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[Page 82]

Zionism

 

The beginning of Zionism in Rovno

by Arye Avatichi

Translation by Naomi Gal

“Hovevei Zion” in Rovno conquered hearts as early as the nineties of the 19th century. This association was founded in 1884, and when the political Zionism appeared it found at once an echo among the educated people of Rovno. Hovevei Zion became a political Zionist movement immediately. The religious circles supported the movement, believing that redemption and all the generations' hopes were about to be fulfilled, and that Dr. Herzl is the herald of a modern renaissance, while the intellectuals appreciated the Zionist movement from public and political points–of–view – the return of Israel to its land and its rebirth.

Alongside “Hovevei Zion”, “Ohel Zion” was founded in Rovno, and later the religious Zionist association “Shlomai Emunay Zion”; some years later “Bnei Zion” took the place of all these movements.

The following article, announcing the foundation of “Shlomai Emunay Zion” was published is 1902 in “Hamelitz”, no. 232:

Due to the lobbying of the reverend Zionist Mr. Izsak Melamed, when he came back from the general Zionist convention in Minsk, a new association was founded in our city under the name “Shlomai Emunay Zion”. The founding assembly was held on the night of Hoshana Raba, the 7th day of Sukkot 1902. Masses of members of the religious parties and moderates arrived to the second meeting, 120 registered to the new association and donations were collected to the national fund, so that the association would be inscribed in the Golden Book.

Heading the new association are the prominent Zionists: Adel, Meilzlish, Landau, Parzok, Matiok, Melamed.“

“We hope the new association will grow and thrive and perform good work to increase Zionism in our city, and may it serve as an example to “Ohel Zion” association, that is frozen and almost ceased to be an association, if it weren't for the Zionist convention in Minsk that coaxed it to send a representative… A Hebrew Tea–House was opened in our city, where one can find many Hebrew and Russian newspapers. There was a need for such a place in our city and we hereby thank the eminent founders: Dr. Arkin, S. Kalikavitcher, and H. Rubinstein.

In the important 1902 Zionist convention in Minsk, all the representatives of the people, including the Zionist activists from Rovno (David Gerstein, Izsak Melamed, M. Vishnizer, Nahum Shtif and others) participated. This major convention empowered the Russian Jews as much as the first Zionist congresses gave the Zionist idea, and it was notable in Jewish Rovno, where the majority

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were under Hassidic and traditional influences. Rovno took decisive steps toward Zionism from the very beginning.

As early as 1900, three years after the first Zionist Congress, a Zionist club was founded in Rovno, in Ashkenazi House on Directorska Street (the third house after the government treasury on the corner of Shossejna street). On the first floor of that house lived Dr. Arkin, the head of the city's Zionists back then, and the club was on the last floor occupying two halls where the Zionist and the Zionist inclined gathered. It was not just a fun club, but a meeting place for Zion dreamers and renaissance wishers. Among the regulars were: Zalman–David Levontin, David Gerstein, Shlomo Kolikovitcher, Dr. Arkin, Dr. Bialik, Dr, Yehezkel Oyerbuch, Layvish Bernstein, Mordechai Shtrik, Izsak Melamed, Asher Shtil, Joseph Edal, Shmai Lemlech, Bezalel Halperin, Moshe Stok, Leib and Meir Boshkovsky, Yaakov Vigdorowitz, A.Y. Kopiyka, Laybish Margalit, Nahum Shtif, Zalman Sherman (The rabbi's son), Hickel Kopelman and many others. They came to the club to absorb Zionist theory, to hear news and ingest the movement's ideas that were spreading and conquering hearts and attracting to its ranks the young generation. Indeed, the idealistic spirit of those days, which circulated among the Russian Jews and even reached Rovno, was able to elevate people from the humdrum of life under the czar's regime and wake them to the national idea, the idea of rebirth. Zalman Ashkenazi, the Zionist activist and famous lecturer from Dovno, came oftentimes to Rovno to talk in the club and in the synagogues. Teachers, intellectuals, traders, landlords and simple Jews from different circles, were attracted and found a spiritual connection with the Zionist idea and movement. At the same time “Improved Cheders” were founded to educate and enhance Hebrew educational–nationalist activities, and this, too, was considered Zionism. The growth of the Bund did not prevent the strengthening of the city's Zionist movement.

