Translated by Hannah Kadmon
[Translators comments in square brackets]
[the word Besmedresh is from the Hebrew: Beit Midrash = literally: a house of study (of Bible and Gemara). It is distinct from a synagogue. It did serve also as a place of prayer in the Jewish communities. The shtiebl is a small Hasidic prayer house]
We can open with a question: Who in Horodets was not a Zionist? Who, in Horodets did not go to Besmedresh three times a day and repeated each time the same prayers in which there is a plea to God to return to the holy land? And who in Horodets lived so well that he or she was so contented with daily life that Horodets could occupy the place of the land of Israel?
The difficulties that the former Russian state heaped on the Jews, turned all Jews in Horodets into Zionists. However, Zionism in the modern sense of the term, the political Zionism of Dr. Hertzel, was quite unfamiliar to the general public in Horodets. Only few, who read Dr. Hertzel's literature, had an idea about his Zionism.
When Dr. Hertzel appeared on the Jewish arena and the whole world started discussing political Zionism, the echo of this blowing-of-shofar reached Horodets as well, calling to free the Jewish people and return them back to their own land, the land of Israel.
In those years of national awakening, the house of Chaya-Dvorah was the spiritual center where the Zionists used to gather and discuss the issues of Zionism. At her house they could hear a Hebrew song sung by her talented young daughter, who knew Hebrew very well and had a very beautiful voice.
Chaya-Dvorah's house became, later, the only house where one could hear Hebrew spoken in daily life. Ester and her well known husband, Avraham Bartenboim, used to talk Hebrew even to their dog, whom they called Navkhan [Hebrew: one who barks], and when Ester gave birth to Hertzel and then to Chayim the children were brought up in Hebrew as a mother tongue.
(Ben Ezra's comment: Avraham Bartenboim collaborated with Hatzfira [a Hebrew newspaper in Warsaw to spread enlightment and Zionism]. He helped production of textbooks Talking Hebrew and Hebrew Style [in Hebrew]. He died in Warsaw, 1907. Ester, his wife, was a teacher for many years in Warsaw, in a Hebrew school established by Krinski, S.L. Gordon, Pugatchov and others. Ester and her sons were murdered by the Nazi beasts.)
Aharon Karlinski, son of Motye-Hillel played an active role in the small Zionist group. He was a very consciencious and idealistic young man, who plunged with all his zeal into the Zionist movement. When Dr. Hertzel set forth his slogan recruit the communities, Aharon immediately hitched himself to the task but stumbled against the opposition of the orthodox Jews who did not want to relinquish their post to the younger people. They considered the political Zionism a danger to the traditional Judaism. In Horodets, like in the big world, a struggle took place, but in Horodets the Zionists did not attain victory. In the besmedresh, near the oven there was a great commotion: should they wait for the messiah to arrive, or should they, to the best of their ability, hurry the steps of the messiah.
Few did not wait for the messiah, bought shkolim [membership dues to the Zionist movement] and shares of the colonial bank [financial instrument of the Zionist movement], but it did not become a popular trend. Aharon Karlinski did not rest, lectured in private, held sermons in the besmedresh, but when a maged [preacher] arrived there, people prefered to listen to him than to Aharon.
This is the opportunity to remember another great idealist, with a heart full of love for the land of Israel Yaakov Hersh Helershtein, the shipper who lived near the train terminal. Helershtein was a chasid. He used to pray in the Stoliner shtiebl but he was an enlighted person. He had in his house a nice Hebrew library and when somebody wanted a Hebrew book he visited Helershtein. Helershtein used to participate under a pseudonym in Hatzfira and Hazman [two Hebrew newspapers of the time], and his house served as a gathering place for scholars.
Helershtein was not an orator, he was rather a writer. Once when he stood up to deliver a Zionist speech , he remained silent, could not speak and sat down again. However, in his quiet modest way he did a lot to clarify issues and he helped prepare the hearts to be ready, later, to absorb the seeds of national renaissance.
Honor to his memory!
