By Arye Kopelowicz
Donated by Florence Koplow
Translated by Milette Shamir
Approximately two hundred years of aliya (Immigration to Israel) from one town
Like burnt firebrands, to which providence allowed the privilege of coming to live in independent Israel, it is our duty to erect a memorial for our town and for its Jews, who once were and are no more. Our modest contribution will be in telling the wonderful stories of aliya, from the distant past and from the period between the two World Wars. These stories testify to the tight bonds between our town, Ilya, and Eretz Yisrael; bonds that passed the tests of time. We will unravel here chapters of grandeur, magic and longing, chapters saturated with yearning for Israel, for aliya and for Zionism, and stretching over a period of approximately two hundred years. Since some of these tales refer to previous generations, however, and since they were transmitted from generation to generation orally, it is possible that here and there the facts are strewn with fiction. We will do our best, hence, to accurately transmit what others told us and also to describe the characters of immigrants from our own time and pass all this on to the next generations.
Numerous factors spurred the different generations of our town to make aliya, but common to all was the love for the land. Whereas the first generation was moved mainly by deep religious fervor, whereas the next generation came in order to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land, whereas those who followed went to Eretz Yisrael to die and be buried there, afterwards a turning point has occurred: namely the development of the nationalist ideal. Now came to the land olim whose hearts' desire was to settle and build it. The motive of those who followed them was the vision of the resurrection of Israel; then came olim who carried in their hearts the readiness to struggle against the conqueror and to liberate the land. We have now arrived at the year 1948, and the next olim, who fought for the independence of Israel and sometime have bravely fallen in the battle field. The state was born. Olim from our town who were wandering across Europe picked up the immigration to Israel. Every survivor directed his steps towards Zion.
Even today, as these words are being written in the year 1961, during the State of Israel's thirteenth anniversary, we still see a feeble stream of olim from over there seeping in; their ragged limbs arrive from the valley of tears, to take cover underneath the shadow of the developing state of Israel.
And Our Eyes Shall See
The vision of the Jewish people and its love for the land intertwined for thousands of years. With his mother's milk, the Jewish child received the love and yearning for the land. Already in his childhood his lips were trained to mumble: and our eyes shall see the return to Zion. All this stamped in him the indelible mark of love and yearning. Thus a secret and burning chain of desires and dreams was formed, that he carried with him throughout his life, in joy and in sorrow, until his descent to his grave.
To counter his impoverished and gloomy life, a life accompanied by constant anxiety and fear from the hostile and conspiring goyim surrounding him, he immersed himself in faith and in the memories of the Bible that were planted in his heart as a child and that awoke in his imagination longings for a glorious past...For we, too, were once a free people in Eretz Yisrael. A people like any other people: with our own royal habits, with our own governmental rule that provided days of war as well as of tranquillity. But as long as we were rooted in the land, we knew no despair. There always came a leader who put himself at the head of the camp and for the most part succeeded... Eventually we were conquered. The people were exiled, disseminated among the goyim, and lost its independence.
Close to two thousand years have passed and the people began to recover. Despite their wide dispersal and their oppression through the generations, and because they were special and different from others, their spirit never failed. From the its depth, joyfully and sorrowfully, they turned their soul to Zion and to the renewal of national freedom. This longing passed from generation to generation and thus penetrated the souls of our fathers. As Judaism suckled from the roots of the holy and ancient
Hebrew tradition, thus our fathers' fathers carried in their hearts, in the darkness of the prolonged exile, the vision of complete salvation. In their hardships and their wanderings, they dreamed about it. Granted, in their difficult living conditions, in their fear, in their poverty, most of them were forced to be content with merely pure prayer. But in all periods there were a few, courageous and heroic, who stood up to fulfill their soul's desire - to immigrate to the land of their fathers.
The yearnings for Zion are no shorter than the length of the exile itself. But we shall skip over some of the better known facts of the history of Israel. In all periods of the bitter exile a few groups and individuals fulfilled the mitzvah of the return to Zion -- before and after the destruction of the First and Second Temples, in the middle ages of the false prophets, and so forth.
But these facts do not bear a particular relevance to our town, and we will now examine the direct participation of our town members in the various aliyot.
The Aliya of the Hasidim
The history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora is inherently tragic: due to our loss of national independence, to our willing or forced segregation, and due to our historical destiny. Providential trials of tribulations and pernicious edicts, throughout the exile years, created a series of additional disasters, based on continuous suffering on the one hand, and the hope for salvation on the other. Despite our people's famous persistent and adamant faith in its Protector and Savior, the prolonged disappointments that it suffered created fertile ground for the actions of various radical visionaries. Even if their motive was the hastening of redemption for the oppressed and suffering people, the outcome was disappointment and conversion.
Many God-fearing believers were swept away by this tragic whirlpool. Such was the fate of the supporters of Shabtai Tzvi, of Ya'akov Frank's Hasidim, and of others. These tragic fates taught the leaders of Israel in the next generations to fight every new movement while it is still in its diapers, and to ban every new idea while it is still fresh.