Rovno's Zionists responded at once to Dr. Herzl's call. It sent representatives to the first Zionist Congress, and was active from the beginning in distributing the shares of “Settlement Treasure”. It proved influential among the Jews in the surrounding communities for this establishment, known back then as the “Colonial Bank”. Upon purchasing a “treasury” share, each one saw himself as a member in the Zionist camp, begun considering the Shekel, participated in Zionist meetings and donated to JNF: the Jewish National Fund to help populate Eretz–Israel. Among the Jewish activists who were devoted and active in propagating the “Settlement Treasury” in Rovno were David Gerstein, Haim Rubenstein (the director of Brothers Luria's Bank). Zalman–David Levontin (the director of the Minsk Bank), Izsak Melamed, Shlomo Vasslir, Dov Korech and a few local merchants. Shlomo Vasslir held a special place in Luria Bank, whose special role was to handle distribution of the shares among the bank's clients. Later, when shares with Hebrew addresses arrived the joy was great, since they saw in this Zionist institution the seed of the National Bank of Israel, and a national–monetary instrument to build Israel and its national rebirth.

There were quite a few Zionists who were active in cultural fields. According to Noah Gilbord, one of the first Zionist in Rovno, in 1897–8 a Zionist youth movement was created by Nahum Shtif, Moshe Bokovisky, Noah Grinberg, Shlomo Vasslir, Noah Gilbord and others, named “Safa Berura” (“A Clear Language”) whose main goals were Hebrew language, Hebrew culture and Zionist activities. This was the beginning of educating children in the Zionist spirit. The members of the association were the first to learn and converse among themselves in Hebrew. The association established as well

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a Zionist Library and every member had to contribute books to the library and collect books from friends and acquaintances. Hence all the city's Zionists helped the library with books or money and made sure it grew and thrived. Among the activists of the library, beside the founders, were: the teacher Dannenberg, Joseph Edal, Shmuel Melamed, Sandler, Hikel Kopelman and others. Soon the library became a Zionist–cultural institution, a reading space was created that attracted readers and lecturers. At first the reading and library room were on the Volyns'ka, where the members of “Clear Language” used to convene on Saturdays and holidays for conversations, learning Israel's history and sometimes discussing Zionist issues. Some of the students of the “Improved Cheders” and their teachers kept in touch with the library and the association, and thus, the Zionist spirit was transferred from father to son and conquered the whole family.

Once, in 1901 Menahem Usshiskin and Barabash from Odessa arrived at Rovno to meet with Z.D. Levontin as a member of the council of the Settlement Treasury. When the local Zionists heard that these important guests were about to arrive to the city they wanted to hold an official reception. They wrote a letter to Levontin* but the reception, to the dismay of Rovno's Zionists did not happen because the visitors were in a rush to leave the city on their way to Vilna, to meet Y. L. Goldenberg, and consult concerning the seed money needed for the Settlement Treasury.

In Ussishkin's archives there is the correspondence between Rovno's Jews Z.Z Git and Ussishkin. Git wrote that on June 12, 1902 – referring to Ussishkin's open letter published in issues 9–128 of the Zfira newspaper about a “National Fund”. He saw it as a moral obligation to spread the “Markot” (pennies) and enquired if he needed a special license to do so.

A deep mourning descended upon Rovno when the news about Herzl's sudden death on July 3, 1904 reached the city. All mourned him, not only the Zionists; the feeling was that a great leader was lost, an outstanding man w envisioned birth and redemption, the eternal dream of the people. A mourning prayer was held at the great synagogue, and a memorial service by the Zionists as well as memorial prayers recited in all the city's synagogues. The sorrow was great and people asked each other what leader could replace Herzl, so gifted and deserving.

These were days of debating; in the Zionist camp they were about to make an important choice concerning the war that began when Herzl was still alive, between Zion Loyalists and those willing to accept any territory given to the Jewish people.

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There were opposing opinions on this subject, but Rovno's Zionists, except a few, were for Z I O N, and in this spirit the Zionist work was conducted in the city back then. (There were hardly any other territory supporters in Rovno).

