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[Page 305, Volume 1, Hebrew]

National Awakening – the Zionist Movement


Youth in “Maccabi”

By Miriam Venezia

Translated by Shimon Ouziel

I was 15 years old when my brother Abraham came home with a friend by the name of Aharon Pardo. They were talking about the establishment of a girls department in the “Maccabi” Association. Aharon Pardo was a gymnastics teacher. He had come to Salonica from Bulgaria and was one of the Maccabi instructors in our town. When I heard that a girls department was going to be established in the “Maccabi” Club I was thrilled and was one of the first to register.

At that time there wasn't an entertainment program for girls of the ages 15-18. The “Maccabi” balls were attended to by much older girls than myself. We were not allowed to go out with boys and we had to be home by 6 o'clock.

The “Maccabi” actually made freedom possible for the girls. During the first few days we were not allowed to stay there late at night, but gradually the parents began to accept the late homecomings. However, some of them were against the establishment of a girls department so as to avoid contact between the boys and girls. In the beginning, a gym class was opened, and then a class for learning Hebrew History. The name of the History teacher was Isaac Molcho and the name of the gymnastics teacher was Shlomo Venezia who is my husband today. The lecturer Abraham Recanati gave us all sorts of educational lectures. It didn't satisfy him to lecture only us spiritually; he also lectured a large audience. On Saturday, right after prayers people would come to the club in order to hear Mr. Recanati's lectures, and I remember my mother would go with my father to hear him. During each lecture and every issue he would talk about the land of Israel, which was then called “Palestine”.

The boys were forbidden to be present during the gymnastics classes except for the educator Recanati, the singing teacher Isaac and Elbo the gymnastics teacher, Shlomo Venezia, and the treasurer, Haim Levi, and indeed – by chance or not by chance – the four of them ended up marrying girls from “Maccabi”… The prohibition of boys' presence in our gymnastics classes was so severe that two guys were punished for daring to peep at the girls from one of the windows of the building next to the training field, and they were suspended from visiting the club for two months. The girls' costumes were modest and severe; below the knee long dresses with no neckline, and long socks. But as I have mentioned, despite the “separation” policy there were many marriages between boys and girls at Maccabi.

Since the evenings were not enough for classes due to the increasing number of girls, we used to arrange girls' classes on Saturday mornings, right after prayers, in the courtyard of the great synagogue, Talmud Torah. From the windows of the house of the chief Rabbi, Yaacov Meir, one could see the courtyard. When he saw the girls working out and doing all kinds of exercises, he called out to Shlomo Venezia, and warned him to stop giving gym lessons in the Talmud Torah courtyard on Saturdays, or otherwise he would expel him. His reply being: “ Rabbi, they also pray according to the spirit of time. In this place men pray with words, "Hashiva Shoftenu Ke'varishona ve'yoatzenu ke'vatchila “(restore our judges first and our counselors as at the beginning) "and the girls march and sing: sing:"Seou ness tziyona" (raise the flag to Israel). The men then say ,"Uva letziyon goel"(Zion=Israel,Goel=Liberator), and the girls exercise and sing the girls exercise and sing, "Kumu hagolim ulchem hasiru" (Stand up all exiles,take of your burden). The Rabbi laughed and said: be careful and don't exercise on Sabbath.

The highlight of the activity was the week of the public festivities of Hanukkah. On Saturday night there were impressive shows of gym exercises on the stage, and at the end we presented lively plays and comedies by MoliËre and others, in which I was one of the main participants; In the play “Ruth”, for example, I played the role of Arpa. The shows were sometimes presented three to four times, because of the audience's demand, and the Italian martial orchestra accompanied the show until the end.

The “Maccabi” trips out of town on Saturdays were well known. When the hundreds of Maccabi girls and boys came back on Saturday night with their costumes, their families accompanied them, and then all of them formed a great parade, marching and singing with drums and flutes. The residents greeted them with applause.
We acted and participated in all the Jewish events with joy and with some kind of innocence. But from those gym classes accompanied by Zion songs most of the Maccabi members made Alia, and those men that had received permission to be present in the classes and married girls from Maccabi are all here in Israel, healthy and well. They have raised sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, who also donated their talents for building the land and for the war of liberation and strengthening of the land.
Well, one can say that the members of Maccabi and the Maccabi Scouts, that made Alia, were saved from the Holocaust, thanks to the Maccabi activists and to other Zionist Associations. Bless them.

