Zion). However, for a variety of reasons, the society was dissolved and the Mezrich group inherited the name.
But the relationship between Suwalk and Yissud Hama'alah did not end here. It was resumed shortly after the failure of the first attempt, under the leadership of Rabbi Mordekhai Yitzhak Lubovsky, a man of vision. He was born in Seini near Suwalk, and settled in the Galilee, where he purchased land and began the construction of a large khan, or hostel, in order to accommodate those travelling from Palestine to Syria and back.
There are many versions of this story, but according to an account published in Ha-Zefirah (May 1888), Lubovsky purchased a large tract of land near the B'not Ya'acov Bridge, and, upon his return from a journey to Paris and London where he raised one hundred pounds from several benefactors, obtained a license to build a hotel.
But Mordekhai Yitzhak Lubovsky was not the first of his family to settle in Palestine. His father had preceded him and settled in Safed, where he spent his last years and where he was buried. Legend tells that he appeared before his son Mordekhai Yitzhak in a dream and asked him to say Kaddish over his grave. The son fulfilled his father's wish, came to Palestine, located his father's grave, and of course, said Kaddish.
Today, the descendants of Mordekhai Yitzhak Lubovsky continue to watch over the Galilee. His grandson, Uziel Lobovsky, wrote two books, Zikhronot Ben ha-Galil (Memoirs of a Son of the Galilee), which constitute a virtual treasure of the tales of bravery performed by the courageous people of the Galilee. His great-grandson, Arik Lobovsky, still lives in Yissud Hama'alah, where he founded the settlement's archive.
Rabbi Mordekhai Yitzhak Lubovsky was born in Seini in 1825 and died at a ripe old age in Rosh Pina in 1922. Of the many tales told about him, the following story can be reconstructed: Mordekhai Lubovsky, a Seini landowner, arrived in Palestine in September 1884 to join the Hovevei Zion emissaries from Suwalk in order to purchase land for a settlement.
He travelled with the emissaries through various parts of the country where they sought to purchase land, but in the end he left them and with his own funds bought some 2,000 dunams from Ya'acov Abou, a wealthy Jew from Safed. The land he purchased was called Shoshanath ha-Yarden, also known as Nahalat Mordekhai.
It would seem that Mordekhai Lubovsky's sons had previously immigrated to America. What is clear is that his two eldest sons, Ya'acov and Lippa-Leib, arrived in Palestine from the U.S. in the wake of their father. During the course of 1885 the rest of the family his wife and two daughters joined them, and together they settled in Yissud Hama'alah. It is also known that the eldest son, Ya'acov, left the country following an illness, while Lippa-Leib (Louis) remained. It is indeed his descendants who have remained faithful to the galilee, and to Yissud Hama'alah in particular.
The Shoshanah ha-Yarden enterprise proved a failure, as did the idea of a khan at the B'not Ya'acov Bridge. Lubovsky therefore abandoned Shoshanah ha-Yarden in 1888 and finally settled in Yissud Hama'alah.
But Nahalat Mordekhai was not abandoned for long.
Most of the land was subsequently purchased by Moshe David Shub, one of the founders of Rosh Pina (1890). Shoshanah ha-Yarden became Mishmar ha-Yarden, a settlement which was to suffer consider difficulties over the course of the years, yet nevertheless managed to survive. It was abandoned only 50 years later, when it was fated to be the only Jewish settlement captured by the Syrians during the War of Independence.
One of the glorious heroic chapters in the rebirth of Israel, the story of Hadera, has yet to be fully told, although many of its tales are well-known. What is known to relatively few is that the establishment of Hadera was integrally linked to two Suwalk families: Botkovsky and Goldenberg.
Yehuda David Botkovsky was born in Suwalk in 1853, where he dealt in ironware. In 1886 he joined with members of Hovevei Zion in the town to purchase land for a settlement in Palestine, but the two emissaries dispatched returned with a discouraging report of the difficult conditions. Yehuda-David and his friends did not despair, and he set out as their representative to purchase land for the establishment of a settlement for the Suwalk Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion). He joined up with emissaries from other societies, and together they toured the land, purchased property and thus took part in the founding of Hadera.
At the end of that year he returned to Suwalk and immediately sent his eldest son, Nahman-Shlomo, then 17, to receive the property and to prepare the land for farming.
