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History of the Jewish Community of Grodno (cont.)

6. Grodno– Center for the Rebirth of Nationalism and Hebrew

The Hibat Zion movement in the nineties

Translated by Shimon Joffe

The regular organized activities of the Hovevei Zion movement begins in Grodno after the founding of the association in 1890. Some 20 persons attended the founding meeting, the chief speaker was Rabbi Ephraim Neimark. He was, later, a Zionist religious activist in Grodno over a period of twenty years and the representative of the Zionists on the community council. He was the first to be elected in democratic elections. Neimark (born in 1860) immigrated with his parents to Eretz Yisrael in 1880, first settling in Jerusalem and later in Tiberius. In 1884 he traveled to Syria, Aram Naharayim, Persia, Afghanistan, Bukhara and printed his impressions of the journey in the annual journal Ha'asif, edited by N. Sokolov in the year 1886 (Warsaw, pp.39–75). From the year 1886 he contributed communications from Tiberius, Jerusalem, Kushta (Istanbul), and later, from Grodno. He contributed articles to the Hatzvi, Hatzfira and Hamelitz.

At the founding meeting of the Hovevei Zion in Grodno, Neimark appeared as one who knows the manner of the new settlement in the Land. He also negotiated in the early nineties, in writing, with Yehoshua Eisenstat–Barzilai about buying plots of land in Eretz Yisrael, particularly in Machanayim in the upper Galilee for a group of people from Grodno and the vicinity, who were interested in settling there and he dealt with their organization.

One of the initiating founders of the Hovevei Zion association was the young Betzalel Yoffe (born Grodno 1868– died Tel Aviv 1925). He was to become the central figure in the Zionist Hebrew educational movement in Grodno before the First World War. Later, among the builders of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael and an activist and communal worker. The grandfather of Betzalel Yoffe and of his brother, Leyb Avraham, from his father's side, was Rabbi Mordekhai Gimpel Yoffe. Rabbi Druzhanoi, among the first Hovevei Zion who settled in in the village Yahud near Petach Tikvah in the year 1884, the grandfather from the mother's side was Rabbi Fishel Lapin, mentioned already. Betzalel Yoffe was the first in the family who took up the idea of Hibat Zion under the influence of Haim Margalit–Kalwariski, who, while serving in the army in Grodno, persuaded many to support the organization. Before the formal setting up of the organization, Betzalel Yoffe carried on correspondence with important personages in Eretz Yisrael and abroad on matters relating to the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, as making plans to propagate the ideology among the young in particular.

Others who participated in the founding meeting were:
Rabbi Nachman Ben Rabbi Eliyahu Rosenkrantz, one of the city intellectuals, who later became a trustee of the Odessa Committee in Grodno, and who was among the founders of the Menucha Venachala Company. It was formed in Warsaw that year and it founded the settlement of Rechovot. He was among the first to purchase land there, built a house and planted a vineyard. He died in Grodno in 1901. His son, Yosef, is counted among the farmers of Rechovot and its orange groves. He died in 1944.

Two other Grodno residents participated in the foundation of Menucha Venachala, Eliezer Hacohen and Betzalel Korliandski. Eliezer Kaplan, (Born in Grodno in 1857, died in Warsaw 1915), friends of the Grodno intellectuals A.S. Friedberg, M.M. Bandetson and Yitschak Anders and of the participants in the Hakol by Rudkinson, he, at a later date, took a position in Warsaw with the Shereshevski tobacco firm. He was one of the first adherents to the Hovevei Zion and bought land for settlement in Rechovot. He was a member of the order of the Zionist Bnei Moshe and involved in the founding of the Achiasaf company and its moving spirit. Under his initiative the company published the excellent newspapers Hador and Der Yid as well as the Luach Achiasaf, it also took upon itself the issuing of Hashiloach. He was active in disseminating Hebrew culture and spreading its literature. He was active in the republication of Hatsfira by N. Sokolow in 1911. He published articles in Hebrew about writers and literature. Betzalel Korlianski was the treasurer of Menucha Venachala and was a member of the Hovevei Zion delegation under the leadership of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever which set out to tour Eretz Yisrael. He served as an adviser in the purchase of land for the Rechovot settlement.

 

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Michael Uriashson

 

Michael Uriashson . Born in Vilna and one of the leaders of Hovevei Zion there. He settled in Grodno and was a delegate to the first Zionist congress in Basel.

His in–law, Dr.Haim (Yoakhim) Hertz Hurwitz, a distinguished city resident, was proposed by the city Zionists to serve as the Appointed Rabbi. but he withdrew in favor of Dr. Shmaryahu Levin. He devoted himself to cultural activities. He was the leading spirit in the Zionist movement in Grodno and was its delegate in the Zionist congress in Minsk in 1902. At a later stage, he moved to Warsaw and was involved in the work of the Eretz Yisrael office.

Nathan Note Ziman. An important public figure in the Suburb Across the River who accompanied Klonimus Ze'ev Wisotsky in his tour of Eretz Yisrael and was his secretary. Lima Rip, who later became one of the devoted Zionist activists in the city, and one of the founders of the ‘Improved Heder’, and active in the group dedicated to the Hebrew Pedagogical Courses in Grodno. Later, also active in setting up the educational stream Tarbut in the city.

Hilel Iser Yanovski. Kept a record of the activities of the movement in Grodno and in time active in Hebrew education – was among the youngest participants in the above mentioned meeting.

A little before the formation of the Hovevei Zion association, a society was formed called Safah Brura (Plain Language) with the intent to disseminate the Hebrew language by speech. Among its founders were; Rabbi I. D. Miller, Leyb Yoffe, Rabbi Ephraim Neimark, Rabbi Reuben Hakohen Sinai. In the beginning it had many adherents and its meetings where they practiced Hebrew speech were many – but it did not survive for long.

Cultural activity for Hebrew education in Eretz Yisrael

The inspirational visit of the preacher Zvi Maslianski in Grodno in 1893 gave birth to the Hevrat Hamikra (Bible Society) to propagate ‘our holy tongue and our national history among the city populace and among the youth in particular’ by H.A.Yanowsky, Betzalel Yoffe and Dr.Haim Hurwitz. The society attracted many intelligent youths, some of them were attracted to the Hovevei Zion camp and later also to Zionism. Among the teachers in the society was the Hebrew writer and translator Yosef Eliyahu Treibosh (1856–1940). He was among the first Hebrew socialists in Vilna and spent many years teaching in Grodno. The society lasted a few years and as an appendage it created a Hebrew library on Jewish subjects. The library functioned in a private room until its name reached police attention and it was liquidated. Alongside the Hevrat Mikra society other groups were formed, such as Benot Zion (the Daughters of Zion) and the Hovevei Zion Youth. Hamelitz reports that at the celebrations following the founding of these societies Hatikva – the national hymn – was sung for the first time and it will be sung by the Hebrew toilers in our settlements in the Holy Land.

Among those drawn to Hovevei Zion were two who were to become outstanding Zionist Hebraists activists in Grodno;

  1. Yedidya Dopelberg (born in the sixties of the 19th century to a wealthy jurist father – (murdered by Polish soldiers in Grodno in September 1939). Highly educated and knowledgeable in Hebrew language and literature as well as in foreign languages and possessor of a large Hebrew library – among the promoters of Hebrew education in the city.
  2. Mordechai Ben Rabbi Kadish Yanowsky – a great Zionist activist, a partner in the founding of Kfar Uriah and Ruchama in Eretz Yisrael, sent his daughters to be educated in the Tel Aviv Gimnasia, when he did not succeed in arranging his own immigration before the First World War. In 1920, he left Russia with his son and daughter to make their way to the Holy Land through the Caucasus mountains but fell victim to bandits on the road in 1921. The place of their burial remains unknown. He was 51 years of age at his death.
In 1893 the Hovevei Zion began a drive to collect funds for the Hebrew Girls School in Jaffa, which was having financial difficulties. In 1894 the future great poet activist Leyb Yoffe founded the Grodno Youth league of regular monthly contributors to the above school. The league functioned for years, systematically and consistently educated its members for practical work in Eretz Yisrael and served as an example for Jewish youth elsewhere.

