Translated by Rae Meltzer The founding of the Maccabi organization in Lithuania and in Rakishok goes back to the period after World War I when the Zionist ideology, after the Balfour Declaration, captured the attention of the Jewish people of Lithuania. The majority of Jewish young people accepted Zionism as the only option for the Jewish people, and the Maccabi slogan, "A heathy spirit in a healthy body," was immediately appealing to Jewish youth, which stimulated organization of the sport group Maccabi. As with most Jewish organizations, they were first of all founded in the larger cities. Initially the Maccabi was organized in Kovno, then in Shavli, Ponevezh, and other cities and shtetlach.
In 1922 the Ponevezher Maccabi delegated instructions to Rakishok to organize a Maccabi organization. The youth of Rakishok responded with great joy and friendship to the leaders of the Ponevezher Maccabi and their recommendation to form a Maccabi organization in Rakishok. A committee was formed in which all the factions of the Zionist organization participated: "Ts. S. Hatadut," General Zionists, and "S. T. S." The location was first in Aaron-Jacob, the ritual slaughterer's, house on Kamaier street, and later in Shomer's house. [Translator's note: these acronyms are transliterations from the Yiddish. English has no equivalent letter for the "ts" in Yiddish, which is the first letter in the Yiddish word for "Zionist." The text does not identify what the "S" stands for. The other transliterated words are from Hebrew and stand for various Zionist organizations whose purpose was to raise funds to help build a Jewish homeland in Israel.]
The most active members of the Zionist Party (Ts. S.) demonstrated great effort and enthusiasm for organizing the Maccabi in Rakishok. The Ts. S. had their own meeting place, where almost all of the Rakishok Zionist youth would assemble. The Zionists had a "Lecture Circle" and invited lecturers from Kovno, Ponevezh, and Shavli. Often there were meetings held with speakers and judges of literary work. We also had a Yiddish library and the Zionist party members were represented on all the boards of Zionist organizations that raised funds to build and support Israel ("Keren-Kimes," "Keren Hesud," and "Kehillah V'Kadumeh"). All the Zionist youth immediately joined the Maccabi sports organization, which stimulated other youth to follow their example. The Zionist party gave authority of their library into the hands of the Maccabi.
In the beginning of the Maccabi organization, all the factions worked harmoniously. Everyone was amazed at the success of the Maccabi, which brought inspiration and a new spirit to the youth. It also brought a new psychological awareness to the older Jewish people, who for generations had neglected the individual's physical development. The older generation had believed that sport was not in keeping with Yiddish values and tradition. With great energy and enthusiastic spirit, the young men and women threw themselves into the work of Maccabi when they came back from their evacuation into Russia. We learned to play football, lift weights, perform various athletic and gymnastic exercises and work-outs. We participated in various energetic and fiery parades and demonstrations.
The first friends of the Maccabi, who built the foundation for the Rakishok Maccabi, were as follows: Hillel Eidelson, Libke Itzikman, Sara-Dinah Abramovits, Henye Blum, Hanah Bun, Nison Berkovits, Zelig Gen, Benimke Geltser, Rochel Vingrin, Hanah Zamet, Roza Han, Arkeh Han, Giskeh Levin, Moishe Levin, Ephrim Lang, Shmerke Loibavits, Chaim Loibavits, Yankel Levin, Boruch Leker, Shifreh Loifer, Yoskeh Meyerovits, Heyeh Reizkeh Panevesh, Israel Panevesh, Ezra Tsuckerman, Alser Tsodes, Elya Kopelovits, Itzhak Klingman, Leah Kur, Shaul Kur, Itzhak Kark, Yosif Kark, Abba Rubin, Brider Ribak, Moishe Rozenkavits, Arke Shmuskovits, Feivkeh Shmilg, Ephrim Shwartsberg, Irachmial Shmuskovits, and Moishe Shmilg.
The Maccabi organization grew to more than 100 friends, men, and women of Rakishok.
