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{Page 144}

This is How We Began

by Levi Herzkowicz

Translated from the Yiddish by Hanka Wajsberg Gliksman

Edited by Martin Bornstein and Jerry Liebowitz

After 25 years living in Israel, I can still picture, swimming around in my mind, the images of my town Belchatow, just as it would have been like yesterday, when I left it. The town has burned itself into my heart and soul, so that it is always near to me and that is why it is so hard to forget.

The leaders of the Tzeirei-Zion Organization in the year 1913

Belchatow has been a town with so much Jewish culture, even when a large part of the Jewish population was poor.

Who of us does not remember the peaceful atmosphere on Fridays, late in the afternoon, when it was close to Shabbat, and the “Shamis” [the synagogue's caretaker], knocked on the Jewish doors and with a special unique tune called out to the Jews, that it is time to go to pray.

To the working class youth, it didn't matter to them how tired they were after a day's work. They still used every spare second to read books, newspapers and study to increase their knowledge.

But straight after Shabbat, in the evening, you could see how the new weekly work begins. The non-Jewish workers do their deliveries to the Jewish factories with the materials on their backs. The kerosene lamps were lit up and the new weekly work began again. The noise of the weaving machines began. You could hear workers' songs, folk songs, and Chasidic tunes being sung by the workers.

From the beginning of the century, the working class started to organise meetings in clubs. A lot of Belchatow's youth showed great interest and ability.

They started off with secret meetings at the homes of sympathisers of the “Bund” [organization] and also at the homes of Zionists youths.

I still remember until today the first secret Zionist meeting, which took place on the new road, on a beautiful full moon night in the summer of 1905 or 1906. A representative speaker from another town gave us a lecture about Zionism. A. Majer, Fygel and Nache Warszawski, S. Langsam, M. Freitag, N. Freitag, J.L. Goldstein, and I, plus a few other people were there. Soon after, we formed the first provisional Zionist committee in Belchatow, and secretly we started the Zionist organization for ourselves and others. Later we managed to organise a legitimate library at a time in Poland when only a few Jewish libraries existed. Mr. M.A. Pitowski was the man who worked very hard and spent a lot of time and effort to bring the library to a successful standard.

Also at this time other new parties were formed in Belchatow –The “Bund,” S.S., the Polish Socialists Party (P.P.S.) – and we had different discussions about the parties and programs.

Our group had started to sell Shekels – memberships [in the Zionist party]. Every one of us tried to sell as many Shekels as possible, so a large section of the Jewish population would become members of the Zionist Party.

It reminds me of when I wanted to sell a Shekel to Abraham Frizirer Szmulewitch. I had to have quite a long discussion with him about the goals and aims of Zionism, but I wasn't successful in convincing him of its importance. I was successful with somebody else, the matzeva [tombstone] mason's son, Szmuel Reich. After a long talk, I persuaded him to join the party and purchase the first Shekel. It was very important for us to draw the intellectual and better class of people from our town to our group.

Little by little we expanded our activities. We formed a club which provided Hebrew classes & a drama section AD"GL. The center of our activities were at Jakob Elbingern's and Yoel Goldstein's places.

When I left Belchatow in 1917 there already existed well branched out Zionist activities, various movements had evolved, and all of them encountered the possibility for work and development.

A group of teachers and schoolchildren from the evening courses
by Tzeirei-Zion in the year 1915, with the teacher Menachem Brash


A group (for) Zionist matters

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