In the spring of 1905, when preparations were made for the seventh congress, Rovno's Zionists were in touch with the Zionist Center and with Ussishkin concerning the elections. Izsak Melamed was the contact, in charge of representing Rovno and its surrounding. In Ussishkin's archives there are letters and telegrams on this subject. In one of the telegrams from May 24, 1905 Melamed announced that there would be 20 delegates and that the elections would be held after the Jewish Holyday. In another telegram, from May 29, 1905 Melamed announces that another association elected Mozenson.

Around the same time the candidature of Ze'ev Jabotinsky for the Royal “Duma” elections was proposed in Rovno's area, and the Zionists led a fierce campaign in his favor. Many prominent Russian Zionists visited Rovno in those days.

Even during the low period of political movements from 1906 to 1912, when Zionism was persecuted by the reactionary regime and suspected as a revisionary movement, the Zionist activity did not cease in Rovno. Furthermore, it gained force among adolescents, who were not attracted to the different movements that were present in Russia and in the Jewish street before and after 1905 revolution. A Zionist conference was held in 1907 in Polona, and then, around 1909 in Rovno herself, as well as the congress of “Zion's Youth” in Kovel at the end of 1909, with the participation of Haim Greenberg from the Zionist Center. In those conferences the first of Rovno's Zionists took part, and comrade Ben–Zion Eisnberg (Barzilay) tells about how the first and last conferences were revealed to the Russian gendarmery who arrested all the participants, imprisoned some and tried them…

In Hanukah of 1908, Ben–Zion Mozenson visited Rovno representing the center. His lecture was attended not only by the Zionists, but also by the assimilated and Bund's members. His stay in Rovno was a celebration for the Zionists and his visit left a strong impression. Afterwards others visited: Dr. Passmenik, Menahem Shainkin, Yakov Rabinowitz and other messengers dedicated to enhancing the Zionist activity in and around the city.

Remembered are the Zionist preachers Yevzerov, Massliensky and others, who enflamed the masses with their speeches in the synagogues, till it was said: Rovno's Zionists are Zionists with their heart and soul, the way its Hassidic are Hassidic with their heart and soul. Others who came to help with propaganda: Dr. Yahushua Bochmil, Semariho Levin, Zeev Jabotinskiy, Haim Greenberg and others.

In the years between 1903–1906 the Zionist activity was mainly in the Luria Bank from Pinsk, headed by Haim Rubinstein, an educated Jew and an enthusiastic Zionist. Alongside him there was a group of devoted Zionists who worked for the Zionist cause in Rovno, among them were: David Gerstein, Benjamin Melamed, Dr. Yehezkel Oierbuch, Yehuda Motyuk, Anshil Bookimer, Izsak Melamed, Moshe Stok, Arye Botchkovsky, Meir Bochkovsky, Shlomo Vasslir, Joseph Edel, Dov Corech, the Hebrew teachers and some youngsters. In the days of Dreyfus' Trial many discussions took place in this bank according to the “Novosti” the Russian newspaper, that was received in the bank. Alongside discussions, they handled Zionists issues, funds etc.

The distribution of the Zionist Shekel in Rovno was important, as well as different ways of making contributions to the Jewish National Fund (one of the ways were the “bowls” of Yom Kippur Eve in the synagogues, dedicated to the settlement of Israel). Not one occasion was missed to collect money for Zionist causes. They used to hold a Zionist “Minyan” in Simchat Torah, intended

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to bring together the Zionists during the Holyday as well as provide an income from “Aliot” for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund.

Noah Gilbord tells about one Zionist Hanukah celebration in 1898: “Already during the Zionist “Minyan” in Simchat Torah there were talks about celebration at Hanukah, and when the time came near, a Zionist group began preparations for celebrating the Lights Holyday in a Zionist friendly ambiance. There were enough enthusiastic activists who began preparing. For obvious reasons (the eyes of the authorities) it had to be done discreetly, with not much fanfare, since the gendarmery was suspicious about any social activity, especially by Jews. The number of invited guests was limited, of course, but there was no lack of Zionist “faces” and among them was Zalman Ashkenazi from Dubna. The celebration was held on the night of the third candle. The hosts, considered the most respectful and rich, made it look like a family celebration as convened in advance: there was a table set with food, latkes etc. More than 50 people were seated at the table in well–lit rooms while some youngsters were on guard on the outside…