The relationship between the different parties in the Maccabi organization became strained, because each party sought to win members from the Maccabi into their own party. This became a bone of contention to such an extent that it almost led to a split in the Maccabi organization. An extraordinary meeting was called at which time it was decided that a member of the Maccabi could not belong to a political party. The Zionist members consequently left the Maccabi organization and took their library with them.
The exit of the Zionist members did not result in any visible devisiveness in the Maccabi. In time, new members joined the Maccabi, especially graduates from the Hebrew School System, from the Tarbus School, and from the Tarbus Pro-Gymnasia, who had already received a Nationalistic Hebrew education. The growth of the Maccabi did not slow down, but actually became stronger and grew in membership. A new library was also opened.
Often there were sport competitions with other Maccabi branches from nearby and distant shtetlach. There were also competitions with Lithuanian sport organizations, and with sport organizations from the "Artiker [?] Culture League."
In addition to sports, Maccabi organized various recreational, entertainment, and cultural activities. Maccabi offered evening courses in Hebrew and Jewish history, with classes taught by Shifra Loifer, Kaspi, Yoseh Levits (now a teacher in South Africa), Abigdur Glambatski, Vesterman, and Sudovski. There was also a Literary Section that organized literary readings and literary criticism. The literary criticism events were very popular. I remember the literary critique event about "Bontshe Shweig," a classic story by I.L. Peretz. I was supposed to be the prosecutor, and Israel Panevesh was the defender. Before the event, Israel Panevesh changed places with me, and I became the defender and he the prosecutor.
The literary judgement of "Saul and Samuel" also drew a large audience of a couple hundred people. Twelve men of standing were the judges. Sitting on the platform were Abraham Meyerovits, my father H. Arsch, Abraham Itzhak Meler, Harmits, Yehiel Zamat, Givovski, and others. Hillel Aidelson played the part of Samuel (Shmuel) and I took the part King Saul. Kaspi defended Samuel and the teacher Sudovski defended King Saul. An interesting "trial and judgement" also took place about H. N. Bialik's "Hamasmid."
The organized lectures offered by Maccabi were on various subjects and themes. After the lectures there were always lively discussions.
The dramatic section of the Maccabi was very dedicated. The director of the dramatic section was Israel Panevesh, who was himself a very gifted actor, with a fine voice and great talent in recitation. He directed many plays, with the major actors being: Hannah Pats, Israel Panevesh, Teibe Kiel, Hennach Shneiderman, Loibeh Veger, Leeba Ruch, Gittel Agins, Tuveh Ruch, Berl Ruch, Aaron Nahumovits, and the author of these lines.
In addition to dramatic presentations, the group also put on many musical evenings for the community. The MACCABI had their own orchestra under the conduction of Hyvis Berzon, who was a very talented violinist, and Abraham Kur, who was a fine clarinet player. The members of the orchestra ensemble were: the brothers Yudel and Motel German, who were famous violinists in Lithuania, Judith Shwartzberg, who played the balalaika, and Tsarkeh Levin, who grew up to become one of the outstanding violin artists in the Baltic lands. There were other outstanding musicians, but regretfully I do not remember their names. The income from the drama section's performances were utilized to benefit the Maccabi Library.
Upon my return from Israel in 1920, I took over responsibility for the Maccabi Library in Rakishok and became vice-president of this organization. I became associated with publishing organizations in Kovno and Riga, and published good books. We published books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Turgenev, and other writers, as well as French, German, English, and American authors.
In the course of the two years that I was responsible for the affairs of the library, we increased the holdings by several hundred books, and the circle of readers grew larger. The library had its rules and regulations, among which were fees for taking out books. A reader was charged 5 "Lit" for a library card and 1½ "Lit" per month for using the Library.