 

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M. Yanovsky

 

Grodno – One of the Zionist Centers in Russia

In 1896 new winds began to blow within the national movement. Small scale deeds no longer satisfied the majority in Hovevei Zion. In particular, the young were thirsty for stimulating and wide ranging ideology. At that time, Dr. Shmaryahu Levin, who was elected the Appointed Rabbi of the community and the young Yosef Klausner were active in the city. Klausner worked alongside Levin on the translation of the great Talmudic dictionary by Ya'akov Levi. Leo Motzkin, the then president of the Zionist Berlin students, visited Grodno and let fall ‘off the cuff’, the new expression – Zionism. Lightning struck the dreamy eyes; it drives with powerful force to create a reality – a Jewish state.

That year, Betzalel Yoffe started the Zionist League in Grodno. It was among the first in Russia and he led it until his emigration to Eretz Yisrael in 1909. The report given in Grodno of the first Zionist Congress fired hearts and encouraged action. In harmony with the Zionist perception and spirit in those days, the Zionist League, consisting of groups of intellectuals, other Zionist leagues and groups formed in the city of various social status all joined together in a Zionist center for Zionist agitation, organization and collecting money. Grodno now became an important center for Zionist activity in Russia.

A special place among the Zionist circles in Grodno was held by the study group Tziyona, founded in 1899 with Leyb Yoffe at its head and Yosef Yashunsky an activist in it and later its spokesman. This study group managed to attract boys and girls from the government high schools many of whom had already distanced themselves from the marriage canopy, according to the words of A.A. Kabak who at that time was living in Grodno, in his letter to Hamelitz on March 13, 1901. The intention of this group was to develop the feeling and the national consciousness by a study of Hebrew, its literature and a thorough knowledge of Jewish history in all its aspects. In addition, the group participated in Zionist public cultural activities including the girls taking turns in the Tea House. This was the Zionist reading room in the city center. The Tziyona group along with its leaders became a ‘democratic faction’ which educated the public towards the idea of a Jewish state and the immediate working settlement in Eretz Yisrael by the Zionist Federation.

Besides the organizational – propaganda activity and the dissemination of shares in the ‘Otzar Hityashvut Hayehudim’, – Grodno excelled in this – deepening national Hebrew study was also conducted. In 1899, again a society was to be found in Grodno under the name ‘Safa Brura’ (Plain Language), with the intent of imbuing the youth with the Holy Tongue, and they burst through the doors of the library, founded by the city intellectuals with permission from the authorities, to imbibe the Jewish wisdom from the books. That year, a modernized Hebrew schools already existed in Grodno, whose owners knew how to swim against the stream and to manage educational matters with good sense and understanding. The outstanding teacher in these schools was Avraham Bloch, born in 1871. His father, Eliyahu, Bezablodowa, had studied in the Volozhin yeshiva and in others, educated himself in general subjects, and passed the government exams for a teacher's certificate. He died in Grodno in 1938.

That year the Poalei Tzedek school, previously mentioned, already existed in Grodno and its adherents, workers in the Shereshevski factory, after a day's work, studied Hebrew, taught by volunteer teachers, especially by Avraham Bloch, who was dedicated heart and soul to the school and who was to remain among the Hebrew teachers in Grodno for many more years. Moreover, the students succeeded in their studies and the Grodno Zionists interested themselves in this rare school and visited it often. In the first part of 1902, a visitor to Grodno wrote that the Zionists showed great initiative in attracting to them the Jewish artisans and the workers – the workers founded the Poalei Zion association and the female workers the Women of Zion Association.

In the words of Rabbi Shlomo Ben Rabbi Shaul Pasmanik – (born 1873, died in Hertzliya 1955), – one of the Zionists in Grodno active among the workers in particular in the cork making factory owned by Refes – the association Women of Zion was founded as a counterweight to the evening classes started by Dvorah Fisher and a Bund political orientation. Pasmanik himself was a member of the Bnei Zion organization most of whom were artisans or casual wage earners.

 

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Rabbi Shlomo Pasmanik

 

The Grodno Zionists were also active in the improvement of the economic situation of Grodno Jewry at the beginning of the century. In 1900, on the initiative of Betzalel Yoffe and Lima Rip, an institution was created – The Loan and Savings Co–operative Society – under the aegis of IK'A. (JC'A, Jewish Colonial Society). The ‘Little Bank’, the ‘Benkl’ as it was familiarly known, one of the first in the Jewish areas, opened for business at the beginning of 1901 with 120 members. It helped the ‘Little Man’ a great deal, respectably and honorably. It was much appreciated during times of emergency. In time it grew in importance.

The Zionists also opened an inexpensive restaurant at that time, Dr.Haim Hurwitz devoted himself to its care.

At the same time the Zionist activists were also busy in the elected bodies of the movement – in conferences and committees. Grodno delegates participated in the secret meeting of the provincial Zionist convention in Vilna in 1900 (Yanovsky, Betzalel Yoffe, Dr. Mark Antzelevitch, who later joined the Territorialists, (Statists) Pesach Koifman), and in the Minsk convention in 1902 (Betzalel Yoffe, Dr.H.Hurwitz, Dr.M.Antzilevitch, Noah Bass), as well as in the democratic faction in the Zionist Congress in Basel. There we find the Grodno delegates –Leyb Yoffe and Yosef Yashunski.

Yosef Ben Haim Yashunski (Ben Haim was his literary pseudonym, born in Grodno –1881, died in January 1941, during the expulsion from the Warsaw ghetto). He was a student of I.A. Treibish and H.A. Yanovski. He was a journalist, a researcher, a writer, a bibliographer (among others he was an editor of a Guide to the Zionist Literature in Russian, which appeared in St. Petersburg in 1904), as well as a translator from the Russian and Yiddish. He wrote regularly, during the period 1903–1912 for the Freind, a Zionist newspaper. In 1904 he left the Zionist movement. He was active in the literary scientific field dealing with legal enactments, technology and science. Her was among the directors of the Ort organization in Poland and its principal. In the days of the Warsaw ghetto, he was deputy to the chairman of the Yudenrat and devoted himself to welfare work.

After the creation of the Sopotzkin Zionist District, in the home town of Rabbi Shmuel–Ya'akov Rabinowitz, near Grodno, the town became the center of activity for all the district. The activist and tireless worker was Betzalel Yoffe with the poet Leyb Yoffe at his side as well as the secretary to Rabbi D'Sopotzkin, the writer Shmuel Chernowitz and the youthful Kabak, Bass, Dopelberg, Rip, Yashunski and Dr. Antzilevitch. During that period , Betzalel Yoffe also published Zionist literature, including a collection of Zionist poetry in Russian by Leyb Yoffe, under the name Griadoshche (The Offerings) and a collection of Zionist poetry by other poets, in Russian as well, under the name Ne'imot Ivriyot (Hebrew Melodies).

After the resignation of Rabbi Rabinovitz from the direction of the district council in 1903, the Zionist Council of Delegates in Russia empowered Betzalel Yoffe to supervise from Grodno, Zionist activity of the greater part of the Jewish Pale that included about one half of the Lithuanian Jewish population. The Grodno Zionists showed great interest in a nearby health resort Druskininkai, popular during the summer months with wide Jewish circles coming from all over the Pale, and there it was possible to hold meetings in the resort forests without inviting attention of the Tsarist secret and uniform police.

In the meantime, differences multiplied within the Zionist movement, in Grodno as well, and in 1903 we see in the city an active Poalei Zion branch, in keeping with the Minsk version – the first Zionist workers association in Grodno to develop and diversify in the passage of time. In 1906 the association Hatchiya existed in Grodno, (these associations inscribed on their banner Zionist activism, democracy within the association, the fostering of Jewish self defense and constructive work in Eretz Yisrael). In 1906–1907 mention is made of the existence of the Mizrachi organization.

By the time the discussions took place in the Zionist movement about Uganda, Grodno had already become one of the important Russian Zionist centers. Here the Shekalim were printed and transferred, secretly, throughout the huge country.

The discussion on Mechase Laila (shelter) territories which could absorb Jews immediately and the splits which followed provided signs of the Zionist activity in Grodno and the interferences and sabotage which accompanied them. After the Territorialists broke away from the Zionist movement, they concentrated their activity in Grodno and other places, for migration . Heading the Grodno branch of the Territorialists in Grodno, in 1907, were, among others, Dr. M. Antzilevitch, M. Oriasheson, Dr. Yitskhak Roitenstreich, and the jurist N. Weisbrom.