When the small group of Zionists dispersed and the clamor of the revolution was heard in Russia the voice of the national movement became silent, in Horodets, for the time being.
Aharon Karlinski started getting closer to the revolutionary movement and Hellershtein, in the meantime, withdrew, and dedicated himself to Hebrew literature that was the only comfort in his life.
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
[Translator's notes in square brackets]
Between 1905 to 1912 Horodets kept very quiet about Zionism. There was no active movement there. The older generation entertained the hope that messiah could come any time except on Sabbath, Holidays, Sabbath-Eve and Holiday-Eve. The younger generation were busy either in business, or being externists a term well known among young Jewish men in Russia, who were not allowed to attend high schools.
All of a sudden, a mature young man of fifteen, with red hair and temperament, started to set up a Zionist movement in Horodets. The name of this redhead youth was Kive, son of Tzeitl, so named as his mother's son because his father was in America. (today he calls himself Akiva Ben-Ezra) [His father's name was Ezra Kostrinsky]. (He is the editor of this book).
This young man, Kive, started reading various books and brochures about Zionism. He was not contented with his own personal Zionism, but started to spread the ideas of Zionism in Horodets in general, and in particular among his three friends with whom he was studying.
The first friend was Liber Poliak, who was murdered with the six million victims. The second was Motl Vinograd, who later studied in Belgium and became a professor of chemistry in the University of Yasi, Romania, and in the last years assumed a very high office in the Romanian government. I, the author of this article, was the third friend.
Kive believed that the future of the Jews lay in the land of Israel. He used to get a great deal of material, books and brochures, and would gather his friends who used to read and hold discussions together. Little by little, we also started to understand the spirit of Zionism, and we hoped that when we grew up we would go to the land of Israel.
Kive took advantage of every opportunity to stir the youth of his age to Zionism. In summer, Yankele, son of Motye who was son of Itzik Kostrinsky, came for vacation. Kive invited him to give a lecture to the youth, in Itzik's orchard, or in his own house. He was not satisfied with just lectures for young boys and girls. He arranged lectures for the grownups. Once on a summer Sabbath night, he brought over a lecturer from the neighboring shtetl of Antipolie. The lecture took place in Chayim Nisl's house where wandering troupes used to give concerts and where other various entertainments were held.
Kive busied himself not merely with the task of offering information. He did with his friends some practical work such as selling national-fund stamps of shkalim [the coins for membership dues] and on the Eve of the Day of Atonement they placed in the bote-medro'shim collection-containers for the Odessa Committee [a charitable pre-Zionist society in the Russian Empire which encouraged emigration to the Land of Israel and the developing of agriculture there]. If somebody did not have the sum of half a ruble for a shekel, he would pay it little by little. From year to year the takings grew.
Kive was not contented with that, too. He started to get the Horodets Jews interested in a library that would offer spiritual food to the old and young. Thanks to his initiative, a committee was established to collect money and buy books. Many balebatim took part in this enterprise. You must understand that this library was established illegally. The books were stored in Isaacl's (Israel) house. A few times a week, people used to come there to read books. The selection of books was quite nice: in Hebrew, Yiddish and in Russian. Ester-Chaya, daughter of Dvorah, helped a lot, living in Warsaw in the center of the Yiddish-Hebrew culture.
Kive's name became very popular not only in Horodets but also in the neighborhood, and from near and far people corresponded with him as with a grownup. His correspondence was very substantial and it drew the attention of the police. Besides letters from Zionist centers, he used to get letters also from 'Poalei Zion' central committee [movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers], as they were interested in him and wanted to get him to join their activity.
How did his address reach the Poalei Zion? This is how it happened:
Shlomo, son of Liber, (Podolevsky) was a member of the Poalei Zion, an activist in Brisk [Brest]. He gave them Kive's address.
Under the Tsar's regime, the Poalei-Zion members reeked of revolution, while, actually their movement had to do with the workers' movement. The authorities considered the Poalei Zion members as revolutionists.