About three years later, Yehuda-David Botkovsky returned to Palestine to visit his son and the farm, bringing with him his younger son Zvi-Nehemia, then aged 9, whom he intended to leave there in anticipation of soon coming to settle with his entire family. However, he was forced to take the boy back with him to Suwalk when he fell ill with malaria. In the meantime, in 1898, he learned of the death of his eldest son from malaria. This did not prevent him from sending his second son, Zvi-Nehemia, back to Palestine in 1907, where he became one of the leaders of the settlement and president of the farmers' union in Palestine.
Yehuda-David Botkovsky visited Palestine four times, for the last time in summer 1914 to arrange for the moving of his family. He returned to Suwalk to liquidate his business, but the outbreak of war prevented him from carrying out his plans. He died in Suwalk in 1916.
Eliezer Goldenberg was born in Suwalk in 1849. He was a respected merchant and a devoted Lover of Zion. He took part, along with Yehuda-David Botkovsky, in financing the dispatching of the emissaries to Palestine. When Botkovsky went to Palestine in 1891 to purchase land, Goldenberg empowered him to purchase a large plot for himself as well. Thus, Goldenberg became owner of two hundred and fifty dunams in Hadera.
In 1893 he sent his eldest son, 20-year old Reuven, to prepare the farm for the arrival of the entire family. In 1897, he arrived in Hadera together with his daughter Pesha and his two sons, Shimon and Yehezkiel, and began to cultivate the land. Several years later, with the help of his sons, he also planted orchards. In 1901 his wife Haya-Sara joined them, together with their sons Hayim and Moshe and their daughters Rahel, Dina and Shoshana.
Eliezer Goldenberg did not shrink from the difficulties, and courageously bore suffering, yellow fever and bereavement. With the death of his eldest son Reuven in 1898, he continued the back-breaking work of establishing the farm out of love, despite his grief.
But he was not concerned only for his farm. He was dedicated to communal affairs, serving as a member on the village committee and was active in various charity institutions in the settlement. He died in 1919.
The loss of the eldest sons of both families Nahman-Shlomo Botkovsky and Reuven Goldenberg became a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the early settlers. Both worked, strived and succumbed to illness but did not surrender to hardships. Both nursed the others who had fallen ill with malaria, until they too fell ill. David Tidhar relates that they were both brought in the same wagon to the Jewish hospital in Jaffa, where they died within the space of a few days. Both were buried in the cemetery in Jaffa, but their remains were brought in 1917 to Hadera
where they were buried side by side, with a single joint tombstone on which was engraved: In life and in death they were not parted.
Members of the Botkovsky and Goldenberg families occupied an honored place in the history of Hadera and of the Jewish community in Palestine.
Zvi-Nehemia Botkovsky (1886) served for 15 years as mukhtar (headman) of the village. In 1913-1914 and 1921-1931 he headed the village committee. During World War I he was arrested following a land dispute between the settlement and the neighboring Circassians, as well as for Zionist activity and on suspicion of espionage during the time of the discovery of the Nili group. He also emerged as an active national figure on behalf of the farmers and the civilian population. He was a member of the Farmers' Union Center, one of the founders of the agricultural bank, a member of the Hadera local council, and a delegate to Zionist congresses. He died in Hadera in 1943.
Yehezkel Goldenberg (1891) studied at the teachers' seminary in Jerusalem and was accredited as a teacher. In 1919 he left to study natural sciences and Bible in the Zurich and Bonn universities. When his brother Hayim died in Paris, where he had been sent on a mission by the Hadera community, he interrupted his studies and returned to manage the family farm.
He subsequently engaged in farming, both in the fields and the orchards, as well as in public service as a member of the village community and its chairman in 1925/26, was a member of the doctorate of the orchard syndicate in Tel Aviv and of the orchard growers in Hadera.
Ya'acov Botkovsky, youngest son of Yehuda-David, arrived in Palestine in 1924. He had remained in Suwalk to manage the iron and construction material business left to him by his father, but was closely tied to the land of Israel and to the Hebrew language, which had been spoken in their home. Ya'acov arrived in Palestine with considerable property in 1925, and settled not in Hadera but in Tel Aviv, in the belief that the land of Israel also needed merchants and independent manufacturers, to which work he devoted himself.
