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[Page 353]

Engineer Avraham Levits, of Blessed Memory

by D. Feller

My first visit with him was in 1911, when he was seventeen. From the conversation with him, I saw him as a man who was young chronologically but not in his grasp of the problems of life generally and of the Jewish problem particularly and especially Zionism. He spoke with enthusiasm and rolled in front of me many serious and important ideas. I said to myself then that this youngster would in time become an important public and Zionist worker and I was right. From that day passed four years, and in the First World War in 1915, after the Germans conquered Kobrin, I met him in Kobrin. He was then the Jewish “Bürgermeister” [mayor].

I was not surprised that although so young he was at the head of the citizens of the town of Kobrin. I had been ready for this and since then he became the central figure in Kobrin. He displayed talents of an experienced public worker, he understood the spirit of the time and the spirit of all the citizens of Kobrin. He was the only speaker who attracted a listening audience and influenced them and because of that his hand was always at the top of any public cultural and political activity. He was much assisted by his knowledge of foreign languages, German during the German rule and Polish during the Polish rule. He worked quite a bit for the good of the Jewish public in our town. He was at the head of every public and Zionist activity.

In 1921 he was elected as a delegate to the Twelfth Zionist Congress in Karlsbad [Karlovy Vary]. He headed delegations that received the Polish head minister, Mr. Vitus, in our town and succeeded in canceling the decree that was about to rob the Jewish citizens in our town of their Jewish hospital and make it into a general hospital, also for non-Jews.

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He was a man of action and always dedicated to every good work for the public and also for the individual. He always accepted people pleasantly, anybody who needed his advice and his guidance. Also in the field of Zionism, he was very active. He devoted himself to a difficult war against opponents of Zionism and the enemies of Zion from every direction.

In- the elections of the first Magistrate in our town he appeared at the head of the Zionist list and had a great victory. The Zionist list was the only one that succeeded in electing four Zionist members to the Magistrate. He was a member of the first Jewish Directorate that was elected. In his speeches in the Magistrate, in perfect Polish, he made a great impression on his non-Jewish friends and on the Polish rulers. Often he would sanctify the name of God and Jewish honor because he did not recoil in front of the authorities to say things that not everybody would dare say because the man was secure that he would always triumph. He was the editor of the newspaper, “Kobriner Shtime,“ and he wrote many articles against those who opposed Zionism generally and Zionist funds or Jewish culture and the national idea in particular. He was the founder of the first Tarbut School in our town and its principal.

Much could be written about his activities and accomplishments in the Zionist field and his activities among the Jewish public in our town. I remembered the days when he decided to leave Kobrin and to go Rovno to be the principal of the gymnasium Tarbut. With what sorrow we took to that announcement and with what honor we said goodbye to him. From Rovno he traveled in 1934 to Palestine and also there he was very active and it is very sad that he passed away so quickly and did not live to see the reawakening of the country to which he dedicated almost all his life. He died in 1949, on the 13th of Chesvan, at the age of fifty-three, may his memory be blessed.

Gedalyahu Alon Rogoznitzki, of Blessed Memory

In many settlements of the kibbutz there are scattered members who where fortunate enough to hear Torah by Gedalyahu Alon and when they met him his lesson became the spiritual event of their study period. It was an experience unlike just acquiring knowledge and studies. How did he conquer us, the members of the Kibbutz, where none of us intended to devote himself to basic research and to continuous work in the field where he worked and taught? He was totally a man of science and research whose method of teaching was to put his matter in the center. We were taken over first and foremost by the force of his personality.

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kob354.jpg [35 KB] - Going away party for Mr. Levits, the engineer
Going away party for Mr. Levits, the engineer

It seems that no matter what he took upon himself to give to another, at the end the listener would be convinced and even if not in accepting the opinion at least in creating a relation, in whetting the appetite for study.