The Maccabi organization was led by Abba Rubin, a brother of our landsman Shloime Rubin. Shifra Loifer, a strong activist, taught Hebrew to the Maccabi members and inspired them with her fiery Zionist spirit. A beautiful chapter of rearing the youth in the Zionist, nationalist spirit was written and accomplished by the Maccabi organization in Rakishok.
In 1933-34, the Rakishok youth became interested in the "Chalutz" (Zionist Pioneers), and a Zionist youth movement known as "Hanuer-Hatsoini" was started.
Ten score Maccabi friends emigrated, but the dedication to the Maccabi organization did not falter. To this day, though many years have passed, not one of us Maccabi friends will ever forget the Rakishok Maccabi. The Maccabi gave our generation a nationalist, modern upbringing of enormous meaning to us.
Translated by Rabbi Ezra Boyarsky It was during the "Golden Age" of Lithuanian Jewry when a network of educational institutions such as "Tarbus, "Yavne," Yiddish Folkshulen, and the Hebrew gymnasias became the hallmark of Lithuanian Jews that the Maccabi sports clubs sprang up throughout the country. There was hardly a Jewish community, large or small, that did not have a Maccabi sports organization. And how so many sports instructors and skillful gymnasts suddenly appeared on the scene was a mystery to me. Yet I did not dwell too long on solving the mystery. What concerned me more at the time was whether I would also some day attain the skill to qualify as a gymnast.
When I first saw a young Jewish fellow lift an eighty-pound weight with one hand, it awakened in me a feeling of great pride to perceive that Jews possessed physical strength alongside intellectual acumen. However, I also became jealous of the young man, and resolved to take up bodybuilding so as to be able to exhibit a similar physical prowess. After a short while, I achieved my goal.
In proportion to the size of Rakishok’s Jewish community, the local Maccabi organization was quite large. Rakishok was fortunate in having many young people in good physical shape who were the building blocks of the Rakishok Maccabi branch, recognized as one of the best in Lithuania. It should be mentioned that all the training exercises, instructions, etc., were conducted entirely in Hebrew.
For a short time there was also an "older group" composed of young married adults, teachers who were on the staffs of the Tarbus school and the Hebrew gymnasia. These proved to be good soccer players and excellent "kickers" to whom a paraphrase of the well-known Biblical verse may be applied: The voice is Jacob’s voice but the feet are the feet of Esau.
Besides the physical aspect, the Maccabi organization offered a rich cultural program consisting of lectures, poetry readings, etc. The town was virtually brimming with physical and cultural energy.
During my three-year residence in Rakishok, the community provided me with a wide variety of activities. I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work rendered by Hillel Idelson who contributed his time and talents to the community on all fronts, and to express my gratitude to Ada Rubin who, as president of Maccabi, was greatly responsible for its success.
Unfortunately, no trace remains of those golden years, and who knows whose cursed feet now tread the turf of the Maccabi athletic field in Rakishok. Our only consolation is that our youth will rebuild our historical homeland, Eretz Yisroel, and provide a secure home and happy future for our nation.
Translated by Mathilda Mendelow, born Ginsberg The general Zionist group B had a central committee that established Kibbutzim. They established a Kibbutz in Rokishok in 1933 1934. Initially the Kibbutz had six persons and was located in a house not far from the hospital. The leader of the Kibbutz was comrade Lazer. He studied in Vienna in the theological seminary and was a good speaker. He is now in Israel.
I was delegated to the Rokishok Kibbutz by the Kovno officer. No one in Lithuania had such a person as Hillel Idelson. He greeted us on arrival with a warm Shalom Alechem! I remember that he was always dressed poorly, even with torn shoes. He lived in a side street, and he had only a large table and a poor bed in his room. But he was a great and lusty idealist. He gave a lot of his time to our Kibbutz and thanks to him the Kibbutz progressed.
When the Kibbutz became larger, they rented a facility for us at Nachman the Shochet. We opened a kindergarten on our Kibbutz for our locality. The Kibbutz busied itself with cultural work. Through us we spread the Jewish Voice of Kovno and other Zionist publications and we were constantly involved in many of the Rokishoker societies.