Our purpose is not to explicate the origins of the Hasidic movement, its incentives and goals. This has been done by various historians and writers. Our present purpose is merely to clarify the background, to shed light on and explain the reasons for the bitter and persistent struggle between the Hasidim and their adversaries. To our town Ilya, located as it is in the planes between Lithuania and Reisen, the Hasidic movement arrived in a later generation and in its Chassidic manifestation. The creator and spiritual founder of the Hasidic movement in our area was Rabbi Shneor Zolman Meladi. ( From Ladi) Although he was not among the direct disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov, but rather a student of a student, of Rabbi Ya'akov Yossef, he was nonetheless discovered to be a gifted thinker of Hasidic learning and foundations, and a creator, founder and preacher of great stature. The core of this Hasidic learning is to instill optimism and joy of life into the grim existence of the people. His ideas were based on the Zohar writing, the Ari and the Kabbala, and he gathered these in his well-known book Tania. He assumed that these ideas would provide firm foundations for the survival of a people that tribulations and disappointments brought to decadence and moral disintegration. The group that gathered around him was called CHABAD, an acronym for Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge.
The most important Talmudic authority during this period and in area was undoubtedly the Scholar Rabbi Eliyahu from Vilna -- better known as the GERA. Among his principles were the objection to the sophist method of learning Talmud, prevalent in his generation and before. Instead, he offered a more simple and practical method of learning. In addition, historians mark the fact that he prescribed the study of nature, mathematics and astronomy as necessary for the plunge into the Talmudic sea and for fathoming its bottom.
It is not our intention to deviate and describe the magnitude of this divine man and his many actions. This is not the task prescribed. We would like to explicate, mainly, the affair of his persistent, bitter and prolonged war against the Hasidic movement; a war that was undoubtedly the main and primary reason for immigration of Hasidic groups to Eretz Yisrael two hundred years ago, and among them the first olim from our town.
The dissemination of the CHABAD groups in our area in those days was slow and hesitant at first, and encircled especially groups who did not include the biggest scholars and champions of Torah. The basics of the CHABAD teaching were understood by the masses as the preferring of faith, joy of life and fervor over reason, learning, and knowledge of the Talmud, and hence their attraction to it. Moreover, the habit of condescension of the scholars of that period towards the lay masses hastened the growth of the Hasidic movement and contributed more than just a little to its integration.
The Scholar Rabbi Eliyahu from Vilna, the light of the Diaspora in this period, who knew the magnitude of the disasters brought about on the Jewish people by messianic and segregationist cults, was horrified by the development of the Hasidic movement. The CHABAD movement that rose in his area seemed to him to be a new edition of these messianic cults, but of a larger scope and greater force. The danger seemed real, and so he countered it with a war of annihilation. During this struggle, that took place in Lithuania and in Byelorussia, extremists on both sides used horrible and forbidden measures that even led to the interference of state authorities and to the arrest of the Rabbi and of the Scholar both. Of all the men who tried to reconcile and to prove to the Scholar that his fears were not founded, that no danger threatened Judaism from the CHABAD movement, none managed to convince him. Even the special attempt of Rabbi Menashe Ben Porath, of our town, one of the Scholar's closest disciples, to personally examine CHABAD by visiting the house of Rabbi Shneor Zalman, has not managed to sway the Scholar from his rigid position. The internal war persisted, accelerated and reached new heights of hatred.
Those were hard and bitter days. This futile hatred amongst the clan of Israel grew and flourished, and was especially felt, bitter as poison, in the small towns. Those were days of sighs and hardships for the Hasidim, but for their persecutors as well. Imagine this: in a small town, where a few hundreds of families emerged, grew, and formed together, tied to each other with family and neighborly bonds, suddenly thirty families segregate themselves from the crowd. The majority of the town were inspired by the Scholar, and thus saw the segregationists as a real danger to its existence and to the existence of the people as a whole, and started a warfare against them. They were barred from participating in public prayer, stripped of the privilege of going up to the Torah, their children forbidden to participate in Torah education, no one would have any contact with them - they became virtually lepers exiled from the camp. Those were dark days for the CHABADs and heavy blows were dealt to them.
And despite all this, they would not capitulate. The blows toughened them and developed strong feelings of mutual help among them. Although most of them were of the lower classes and with scant material means, they began to recover, and with their special kind of enthusiasm began the construction of an independent temple, Shtibel. The few men of means among them carried a very heavy financial load, but the poor, too, endeavored to help above and beyond their meager means. But even taking all this into account, it is doubtful whether they could have survived the financial strain on the one hand and the loneliness on the other, if it weren't for their decision to accept a widely branched family, one of the sons of which was involved in the tragic Ger Tzedek affair (the well known son of the graf who converted to Judaism and married a Jewish girl in Ilya. He was betrayed to the authorities by a Jew. The authorities sentenced the Ger Tzedek to die). Now both sides reached out for each other and their loneliness subsided. The lone family joined CHABAD and the CHABAD people embraced it. This covenant allowed both sides to widened their social circle and the basis of their sustenance.