And in Jerusalem among the people of Mount Scopus, in a world that contained much alienation to a person of our own, he was a source of life and vitality. Supposedly he was busying himself in history, his main interest being days of yore, but he also had the talent of a great personality to whom the divisions of time do not exist. He flooded everyone in his company in the same experience of identifying with the generations. A man whose totality was inspiration, whose mouth carried all human life's question, he searched after the roots of spiritual cancellation or national pride, after a. source of betrayal and flattery in Israeli history. And so he discovered as a background to every historical phenomenon the social economic and political relations within the people. We studied history before. We thought that we knew the events and how they developed and, lo and behold, there was opened before us a spiritual world fascinating and exciting as we hadn't known before.

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The beginning of the study was creating an environment and a relation. Alon would tend to start with generalizations that were abstract and all encompassing, after which there would be aroused thirst for proof. This was his forte – a total tie-in to the origins, to the details of the scientific inquiry, to facts, and with this and with that, bringing what seemed was a small detail to enlighten a period, an issue and relations. In his mouth the complicated facts would stand out and would come together for a picture that was vital with life to the listener: the streets, the town, the ways of the country, the manners, the environment of the synagogue, the people from various occupations with family and daily worries of paying taxes or making a living and so on, all that had happened here in this country, in this panorama and with a background of our national life. And there had been created an environment of continuity in the life of the people that we never felt before.

This experience gave meaning to the national pride that permeated his words, not the haughtiness of "You have chosen us,” but proof that here were bubbling, rich lives that had foundation of morality, social and cultural, lives and social struggle that could not be erased. And overall, the outlook of the people, the broad levels of people as a source for every historical phenomenon. Not the charm of a personality, but people who elevate its heroes, people who establish its institutions, make its laws and fight its wars. Alon was saturated with the belief in the life power of the people and this revelation of power he always discovered in the spiritual and social activity of wide strata.

His Hebrew tongue was also an expression of the connection with generations, language in which the style of the Mishna would be combined with the new style that would be spiced with a Jewish joke in Yiddish. The literary Hebrew language would give way when appropriate to a fitting foreign word and all these would be woven together in a fashion and style that would be appropriate and special to the subject and the matter under discussion.

He never had enough time. He was always in a hurry. There was never enough. Internal abundance would come out as a mighty jet. Every lecture was vitally bubbling with creativity, with early combinations. This man who always longed to be able to write quietly and to do only scientific work would put in every lesson the essence of his vitality. He never tired of arguing with opponents and trying to convince. With what special temperament always moving, always with the participation of the whole being.

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While in his company you would feel that a person can be of full service to an ideology as a man of revolution with a power of the spirit alone. This did not suffice; he combined in his life the scientific activity and his activity in defense. He was a man of Jerusalem of all generations, a man in whose blood the experience of the generations mixed. He gave it to the many. It seems that for many years there will still be a meaning to the saying, “I was a student of Alon.”

from “Mebifnim” [from “The Inside”]

Rabbi Dr. B. Z. Benedict

*  *

He was educated in the yeshiva. He grew up in a place that was fenced with the fences of the Torah, in a home of studying the Torah, of speaking the Torah, of loving the Torah, of longing for the Torah. There he slept in his youth and spent time in his adolescence, which is why in the various paths of his life his heart also beat in longing for morality, in longings for the light in the Torah. And that is why he chose the profession he chose.

He investigated the history of Israel in the period of the second temple and the period of the Talmud. He saw that period seemed in the knowledge, in the mirror that was not shining, that was changed, because the people who worked in the field were mostly non-Jews and only the minority were sages or scholars from Israel who for the most part did not know the taste of Gemara. He knew that in doing that research he needed not only to search the remaining history books and compare their treatment of the histories of early people and those of Israel, but also to investigate also the Talmudic literature. He knew that here the Talmud was the most important thing and all the rest was desert for wisdom because the Talmud was the source for the understanding of the historical processes, for the reaction of the people of Israel to various events, to the withstanding of the people in the war of existence. And not only are the tales a historical source, but also perhaps especially the laws which give a fashion to the life of the nation in various periods. One cannot understand or write the history of Israel without knowing those things and without knowledge of this literature. This knowledge is not easily acquired. With 248 organs in the body it is acquired. This is why there are only a few that have the capability and the permission to investigate that period and this branch. This is why he saw knowing the path of the Talmud as his life's goal and as a noble mission, to devote himself to investigate the period of the Mishna and Talmud, to do away with the thorns, to decipher secrets and to elucidate the period in the mirror of a Jewish scholar.