Translated by Mathilda Mendelow, born Ginsberg Three years of my life I spent in Rokishok. During the above remembered time I became very close to the Lithuanian Hasidic Shtetl. In the long years that I have spent in far away lands I longed very much for the poor Litvak community, for the loving plain warm hearted Jews and for the exciting youth with whom I spent my whole time. Even now after 20 years and after all the gruesome experiences that happened to my brothers and sisters on the Lithuanian soil, the memory of the Shtetl and its Hassidim, mitnagdim, non-believers, rich owners and the horrible poverty is very near to me.
Each part of the year had its own beauty the spring flowers, the flower-filled summer, also the cold of autumn and the very sharp cold winters. During the great catastrophe, in the various places where I have been, I was followed by the lonely stillness of the Rokishoker streets, be it in the Kamier main street or be it in the side streets, be it in the city market that used to be lively during the time of the Jews especially during the winter flax market when flax merchants from the surrounding cities and shtetlag and a multitude of peasants or gentiles from the surrounding area used to come.
I spent from 1922 to 1925 in Rokishok being a teacher in the Hebrew School. The school drew most children from all levels: children of well-to-do homes, children of workers, religions and from certain free Zionist rings.
During the above remembered years there was a revival of Hebrew over the whole of Lithuania. The Jewish youth in the Shtetl studied with zest. One prepared oneself to enter Jewish Colleges. They strived to get into the lists of the "Halutzim" so as to pass a qualification and leave for Israel.
Then I established the Jewish Scout movement of Rokishok. This was even from the land organization which had divisions in cities and Shtetls, the organization did above all include the scholars of the Hebrew School. During this time the Jewish Scholars of the local Lithuanian College and even the scholars of the agricultural school joined us of the working youth, who had no schooling. The students devoted themselves with "life and limb" to this goal. A youth club was organized, where talks, plays and gatherings were arranged.
On Saturdays and yomtovim (holidays) they used to organize collective walks and outings in the area on foot. In summer, during vacation months we arranged summer camps in the forest. We lived collectively, and enjoyed the lap of free nature very much.
Our youth movement during that time was the only Jewish Youth movement in Rokishok. It had a great influence on the children and youth of the town. With Chassidic fervor, and support of Chassidic Chabad it had a great influence on the youth organization which produced an ethical, normal and friendly relationship between one another and normalized a lot of the relationships between children and parents.
My personal influence on the children was great and parents used to threaten disobedient children with "I'm going immediately to Avigdor." The following friends also worked well for the good of the organization:
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund I have already been here [in Eretz-Yisroel] for 22 years and much is erased from my memory. But, like a dream of the infinitely distant past, an early morning in our Rakishok comes to life. Here, I think, Vilner Street comes to life, along with the house of the Rosh haYeshiva [head of the religious school], Reb Josef Yitzhak Klein.
Just now the morning bloomed and the energetic tsofe [female scout] from the scout troop approached the house. She carefully, quietly opened the shutter of the room in which I slept, as we had agreed. I was ready, having opened the bolt that closed the window during the evening before going to sleep.
I sprang out of the window so that my father would not notice. I had to lead a group (meeting) of my scout collective that would take place in the city garden, where 10-12 year-old girls would come together. Although I was only a few years older than them, the responsibility had been placed on me
A scout program was carried out that included: frank discussions with remarks on all sides; characteristic games; singing songs and conversations about the native land [Eretz-Yisroel] that always had blue skies and a strong shining sun.
I was admonished more than once by my father upon returning home that my conduct was not appropriate for the daughter of the head of a yeshiva. Yes, dear father--he did not know that this was the fruit of his own seedlings that he had planted in my child's soul with his gemara [discussions on the Talmud] melodies. Then, in the evenings and nights, when he would sit studying the gemara words of Amora Reb Akiva [plural: Amoraim 3rd to 6th century rabbinic sages], and the melodies would pour out into my heart and fill little corners of my soul and carry it far over the seas to the far and beloved land where the Tannaim [2nd and 3rd century rabbinic sages].