He was not a typical public figure like his brother, but in the late '30s was active on the directorate of the Kupat-Am Bank and was one of the founders of the Association of commerce and Industry, serving as its first president. He died in Tel Aviv, but was buried in the family plot in Hadera.
by Dr. Mordekhai Naor
Pinhas Sapir (Kozlowsky) was born in Suwalk on October 15, 1907. His father, Mordekhai Kozlowsky, was the owner of textile and floor tile factories in Lodz, and he spent most of the year away from home. His mother ran a local feather and down business in her home.
Pinkas' childhood was not easy. He was a sickly boy, very attached to his mother. During his childhood, the family suffered two setbacks. First, one of his father's debtors went bankrupt, causing the family severe economic difficulties. Then, with the outbreak of World War I, Suwalk was taken over by the Germans. The Kozlowsky family fled east, and for about a year lived in difficult circumstances. Through9ut most of this period, mother and children were separated from the head of the family, at first because of his service in the Russian army and afterwards due to his frequent business trips. After the war the family returned to Suwalk, but their situation did not improve.
Pinhas (Pini as he was known to family and friends) grew up in a religious home. His father was one of the founders of the Mizrahi movement in Suwalk and hoped that his son Pinhas would become a rabbi. When the father learned that a rabbinical seminary. Tahkemoni, had been opened in Warsaw, he enrolled his son there.
Pinhas began to study in Warsaw in 1921 at the age of 14, but he did not find the religious studies to his liking and returned to Suwalk. There he began to be active in the youth organization Hehalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneer), and it was here that Pini's organizational talent was first discovered. After three years, he left for Warsaw to work at the Hehalutz headquarters. At age 19 he became treasurer of the movement, was responsible for pioneer
training and organized groups of immigrants to Palestine.
At the end of 1929 Pinhas himself came on aliya. One of the reasons for his decision at this time was his meeting at one of the pioneering training camps with a young woman by the name of Shoshana Gibiansky, also from Suwalk. They became close friends. Shoshana subsequently left for Palestine and, as Sapir related later, In my heart of hearts I believed that I would meet her in Israel and perhaps we would marry.
Upon his arrival, Pinhas settled in Kfar Saba, then a small village surrounded by citrus groves. Later he served as director of the workers loan and savings fund in the community. Once established, he invited Shoshana to join him in Kfar Saba. Upon her arrival, they decided to marry.
During the years that followed, Pinhas became one of the leading figures in Kfar Saba. In 1937 he became assistant to Levi Shkolnik (later Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol) in Mekorot, the national water company, and several years later became director of the company. In 1937 he visited Suwalk and suggested to his parents that they return with him to Palestine, which they did, settling in Kfar Saba where they opened a grocery store.
Pinhas Sapir advanced rapidly in his public career; he was a man of initiative, a leader and cabinet minister. From 1949-1975 he filled a long list of senior positions: Director-General of the Defense Ministry, Director of the Development Authority, Director-General of the Finance Ministry, Minister of Commerce and Industry for ten years, a Member of the Fourth through Eight Knesset, Minister of Finance for ten years, General Secretary of the Israel Labor Party, and Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. During the course of twenty years (1955-1975) Sapir made an important contribution to the industrialization of Israel and to the establishment and strengthening of its development towns.
He was considered one of the prominent leaders of Israel in the state's founding generation. David Ben-Gurion discovered him in the course of the War of Independence, assigned him responsible tasks and placed him in charge of the purchase of military equipment in Europe. Several years later, even before he appointed him to his first cabinet position (1955), he characterized him as a man of creative momentum.
by David Stern
Avraham's first six years in his parents' home in Suwalk were filled with sunshine and love. His father was Mordekhai, a dentist; his mother, Hadassah-Leah, daughter of Rafael, a midwife. Their eldest son, Avraham, was born in Suwalk on December 23, 1907.
With the outbreak of World War I, the town was captured from the Russians by the Germans. Like many other Jews, the mother left with her sons, Avraham and David, and fled eastward to her father's home in Wilkomir, proceeding from there to Petersburg, and thence to the small village of Romodanovo in the Penza district. The father, who was at the time in Koenigsburg for medical treatment, was forced to remain there. He was arrested as an enemy subject and placed in detention camp. The family was reunited only after the war.
Contact was eventually established with the father who had returned to Suwalk, but a long time elapsed before the mother returned with her younger son after years of hardship in various parts of the Soviet Union. Avraham remained with his uncle in Leningrad, and only in 1921, when he was fourteen, was he smuggled across the border and returned home. Those years in the Soviet Union left their mark on his character for the rest of his life: they helped to develop his self-confidence and forged his will-power.
