THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT
The Origins of the Zionist Movement in Rokitno
Avraham Ben Dor [Binder] (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The population of Rokitno was mainly young. It consisted of people who came
from neighboring villages and from distant settlements in Russia. Here, their
families grew. Among these people there were three opposing movements:
Hasidism, Bund and early Zionism. Why early Zionism? In order to
answer this question, we must know the public and political image of the
population of Rokitno during World War I.
The Hasidic movement, which left a deep imprint on the Jews of Rokitno, did not
understand Zionism and opposed it. It saw in Zionism an attempt to postpone the
end and to bring the Messiah before its time. The second element that dominated
the public was the Bund. Its influence on the youth was great. Even
in 1905, a strong group of Bund members settled in Rokitno. Among them were:
Moshe and Nissan Polishuk, the dentist Moshe Kutzin and his sister Idel. They
were better educated than the rest of the local population. Thus, their
influence on the youths was great from an ideological point of view. These
youths had not yet defined their view of the world. They were, in general,
susceptible to influences and no wonder that the Bundists, who were
highly educated, were able to direct them to their way of thinking and their
worldview. They sowed hatred towards Eretz Yisrael as it was, according to
Ansky's declaration, a land of holy graves and that it would not
solve the problems of the Jews. In their opinion, the change in the Russian
governing body would solve the Jewish problem automatically. In these beliefs,
there was a great misconception. The youths did not possess analytic skills and
could not distinguish truth from nonsense. This nonsense would solve nothing
and would only serve as a basis for a losing ideology. These youths, in their
innocence, believed that the Bundists' beliefs would be redemption for the
In order to deepen their influence among the youths, the Bundists established a
library, which served as a center for the dissemination of their ideology.
Meetings of youths and adults were held there. It was the only cultural center
However, the Bund ideology hit a brick wall, which it could not break down. As
a result, the movement shattered into tiny pieces. What was this brick wall? It
was the stories of the destruction of the Temple in Eyn Yaakov,
which Jewish children read and studied in the cheders. These stories had a
tremendous influence. This is where the children received their knowledge of
the land of their forefathers and the prophets. In this struggle, ultimately,
Eyn Yaakov was the winner over the maligning ideology of the Bund.
The buds of Zionism and the Hebrew language began to develop among the Rokitno
The actual push for the formation of the Zionist movement in Rokitno came from
nearby Sarny. The Association of Lovers of Hebrew was founded in 1911 in Sarny.
Its goal was to teach and to speak Hebrew, to open Hebrew libraries and, as
much as possible, to establish a Hebrew school. The Association influenced and
directed the formation of a large branch in Rokitno. It became the basis for
the Zionist movement in Rokitno. Since they were young, their power was
limited. Still, they were able to overcome the influence of the Bund, to stop
it in its tracks and to cancel its influence on the streets of Rokitno. The
members of the Association kept in touch with the committee of the Hapoel
Hatzioni (the Zionist worker) in Berlin. They obtained materials from
Petrograd. In the circulars that were sent to them, the youths were asked to
establish a Hebrew library, evening classes and to open a Hebrew school.
According to the instructions from the central office, the young members of the
Association of Lovers of Hebrew intended to open a Hebrew library in Rokitno.
Since the population at that time was small, there really was no need for two
libraries. As a result, there was a movement to remake the existing library
into a Zionist one. All members of the Association took out library cards and
in this way they were able to join its administration in a democratic way.
After a long struggle, the young Zionists succeeded and became the directors of
the library. The leaders were: Gedalya Lifshitz, Pinie Kliger, Haya-Sara
Lifshitz, Polia Rotman (Lifshitz), Leibel Geipman, Yeshayahu Meiri (Meirson),
Rachel Meirson (Margalit), Haim Zandweis and others. The library became a
center for serious Zionists.
Receipt from the Odessa Committee
While the Zionist movement was organizing itself, the October Revolution began.
Tremendous revolutionary forces were in evidence. The fermenting forces in
Russia touched the Jewish population in Rokitno. All colors of the rainbow were
represented by the many political groups, such as the Bund,
Social Revolutionaries, Young Zionists, and Achdut (Unity). These
groups struggled for the souls of the Jewish population, in general and the
young, in particular.
The ideological struggle was won by the Zionist movement. The youths of Rokitno
were not blinded by the promises of the emissaries of the revolution who
predicted wonderful things for the Jews. In this time of turmoil, the Zionist
dream took shape and became a way of life a way of life which had no
alternative. The anti-Zionist parties were beaten and their influence was
minimal. Rokitno became a well-known Zionist town.
The Association of Lovers of Hebrew prepared the foundation for a political
Zionist movement, which left its mark on the life of the community. The young
Zionists took part in every public performance and in elections of various
secular and Jewish institutions.
It must be noted that many of the old timers, graduates of the cheder, secretly
admired the new movement. However, during elections, they voted for Achdut
(Unity) a religious movement. Mizrachi was not acceptable to the
Hasidim. They rejected it because it was a Zionist movement and they saw its
adherents as heretics. However, the Rabbis felt that it was necessary to become
involved in political movements and not to stay on the sidelines. For that
purpose, the religious political movement, Achdut (Unity) was organized. The
Zionists fought it. However, when the choice was between the Bund
and the Zionists, the Achdut people supported the Zionists and the Tarbut
When the Revolution broke out, the Association of Lovers of Hebrew declared
themselves as the Zionist Party of Rokitno. At that time, there were no sub
groups and parties yet. The movement began a difficult struggle to broaden its
horizons and to increase its membership. After two years of hard work, the
Zionist movement reached its peak. The dream of the Zionists of Rokitno came
true in 1912- the Tarbut School was founded.
The main Zionist activities were centered in three areas: study of the Hebrew
language, collection of money and work for the Jewish National Fund. At every
event- weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other happy occasions pairs of people
would appear representing the Zionist movement and would obtain donations for
the Jewish National Fund. This was especially true on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Those active in this area were: Avraham Golod and Moshe Gurman. There were many
meetings to collect funds for Jewish National Fund. Its organizers were:
Avraham Shapira (from Kisorich), Haim David Weiner and others.
The funds were sent to the Palestine committee in Odessa headed by Ussishkin.
Every year a book was published listing the names of donors and the total
amount of money collected. This is how the Zionist movement developed in
Rokitno, up to the Balfour Declaration.
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