As long as the Hasidim were faced with hardship, they found the power and the energy needed to cope with the obstacles. But when the tensions eased a bit and they found themselves in a relatively tranquil position, they realized that in the final analysis they were isolated. This isolation increased day to day and weighed heavy on them, especially on the sensitive and wealthy among them. When no other solution was found, they decided to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael in order to resolve their special problem. Thus originated a consequential movement to make aliya among the Hasidim, including some of our town's people.
Rabbi Isaac Meir Ben Yossef was a tenant of a flour mill in Ilya for almost his entire life. When a boy he was orphaned from his father, and instead of continuing his studies in the Cheder and moving on to the local Yeshiva, he was compelled to enter the work force at an early age, to provide for his small sisters and brothers and for his widowed mother. The man indeed succeeded in his task and achieved a firm financial basis, although at the expense of knowledge of Torah and education. As a wealthy and recognized community member, that has money but aspires for respect, he tried to gain the latter through public work and honorary community service, but his status as a layman hindered him from doing so. The educated town's people, who were the most influential in public affairs, rejected him for this reason and he thus became embittered.
The formation of CHABAD in the town served him, thus, as a springboard for his ambitions. He felt that his time has now come and his dreams of becoming an important public figure will now be realized. Instantaneously, he joined the Hasidim and they provided him with wide grounds for public action and for achieving respect. Rabbi Isaac Meir now financed their actions and took care of their organization. Thanks to his energy and material means, the required sums for the construction of the Shtibel were now raised. Under his initiative and financial support, a CHABAD scholar was summoned to instruct the children of the Hasidim, and his every need was supplied by the Rabbi: he ate his bread and sheltered in his house. All this made gave him the right to be considered a pillar of the CHABAD community in our town. All was well, then, and Rabbi Isaac Meir was adorned by two crowns: wealth and respect. But fate decreed otherwise, and the tables soon turned.
The young scholar Rabbi Naftali Ben Yehuda, a hard working genius well versed in Talmudic law, was accepted as part of the family at Rabbi Isaac Meir's house, for the preceding eight years. He was a gentle boy, perhaps ten years old, when his father brought him from far away to the Ilya yeshiva, so that he could acquire knowledge of Torah and wisdom. The director of the Yeshiva, who liked the boy very much, managed to put him in a wealthy household so that he would be able to devote all his energy to the Torah without lacking for anything. Thus the boy arrived at Rabbi Isaac Meir's house, where he turned Bar Mitzvah and grew into a handsome youth. He made progress in his Torah studies and in his manners and earned love, respect and deep appreciation. But, as we shall see, action has to be preceded by thought. Rabbi Isaac Meir, a man of action, had been devising for some time practical plans concerning the young scholar Naftali; he wanted, with all his heart, to have him wed his beautiful only daughter, Esther, who was about to come of age. Despite his public success, the fact that he was but an ignorant layman caused him unimaginable suffering. Giving his daughter in marriage to a studious and distinguished Torah scholar would have compensated him for his suffering. He did not doubt for a minute that this plan would succeed, especially since he was not only rich but also an important activist in the CHABAD congregation. The fruit was ripe - all he needed was to reach out his hand and pluck it.
Rabbi Isaac Meir's wide involvement in the CHABAD congregation and his enthusiastic support, took as of late all of his time. No other cause occupied now so much of his attention and energy, as if he wanted, by his special efforts, to catch up with the years of no public involvement that were forced upon him. Suddenly fate interrupted and loaded the dice. His secret ambitions were shattered to pieces. Still debating how to raise the proposal to his future son-in-law, to speak frankly and negotiate the terms, his wife informed him that the desired son-in-law left the house never to return. He was shocked. The nightingale for whom he has builded the gilded cage flew away. Although this was a blow, he did not lose his senses. Recovering his serenity, his pragmatic and clear brain devised a plan to return Naftali, the intended groom, to his house. He understood that in this case the most promising means of doing so would be direct confrontation, but he hesitated to do so for various reasons. After further deliberation, he decided to plan a coincidental meeting; this was the only plan that could result in success. Since he knew his place of abode, and his hour of return at night, Rabbi Isaac Meir was able to ambush the future groom. The planning was impeccably precise. The meeting with Naftali, that occurred at a late hour, seemed absolutely coincidental.
Greetings, Naftali, began Rabbi Isaac Meir, what a coincidence. From whence are you coming and where are you headed? he continued to ask, side-tracking the conversation. When he felt that the conversation flowed easily, he asked, as if by the way, why do we not see you in our house lately? The answer that came was hesitant and mumbled - part apology, part evasion. But Rabbi Isaac Meir did not let go of his victim until he discovered the complete truth. The reason had to do with the ties between Rabbi Isaac Meir and CHABAD.