Avraham rapidly acquired a knowledge of Hebrew, Polish and German, and was accepted into the fourth grade of the Hebrew high school. Before the end of the year he was an outstanding student and a central figure in the life of the school.
Outside school, he was a leader of the scout organization, Hashomer Hatzair. Despite this, he did not remain long in Suwalk. Avraham wanted to immigrate to Palestine and his parents agreed, sending him to complete high school in Jerusalem, where he arrived in January 1926.
A year and a half later, having completed high school,
he enrolled in the humanities faculty in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The academic staff of the University predicted a brilliant future for Avraham as a scholar, and obtained for him a scholarship to study Greek and Roman language and literature in the University of Florence.
However, alongside his studies, Avraham began to be active in the political-military field. In summer 1929, after the massacre of the Jews in Hebron, he joined the Haganah and went to Yavne'el in the Galilee. In 1932, with the split in the Haganah and the establishment of the Haganah Leumit (Irgun Zeva'I Leumi), he joined the latter group. That same year he completed a lieutenants' course in the Irgun, and at the graduation ceremony first sang Hayalim Almonim (Unknown Soldiers), to which he wrote both the words and the music. The song was adopted as the anthem of the Irgun Zeva'I Leumi, and from 1940 also of Lohgammei Herut Israel.
In 1933 Avraham completed his university studies with honor, and left for Florence to write his doctorate. But in fall 1933 he suddenly abandoned the world of learning to devote his life to the liberation of Israel. The name Avraham Stern disappeared, replaced by Yair ben Elazar, or Yair for short.
Posing as a representative of an economic journal, Avraham came to Poland. He visited that country on several further occasions, especially after the 1936 riots, and succeeded in establishing ties with representatives of the Polish government, who were greatly impressed by his appearance, his education and his fervor. He also succeeded in enlisting assimilated Jewish circles in Warsaw to the aid of the Irgun, among them Henryk and Lily Strassman, who began publishing a monthly journal in Polish, Yerozolima Wyzwolona (Liberated Jerusalem). He also initiated the publication of the daily Di Tat (The Deed), which became the mouthpiece of the Irgun in Palestine.
With his rare persuasive ability, Yair obtained a secret agreement with the Polish authorities, who promised to place excellent military instructors at the disposal of the Irgun, as well as to provide military training for some 40,000 young Jews and even to supply the Irgun with weapons and ammunition, some for payment and some as a grant. Those who completed this training camp were to arrive simultaneously in Palestine by ship and take over the country. The training program began, with Yair dividing his time between his activities abroad and in Palestine.
On the eve of the outbreak of the World War II, a command meeting of the Irgun was held on Aharonowitz Street in Tel Aviv. Suddenly the door burst open and British detectives and policemen entered. The entire high command was arrested. Avraham remained under detention for a year. During this period, spent in three camps, Yair laid the foundation for the course to be followed by the Irgun Zeva'i Leumi during the war.
With his release from detention camp together with the other members of the command, Yair accepted the position of commander of the Irgun, following the resignation of David Raziel. With this, the rift between Yair and the new Zionist Organization, which called for an armistice with the British during the war against the Nazis, deepened. In order to try and save the Jews of Europe, Yair sought to reach an agreement with the representative of the Third Reich in Lebanon to allow a mass exodus of Jews from Poland and the Baltic states to Palestine.
In the meantime, the mandatory government set a reward of 1,000 pounds sterling for anyone who would assist in the capture of Yair. Many of his friends in the underground were arrested. Many of his personal friends broke off contact with him, out of fear of the British. Yair remained without a roof over his head. He would move almost nightly from one room to another. During this time, several of his friends in the underground remained by his side, and his brother David's wife served him with loyalty and self-sacrifice.
Friends from the Haganah offered him refuge in one of the kibbutzim. He rejected the offer, as he rejected the offer of the Revisionist. In his last letter, written on 25 Shevat 5702, he wrote: . . . .I am not one of those who willingly turn themselves in to the police, nor to their lackeys and servants on the left or the right . . .