The Zionist executive committee appointed Betzalel Yoffe, in August 1905, to manage the Delegates Information Office whose task was propaganda and information service similar to that of the famous Zionist Post Service, which had functioned in the past in Kishinev. The importance of Grodno as a Zionist center arose once again, and it served to prepare the agitators and visitors for the surrounding communities and those further away. During this period, the young Yosef Sprintzak acted alongside Betzalel Yoffe , as the secretary of the province, and later the speaker of the Israeli Knesset.

Poalei Zion

Zionist Poalim (activists) were to be found in Grodno. Vigorous discussions took place between them and their opponents, followers of the Bund or of the P.P.S. Mention is made above of the Agudat Poalei Tzedek , existing in Grodno in 1899, which busied itself with providing a Hebrew education for the workers in the Shereshevski plant. Another association seemingly existed that year named Poalei Zion having the same aim. It would appear that it was the same organization either with a change of name or a double. The Grodno correspondent for the Yud (which appeared in Krakow), wrote, in the May 3, 1900, issue, that the organization Poalei Zion has existed in the city the past year, its members meet in the evenings, after their work in the factories. The workers of one plant, after work, meet in a Beth Midrash and study Hebrew until the late hours. Two months earlier, it was reported in Hatzfira, (February 16, 1900), that after a quick visit to Grodno by the Zionist S. B. Tzadikov, and influenced by his speech, many more joined the Poalei Zion, whose aim was to instruct the young working in the factories in the contents of the Tanach and the Hebrew language, and they soon paid for the second share in the Colonial Bank (Otzar Hityashvut Hayehudim).

A. Litwin (Shmuel Hurwitz), a founding member of the Poalei Zion organization, recounts that the name was given it by the Grodno organization.

In 1901, the Zionist activists in Grodno showed an interest in the convention of the Zionist Democrats (The Democratic Faction), which was about to take place, Leyb Yoffe being among its activists and leaders.

In 1902, the Poalei Zion organization consolidated itself in accordance with the Minsk organizational draft, in other words, in a professional trend, without participating in general political struggles in the diaspora. Its members participated in the strike at the Betzalel Yoffe plant as already mentioned. In 1903 the movement grew and expanded in Grodno and as one of its leaders at that time – Eliezer Shochat, a little later among the founders of the labor movement in Eretz Yisrael, wrote to the writer of these lines;

“The Grodno Poalei Zion organization was founded in the early days of the organization. In the days when there was no united program as yet. It was affiliated to the Vilna center, and in general was a Zionist youth movement with a special social tendency, filled with appreciation for labor and laborers and with the feeling that by actual physical work, and first and foremost working the land, constituted the basis for the homeland – and to be in the foreground in the building of Eretz Yisrael. The organization celebrated – not the first of May, but rather the date of the meeting of the First Zionist Congress, the foundation of our future state. On that day, we met in the nearby forest, secretly, that the evil eye of the gendarmes shouldn't see us, and spent our time in talk about matters concerning the Zionist movement in general and our organization in particular. These meetings were filled with festive emotion, uplifting and serious, – if you will it, it is no dream. We were prepared to assist with all our strength the fulfillment of the Zionist idea. The first chairman of our organization was Leyb Yoffe, and when he left Grodno, Chana Maizel was elected in his stead.”

In the month of June that year, a short while before the Sixth Zionist Congress, Noah Bass, in the name of the Grodno organization, participated in the council of the Poalei Zion organization meeting in Vilna. In has been mentioned above that the founding of the Poalei Zion Jewish Self Defense in Grodno was initiated by Israel Shochat. He also organized Jewish self defense groups in communities near the city. He was assisted by Abraham Krinitzi and Chana Maizel.

Poalei Zion, and especially the ‘select’ soldier, Shlomo Yanovski, (a high school educated volunteer enjoying special privileges in the service), were active among the Jewish soldiers encamped in Grodno, more so in the matter of self defense.

The members of the organization, met in the intermediate days of Succot, 1903, to celebrate the fact that the day of Yom Kippur had passed quietly without riots in Grodno. This was an annual meeting held in a wedding hall under the guise of an engagement party. The tables were laden with bottles of Kvass (a soft drink popular in Russia), and with the participation of about one hundred and fifty members, men and women.

Although, when the organization held a Purim party some months later, in other words, a conspiratorial meeting, in the Harmony hall, at a time when the city was rife with rumors of impending riots, the participants were surrounded by police. The participants, Yediyot Achronot recounts (Poseldanya Izvestia , of the Bund, 1904, issues 172 and 174), fled the scene, some suffered leg injuries when they jumped out of the windows, 25 people among them Noah Bass and the soldier Yanovski, were arrested and led away heavily guarded by police and soldiers. They were unduly roughly treated. The next day Rivka Pozniak and Chana Maizels were also arrested. Twenty of the prisoners were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment served in different prisons.

The Poalei Zion organization was very active in Grodno in 1906. At the beginning of that year the police caught, as mentioned before, the type setter and the first printed copies of the new issue of the illegal brochure published by the organization, named ‘Anti Jewish Riots in Odessa and Self defense’. That year the organization counted 170 registered members. At the end of October 1906 the national committee of the Poalei Zion met in Grodno.

Details about the Grodno Poalei Zion organization in Grodno, in those days, are given by Marcus Feder, in his memoirs (Di Grodner Conferenz, in the Poalei Zion Almanack, Warsaw, 1932, pp 120–123). He was active in the organization during 1906.

‘Mordechai Marcus Feder was born in Congress Poland in 1886. Because of his activity in the Poalei Zion he was hunted by the secret police and as a result he moved to Grodno, where he was active during the years 1912–1916 in amateur dramatic circles, which produced plays in Yiddish and again, after a lapse of some years, in the Poalei Zion organization. At a later date, he moved to Lodz and was among the leading cadres of the Left Poalei Zion Party and active in literature and journalism. During the Holocaust he was deported to Auschwitz where he died in 1944’.

Grodno, he tells us, had an outstanding special original Jewish workers society; every possible current was present there, beginning with the P.P.S. continuing with the S.D.,carrying on with the Anarchists, S.R., Poalei Zion and the Seimists (Jewish Socialist Labor party), and ending with the ‘Minchukim’ (Poalei Zion in the Minsk version, Territorials). Heated arguments took place in the ‘Bourse’ and on Sabbath eve the prayer hall was taken over where a general discussion took place. Feder continues that the members in Grodno, who were deeply involved in their argument with the Seimists who attempted to work within the ranks of the Poalei Zion – consolidated as a group faithful to Eretz Yisrael and were important participants in the political and professional life of the workers in the city. The organization was made up of groups of 10–15 members, who met once a week, and their leaders met for central considerations. A secret committee directed their activities as well as the B. B. Otriad, the underground fighting unit.

The party leaders convened the party conference of the Poalei Zion in October 1906, in Grodno, it being the best organized chapter and it took upon itself to the organization of the conference which had to take place under conditions of the utmost secrecy and function efficiently and to prepare housing, unsuspected by the police, both for the conference and for the delegates. Yehuda (Abraham Krinitzi's pseudonym in those days), who happened to visit Grodno from Eretz Yisrael was active in the organization of the conference assisted by Rivka Pozniak and Benyamin Weler. Although, given the authoritarian conditions then prevailing and other reasons, only some 20 of the delegates managed to reach the conference and it was declared at the opening that the discussion will be that of the council only. Most of the meetings took place in the Yoffe home, far from the heart of the city, in the Yurzika, on the far side of the Neman, with the participation of the delegates, who were also housed there. The discussions lasted a week and dealt with basic issues then facing them – the question of participation in the elections to the Second National Duma, the national demands of the party in the diaspora and its relations with the Zionist movement.

 

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Poalei Zion Leading Figures, 1904–1908,
the committee: F.Staradov, Abraham Rebaikov, Abraham Krinitzi, Benyamin Eizenberg , Rivka Pozniak

 

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Benyamin Weler

 

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Eizenberg, S. Yanovski

 

Never the less, in spite of the utmost secrecy practiced by the organizers, it did not prevent the suspicious Tsarist detectives from arresting three of the delegates. One of these, who was slated to deliver a lecture at the conference, was arrested at the railway station when he reached Grodno, before the opening of the conference. He was kept in prison for three weeks. He was comrade Avner , – the late Yitzchak Ben Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel.