The young scholar Naftali stood there ashamed and embarrassed and whispered between his teeth, hesitantly and self-justifiably, I cannot do harm to my benefactor, but be informed that the GERA from Vilna declared the CHABAD Hasidim to be heretics and prohibited any connection with them. To the emotional response of Rabbi Isaac Meir the miller, namely that these allegations have no basis in fact or truth, the young scholar answered that the GERA undoubtedly knew what he was saying! Who am I to doubt his deeds and words? His words are my law.
Cold sweat covered Rabbi Isaac's face and his vision grew dark. He felt that he was about to collapse. Such a blow has never been dealt to him in his life, and he realized that his beautiful dream was evaporating. He lost his balance, but did not collapse. His physical strength proved itself. Although the young scholar continued with his apologies, explaining his tough situation and his double loyalty, these words did not register in his brain. This condition persisted for a few minutes. Slowly he began to recover and his brain began to work. His tongue, that was temporarily silenced, now recovered its nimbleness. Despite all, he could not refute the allegations. He stammered: only your good and the good of my daughter count, I am already old, my entire copious wealth was accumulated for your sake. Do you really believe me to be a heretic? His heart told him that his response permeated the soul of the young scholar. He felt that the latter's perseverance has slackened, that a crack appeared in the wall, but in order to conquer it completely an additional assault was needed, and for that he did not have the required strength at the moment. He set the date, therefore, for the decisive assault that will take place in a meeting held, according to his suggestion, at the young scholar's house. Rabbi Naftali, whose nerves and conscience were undermined by this conversation, tried to clarify the futility of such a meeting, but he was not strong enough and was forced to agree, on the condition that the meeting will take place in the middle of the night, in an isolated place outside town.
They met in the middle of the night. Rabbi Isaac Meir, the miller, a practical man of much experience in life, was full of ideas and arguments. The young scholar virtually collapsed under the weight of his reasoning and was convinced that his arguments were correct - and yet he did not yield. What will the people say? he claimed, my friends, my acquaintances, the heads of the yeshiva and the entire town? I can not! To this emotional defense Rabbi Isaac did not have any answer. Morning dawned already and a solution was not to be found. Suddenly, the miller's face brightened. The brilliant, saving idea arrived. The appropriate and desirable solution to both sides was found: marriage and immediate aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
For years now, began Rabbi Isaac Meir, you have been dreaming of immigrating and settling the holy land, and now I give you my blessing and my assistance - I will give my daughter a generous dowry, that will last you for the trip and for sustenance for the rest of your lives. This is your opportunity. All over, Hasidic groups are organizing now to make aliya to the holy land. My wife and I will settle our affairs, God be willing, and join you soon. This, to my mind, is the plan that will solve all the problems and difficulties. The young scholar Naftali was astonished, and in his excitement he became tongue-tied and could not utter one sentence. His excitement was understandable. His life's dream was about to come true. As a sign of consent he was only able to extend his hand.
As the sun came up the two sides parted company and went each his own way, having sealed the agreement with a handshake.
Not many days went by before the young couple disappeared from the town. The mystery was solved when Rabbi Isaac Meir parted from the CHABAD people before his family's immigration to the holy land. Rabbi Isaac Meir the miller promulgated the exciting news himself. These two families, therefore, were the first olim from our town, from the CHABAD congregation, and they opened the way for additional others.
The Aliya of the GERA's Disciples
The relationship between the Hasidim and their adversaries in our town and in Lithuania in particular were reflected most clearly in our previous chapter. In one sentence we would have described it thus: The hatred between the camps was abysmal. Only one interest did they share in common, the longing to make aliya to the holy land. But even here one aliya was different from the other, in three salient features: in its motives, its composition, and its organization. In contrast to the motives of the GERA's disciples, that were purely religious, those of the Hasidim were, granted, mainly religious, but not solely; in any case not for the Lithuanian Hasidim. They had other motives: to be released from the continuous tension produced by the struggle with their adversaries and by the constant harassment. The second difference between the two camps of olim had to do with the age component. While the makeup of the Hasidic aliya was diversified, from young to old, the GERA's disciples were almost all elderly. And another difference. While the Hasidic aliya was almost a unique and spontaneous act, the aliya of the GERA's disciples was organized in stages and with discretion.
The first olim of the GERA's disciples came while he was still alive. But their organized aliya started, in fact, after his death, in the beginning of the 19th century, when his disciple Rabbi Baruch of Shkelov became their leader. This aliya was better organized, and included the provision for the olim's sustenance once they arrived in the land, using links between Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora. In our area the center of organization was in the town of Volozin, that was famous especially due to its well-known Yeshiva. Here the organization work was done thoroughly and with much thought; the result of a calculated and well-tried out plan. The material difficulty that the Hasidim in the Holy Land had to endure served as warning to the GERA's disciples. They thus dedicated their utmost efforts to the material side of the problem, in order to allow for an aliya of copious dimensions, even for the poorer classes, and to deprive them of suffering.