On 25 Shevat (February 12, 1942), at about 11:00 in the morning, the house at 8 Mizrahi Street (today Avraham Stern Street) was assaulted by the British police. Two police detectives, Inspector Wilkin and Sergeant Smith, burst into the attic room to conduct a search following a careless remark by one of two prisoners lying in the government hospital under heavy guard, after having been shot and wounded two weeks earlier on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.
The police found Yair in the closet, where he would hide whenever any of the neighbors entered the apartment. Yair was handcuffed and seated on the sofa.
Several moments later, Office Detective Jeffrey Morton entered the room, and ordered that the tenant Tova Savorai and two neighbors called in previously to witness the search, be removed. . . Three shots were heard. . .
Thus was Yair murdered, his hands handcuffed, near the window in the room.
His funeral was held that same day at 3:00 P.M. at the
Nahalat-Yitzhak cemetery, which was surrounded by British detectives, paratroopers and armored cars.
Yair was murdered. The detective service and all those who collaborated with the British breathed easy. But the revolt did not end. Yair's blood fed the flame of armed struggle against foreign rule, until the establishment of the free State of Israel. . .
Nine editions of his poems were published in Israel. They were translated in full into Russian and in part into other languages. Poems were written in his memory, his essays were published during his lifetime and posthumously. Dozens of papers were written in universities and schools about his poems and his political views.
Many streets in Israeli cities and towns bear his name, and hundreds of fighters and their families, faithful to his teaching and his memory, pay their respects at the grave of this son of Suwalk, who fulfilled the vow he made in his poem Unknown Soldiers: Only death shall free from the ranks.
In 1944, when the first signs of an Allied victory began to appear and the first cries of hope voiced for an end to Nazism, the terrible rumors of the fate of the Jews in Hitler-dominated Europe began to proliferate. The first survivors began to arrive in Palestine, one from a town, two from a city, verifying the rumors and adding to them tenfold. Our hearts did not wish them to be true, rejected them and refused to believe, especially when the publication of the worst horrors was banned, although our leaders knew the truth, lest the people be crushed by its weight.
But the time came when there was no longer any choice but to believe. The number of survivors grew, most destitute, and some without family here to rehabilitate them. It was clear that help was needed.
At this time, the natives of Suwalk, like those of other cities, established a mutual aid society. After months of preparation, more than a hundred people gathered and elected the society's first committee. Money was raised from those at the founding meeting, but the sum raised was insufficient to provide help for those in need. It was also hard to achieve the desired results promptly with an ungainly committee of 18. It was therefore decided to concentrate efforts in the hands of a small active group, who raised money from other Suwalk Jews as well. Most importantly, they made contact with the Suwalk benevolent association in New York which, in response to their appeal, periodically sent funds as well as packages of food and clothing which were distributed among the needy new arrivals from Suwalk. This help was vital, especially with the rationing introduced in Israel. All in all, 160 families and individuals received support from the association, whether once or repeatedly. In later years, activity was limited to providing loans from a fund established by the association and to calling periodic meetings of its members, mostly social in character.
During the first year of the new committee's activity, the idea of publishing a memorial book for the Suwalk Jewish community was raised. This effort failed at the discussion phase. A second attempt was made in 1972, when a circular letter was sent to natives of Suwalk requesting material. The material was collected and considerable effort invested in translating articles from the Yiddish memorial book published in the United States in 1961. This attempt, too, came to naught.
In 1983, Charles Oken, treasurer of the committee of Suwalk Jews in New York, came to Israel and proposed that the two organizations, American and Israeli, together set up a monument in the Holon cemetery in memory of the victims of the Holocaust from Suwalk and the surrounding area. The proposal was adopted, but the project took on momentum only over a year later when Mr. Uri Shilo returned from the U.S. conveying the news of Suwalker Association's president Mr. Leslie Sherer's solemn undertaking to share the expenses. An ad hoc committee was appointed (U. Shilo, M. Sheinman, A. Mirow and Y. Sapir) and on June 23, 1985 the memorial was unveiled in the Holon cemetery in the presence of many Suwalk Jews from throughout Israel as well as a delegation from the United States. That evening, a large memorial gathering was held in the ZOA House in Tel Aviv.
On that occasion, the idea of a memorial book was again raised. Once again, some 25 individuals were asked
to study the possibilities. At first, it seemed as though the pessimists would gain the upper hand, but two magic formulas spoken by David Stern turned the scales: the first if not now, then never! and the second the money needed will be founded! And he was right. This third attempt has indeed succeeded.
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