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This explains the scope of his creativity. He did not encompass many fields and did not publish many studies. Despite the fact that many years he immersed himself and all his energy in the investigation of one period only, he did not arrive at a publication of a single complete book. His articles are chapters and chapters, layers and layers, because this was a holy work for him, which is why he worked a lot. He prepared and worked and balanced and investigated and went in depth and had doubts. This also explains the way he used to lecture. He was an enthusiastic lecturer and would capture the hearts of his listeners because the things he said touched him deeply. This also explains his heartfelt and fatherly relations to his students. He had a heart that was filled with mercy to the youngest of the young and the one most oppressed. He felt their oppression and he felt their sorrow. He knew how to support them because they were his students, his hope. In them he wanted to see those who would continue his work. It's a pity that he was lost, but he has not been forgotten.

(From “Hatzopha,” the ninth day of Nisan, 1950)

Elias M. Grossman, of Blessed Memory

(a son of Kobrin who drew characters of Kobrin)

by I. Beller

The road from Kobrin to the capitols of the great and wide world was not so short. From the narrow and small house in Kobrin it was not that easy to arrive at the courts of the sages who were known in the world and the museums and the treasure houses of art. Many dreamed of the imaginary travel paths, but only very few succeeded in undertaking them.

Elias M. Grossman, the Jewish-American artist who today holds a very important place in American art as a painter and engraver, the son of Kobrin, close to Bialystok, who has now received the Washington Art Museum prize for his painting, the “Western Wall,” belonged to those who undertook that road. In America Elias Grossman arrived as a son of an immigrant at the age of thirteen, his father immigrated to America years before but did not amass a large fortune and the young Grossman had to undertake hard work when he was still a youngster. After he finished his public school and high school, he started working as a hat maker. But it seemed it was not destined that the poor immigrant youth would lose his days in the miserable shop because from an early age he was attracted to painting and after his hours of studies in the east-side school he would roam around in the nearby avenue and paint old people and plain Jews who sat there and spoke about politics.

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After awhile he was accepted at the art school to study the art of engraving under the directorship of William Auerbach Levi. His works excelled in their depth and understanding and they attracted a lot of attention. He got a job in the New York World Telegram's Department of Picture and Art. Here he found the opportunity to travel to Europe to study art in the famous schools in Paris and Rome. This journey gave him, in addition to his art studies, a name, which allowed him entry to the international art salons. Grossman was invited to paint Mussolini in his villa in the neighborhood of Rome. The dictator sat for two hours every day in front of a poor Jewish immigrant boy and all the Italian press in 1927 praised the exceptional talent of the Jewish painter Elias M. Grossman.

After Mussolini, Grossman painted a whole line of personalities who were world famous. Among them were the poet Ch. N. Bialik, Professor Bruna who investigated the French language, the economist Richard Milai, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, the liberal Polish professor, Micheslav Miholovich, and other well-known people. In his creation called “The Private Album of an Engraver,” there are about eighty paintings of characters of different kinds. The creations are varied and reveal the multifaceted talent of Elias M. Grossman. His characters from New York's East Side are filled with life and are drawn with a personal relation to them, as are his fishing boats in far corners of the world where the artist visited in later years.

Grossman had a special relation to characters of the East Side in New York because he saw in them the continuation of the characters that he loved from his town, Kobrin, that he absorbed into his soul when he was young. Every one of us has longings for his town and pleasant memories, where we saw the light of the world, where we built youthful golden palaces and just young days without any worry that flowed slowly, quietly and peacefully just like the river by the town's orchard'.