Zalman Ashkenazi had the honor of lighting the candles and the guests sung “These Candles” and Zionist songs under the baton of Ziedel Rovner, the cantor. While chatting, the guests announced one by one their Hanukah donation for the settlement of Israel. David Gerstein was the first to greet the group. Izsak Melamed repeated his impressions from the last congress. Nahum Shtif spoke about the nationalist awakening of the youth. Other speakers were Zalman Ashkenazi and Joseph Zeev. They praised the “Generous” – Baron Rothchild, who frees the land and establishes settlements in Israel, and they mentioned plans to expand the borders by buying lots of land in Erez–Israel. Zeev woke the hearts. After merrily drinking wine they almost forgot to be cautious. But the ball was peaceful, went without a hitch and left a deep impression on all those present that lasted a long time.”

This is what the “Zefira” published about this Hanukah feast in 1898:

The Holyday was adequately celebrated by the Zionists. (“Hovevei Zion”), Ziedel Rovner sung pleasant songs of Zion and the speeches of the outstanding Mr. Ashkenazi and Mr. Zeev made a huge impression on the listeners. The yield of this ball: the price of the entry tickets and the food costed 200 Rubel per person and were all donated to “Hovevei Zion” association. M.S. Fishmar

In 1907 a new association for youth was founded in Rovno, by the name of “Pirhay Zion” (“Flowers of Zion”), “Zvetok” in Russian, much like similar associations in other cities. Yaakov Adini describes this association: “The Zvetok is very much the continuation of “Safa Berura” and around one hundred children joined. Once the “Improved Cheders”, private Hebrew schools, were established by Lemel Kulkar, the four teachers were known as “the eight feet” by teacher Goldarbiyeter, and others, we, the children, began breathing the air of Israel in school. Zionism conquered us, although we were too young to understand political Zionism, but we did not ask for too many explanations. We craved Zion with all our soul and our thoughts were about the land of our fathers, our prophets, our judges and our kings. One Sabbath we convened in order to organize a Hebrew circle for reading and talking – to revive

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the language for everyday use under the direction of Asher Lemel Kolker, our teacher, and that's when we chose the name “Zion Flowers”.

Teacher Kolker and other Hebrew teachers were devoted to instilling the love of the language and the idea of rebirth. The songs and the celebrations of Lag B'omer, Hanukah and others, which were celebrated very publicly, embedded in the young hearts buds of rebirth that were well absorbed, and yielded devoted Zionists and pioneers.

Not too long afterward, we, the youngsters, began to take part at the activities – collecting money for settling Jews in Israel through the Odessa council of Hovevai Zion. We remember well standing on Yom Kippur's Eve next to the “Bowls” in the synagogues for the donations, and how thrilled we were when we saw the printed report, where the names of the donors and our names showed, our names at the top! We were very satisfied. So, we grew and went on acting for Zion and we were fulfilling our life's ambition.

A lot was done in Rovno for Zionism in its first steps, and as a result of these activities, the influence of the Zionist movement in the city prospered. This blessed endeavor continued, increased and with time spread to many areas, until our city became a mother–city for Zionism and Hebrew culture in Volynia and impacted all of Ukraine and Poland.


* The copy to Levontin kept in the Zionist archive in Jerusalem:

Dear Mr. Z. D. Levontin,

The best partisan Jews in Rovno gave me the right to ask if you will be willing for us to prepare a banquet in your honor and the honor of Barabash and Ussishkin. Since we do not have a Hebrew Council House in the city, please allow us to hold the important meeting in your abode or in one of the luxurious hotels in town. Please sir, respond at once, letting me know if you will stay in town till noon or till evening, not much time is left and we need to prepare.

Please accept my love and gratitude for your good acts.

