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[Page 128]

A Miracle of Spring

by Chana Alperovich

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

There are chapters of youth whose imprint remains deep in the soul. With a touch of spring, they appear miraculous and dream-like, even if they took place in autumn or in winter, we keep returning to them in our imagination, to cherish them and to be held and comforted by their shine.

Such a chapter for us was the creation of the youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair in Kurenets. Until today I cannot explain rationally how and why it happened, but we felt a miracle of the creation of something splendid. A feeling that maybe a tree feels during early spring days when his branches fill with flowers, perfume-like smells, and freshness.

The reason that I repeat the images of the miracle and try to explain it with different words is that I don't know the simple, basic way to do it, so I will try now to tell the story as it was.

A family came to our town, the Zukovsky family, mother Pesia, son and daughter. The son, Chaim Zukovsky, was once in Eretz Israel but he returned and built a home in Kurenets, where he owned a mill. The daughter finished her studies in the Hebrew gymnasium in Vilna and came to Kurenets during her holiday to visit her mother and brother. Her name was Dvushel, and in Vilna she belonged to the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, and she was a troop leader. She was petite, with reddish-brown hair, and big brown eyes. There was something brave about the expression on her face, and when she smiled, her self-confident countenance turned into a appearance of charm and intelligence. In her appearance there was something that pulled you to her, and at the same time there was a calming effect about her. It was very enjoyable to be with her.

Dvushel was very different from the other girls in town. She always wore a green or yellow shirt, and a khaki skirt. On her waist she had a belt, and her shoes were simple, but all her clothing was very clean and pristine. It was simple and not fancy, but still quite charming.

It took a few days until the young girls dared to approach her and asked her why she wore the wide belt, and she explained she belonged to the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair.

Her voice was very special. She had confidence but at the same time it was soft. It was deep and calm. Clearly, because of her we immediately liked the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair…

To tell you the truth, it wouldn't be true to say it was only because of her that we liked the youth movement. The youths felt a need to do something new and different. Our young hearts were already trained by the branch of Ha'chalutz movement that was in town, and also by the Hebrew school, but when Dvushel arrived there was a period of decline, and she awoke a new interest in us.

It wasn't only the very young girls like us who were influenced by her. Also, the teenagers were attracted to her, and all of a sudden it seemed that there was vigor among the youth in town. In the evening there were many who would stroll along Dolhinov Street. People would argue and debate politics, and you would hear voices singing. Soon a few people decided to establish a branch of Hashomer Hatzair in town.

Shortly after, we were told that Dvushel decided to stay in town until she was ready to go to the Haksherah, which was training to become a pioneer in Israel. She also took a job as a teacher in the Tarbut School. This was the autumn of 1928, and in my memory, this autumn felt like springtime.

Looking at it now, our cultural and educational mission was not yet momentous for us 9the very young), but there was earnest enlightening and cultural involvement. Children of all backgrounds, amongst them even the neglected kids, were introduced to new horizons. How happy, for example, was Dov Reidel, who lived at the end of Kosita Street. He came from a destitute family. How excited he was when he wore the tie of his unit. For the residents of the town, it was a little revolution in the social life, as the rules of Hashomer Hatzair, which stressed equality, simplicity, and love for other human beings, became values that we all held proudly.

During that time, together with Dvushel, Aharon Meirovich became a leader of Hashomer Hatzair. Aharon Meirovich was known in town as Aharonchik. In Kurenets, people predicted that he would be very successful. They said that he wrote poetry, and some of it was published in Vilna. We knew that he was not from a well-to-do family, but he excelled in school.

Some of the older people in town thought that the excitement of the youths was strange. They saw it as regression. They looked at our excitement as childish and without purpose. In their sober and grim world it didn't make sense.

Autumn passed and winter came. There was much more to do and more members enlisted. Dvushel was busy with both teaching and leading activities in our branch. Leaders of the movement came from Vilna and Warsaw. They made speeches, we sang songs, had conversations, discussions, played games, and went on journeys… Aharon was sent to Vilna to one of the conventions of the movement. People became very impressed with him and our branch in Kurenets became well known.

The spring of 1929 was a very special spring amongst all the springs of my life. For hours we sat together, singing with all our souls, with deep yearning. We walked through the fields to the forest of Sabina, to the big rock, and there we would sing songs in harmony, and we sounded even better than the choir of the village Pokken.

The sound of singing could be heard from the town, and the old Jews who saw themselves as very serious and rational would now listen to our Hasidic songs that were heard from afar, and it awoke something in their hearts. Deep down they wanted to join us. Still, we were strange to them and some of them said mockingly that we were “a Baptist cult”. But there core feeling of suspicion begun to shift.

I remember our first journey to Narutz Lake. We passed through thick forests, new vista. We slept on hay in the barn, and we met with the youths of Myadel, an isolated town. We danced the horah in the central market to a crowd of people from Myadel. The ties between the youths of Myadel and the youths of Kurenets were established.

Later on we went to a meeting of the entire region of Vilna in the village Rivacki, near Smorgon. Kurenets received many awards for excellence, and Aharon received a high award from Hashomer Hatzair, and I cannot describe how proud we all felt.

There were also comical moments. I remember that once in a meeting 30 km from Kurenets in the village Tzivalki, we stayed in the house of the mill owner. He lived in an isolated home. His son, a large Christian man, would not leave us alone and he demanded that Aharonchik wrestle with him. We were very worried, but a miracle occurred and Aharon brought him to the ground. From then on he treated us very respectfully.

In that same meeting, one of the girls fainted. Ironically, it was during first aid training. Everyone became confused and ran to help her, looking at the pamphlet that explained what to do. While they were looking at the pamphlet, the Christian woman that owned the house entered and took a pail filled with cold water and used the old system to wake the girl up.

One day, one of the guys went to Kurenets to get some bread. He wore short pants, a fashion that had never before been seen in Kurenets, and the entire town became very frightened. “Who knows what is happening in that retreat?” Some traveling [itinerant] Jewish merchants were sent to the retreat to see what we were doing there. They found us living in a camp, in a perfectly organized way, very content. So they returned to town and told wonderful tales, and everyone was very happy.

I remember that one time we went to get donations for the Keren Keyemet, funds for Eretz Israel. We entered one of the houses and explained what the donations were for. The woman of the household didn't understand us. She thought that Keren Keyemet was a specific poor Jew, so she gave a nice donation and with a deep sigh said, “My dear ones, may I always be able to give you donations, but hopefully there will be a time when he would not need any more.”

Sometime later, we performed a play that Aharon had written, and Alter Zimmerman was the director. The day before the play opened, two of our friends came riding on horses, dressed as Cossacks. They held big pamphlets and the entire town came running after them, especially all the young children. In the evening there was a huge crowd for the play. All the tickets were sold, but still there were many that looked through the door and windows.

Members of the movement went to training, the first was Dov Benes, and later Dvushel. But when she returned it seemed like she had a different spirit, now filled with depression and disappointment. Days passed and others left for the Hachsharah (training for agricultural Socialist life in Israel). Some members were able to get certificates to go to Eretz Israel, and we would have big parties for their departure.

The branch had periods of blossoming and periods of decline. New generations grew. The ones who were small children when the branch began now became its leaders. During the Holocaust, some of the core members established connections with the partisans in the forest, and a few of them became renowned for their bravery.

For us, the first members, the beginning of this branch would always be like the miracle of spring. A wonderful blossoms by itself, but also a life-changing occurrence for many of the youths…

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“Tarbut School”, 1933   Hashomer Hatzair Center, 1934

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Members of Hashomer Hatzair in Kurenets

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