The first of the GERA's disciples from our town to make aliya was Rabbi Reuven Tzvi, a distinguished scholar and a God-fearing believer, but too much of an enthusiast. The idea of making aliya and settling the land captured his heart; he was addicted to it with his heart and soul and daydreamed about it, when he went to bed at night and when he woke up in the morning - constantly. But the organizational arrangements, that took many years, displeased him. His tempestuous nature gave him no rest. He wished with all his heart to bring about the salvation, and for that reason he traveled a several times to the organization's center in Volozin but returned empty handed. Out of frustration he even turned to the GERA and complained about the slow preparation and the postponement of salvation. The response, namely that lengthy preparations are crucial for the success of the aliya, did not convince him. He accepted the ruling reluctantly, but upon the GERA's parting he made preparations to be on his way. His wife's attempt to dissuade him, to control him, did not succeed. Her claim that one must follow the crowd was not heeded to. When his efforts to convince his older sons to join him did not succeed, he made aliya on his own. Only 10 years later his wife and sons joined him.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Ya'akov, from the congregation's leading members, product of four generations of scholars, public figures and men of action, stood at the head of the candidates for aliya in our town. Still in the prime of his life, He was tall, lofty, and handsome. His soft and smiling eyes radiated kindness, his black beard was strewn with first gray hairs on the background of his fair face, and his blushing cheeks added a special noble grace to his appearance. Smart, moderate and popular, his speech was slow and calm, convincing, and every sentence he uttered was weighed and measured. He was a wealthy man, partially from inheritance and partially self-made, earned by his work as a supplier for the big landlords. The fact that he could approach the landlords at any time and could talk with them freely in their own language added to his weighty public position. All these combined, naturally earned him the leadership of the community. His influence was thus very big and everything that crossed his lips was accepted unflinchingly.
However, Rabbi Reuven Tzvi's struggle to hasten the salvation and his sudden aliya by himself, that caused the family's disintegration, agitated the spirits and undermined the position of Rabbi Moshe Ben Ya'akov, the leader. The candidates for aliya, that up until then relied solely on his discretion, now began a vocal and public debate. Although the majority condemned Rabbi Reuven Tzvi's hasty behavior, there were many others who condemned Rabbi Moshe's slow pace of action. In fact, this storm contributed to the hastening of the process of immigration of the GERA's disciples from our town. From now on the pressure on Rabbi Moshe Ben Ya'akov increased. Some of the candidates complained and demanded the hastening of the aliya. Following this development, Rabbi Moshe began applying pressure on the organization center to quicken and to spur the process. In the mean time, the preparations were completed, the candidates settled their businesses and packed their belongings. On Lag Ba'omer holiday 1809, eight families from our town made aliya, all from the GERA's disciples, and Rabbi Reuven Ben Tzvi among them, all in all 54 people. All the town's people saw them off to their new life, the Torah scrolls carried at the head of the procession.
The year 1959, the State of Israel's eleventh birthday, was also the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of this aliya; and the decedents of those olim, who are dispersed throughout Israel, gathered to commemorate that historical event, known in the history of the Israel as the Vision of Zion Aliya.
The Aliya of the BILU
Whereas we could only describe the aliya of the Hasidim and of the GERA's disciples of our town on the basis of general impressions transmitted from generation to generation, without being able to separate fact from fiction, we have now reached a period that was witnessed by the reporter of these facts, my late grandfather, Shalom Sheftel Broide, may his memory be blessed, when he was still in the prime of his life. Also, our town's member and our friend, Mr. Chaim Levin, may he live long -- who now lives here with us in the State of Israel at Ramat Hakovesh -- labored to tell us the facts as they occurred concerning this period and the one immediately to follow. We can now progress with assurance and describe with detail the olim, using the facts related to us by the above witnesses.
Again we see our town contributing its share to the general aliya effort, with renewed force.
Every period and its own problems, every aliya wave and its own motivations -- and this time they were the pogroms in Russia. Since the Hasidic and GERA's disciples aliyot and until this current one, the people have advanced significantly. Due to the French Revolution and its principles, due to leaving the Ghetto, and to other factors, lofty national sensibilities were awakened among the people. The place of the former aliya motive -- religion -- now was taken by national consciousness, that developed and found expression in the BILU movement, the latter being an acronym for House of Ya'akov, let us go. In contrast to the former aliya objectives, to go to the land in order to live there in a holy and pure manner and to grace its soil in death, the BILU olim posed the objective of returning to the land of the fathers in order to rebuild it and lay the foundations for auto-emancipation.