The event as described by by President Ben Zvi:

“… I descended from the train wagon, with a small case in my hand, it held a few innocent pamphlets and some underwear – and nothing else. As every delegate was a suspect in the eyes of the detectives and the police, they accused me of dealing in illegal matters. I also had in my pocket Rachel's passport, (comrade Golda, Rachel Yanait, the president's wife), but they did not bother her. I presented myself as someone coming from Vilna where I am a clerk in a business and am a traveling salesman for it. I was photographed, fingerprinted and held in prison. On the eighth day Yitzchak Tabenkin was brought to my cell, he too was a delegate to the conference, and was also arrested. Here I met him for the first time. He gave me news of the conference.

In the meantime, my friends in Vilna informed the woman, owner of the business which I claimed to represent, and she confirmed, persuading them that I spoke the truth. The Starosta also confirmed that the passport I had was truly mine. Betzalel Yoffe succeeded in releasing me from prison on bail, and invited me to stay in his house.”

Comrade Avner's lecture on the ‘Realization of Palestinism’ which could not be given at the council meeting, was delivered , for political reasons before a limited audience, at B. Yoffe's apartment.

At that time, M. Feder continues, Grodno served as the provincial center of the Poalei Zion, and had authority over the whole region. In 1907 a provincial conference was held in Grodno, and in it a stormy discussion took place on the question of the use of national terror as a means of fighting reaction, and during the conference two delegates were arrested. All told, concludes Feder, Grodno filled an important role in the struggle of the Poalei Zion. Among the members of the Grodno party chapter in 1907, are to be counted , in addition to Rivka Pozniak, B, Weler, M. Feder and A. Krinitzi, the above mentioned, Benyamin (Bunik) Eizenberg, (born in Grodno in 1887, died in Jerusalem in 1944). Avraham Raveikov, Faitche Starrodov (daughter of Mordechai, among the first members of Mizrachi in Grodno,– her younger sisters were actors on the Jewish stage – the well–known Sonia Altboim–Domb and Galia, many years younger. Gronia Lifshitz and Hasia Fainsod (Sukenik), who took pedagogic lessons in Grodno.

Benyamin Weler Ben Rabbi Yosef (Rabbi Yosl), of the Hassidic sect in Grodno, owner of a modest soda water plant, was born in 1887. he was among the earliest of the Labor Zionist Socialists and an activist all his life. In 1908 he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael but did not succeed in making it his home and came back to his home city, although he continued to lay plans to emigrate once again and make Eretz Yisrael his permanent home, but did not fulfill his dreams. He worked for the National funds and was counted among the fine public activists in the Jewish community, with whom he perished in the Holocaust.

Benyamin Eizenberg, son of a well to do forwarding agent, among the leading figures in the Poalei Zion in Grodno. He was arrested also and kept in the city prison for three months, during the period under consideration. In 1912 he left Grodno and in 1939 emigrated to Eretz Yisrael from Danzig and worked as an expert in a pharmaceutical plant in Jerusalem.

Gronia Lifshitz, (Later Dubin), daughter to a wealthy timber merchant in Grodno, was, earlier in 1906, among the leaders of the Poalei Tzion in Vilna. Active in the central body of the party, which was, at that time, in Vilna and involved in the issuing of its journal and book publishing.

Hasia Feinsud (Sukenik), when in Grodno, lived in Grunia Lifshitz'z apartment. She too was arrested for activity in Poalei Zion in the city, as a result of B. Eizenbergs arrest, and was held for 18 days.

Abraham Rebaikov, a contemporary of B. Eizenberg carried and waved the party red flag during meetings and demonstrations and hid it from the eyes of the police who followed him. But in a search they found it in a hidden place in the bank of the Landoy brothers, where he worked. He was arrested and sentenced to a year's rigorous imprisonment. Later during the thirties of the century, Rebaikov became an activist for the ORT organization (The Jewish Association caring for public health) in Grodno.

The police, in their pursuit after Socialist prey also watched, without let–up, for other active members of the party. Many were forced therefore to disappear from sight, to become inactive, or to move elsewhere or to emigrate.

Grodno – Center of Hebrew Education

The central and special activity of the Grodno Zionists was Hebrew education built up step by step. In 1900 the Heder Metukan (modern heder) was opened, under the slogan ‘The Torah and a Certificate’ – the first school in the city which taught Hebrew in Hebrew – and among the first successful ones of its kind in Russia. It served as an example for other Hebrew teaching centers which arose in a number of cities.

In the same time, the Grodno Zionists, on the initiative of Noah Bass, founded a Heder Metukan for the poor, functioning in the ‘Alsheikh’ study house, in accordance with the system of Hebrew in Hebrew taught by qualified teachers.

 

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Haheder Hametukan 1908

 

The initiative to found the school La'tora Ve'lateuda, (Torah with a certificate), came from Betzalel Yoffe, L.Rif and Z. Dopelberg and the appointed Rabbi Shalom Halevi Epstein who was a Zionist and having been chosen to this position, with the help of some of his friends, it gave a certain standing in the approaches to the authorities. In the beginning, the Heder consisted of only one grade, but eventually three more were added. The pedagogue Haim Arieh Chazan who had taught beforehand in Grodno, was appointed head teacher. Among the initial teachers in the Heder were; Burda, Ahron Zvi Kas, Segal and Avraham Bloch, who managed to make a great name for himself as a Hebrew teacher in the Heder Metukan and as a teacher in evening classes for workers. After these, came Yehoshua Ben Rabbi Moshe Levin, (born 1878, died 1960), and a line of teachers who received their training in the Pedagogical circles (more on these later), Arieh Leyb Smiatitzki, Arieh Leyb Kliatchkovski, (died in Kirzbograd, Russia, in 1921),and Gedalya Shklarski who is still alive. The teacher of Russian, history and arithmetic, Berta Bat Itzhak (Isakovna), she was Yanovska in the past, the Heder secretary and a member of the governing committee.

Haim Arieh ben Rabbi Nisan Chazan was the principal of the Le'torah Ve'leteudah school until 1912. That year he was invited and moved to Vilna to teach in the F. Kagan Hebrew high school. He was born in the year 1862 in Amdur, studied in the Grodno yeshiva and later studied by himself in the study house. He was employed as a Melamed (teacher) in a village and at a later stage settled and taught in Grodno. Chazan was one of the outstanding figures on the Hebrew cultural scene and its propagandist – a noted grammarian and expert in the creation of Hebrew terminology, a mathematician commenting on the Einstein theory, a researcher, a writer, a translator and a teacher of teachers – though a man of social standing he remained an endearing and affable person. The Nazi murderers pulled him out of bed in Vilna in 1941 and led him, barefooted, to the Valley of Death”.

Arieh Leyb Smiatitzki (born in Sokoli, Lomzhe district, 1882, died in Tel Aviv, 1944). He became the skilled editor of the publication Art, worked as a teacher in the Heder Metukan in Grodno from the year 1904 until 1907, when he moved to Vilna to teach in the Kagan high school. He was also among the leading Zionists in Grodno. Smiatitzki edited, revised and translated, mostly anonymously and often under a pseudonym some 200 children's books. He was noted for his style and was a member of the Va'ad Ha'lashon Ha'ivrit. (Hebrew Language Academy)”.

 

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The Teaching Staff of the Cheder Metukan

 

The Cheder Metukan existed until 1915, the year Grodno was occupied by the German army. A generation of the young had been educated in the Hebrew national spirit. It served as the corner stone upon which, in time, the first Hebrew educational institutions in Russia were based. These were the acclaimed ‘pedagogical circles’, and the ‘Hebrew pedagogical courses’. This was the example which influenced the founding in Grodno, shortly upon the success of the Letorah Ve'leteudah, of yet another Heder Metukan, Yeshurun, with a clear tendency to modernism, run by Arieh Leyb Miller. It devoted fair time to the study of Hebrew as a language and its grammar, as well as to Hebrew literature and Jewish history. Besides A.L. Miller the following also taught there; Baruch Welgal, Efraim Podkovitz and Shraga –Feivl Berzovski., who later composed liturgical music, and conducted the great synagogue choir but continued to conduct after he lost his hearing. A Hebrew school in the afternoon hours functioned in the suburb across the Neman, under the direction of the teacher Davidsohn where regular Hebrew studies were conducted to students of ordinary schools.