I remember so clearly and distinctly a Shabbos night when the weekly meeting of the entire troop would take place. The club was on Vilner Street. At first, the head of the troop was Moshe Vesterman, and later, Avigdor Glambatsky. I still feel the enthusiasm when an interesting subject would bring out a mighty singing of various national songs that stirred and demanded their due. Each word had its particular charm and tang. We sang: Rest, rest our dear friend, sleep there eternally we like you will sacrifice ourselves for our nation. I felt a readiness to be ready for everything and I trembled with my entire being for the Judea mountains. After our program ended, we all marched along dark Vilner Street, but our spirits were in ferment we were enriched with encouragement and hope.
Yes, that holy mood that came over us all cannot be forgotten. Those memories of our scout movement are engraved deeply, deeply in my soul.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund When the great poet, Leib Jaffe (may he rest in peace) was in Lithuania, among the few cities and shtetlekh [towns] he visited was Rakishok. We began to prepare several days in advance to make a fine kaboles ponem [welcome] for him. The Count of the shtetl was asked for the loan of his carriage and horses; a small orchestra was obtained, and at the designated hour everyone was at the train station.
When he got off the train, he received a very fine reception from people standing along the entire road to the shtetl. All of the teachers and the students from the school and pro-gymnazie [school that prepares students to enter the gymnazie - secondary school] marched in straight lines and accompanied by members of various organizations and committees, as well as Christians who were just curious to see the Jew who was being given so much respect with the Count's carriage and orchestra music, as appropriate for a king.
An official welcome was held for him on Makabi Square. Various organizations and institutions gave greetings, as well as teachers from the school and the pro-gymnazie. Then members of Makabi demonstrated various sports feats. Thus, the first half of the day went by. In the evening there was a banquet for him in the auditorium of the Talmud Torah [religious primary school usually for poor boys] which was decorated with flags. A picture of a large lion with the inscription, The lion roared, who will not fear, hung on one wall.
Before his arrival in Rakishok he was extolled as inspiring people with his speaking. This interested me very much, so at the banquet when he spoke, I looked him in the eyes for the entire time to see his carriage and movements and this is a picture of his manner of speaking: he stood straight, closed his eyes, spoke not too high, not too low, and describing (or better, speaking), painted as if with a paint brush various pictures that drew one to hear his every word as if to a magnet. Thus looking at him, one felt as if hypnotized and this was the power of his speaking, not storming--without an uproar--and it was for good reason that he earned the respect that he received all over.
When he would come to speak, a great sum of money would be collected. Several years ago, when I read about his tragic death during an explosion at the Jewish Agency building, something pulled at the strings of my heart as from a hidden instrument and all of the above mentioned images passed by as if alive. His memory will always remain in my heart, as well as with everyone who was present at his arrival in Rakishok.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Right after the end of the war [World War I], all of the homeless began to return from Russia and the Jews from the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] also settled in Rakishok. It was time to found an orphanage.
Many widows and orphans were found among the returning Rakishok Jews and there were also orphans from the surrounding villages and shtetlekh. Rakishok was plundered during the war and very poor, and the Jews were not able to support the large number of orphans* in Rakishok.
*[Translator's note: In Yiddish, an orphan can be a child who has lost one or both parents.]
A delegation consisting of Shifra Laufer, Hilel Eidelson, and Shmuel Aba Snieg went to Kovno to request help from the American Joint [Distribution Committee] to found an orphanage in Rakishok. After long negotiations it was decided that the Joint would equally, in partnership with the shtetl, support the orphanage.
After the return of the delegation, there was success in renting a house in Jurdzike on the road to Radute. It was a large building, in which plays had been presented earlier. Although it was far from the shtetl, the orphanage was opened there because a better house could not be found.