The Aliya of Rabbi Yerucham Chefetz and his family, may their memory be blessed:
The spread of the BILU ideas that created strong waves amidst parts of the Jewish youth in Russia, lit a youthful fire in the heart of our town's member Rabbi Noah Hotner. Since the man was on the brink of old age and could not join the young BILU's and participate personally in the fulfillment of the ideal, he decided to contribute his share indirectly. The fact that his financial situation was stable and firm, since he was one of the proprietors of the glassware factory Hota, and the fact that his young son-in-law was an enthusiastic supporter of BILU, made the accomplishment of his mission easier.
Reb Noah Hotner's desires integrated well with those of his young son-in-law, Reb Yerucham Chefetz, from Rogtsov. The former granted his approval to his son-in-law's ideals with the appropriate Hasidic enthusiasm. Moreover, he promised him considerable financial support for his getting settled in the land. While Reb Yerucham was still walking around in our town Ilya, making the preparations for the aliya, he was already daydreaming and planning his life in the new country: how he would be integrated into the new liberated society, that is in transformation from an old way of living to a new one, one that his father's-fathers did not know of. How he and others like him will lay the foundations for a new construction. How he would plant the vulnerable seedling that may grow into a multi-branched tree, deep rooted in the earth under the skies of the future national liberation of the people.
At the completion of his planning, Reb Yerucham and his wife made aliya to the land and joined its pioneer builders at the mother settlement and the planters of its citrus groves.
This event left a deep impression on the town and opened the way for other families to make aliya.
The Aliya of the family of Rabbi Mordechai Zafran - Mazal, may their memory be blessed
Mr. Mordechai Tzvi Zafran, a young scholar from the town of Cloria in Lithuania and an active BILU member, visited his uncle's house, Rabbi Moshe Mazal, in our town, before leaving for Eretz Yisrael. Although he was a temporary guest, he did not abstain from preaching the ideal he believed in and wished to realize with all his heart. He infected every young man or woman that came into social contract with him with the germ of his fervent belief and with the vision of redemption, first and foremost the members of the household that accommodated him, his uncle's house, the entire Mazal family. The atmosphere at Rabbi Moshe Mazal's -- him being the son-in-law of Rabbi Benjamin Broide, was saturated with Torah, enlightenment, lofty social background and wealth, and it captured the young scholar's heart. Here the young and cultured youth found peace and pleasantness. This pleasant environment that charmed him was completed by the figure of the young and graceful daughter Tzvia, who was an enthusiastic believer in the same ideals that he harbored. Slowly their friendship deepened until their hearts beat as one.
The next development was almost natural and certainly understandable: the young scholar took his cousin, Miss Tzvia, to be his wife, and together with her and other BILU's they directed their steps towards the land of their fathers. When they got there they settled in Petach-Tikvah and built their house and their future. The wife's conceiving of a child caused particular happiness to the couple because their first child would be born in Eretz Yisrael. But tragic and cruel fate decreed otherwise; the happiness was destroyed. In giving birth the wife died, on the land that so attracted her and that she so loved.
The Mazal family, remnants of the house of Rabbi Liebel Kovner, may he rest in peace, from the father's side, and of a multi-branched family tree of Torah scholars and men of action on the mother's side, were astonished by this tragedy; they were hard-hit but not conquered. The lord gave and the lord taketh away, muttered the head of the family, the scholarly, innocent and honest head of the family, when they learned of the bitter disaster. But Rabbi Mordechai Zafran's emotional request arriving from Eretz Yisrael, to allow him to renew the tie with the Mazal family that he so respected and admired, cleared a bit the bitterness. It is decreed that the dead will be forgotten, mumbled Rabbi Moshe Mazal.
Accompanied by mixed feelings, both hers and her family's, the second daughter, Miriam, started towards Eretz Yisrael and towards her fate, to fill in the position of her sister as wife and to be a mother to her first child. The shocked Mr. Zafran, that has been mourning for a long time over the wife of his youth who died so tragically, gradually found solace in the organization of the first school in Petach-Tikvah and the instruction of the children. He recuperated and waited for his second wife - Miriam. Entering his household, she found considerable courage and quickly adjusted to the new life, to being her sister's child's mother and a loyal wife to her husband.
For many years, Mr. Zafran enthusiastically continued the instruction and education of children. He saw his career as a crucial pioneering mission and thus raised generations of students. But in his spirit he always remained the pioneer. When he realized that the teaching track entered a smooth course and seemed well-established, he sought other pioneer jobs in the virgin land. The ideals that he espoused and preached when he was still abroad never abandoned him, and were always the guiding light of his life.
Since he saw himself as a founder of the future nation he preferred to volunteer for the creation of the first pockets of Jewish self-rule, in which he saw the core of the realization of the independence dream. Thus he undertook the role of secretary to Petach-Tikvah's central committee.
Despite all this, he did not abandon the mitzvah of building and developing the land, and fulfilled it with his own two hands. He planted by himself orchards and citrus groves that bloom to this day. With his second wife, Miriam, he knew happiness and longevity. He raised a large family, that settled in numerous settlements in the land.