Arieh Leyb Ben Rabbi Israel Miller, was also a book seller and a publisher. He wrote for the Hebrew newspapers and wrote stories published in 1891 (Warsaw, Bnot Yerushalaim, the first destruction of Jerusalem; Michal and Tochelet Nichzeva, and also Pirchei Yaldut, in the Otzar Hasifrut,(fourth year), by S. A. Graber (Krakow, 1893), and also a pamphlet Or Lachoshech – about the mystery of the anti Zionist ‘Black Office’. Published by the Bnei Zion in Horodna (Grodno), (Vilna 1900). He published the Toldot Menachem by his father about Rabbi Nechumke (Piotrkov, 1912).He edited and prepared , as mentioned, ‘ Nezer Aharon’, a commentary on Kohelet by Rabbi Aharon Ben Yehuda David Malishkewitch, – Rabbi Aharon Miadler (Piotrkov, 1913). he also published, in Grodno in 1925, Sidur Minchat Yehuda, which held a collection of articles under the name Minchat Yehuda, in Yiddish, explaining the prayers.

 

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Frontispiece of pamphlet Bein Or Lechoshech

 

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First group of Hebrew teacher trainees

 

The ‘Groups’ (Grupen), for the training of Hebrew teachers was started in 1901. Once it became clear that in order to change the face of Jewish education and alter its system not temporarily and in one place only – educators have to be trained for this change. At that time only one institute existed in Russia for teacher training for Jewish education, – the ‘Institute for Jewish Teachers’ in Vilna. It was filled with the spirit of assimilation. A Hebrew teacher in those days implied a graduate of a Yeshiva or an Extern –someone who prepared himself for the matriculation exams without studying in a high school. Or both. A Hebrew teacher also required an official license which allowed him to teach in primary schools. The Mefitzei Haskala Association in Russia consequently organized the Groups to prepare Hebrew teachers from among Yeshiva students, in order to provide them with the general education required, with the assistance of certified teachers – instructors, to enable them to pass the government exams and receive the title of teacher. These Groups were started in Vilna as well, but survived in Grodno only, with the help of some local Zionists.

Grodno also enjoyed a Hebrew atmosphere which was built up around the Heder Metukan, Letorah Velateudah and by the excellent and devoted teachers. The trainees in the preparation groups also benefited to some extent by teaching in the Heder Metukan, while some of its teachers received training for the title of teacher. In these Groups, the writer A.A. Kabak and the linguist Arieh Leyb Smiatitzki received their training–education, as mentioned above, as well as many other educators.

The great founding in 1907 of the edifice of The Grodno Hebrew Pedagogic Courses was based on the foundation of the Pedagogic Circles – the first such institute in Russia for the training of Hebrew teachers. It was here in Grodno, to begin with, that Zionist activists who had labored so hard in the past to receive a license to open the Heder Metukan, who now labored to receive government authority to open ‘Courses’. In the beginning, a once only event. Jewish Grodno was assisted by the quiet feverish atmosphere enveloping the city and bestowed its best endeavors in every other sphere. The ‘courses’ found a suitable background in the city with a warm Zionist – Hebrew surrounding for the effort to which it devoted its main energy. The institute had great luck in the appointment of a head for the controlling committee and devoted attention to the ‘courses’. They found a most suitable great personality and principal instructor in Aharon Ben Moshe Kahanshtam. A teacher and pedagogue of the first rank, cultured and inspirational, who was willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of the education and the raising of the cultural level of the Jewish nation.

‘Aharon Kahanashtam (born 1859, died 1929 in Kharkov), a jurist by training. Turned away from the profession in order to devote himself to teaching. In the beginning he was far removed from Jewish nationalism and the living Hebrew language but by discussion with enthusiastic Hebrew–studying students and struggling with their ideologies and with the committee Zionist members of the directing committee of the courses’ he was ‘converted’ and became the highly regarded Hebrew educator of the educators. He intended to emigrate to Eretz Israel in 1913, and enter the educational system there. In spite of his advanced age, (he was 50 years old when he began to administer the institute), he was tireless, restless and full of energy in caring for every detail in the work, fascinated by nature and studied and followed all new discoveries.; he was a devotee of endless study and a sportsman; cheerful and loved friendly conversation and humor; he saw the new young Hebrew generation as healthy in body and in spirit and free of the conditioned galuth mentality. He was strict with himself, his personality served as a fine example to his students, worthy of their respect, their admiration and unbounded gratefulness'.

Alongside Kahanashtam, Dr.Shalom Yona Tsharna (1878–1932) transmitted his deep Hebrew spirit on the courses.– harmoniously combined within him Hebrew culture with a general education and culture. Distinguished and modest, he dedicated his life to his calling.

The thirty students taken on out of over a hundred candidates, who had come to Grodno from near and far, mostly yeshiva students and mostly confirmed rabbis, who had already willingly worked in education out of national conscience, they were of an age after the military service, some saddled with families, but were desirous of completing their education in order to reach the perfect level needed by a Hebrew teacher.

At the opening ceremony of the courses Kahanashtam, the principal, attempted to define the aim of the institute in a few words;

  1. The school was not for the purpose of gaining a certificate. There was no shortage of Jewish teachers with diplomas.
  2. Not to use this learning for any other purpose except for teaching, not even as a bridge to higher education.
  3. To be conscious that the teacher must see his work as a human and national mission, which is poorly remunerated, but that is of no consequence.
The principal of the Heder Metukan, H.A.Hazan blessed the ‘course’ attendees on that occasion with the wish that ‘their exit should not shame their entry’.

In his introductory lecture, the first by Kahanashtam to the students, he stated that the institute will not instill knowledge in them, but rather it will provide them with a key to the sciences. It will be up to the students themselves to use the key to enrich and widen their knowledge.

The courses had neither rooms, furniture nor equipment at the beginning. Their initial home was on the upper floor of the trade school until a place was found for them on the first floor in the big building of the Talmud Torah. The students, among them future writers and poets sat on the benches which were used by the small children. There they sat and acquired their enlightenment. Among them were; the late Yaakov Fichman, Pesach Ginzburg, Yaakov Lemer, Yehoshua Ovseevich–Ovsey, and Dr. Israel Rubin–Ravkai. And ,among the living, Ts..Z.Weinberg, M.A. Beigel Avigal, Sh.Herberg, Aharon Urinovski Ben Or, Avraham Golomb, Yitzchak Spivack and others.

 

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First Hebrew Pedagogic course: teachers and students

 

A woman, one only, participated in the first course. She was considered as not being enrolled but permitted to attend. The reason for this arrangement was that the official permit for the institute was for the training of male teachers only; she was the kindergarten teacher Chasia Feinsod–Sukenik (mother of prof. and general Yigal Yadin, one of the first chiefs of staff of the Israeli army), she is mentioned above. She intended to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael and to work in education and this intention stood her in her stead in being accepted to the course despite the government rule. At a later stage, the government inspector caught her in her ‘delinquency’ but he too ignored it after receiving an explanation. Undoubtedly, he permitted her presence in this Hebrew institute, and probably without setting a precedence to continue her studies

The Hebrew language dominated the lessons and was used by the participants amongst themselves as well, although there were a few who were devotees of Yiddish. The Hebrew lessons were conducted in Hebrew. As were also the lessons in physics and chemistry given by Dr. Tsharna. Other general subjects, which had to to given in Russian as ordered by the authorities, were nevertheless taught as much as possible in Hebrew as well. And these were, it transpires, were the first to be so taught in the diaspora.

Along with the courses a Jewish Athletic Association was formed, the first in Russia as well. It arranged a hall in the institute for this purpose. A once only budget for the equipment and construction, and an annual grant for its upkeep was given from a special fund of the World Zionist Federation. This fund, created during the years of anti Jewish rioting in Russia, had as its aim the development of physical culture and that of Jewish self defense.

The lessons were given mostly in the Heder Metukan, in the Letorah Veleteudah, (and in some instances – by watching – in physics, and the anatomy of organisms), in the Jewish primary schools run by the government and also in the Talmud Torah in order to accustom the novices to the various different schools.