[Page 307, volume 1]

The Jews of Salonica
founders of Maccabi in New York

By Isaac Broudo

The flow of immigration of Jewish youngsters from Salonica – after the Greek occupation – in the years 1915-1916 was mostly to the USA and mostly to the big city of New York. Some of those youngsters were former members of the Zionist Association of Maccabi. They found themselves in a new society that had completely different habits and nature. As new immigrants, before they had even settled down in jobs and in decent residences, they had already made their first steps in this new country in establishing the Maccabi Association similar to the one they had left behind in Salonica. In no time at all the association was an existing fact.

Of course, in the beginning the actions of the association were very limited. However, the energy and enthusiasm of the founders paid off and former members of other organizations in Salonica joined the Maccabi association as well. They came from the “Lebanon” association of nature lovers (whose head in Salonica was the well known Isaac Epstein) as well as old members of “Mahzikey Ivrit” (Possessors of Hebrew), “Bar Kochva” and more.

Beside the sporting activities, Hebrew classes and other activities with Zionist Jewish character were organized. Many young Sepharadic Jews in New York joined Maccabi. Amongst them you could find Jews from Turkey, Bulgaria, Castoria, and especially natives of Jerusalem. The first public appearance of the Maccabi members in New York was a gymnastics show and the artistic – literary soiree at “Manhattan Hall”. The success was great and far beyond what was expected. The activities were extended, and a Maccabi branch was established in New Brunswick (in the State of New Jersey) and assemblies and conferences were held. Many famous people showed up to these events such as Itamar Ben Avi, Nissim Bachar the Headmaster of the Alliance school in Jerusalem, and many more.

Maccabi joined the US Zionist Federation and took part in its blessed activities, such as distributing the Shekel, Zionist propaganda etc. The Maccabi Association also published its own journal, in which there were articles and reports on all fields of Jewish life and especially Sepharadic and Zionist problems. The paper's editing, printing, distribution etc. were all done by the members of the association. This volunteering spirit in all fields of action revived all circles of the Jewish-Sepharadic population and distributed among them the notions of Zionism and of Judaism.

The Maccabi Association gained a status of leadership among the Jewish immigrants who originated from Salonica and the Balkan countries. For the “terrible times” the association provided its vast halls for its members who use to pray there and even set up a special choir for the synagogue.

A short while after USA joined the First World War against the Germans and their allies, The Balfour Declaration was published. The abstract Zionist began to be a reality. The American Jewry celebrated the event with spontaneity and great joy. Many of them joined the Hebrew regiments out of gratitude for Britain and mainly in order to help regain the land of Israel from the Turks, and to establish a Jewish state in it.

All the Zionist organizations sent volunteers to the Hebrew regiment. One of the first volunteers from Maccabi was the writer of this report, and in a short while another six friends joined, and they are: Isaac Mano, Eli Pesach, Nisim and Ovadia Francis, Haim Bachar (Madrianopol). And the most picturesque and interesting of all was a member of the Shabtayans sect (Dunami). Mustafa, who when he joined he changed his name to Raphael.

Out of respect for its first volunteer, the Maccabi Association held an ardent farewell party, and gave him a souvenir gift – a golden watch with an inscription. The writer of this report wears this watch to this day.

When I sailed on the 21st of March 1918 from New York Port as a volunteer to the Hebrew regiment, I left Maccabi behind me when it was vibrant and full of activity concerning the matters of Zionism and sport.

Years went by, and this association which first enlightened the Sepharadic Jewry in USA, ceased to exist. I do not wish to engage in the reasons for that. One thing is clear and I am completely convinced about it: those veteran Maccabi youngsters, those enthusiastic youngsters from Maccabi in Salonica are old people today and enjoy their honorable status in USA. I can also state that in their hearts they have always carried love and pride of the Zionist idea; They haven't forgotten for a moment the ideal, but not all their sons followed their path. It is possible that some of them are still participating – yet from a distance – for the sake of the same Zionist principle which we fulfilled today, those of us who live in the homeland.

And as for me, what I had started as an old Maccabi member, and hadn't finished – my elder son has fulfilled, as a member of the National Military Organization (Etzel) who fell in the line of duty, his blood spilt while defending the homeland.

As a bereaved father in cry from within “Ki ered el bni avel sheola”( I'll Descend mourning to my son's grave)..{Genesis} but as a Jew – I am proud of my son who fell in the line of duty in the holy war for our full independence.

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