The Aliya of Rabbi Benjamin Broide, may his memory be blessed
In spite of the fundamental change that occurred in the olim's composition and the objectives of the Aliya, some elderly people continued to make aliya in their old age to grace the land's soil. In this trend, too, our town participated directly. One of those olim is my grandfather's father, may his memory be blessed.
My late great-grandfather, Rabbi Benjamin Broide, was a descendant of a lofty family of Torah scholars, most of whom were also men of action. Tall, broad-shouldered, aggressive and full of self-confidence, despite being a scholar and a religious man he did not shut himself up in the domicile of the Torah; Despite him being a successful merchant, a major supplier to all the big landlords in the area whose doors were always open for him, this too did not suffice. He undertook the task of public work as well, a task which he carried out with love, loyalty, pride and determination.
He had two seemingly contradictory, but in fact complementary, characteristics: aggressiveness and gentleness. His public tasks he performed with determination, candor and persistence. But in his private relationships with people and in the circle of his family he was accommodating, indeed as pliable as wax. Outside his private business and his public work, he adopted an additional career as a chanter against the evil eye. Every child that became sick was brought first and foremost to Rabbi Benjamin to be freed from the evil eye.
He loved his wife, grandmother Sarah, deeply, and canceled his own wishes for the sake of hers. He consulted on every issue, small or large, public or mercenary, with her, and her influence on him was decisive. My late mother Gitah, may she rest in peace, told me some facts that illustrate the magnitude of grandmother Sarah's influence on grandfather: sometimes (when people outside the family were present) one look from her sufficed to indicate to him the position he should take.
Although he was on the brink of his senior years, he was still a healthy and agile man. Still at the height of his activity, grandmother Sarah hinted to him that he is no longer a young man and that the time has come to fulfill their soul's desire and to make aliya to the Holy Land. The subtle hint became a command, and he immediately began the preparations needed for aliya. While he was distributing his many assets to his sons, his wife fell ill. He shut himself in her room and would not leave her bedside for months -- and she, before shutting her eyes and returning her pure soul to her creator, entreated him to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
Grandfather Benjamin Broide, may his memory be blessed, indeed fulfilled her request and her last will and made aliya on his own.
He was fortunate; his material means allowed him to remain independent in Eretz Yisrael. He was lucky not to require the chaluka that poor, elderly olim of his age usually needed. Therefore, he felt good, and in his letters to his children abroad, letters that were filled with love and vision, he expressed his sorrow for coming to Eretz Yisrael at such an advanced age, that prevents him from joining actively the builders of the new settlements.
He had merely two years to live in the country of his childhood dreams and to enjoy its radiance and splendor. Still healthy and feeling well, he was suddenly attacked by yellow fever that forced him into a sickbed from which he never arose. He died, and his grave was dug in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives.
May his soul be blessed.
The Second Aliya
Isaac Mazal, son of Moshe and Tibel, makes aliya
The days of tension and pogroms that the Jews of Russia underwent were caused by the awakening of the masses to fight for freedom against oppressive rule of the Czar and his government. Aiming to weaken and oppress the spirit of liberation that increased and encompassed many throughout Russia, the Czar Government directed the anger of the masses against the Jews and gave criminal elements a free reign to spill their blood and thus acquiesced the dissatisfied and freedom-thirsty masses.
The fact that Jewish blood was being spilled to crush a revolution, and that Jewish blood was also needed to oil the wheels of the revolution, gave rise to sad thoughts in the hearts of many of Israel's youth and led to the conclusion that there is no existence to the Jewish people outside an independent Eretz Yisrael.
We return again to the same family, this time to the elder brother Isaac. The teaching he received through his ties with the Chovevei Zion organization, namely to love Zion, led to the natural step of him joining the second aliya, and indeed Isaac made aliya with his friends from the second aliya and settled in Petach-Tikvah.
The crucial meeting between the two primary aliyot of this period - the aliya of the 1880's called BILU and the Aliya of the 20th century called the second aliya - was difficult, problematic, and rather painful. Although they shared a common goal and their motives originated from the same source, they could not reach a common understanding. The fervent and militant socialist baggage brought by the people of the second aliya estranged the BILU's; whereas the employment of Arabs by the BILU's was coolly regarded by the second aliya people. It was resented especially since it resulted in the difficult absorbency of the second aliya people into the scant agricultural work- opportunities of these days, a phenomenon that caused bitterness and an acute struggle.
Our acquaintance Isaac Mazal's final stop was at the mother of settlements, Petach-Tikvah. And this was natural. First because, like most of his friends among the new olim, he too was recruited to agricultural work at the settlement closest to the port of his entrance at Jaffa. Second, because his married sister Miriam lived in this settlement and was already rooted in the local community and has been for the last fifteen years. But the latter reason did not turn out well. Precisely because of the family relation, he found himself in a difficult and unpleasant personal situation. Why? Because he undoubtedly belonged to the second aliya, considering the date of his immigration and especially his social outlook; whereas on the other side, the one behind the barricades, according to his views, the unsympathetic group that objected to his friends' labor rights, stood his sister and brother-in-law and others like them, veteran residents of the mother settlement.