 

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Chernichovski visit to the Hebrew pedagogical courses

 

Although the courses were, formally, considered as being affiliated with the Jewish government school, yet actually, besides the demonstration lessons given there, the connection existed only with the school administration. Gregory (Tzvi), Ben Moshe Katznelson, who was close to national movement was a member of the monitoring committees of the Heder Metukan, and of the courses. Shmuel Ben Itschak Levin taught Russian in the courses and was considered one of the outstanding teachers in the above government school.

The courses were intimately connected to the Heder Metukan and its lessons. The members of the monitoring committee of the school, in addition to Katznelson, were Betzalel Yoffe, Yedidya Doppelberg and Rip who were also members of the monitoring committee of the courses. Kahanashtam was appointed also as principal of the Heder Metukan which served as a model school for the courses and the main practice ground for the course attendees. They had to adapt themselves to the proper pronunciation of Hebrew speech as heard in the Heder Metukan. Their teachers, A. Bloch, C.A. Chazan. I. Levin, and A. Kliatchkowski willingly instructed the novices and included them in the school problems, and thus gave form to the courses and their Hebrew character. Some of the course students were given posts in the Letorah Veleteudah ; Gedalia Shklarski, Eliyahu Diskin and Eliyahu–Dov Minkin. Also, Reuven Vigdorovitz– taught singing, A.A. Zaltzmanovitz taught art and draftsmanship, and Aharon Kron taught physical exercise.

Among the course takers were some who were appointed to teach in the actual courses; the late A.A. Zaltzmanovitz, A .Kron, R. Vigdorovitz, and the live M.A. Beigel–Avigal (art and craft–work).

The pedagogical strength of the courses lay in that they combined the educational principles which are the basis of western culture with national values, as pointed out by the outstanding pedagogue M.A. Avigal. The courses absorbed from the traditional Heder the essence of the preparation of the student for study by himself and raised that concept above that of merely imparting knowledge. Additionally, they inherited from the Heder the primacy of Hebrew education, national enlightenment and culture.

The concept of imparting a general education as well as the technique of teaching the whole class they took from the government school ‘Beginners’, as well as the realization of the necessity of the pedagogic training of the teacher. From the Heder Metukan they took the method of teaching Hebrew through Hebrew and its use as a means of conversation between teacher and student and in addition joining education to the Zionist ideology and the Zionist movement and activity.

The courses added a number of new principles: love for the child and attention to be paid to his individual traits: the necessity of extension studies for the vocational teacher: and the preference for instilling scientific methodology over specific knowledge: knowing nature, in particular that in the child's environs: and hand work woven into education. Above all, considering teaching not only as a means of earning a living but also as a holy mission, obligating its functionaries.

All the above, together with the heightened serious spirit of specialization which pervaded the courses, made them into a significant educational factor in its sphere in the public life stream of Hebrew education. Hundreds of its graduates – some of the finest pioneers in Hebrew education – spread throughout Russia and abroad across the seas. Many of them immigrated to Eretz Yisrael to teach in the various schools including high school, but they all retained their love to this day for the Grodno Educational Courses and its dedicated instructors.

The courses took place in Grodno until the outbreak of the First World War which forced them to evacuate to the Russian interior. Their activity was not limited to their sphere only. The library, mainly in Hebrew, built up by them, was one of the two important Jewish libraries in Grodno (the other was tended by Reuven Vigdorovitz). A. Kahanashtam organized an association of Jewish educators in the city, and its intent was to raise the level of Jewish education and of its factors. He introduced, a first in Grodno, joint outings of Jewish school children on La'G Ba'omer to the natural environs of the city and took the initiative to introduce them to the world of the theater and their understanding of this art.

Various Zionist Activities: Jewish Literary Society

The Grodno Zionists, devoted their main energies and mind to the development of Hebrew teaching and education but did not refrain at the same time from encouraging the participation, especially of the young, in cultural evenings. We hear of the existence of a Zionist literary circle in Grodno in the last quarter of the first decade of the century (the Twentieth). Active in the circle were, according to the writer Eliezer Kleer, who studied in Grodno,– L. Yoffe, Noah Bass, Rachel Maisel and V. Doppelberg, who was already a veteran Zionist activist not only in the cultural field. He was the Zionist address in Grodno in the years of the anti Jewish riots, 1905–1906, for the allocation of clothing to the victims and his home also served as one of the centers for the members of the Jewish self defense in the city.

From the beginning of 1909 Grodno also had a branch of the Jewish Literary Society founded in St. Petersburg. This was the first branch in the whole of Russia of the St. Petersburg Society. It dealt with the editing of lectures and organized musical and literary evenings. By the end of 1910 it had some 300 members. But a governmental closure order was soon published regarding all the branches of the Jewish Literary Society within Russia, which had multiplied and expanded. In the Tsarist government opinion, not only democratic elements belonged to it, but also workers, and that it seems, brought the end to the Grodno branch.

The Hebrew center for education and teaching created in Grodno, also influenced the development of Zionist activity in the city and outside it. Young activists attending the courses were active in the provincial Zionist council, directed by Leyb Yoffe after 1910 until the outbreak of the World War. The secretary of the provincial council, which included Bialystok, Suwalki and other small communities, M. A. Beigel (Avigal) and one other activist, Aharon Kron (born 1880, died 1955). In later years he was the principal of schools in the Galilee and in Rishon Letzion. The records of the provincial council are full of mysterious commercial terms used in the rich correspondence carried on with members and committees outside Grodno – in order to avoid the evil eye of the Tsarist secret service.

The young course taker, the courageous Zionist activist G. Moradov, made a great impression on Grodno and the surroundings:

Gershom Moradov studied in a Yeshiva before taking the courses in Grodno. A scion of the north east of Siberia. The existence of the Grodno courses assisted also in the activities of the association ‘Agudat Sfat Avar’ founded in 1911. Active in it were Dr. S. Y. Tsharna, H. A.Yanovski, C. A. Chazan, L. Yoffe, Yehoshua Levin, M. Yanovski and others. The members met Saturday evenings to hear lectures and discussions. Some high school students formed an adjunct group around them to study Hebrew.

In those days, a woman's group existed in Grodno, a branch of the ‘Women's Society for Culture in Eretz Yisrael’. It was founded in 1908 and set up lace workshops in Eretz Yisrael employing many learners, and also a farm near the Kinneret to teach women farm work under the guidance of the agronomist, Chana Maisel, born in Grodno. The Grodno branch of this society was one of the few in Russia. In 1912 it had 130 members from all walks of life. One of the active members in this society and in the Grodno branch in particular, was Frida Yoffe, (wife of the late Leyb Yoffe) and she kept in contact with the society activists in Eretz Yisrael. She received lace work, done by the Yemenite immigrant women, for distribution and exhibition.

Despite the searches and interrogations by the police in the homes of the Zionist leaders in Grodno (L.Yoffe, N. Bass), carried out in the last years before the First World War, an underground active Zionist activity was carried on in the city.

The society ‘Tze'irei Zion’ was also formed in Grodno in 1913, and it began to strike root and embed itself in the city. The initiative came from a group of youths interested in the rebirth of the Hebrew language and its literature. A delegate representing this group participated in the congress of the movement in Minsk. The secretary of the ‘Z. Z. Eliezer Kaplan’, (eventually – the minister of finance in the State of Israel), visited the Grodno branch in anticipation of the dynamic activity about to be begun before the eleventh Zionist Congress, scheduled for the middle of 1914. The newspaper movement newspaper Shacharit (Warsaw, April 11, 1914), claims that over 40 members belonged to the Tze'irei Zion in Grodno, divided into groups studying Zionism and history and Hebrew literature. One of the groups heard its lectures in Hebrew.

One of the young leaders of the movement in Grodno was Baruch Ben Rabbi Eliyahu Kassin who distributed its publication (M. Matos preceded him). During the World War he assisted in reviving the Tze'irei Zion society in Grodno, but later left the movement and joined the opposing camp. He was born in Grodno in the middle of the nineties in the previous century and perished in the Holocaust together with the Jews of Shavli in Lithuania (Siauliai), where he had served as the principal of the Jewish primary school.