A meeting was called of all Rakishok Jews before the orphanage opened and the necessity of an orphanage institution in the shtetl was clarified for them. And they turned to every Jew among the assembled and told them that they were obliged to tax themselves with what they could [afford] so that this important institution could exist.
A committee was chosen at the general meeting which proceeded to this work. All orphaned boys and girls from the age of five to 13 were registered and clothing and shoes were received from the Joint to clothe them because the children were dressed in sacks, in torn garments and went around barefoot.
The chosen women's committee took upon itself the task of permanently providing clothing and footwear for the children. A shoemaker was hired who would sew and repair the children's shoes.
A doctor was also hired to heal the sick orphans.
A teacher came from Kovno so that she could teach the children who had studied in a school or in a kheder [religious primary school] and to help prepare the lectures.
The older children were placed with artisans. There were orphans who were much older who could not be placed in the institution and places were rented for them in private houses where they would eat and have a place to sleep. The Orphan Committee paid for them.
The orphanage turned into an exemplary institution in a very short time. The name Rakishok Orphanage became renowned. Children began to arrive from distant towns. Moshe Kac's house was rented when the premises became too small to take in so many children. Later, they bought their own building across from the market.
The children also received good care; they were taught and educated in the national spirit. The girls were taught sewing, knitting, and various hand work. The children took part in gymnastics and various sports workouts.
The following people who gave a great deal of time and effort on behalf of the orphanage should be remembered: Hilel Eidelson, the father of the orphans; Hilel Eidelson's sister, Chana Shadur, household director; Shifra Laufer, secretary; and the writer of these lines, manager of the orphanage.
The orphanage numbered more than 80 children during my time and existed until the destruction of Rakishok.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund When the evacuated Rakishok Jews returned from Russia after the First World War, it immediately became apparent that an aid organization such as a Linas-haTzedek [society for visiting the sick] was a necessity.
The hospital for the poor in Rakishok was overflowing with sick, crippled and paralyzed people, including patients from surrounding towns. The poor and sick lay in the houses of prayer. Jewish women helped in every way, but there was no organized administration that would do the aid work.
The work was urgent. Irle Rubin, the mother of our esteemed landsman [person from the same town], A. Rubin of Johannesburg, and her daughter Gitl, took the initiative to found a Linas-haTzedek in Rakishok.
The strongly devoted Jewish community worker, Irle Rubin, called the first meeting in her home, at which a committee of the Linas-haTzedek was created. In addition to Irle Rubin and her daughter, Gitl, the committee chosen included: Sure Pines, Chana Yakobson, Chana Lubovitz, Rywka Itzikman, Sime Milner and Gnendl Maitovitz.
The first task of the committee was to create a means of [raising] money. They immediately began to solicit members. The city responded warmly and sincerely supported the Linas-haTzedek. Almost all of the young girls in the city took part in the work.
From the very beginning, order was created in the hospital: it was cleaned, beds and mattresses were brought for the sick and they were provided food. The paralyzed people were fed by hand and they were cared for with love and devotion. Then the Linas-haTzedek took over the care of the most needy families, secretly helping impoverished men. Poor women giving birth were cared for, provided with food and with the first clothing for their new born child.
In 1926, the Linas-haTzedek rented a house and created a birthing institution in Rakishok. This attempt was made in a modest way. Only two beds were provided. When a poor woman needed to give birth, she was brought there and provided medical help and all necessities.
The Linas-haTzedek also helped the poor passing through, who had no place to turn. There was a case where a Jew from outside the city came to the synagogue and became ill there. Our Rakishok young girls tended to him for many months and took care of him. The sick were also provided kosher food.
The Linas-haTzedek existed until the death of the Rakishok Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community]. Many of the active Linas-haTzedek workers are now in South Africa and when Rakishok landsleit [people from the same town] come together, the meritorious activities of the Rakishok Linas-haTzedek is remembered at every opportunity with love and acknowledgement.
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