His inner conflicts continued until the notion invaded his brain that he was no longer trusted by either side. In debating his friends he did not wholly agree with them, and more than once made the claims of the veterans of the settlement and defended their point of view; whereas in his sister's house he felt that justice was on his friends' side and heatedly and fiercely fought for their position. The conflict increased from day to day and reached new heights. He felt that due to his unique personal situation -- the fact that he was stuck in between -- his loyal friends stopped consulting with him and began to doubt whether he still deserved their trust. On the other hand, it seemed to him that in his sister's house too he felt reservations and caution directed towards him. He walked around gloomily, and no longer had the force to glide over the abyss and fight for his soul and conscience; he needed to make a choice, and the choice was hard and complicated.
He reached the end of his rope at the last shift of labor in which he participated with his friends, especially since this time he needed to stand, fists raised, against friends that he had the honor to meet at his sister's house, from the BILU veterans of the settlement like herself. This confrontation completely shattered the gentle Isaac; the too-tightly-wound string broke, and he fell ill.
After his recovery there was a turning point. His sister, who carefully and with solicitation followed the stages of his disease, understood suddenly that it had to do with pricks of his conscience, and that the solution would therefore have to be found, first and foremost, in the area of pioneering. Indeed the crucial need for physicians in the new and suffering settlement convinced him that the proposed track was best suited to his pioneer ideals for which he has sacrificed so much. Our Isaac thus took a new and important path. With the help of his sister and brother-in-law he started for the University of Beirut and graduated there from medical school. Upon his return he became a doctor in Jerusalem.
For over 40 years he guarded the health of the Jews of Jerusalem under pioneer conditions. But most of his time was devoted to the inhabitants of an elderly home in Jerusalem, to ease the suffering of the aged and the lonely during their final days.
May his soul rest in peace.
Mr. Meir Dizengof Visits Ilya
A few weeks before the visit of this important guest from Eretz Yisrael to our town, the Jewish population was already full of commotion and alacrity. It is no small thing to have the privilege to see a Jewish minister from Eretz Yisrael, and especially when it was reported that this Jew is also the special envoy of the famous and glorified Baron de Rothschild. Could one miss such a rare opportunity?
During the few weeks of anticipation, the air was filled with legends, rumors, tales and interpretations as to the purpose of the visit. The curiosity to meet a Jew from Eretz Yisrael and see him in person completely vacated the houses of the town. Every inhabitant, young to old, streamed to the entrance of the town to meet the distinguished and rare guest with blessings and enthusiasm, carrying the Torah scrolls in their palms.
The second in order of importance to received the attention of the crowd and who was glowing with happiness was the host Rabbi Noah Hotner, one of the proprietors of the glassware factory. Mr. Meir Dizengof's mission was to visit him. Mr. Meir Dizengof, who later became famous as the founder and the mayor of the city of Tel-Aviv, turned to the Hotner family, the proprietors of the glass factory Hota near our town, in the explicit purpose of receiving their help in the instruction and perhaps the importing of a few specialist, for the construction of a similar factory in Eretz Yisrael.
The Baron Rothschild, also known as the Great Benefactor was at that time in the midst of his constructive activities for the development of the land. Having planted grapevines, he founded some wineries but in order to export their products abroad and make them marketable, he required a local factory for the manufacturing of bottles that will serve as containers for the exported wine. The Benefactor saw in this project yet another stage in the development of the land and in the creation of further labor opportunities for the Hebrew worker. The success of the plan depended, of course, primarily on the importing of experts, preferably allies.
Our town member Mr. Noah Hotner, who had strong emotional and family ties to Eretz Yisrael, wanted with all his heart to help its construction and development, and therefore did not hesitate for a moment to comply with Mr. Dizengof's wish. Happily and willingly he provided him with the required experts. Although this act of generosity caused the local factory considerable material loss, there was no happier man than our Mr. Hotner, especially when Mr. Dizengof appeared publicly in the local synagogue to deliver greetings from Eretz Yisrael and thanked Mr. Hotner publicly for the important and generous help that he gave for the development of Hebrew industry in Eretz Yisrael.
Mr. Dizengof's emotional farewell to the Jews of Ilya and the aliya of the experts that he chose to construct and work the glassware factory in Eretz Yisrael, were most impressive events, and very many remembered them for years to come.
The factory intended for the manufacture of bottles was indeed constructed in 1903 at Tantura in Samaria, but unfortunately it did not stand the hard tests faced by the pioneering Hebrew industry at that time and was doomed to failure and liquidation. But the families that made aliya became rooted in the land of Israel.
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