In June 1914, a group of young government school graduates, aged 14–15, founded a secret Zionist group, under their own initiative and without any connection to the Zionists in the city. They named it ‘Metulah’ in admiration of the heroism displayed by the frontier settlement who withstood the ceaseless attacks of their neighbors. The proposer of the name, an ‘expert’ among his comrades on the subjects of Zionism and Eretz Yisrael, was Feivel Plater, an outstanding graduate of the above school, the son of a poor tailor living in the Grodno suburbs, a brilliant youngster and a deep thinker. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in 1916, when he succumbed to T B, being only 16 years of age.

Others of this group, participated in the renewal of the Tze'irei Zion movement in Grodno during the World War. Mention should also be made of the functioning of the secret Zionist library before the war years.

Bereishit immigrants from Grodno for settlement in Eretz Yisrael

While the movement of immigrants from Grodno continued to the old settled Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael, the first wave from the city begins to arrive to bring to life the wilderness by their labors and constructive work. Rabbi M. Diskin and his family, among the pioneers of Petach Tikvah, have alreadybeen mentioned, Isaac Vilbushevitz also followed the Bilu'im and reached the country at the beginning of the eighties. Now, in the nineties, the brother of Isaac, the engineer Gedalya Vilbushevitz–Vilbush arrived with his wife, Tzila, of the Burda family as well as the Paikovitz family. These arrived in the year 1891.

Gedalya Ben Ze'ev Vilbushevitz (born 1865 in Lususna, a resort suburb of Grodno, died in Haifa, in 1943). He was a member of the Russian revolutionary Ratzon Ha'am movement. In 1881, while living in Bialystok, he was influenced by representatives of the Bilu'im (also in Grodno) who were persuading the young to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. He adopted wholeheartedly the concept of the practical realization of the ideology. He was a member of the secret Zionist society Bnei Moshe when he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael. A certified first engineer he had many achievements to his credit, especially in the opening of Hebrew industry, in educating and perfecting the Hebrew artisans in their work. In 1893, he founded in Jaffa, together with his friend L. Stein, the first iron foundry. He also drilled the first Artesian well in the country, in Rechovot. Among his activities, he worked hard to save people in Eretz Yisrael during the First World War during the rule of the autocratic Turkish governor, general Gamal Pasha, who schemed to destroy the Yishuv and Vilbush (Vilbushevitz) who served as an engineer in the headquarters of Gamal Pasha in Damascus and was the city engineer, made great efforts to find employment for Eretz Yisrael Jews in the offices under his control, and thus redeemed them from their oppressors. A man of creation and vision. Solid in his ideas and stand, modest but firm in his opinions and willed his property to public institutions.

 

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Reuven Y. Paikovitz

 

The brothers Shmuel and Reuven Yosef Paikovitz came to Eretz Yisrael together with their father Rabbi Yehoshua Zvi. Reuven Yosef Paikovitz was born in Grodno in 1870, and while a child absorbed from his father the love for the land of Zion and the desire to emigrate to it and redeem the land by working it. From the day of his coming to Eretz Yisrael he was fearless in dealing with the ravaging Arab neighbors, and well–known as someone who stoutly stood up for his pride and honor and taught the attackers a bitter lesson. He was an excellent worker in Rechovot, in Rishon Letzion and Rosh Pina. He joined the founders of Machanayim and was among its first tillers of the soil. Later on, he also accompanied the founders of Mascha, (Kfar Tabor), was among the defenders of the land from the harassing Bedouin and became famous as one who heroically stood up to them. He was among the important farmers in the Moshava (agricultural settlement) and its activists. At the beginning of the First World War he was conscripted into the Turkish army and served as a captain in the battles for the Suez. At a later stage, during the British occupation, he continued to heroically defend the Yishuv. He died in 1962.

In speaking of R.Y. Paikovitz it is meet to mention an incident concerning Prof. Weizmann, the leader of the Jewish state to be and the first president of the State of Israel. This is told by B. Gurial, the director of the Weitzman archives, (as recounted by Hanoch Bartov, in Lamerchav, 02.11.1962, Tel Aviv). The president, in his last days, wished to know ‘where did our generals come from’, he understood everything else, ‘but where did these Jewish generals come from’. But once he found that the general Yigal Alon (now minister of labor in the Israeli government)was the son of the old Paikovitz , he was filled with joy, as if everything had become clear to him.

With the coming of the present century, the ‘mekubal’ and author, Rabbi Menachem M. Halperin, founder of the Grodno society for settlement in Eretz Yisrael, took up permanent residence in the country. He is mentioned in previous chapters as having taught love for the land to many loyal and important students.

From this time on, single young people without their families came to endow the homeland with physical labor both for themselves and for the nation. Artisans came, firstly by themselves but soon joined by their families, and later on children of Zionist families came – to study in the Hertzliya high school, founded in Tel Aviv. Not everyone left a record and not everyone can be mentioned.

As a harbinger of the Second Aliya from Grodno, we may mention Nachum Vilboshevitz– Vilbush, brother of Gedalya and Isaac who preceded him. He came to Eretz Yisrael on a visit in 1902, aged 23 after he completed his studies as a mechanical engineer – in order to tour it and study the possibility of bringing life to the wilderness and setting up industry. His conclusions and plans for these as well as his measurements of the water in the country's rivers he then published in Zionist publications. After the Sixth congress, in 1903, when it was decided to send a delegation to study the possibility of Jewish settlement in Uganda, Nachum Vilboshevitz was one of the experts invited to join it. He expressed his negative opinion of the Uganda Plan after the visit. He also participated, in the days of Hertzl, in the Zionist delegation sent to study the feasibility of Jewish settlement in the El Arish area in the Sinai desert. In 1904, he returned to Eretz Yisrael for permanent settlement and to build up industry, to initiate the creation of factories, particularly for oils, and to manage them. (He managed the Shemen plant for many years).

 

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The Vilbushevicz family 1920

 

The carpenter, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Rabbi Shmuel Hakohen Tankus arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1903 (born in Grodno in 1860, died in Tel Aviv in 1935). A student of Rabbi Malishkevitz (Rabbi Aharon from Yadler). Rabbi Yehuda Tankus lived initially in Sejera and later he became one of the builders of Tel Aviv. He quickly brought over his children and other family members, among them his son Aharon, the father of general Tankus, the commander of the Israeli navy.

A small group of Halutzin from Grodno of the Second Aliyah reached Eretz Yisrael one by one, in 1904, following a group from Homel (Gomel). The first were the brothers Eliezer and the late Israel Shochat, and Yehuda (Avraham) Krinitzi. Eliezer Shochat was among the founders of the Hapoel Hatzair party. He was among the its leading theorists, spokesman and molded it. A fair journalist and editor, a reserved and exemplary person. As to his originality and honesty, not commonly found, many tales were told in Grodno. His brother, The late Israel Shochat, whose activity in Grodno was recounted above, was among the founders of the Hashomer in Eretz Yisrael, one its leaders, and defined it. Later, he was among the founders of the Haganah, more will be told of him later.

Avraham Krinitzi, a student of Rabbi Aharon from Yadler, immigrated to Eretz Yisrael aged 18, with a ‘recommendation’ as an expert carpenter, issued by the head of the Grodno Poalei Zion, of which he was a member. His party activities in the Grodno chapter and his work in in the Jewish self defense has been mentioned above. From the day of his arrival he physically defended Jewish honor and was to be found in the front rank of the defenders of the Yishuv and its struggle. He was especially known as a developer of Ramat Gan and its gardens – a city he headed for many years.

That same year, 1904, the sister of Nachum Vilbosheitz, a revolutionary, the late Manya, arrived, following a call from her brother. She married the late Israel Shochat. Many stories were told of her earlier daring deeds and adventures, later, she became a bastion of the Hashomer and the Haganah and among the leading figures working to bring Jews to the country by every means possible, dangerous and otherwise, for herself as well. More about her later.

Mordechai Mazover Ben Rabbi Yichezkel Mazover, came to Eretz Yisrael in 1905, (born in Grodno 1872, died in Rishon Le'zion 1955). A cabinet maker related to Krinitzi. A year later he was followed by his family. He was among the founders of the settlement Be'er Ya'akov. Thanks to savings he made from his work, he became an orange grove owner in Rishon Letzion where he was also a founder of the workers synagogue.