As far as Zionism is concerned, the authorities pretended not to notice it. After all, it was an organization that was not connected officially to present-day local work, that collected money under the heading of A Society to help the Jewish farmers in artisans in Syria and Palestine known as the Odessa Committee.
One morning in the month of Heshvan (ה' חשון תרעד)[November 5th 1913], a gendarme arrived from Brisk [Brest], placed policemen around the house where Kive lived, carried an abiske [search] and found whole packs with forbidden merchandise: prayer books, Torah books, books, journals brochures, national-fund stamps, letters from the whole world and letters from the Central Committee of Poalei Zion. In the midst of the search the mailman came in, bringing two additional letters from Poalei Zion. In short, the result was that they arrested Kive and carried him away.
There was a big commotion in Horodets. The fear of further arrests was in everybody's mind. On the third day they found out that Kive was brought to Kobryn and from Kobryn to Brest and put in prison there, locked in a room all by himself. All of Horodets took to heart Kive's destiny. They started approaching the high windows looking for a way to release Kive from prison. It was very easy to fall into the hands of the Russian regime but very difficult to get released. Weeks passed and Kive, the big criminal was still behind bars.
On the tenth week of his arrest, the authorities let us know that they would send to Horodets the prokuror [prosecutor] for an interrogation. One morning we, the three friends, were called to the zemstva [the regional authority of Tsarist Russia], and policemen on horses rode behind us, as though we were criminals. After waiting a few hours, a prosecutor from Grodno came in and also the colonel of the Brest gendarmerie, wearing his uniform with the golden epaulets, and they started the interrogation. The policemen guarded us sternly the whole time so that we would not speak to each other.
Frightened, I entered the room where the prosecutor and the colonel were sitting. I actually shivered, but did not lose my head. Besides what they knew about Kive, they also knew that there was a library in Horodets. (However, my father and some other people packed the books in crates, dug a deep pit and hid them in). They asked me about the library and whether I was a Zionist, and mainly whether Kive belonged to the Poalei Zion. I answered right away that Kive was not a member of the Poalei Zion but only a common Zionist.
The questions asked of my two friends were of the same character. By night we had become the heroes of the day.
After the interrogation, it took a few weeks and a great effort of well-known Zionists in Grodno, Brest and Petersburg until Kive was freed (י' שבט) [February 6th], but only for a short period, until his trial. In the meanwhile, he was under the supervision of the police. Kive and his mother did not lose any time and started to prepare for a quiet escape to America. One night, Kive came, his head wrapped in a hood, to say goodbye.
Not long after that, WW1 broke out and with it, temporarily, the Zionist activity in Horodets halted.
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
[Translator's notes in square brackets]
In 1919, when the detainees and bezshentses (refugees) started returning to Horodets, Zionist cultural life pulsed again in the shtetl. A non-partisan culture- committee was organized and it renewed the library and established a choir.
Shlomo Burshtein was the librarian, Hershl, the teacher, led the choir and Israel, son of Itsik (Zussman), was the chairman of the Culture- (read: Zionist) Committee.
The gatherings took place in the shkole (Polish school), and in pakai (palace) that was half ruined. Musical plays were held there, to which people used to come from Kobryn and Antipolye, and the takings went to the Zionist funds such as Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund - to buy and develop land in the land of Israel] and Keren Hage-ula [preceded the United Jewish Appeal and collected money for the Zionist organization]. In the spring of 1920, when the Balfour declaration was confirmed in San Remo, Horodets celebrated. Everybody put on festive clothes and went to the besmedresh to pray hallel [a Holiday prayer reciting from Psalms 113118, to praise and thank God]. In the Afternoon a parade was organized for the whole shtetl, young and old, with the blue and white flag at the head, and they marched to the palace. In the palace the small children of Horodets were singing, sitted in half a circle. Israel lectured about events of the day and all the folks showed their enthusiasm by throwing coins into the blue and white collection box [of the Keren-Kayemet]. Even gentiles and Polish soldiers threw coins into the box.