His great love for his town he poured and put in his engraving that he dedicated to Kobrin. Kobrin, as if alive, stands before you on a gray winter day. The town is deep in snow. The roofs of the small houses are covered with light snow, dreaming of the coming Spring. The telegraph poles and far and away an open field that leads far, far away from town. This picture arouses in you longings that the heart follows and here is revealed in your imagination your town in a cold winter morning. The same town with the falling houses is what the artist is longing for. His longings cannot be exchanged for the nicer things in the world.

Elias M. Grossman excelled in his multifaceted art, in the environment, in people and in the views of nature that he created and accentuated with great talent. And our eyes can see the life that he puts in his colors. His creation, “The Sunset” above the London Thames on a summer evening arouses in you the same longings as his creation “The Waterfront of The Nile” in Cairo.

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The first creation describes how noisy London meets the sunset after a hard day's work. And from afar you could see the shadows of skyscrapers and the great clock of the Westminster Church, which shows in its giant hands that here is another day that has joined the past. And there far above the horizon you see little boats sailing on the London Thames. And in his creation, “The Waterfront of the Nile” you see a primitive bridge above the Nile, and tall palm trees along the beaches.

Also very interesting is his creation, “Venice Through My Window,” a picture where the artist describes in living colors the beautiful romantic city, the crossing canals. In the streets and all the alleys sail boats in the moonlight and you think you are listening to the voice of the charming serenades of the loving couples that are sailing in their boats in the waters of Venice.

kob360.jpg [35 KB] - Elias Grossman among friends during a visit to Kobrin
Elias Grossman among friends during a visit to Kobrin

“A Street In The Old Section Of Jerusalem” is one of the more successful creations in the artistic album. Here you see the multi-colored nature of the Holy City which serves as a symbol to Jews and Christians, old mosques in an oriental style, Arabs in their red turbans, Arab women with their faces covered in white robes, and here in front of you an old rabbi in his Hasidic robe walking on a Friday before the coming of the Shabbat to the Western Wall. Similar lines we find in the picture, “An Ancient Street In Jaffa” large stone houses in a narrow street. From the open side we see new buildings in a European style and all of this brings into a combination of the old and the new.

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“A Street In Montmartre In Paris” is a picture of the Bohemian quarter. A lantern hangs above two houses at the beginning of the street. One is built in the style of a villa, the other one in old gothic style with windmills above the roof, the two symbolizing successfully the combination of styles and people.

Elias M. Grossman travelled often from city to city and from country to country and this travel helped him to develop his talent to describe in a lively way people and the sights of nature. He brings up in his brush the differences between nations, countries and cities and also their inherent character. His pictures of people are imbued with colors as are the natures and the countries that he painted. “An Old Beggar” with wild hair on his face looks around helplessly and resigned out of desperation. The picture, “A Fisherman In England,” contrasts to the previous picture with a smiling look full of hope looking at the entire world. “The Barefoot Worried Wonderer” smokes his pipe like a philosopher while looking at everything with clever eyes filled with the dismissing of everything as if he is saying, “What do you bums know about life?” The faces of the “The Poles From Lodz” show sternness that comes from a poor and difficult life.

With a special affection Mr. Grossman would paint Jewish characters. In his series, “Famous Jews,” we find Chaim Nachman Bialik, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Albert Einstein and some other famous people who sat in front of him and all came from under his brush with their special and distinguished lines. Among his Jewish characters that were especially interesting was the picture “Kashia,” an old Jew covered with a prayer shawl sitting worried and contemplative. You see in the pleasant relaxed looks of the old man the question, “When, when will there come an end to the Jewish troubles?” The picture of an old Yemenite rabbi with an oriental dress and the picture of the rabbi of the Farsi congregation, R' Mordechai Akalaraf, are similar to one another and they bring out the eternal Jewish sorrow which goes through many countries and generations.

(From: “Bialystoker Shtime”)

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