That same year, Shmuel Arieh Prudovski arrived from Grodno, (born 1866, died 1920). he was the only one among the brothers who came to Eretz Yisrael, whereas the others emigrated to other countries. He too was a carpenter, a students of Rabbi Aharon of Yadler, settled in Jerusalem and purchased a Sha'ar (a section) in Meah She'arim. His family came in 1906, among them his daughter Leah (the wife of Adler, of Sejera) and his son Eliezer. The son, Eliezer Prudovski, was 9 years of age when he came with the rest of the family. In 1913, at the time of the Language controversy, he participated in the famous strike of the students of the Jerusalem Teachers Seminary, It was owned by the Ezra association founded by German Jewry. He was among the first few clerks taken on by the British military administration in the country. At a later stage, he was given responsible tasks in the immigration department of the mandatory government. He served there the national interests, a proud Jew, sensitive to the problems of his people. After the establishment of the state, he was in charge of the passport department in the immigration office and helped to lay down its work systems. He, with his wife, Sarah, of the Third Aliyah from Grodno, lost their only son, Arieh, in the War of Independence, From that time on he knew no solace, and even changed the family name to Avi Arieh. And after their son in law, Colonel Mordechai Amit suddenly died in 1954, he was prostrated with despair and did not recover. He was aged 58 at his death.

 

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Eliezer Prudovski

 

The baker, Avraham Prenski, together with his late wife Miriam, related by marriage to S.A. Prudovski, arrived in 1906. In 1907, he brought over from Grodno, Ya'akov Arieh Yoffe, (nephew of Betzalel and Leyb Yoffe), ten years of age. He was an excellent student at the Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv, and a member of a select secret group (Hahistadrut Hamemutzenet), who pledged to devote their lives to activity for the nation. (other members of the group were Moshe Sharet, and the late Eliyahu Golomb). In 1915, he taught in Merchavia (Hako'operatzia), as an emissary of this group. He was a member of the Gdud Ha'avoda in its early days. He wrote poetry which was published in various periodicals as well as a play called Bama'ayan (at the source) issued by the publisher Mizpe in 1931. He died in Zefat in 1942.

Other Halutzin from Grodno began to arrive after 1908 to redeem the land and re–fructify it :

Tuvia Matos, born 1891, died 1952), a man of labor and security; after the British conquest was among the first to accede to the call of the national bodies to join the Eretz Yisrael police force. He was a member of Ein Harod and Tel Yosef. At a later stage he became the head of the Ramatayim council.

Nachum Shevach left home in Grodno aged 16 and came alone. He was among the volunteers to the Gdud Haivri in the first World War. He published a few articles about the life of the workers in the country, among others about the driller of wells from Grodno, Israel Fis.

The nephew of Betzalel and Leyb Yoffe, Itzhak Ben Avraham Yoffe, (born 1895, died 1915), arrived from Grodno to study at the Herzliya high school. He excelled in his studies and belonged to the students group mentioned above, tasked to be involved in work and security. He was employed in various parts of the Galilee during the First World War. He believed that internal morality was the foundation concept of national and social life. This surrounded his soul and beliefs. He ended his life tragically in Jaffa.

That year, Chana Maizel Shochat came to Eretz Yisrael, already mentioned above, among the pioneers of the women workers movement and one of its trail blazers. She devoted the best part of her life to fostering agricultural education for the Hebrew women in Israel. And later, for all the young people. At the close of the year, her sister, Rachel Maizel arrived (born 1886 in Grodno, died tragically in Jaffa in 1910). She was among the finest of the Zionist girls in Grodno, highly educated in Hebrew and general culture, thorough and sensitive, dynamic and courageous. Before leaving for Eretz Yisrael she studied in a university Switzerland, to prepare herself for teaching in the settlements. She even attempted agricultural work in one of them. She was at one with the neighboring youths.

Betzalel Yoffe, took up permanent residence in 1910, having arrived with his family at the close of the previous year. He was a leader of Russian Zionism. He came with his wife, Chana Bat Ya'akov Margolin, (born in Grodno 1875, died in Tel Aviv 1938) and their daughter. Betzalel Yoffe was the head of the company Geulah, and did much for the redemption of the land. ‘Lev Tel Aviv’, now the center of the city was one of their projects. He promoted the building of the first central irrigation plant in the country, near the Yarkon River; he was active in Hebrew education, including the first publishing house in this sphere, named Kohelet; interceded greatly in the interests of the Yishuv in the days of the cruel reign of Gamal Pasha; was one of the first to organize the Yishuv after the exit of the Turks and stood at the helm of the Tel Aviv–Jaffa community where a road is named after him. His wife, Chana Yoffe, was the founder of Wiz'o in Eretz Yisrael, and she has much to her credit in activities relating to agricultural and professional training of women. A trade school for girls in Nachalat Yitzchak, Beth Chana Yoffe, is named for her.

 

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Yehuda and Faine–Riva Tankus

 

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Israel Shochat with Hashomer compatriots in Mascha – Kfar Tabor 1909

 

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Betzalel Yoffe

 

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Meir Shochat

 

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Rachel Maizel

 

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Nacha Neiman

 

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Tuvia Matos

 

In 1910 Meir Shochat (Meirke) arrived while still a youth, having just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. The brother of the late Israel and Eliezer, while he was still studying in a school in the Golah, he exchanged blows with the ‘Shkotzim’ (gentile lads) whenever they attacked his fellow Jews. He was expelled from his school as a result and his father decided to send him to Eretz Yisrael where he studied agriculture in Mikveh Israel and worked in the Galilee, particularly in Merchavia. Always among the first to do the work and to take on guard duty. A member of Hashomer and its activist, and later among those sent by the organization, after the conquest by the British, to serve in the mounted police in the lower Galilee, where he administered order and security in the Jewish settlements. He was also among the first Jews to take on the position of driver. He excelled in singing and merriment and was very popular with his compatriots. He died in 1926.

Leah Vilenski, of the Maisel family, (sister to Chana Maisel), arrived in 1911. She became an active member of Wiz'o in the country and the general secretary of the organization in Israel.

Dov Matos, (brother to the late Tuvia Matos),came in 1912, among the settlers of Kfar Yichezkel, and among the volunteers to the Gdud Haivri in the First World War. Yitzhak Moshe Ben Rabbi Karfel Mostovski–Geshen (born 1895, died 1953), also came. Before coming to Eretz Yisrael he was a member of the Tze'irei Zion movement. He worked in the orange groves, drilled for water and finally in building work.

Immigrants from Grodno during 1913 were (in alphabetical order):

Mordechai (Markus) Ben Moshe Lubetzki. A farmer, completed his studies of agronomy in France, at present living in Even Yehuda.

Nocha Neima, later Chorgin, (born in the Suburb of Grodno, sister to Dr. N. Neiman, previously head of local community, she died some 28 years ago). In the early days of the century she was a member of Poalei Zion in Grodno. She and Chana Maizel were the only two women who participated in the controversy over the Uganda proposal during the Poalei Zion convention in Vilna, in January 1905. In Eretz Yisrael she taught sewing, for a time, in the girls school in Jaffa.

Aharon Adin, (1895–1958), and his wife Zipora, of the Neiman family.

Sima Efron–Krasnitzki, among the early instructors in the womens' work place.

Shaina Bat Israel Strieb–Rudi (born in Grodno 1875, died Tel Aviv 1932). During the First World War she was active in extending assistance to Jewish prisoners exiled and imprisoned in Damascus.

Rabbi Moshe Ya'akov Hakohen Rabikov with his wife Leah (died in Tel Aviv 1934) and family. Rabbi Moshe Rabikov came to settle on his land in Kfar Uriya, some of whose owners were from Grodno and the surroundings. For family reasons he took up residence in Tel Aviv, worked as a shoemaker, and was among the founders of the Kupat Am and Halva'a Vechisachon banks in the city. During the period of the Third Aliyah, for many years his home served to lodge halutzim from Grodno who visited the city. In his home the family received the visitors with warmth and friendship – and all this not for reward, it is told. To this day, many Jews come to him for his blessings.

In 1914, the last year before the War, Michael Adin arrived in Eretz Yisrael, (his brother, Aharon, is mentioned above), a man of work and the Haganah, a soldier in the Gdud Haivri, was felled by Arab rioters in Menachamiya in 1938.

Among the immigrants from Grodno that year , are to be found also the sisters Chaya Shrira and Hadassah Klatzkin; the daughters of Mordechai Yanovski (mentioned above), who came to study at the Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv.


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