However, this enthusiasm did not last long. Israel and others of the group departed for America and for a while Horodets was at a standstill. Only one institution, the library, was still active but it was very unsatisfactory.
After some time, Liber, son of Yaakov (Poliak), returned from Russia and applied himself to the library, recruited some of the young people who were still in Horodets, and they built up the library both spiritually and materially. In a short time the library became richer with books, including Yiddish books. Later it became rich with Hebrew books as well and with a collection of children's Hebrew books.
The small group also revived the national fund and the Keren Hayesod [United Jewish Appeal fund] in Horodets, and established a He-Khalutz group [The pioneer Zionist youth movement to promote agricultural settlement in the land of Israel] that included 14 members (boys and girls). Liber himself became a teacher of general studies and saved every coin for his travel to the land of Israel.
(comment of A. Ben-Ezra, editor: It is interesting to note that already then, Liber was mentally a citizen of the land of Israel, and instead of signing his name as Liber Poliak, he signed: Khaviv Ben-Yaakov [חביב בן-יעקב])
Liber was joined by a young man from Pinsk, Yaakov Adrezshinski, who finished the secondary school with natural sciences trend, in Pinsk. This young man became a teacher in Horodets and stayed to live there. Thanks to these two idealists, the national feeling was stirred and added color to the still and monotonous life of the youth in Horodets. Naturally it was merely in a miniature form because the youth in Horodets were small in number and possessed little intellectual strength. Liber and Yaakov also organized a He-Khaluts Ha-Tza-ir [the young pioneer] for the younger children, who were to take the place of the He-Khaluts Ha-boger [the grown up pioneer] at the age of eighteen.
They also organized courses and gave lectures about Jewish and general history, political economics, the Zionist movement and Hebrew and Yiddish literature.
It was quite a difficult task to organize and establish the He-Khaluts in Horodets, and even more so to lead the organizational and cultural activity, because of various disturbances imposed both by the authorities and by inner local difficulties.
Still, the He-Khaluts movement in Horodets was very esteemed by the Zionist Committee of Warsaw. Representatives from Warsaw and Pinsk came many times to give lectures and highly praised the members of He-Khaluts in Horodets. Many of the members went for training in the Polish kibbutzim [collective farms] and occupied administrative positions.
Besides the cultural activity, the members trained in Horodets proper. They rented a plot, plowed, sowed and planted and prepared themselves for farming. After a short while some members settled in the land of Israel. Liber was also ready to be on the road but he was not destined to fulfill his life-long dream.
In summer they used to gather on the banks of the river [called locally: Botshveinikes. בוקוגםטך is a towpath; path along a river or canal that is traveled by men or animals towing a boat[ or in the grove near the station-building. However, it was difficult in winter. They were forced to switch their meeting place from the house of one member to another member's house.
There were also times when each chapter of He-Khaluts had to be legalized wherever it was located. In order to get this legal recognition, they had to have a minimal number of members and own a their own meeting place. This was difficult for the youth of Horodets to achieve. Therefore, they had to carry their activity illegally with additional hardships for He-Khaluts.
The library, the inspirational-spiritual source for the youth of Horodets, had also undergone a crisis. In 1936, the representative of the public administration in Kobryn led a search in the library and resolved to close the library under the pretext that there were too many radical books around.
The Horodets youth were not discouraged. They made an effort to re-open the library and carry on the preparation activity for aliya [settling in the land of Israel]. That was when the clouds of the second world war started hovering above. Simultaneously with the liquidation of the Polish identity, the Jews of Horodets and their dreams came to an end as well.
God above, curse the Nazi murderers! Utterly erase these modern Amalek! [see Exodus 19;14]
We honor you, martyrs. We will never forget you!
|Standing from right to left: Sender London, F' Hoyzman, Blume Richter, Libe Ganilski, Zlate Orlovski, Reizek Yarmetski, Yosk Mantak.
Sitting: Yaakov Hersh Hoyzman, Rive Kuprianski, prume Eaminski, Ruchama Volinyets, Yudl Podolevski
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