With the blessing of Zion and Jerusalem, L. G. Fagin


Dr. Nahman Serkin – Rovno's delegate to the Sixth Congress

by Eliaho Rizman

Translation by Naomi Gal

Zionist Rovno was presented in all the Zionist congresses by delegates who were the city citizens, or were suggested by the Zionist Centers. Not many know that to the sixth Zionist congress in Basel, Rovno sent Dr. Nahaman Serkin. It was in the summer of 1903. The eyes of the Zionist world were turned to the congress in Basel, where the question of Uganda was discussed, an issue that caused a storm in the Zionist camp and in the whole Jewish world. There were no sympathizers to the Uganda Plan in Rovno, even not as a transition before Israel, and the general feeling was that to this congress should be sent “lions” from the camp of Zion's loyalists, so that they will be able to stand up and not be dragged, god forbid, to the camp of those demanding “a haven” for the Israeli people on the way to redemption.

I happened to be at that time a member of the council of “Bnei Zion” a Rovno association, and its secretary. The association was a home to youngsters age 16–18 and they were all full of Zionist–National enthusiasm. Those were the times before the political rift in the Zionist movement. All attention was given to the practical and educational work. When the Uganda question was raised there were many heated arguments, but eventually, all our members joined the older Zionist movement in one position: We are Zion Zionists!

At that time, the Bund's activity was felt in Rovno, and it already spread its net on the working people and searched ways to enter the public and Jewish lives in the city. Our Zionist feelings were quite strong and we did not want to accept the Bund propaganda and theories. We had heated arguments with them, but most of the time we were defeated, because

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we lacked a clear based definition that would be able to stand as an all–Israel theory against the realistic attitude of the Bund, and possibly, we did not know the necessary powerful arguments during discussions.

This situation pushed us to look for ways and slogans that would be revolutionary and suitable to the ideas and attitudes among the youth and the Jewish intellectuals. We did not want to give up on the workers and our aim was to make Zionism apply to their daily concerns. And then we found a way:

One day, Dr. Moshe Zilberfarb (who was later a minister for Jewish affairs in Petliura's government) came to us. He came back from his university studies in north–Europe and brought a renewed Zionist theory based on Nahman Serkin's ideas that were expressed in the movement he headed: Herut (“Freedom”). In those days Serkin was in exile and famous for his revolutionary ideas, as we discovered in the literature Zilberfarb brought us: “HaSahar” and the “Haomon” in Yiddish. The new ideas fired us up and opened new horizons. After a short while our association became mainly “Herut” members, and Serkin served as an admired guide.

The election day for the sixth Zionist congress arrived. Before the congress was supposed to be held, a convention of Russia Zionists was held in Basel. Following Zilberfarb's advice we sent Serkin a mandate to participate in the convention as our representative. Since back then every association or movement with 200 members could send a representative to the congress, we willingly gave Serkin our vote so that he could represent us, and thus he was elected as Rovno's representative to the sixth congress.

After the congress, known as the rift congress between the “Yay” to the “Naysayers” about Uganda, we received from Serkin a detailed written report about the congress' discussions and his reasons for joining the “Yea–sayers”.


Hatehia (“rebirth”) Group (“Vozrojdenye”)

by Dr. Moshe Zilberfarb

Translation by Naomi Gal

During Passover 1903 a meeting was held in Rovno of the representatives of the Hatehia Group (who called themselves also “Vozrojdenye”). I arrived from Berlin, where I was studying, for spring break and was invited to participate in the meeting, which was completely unexpected for me. Among the participants were Nahum Shtif, A Rovno son, Pinkas Deshevsky, both students at the Polytechnic–institute in Kiev, and Benny Friedland, a Kiev university student. Others at the meeting were members of “Kadima”, the Zionist Students Association (members in this association were back then S. Ginzburg, A. Zolotrov, Wilensky (AKA as Sobiz) and others. If my memory is correct other participants were L. A. Tchskis (lately an important member in the Communist Jewish section in Russia) as well as someone from Debbinsk, whose name I can't remember. I felt like an unexpected guest in this meeting, yet I felt welcome.

Between 1989 to 1902, when Zionism began spreading in the Jewish street and conquered the hearts, I stood aside, and now I even went against some of the speakers in this meeting (Shtif and Rosenzweig), but yet I could not find peace while I was absorbed

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in the Zionist Question in general and Judaism specifically. The National question, that the Marxist doctrine pushed away, and was completely silenced in the Marxist literature, was fully aroused in those days in some of the Social–Democratic parties (in Austria and Germany) and was an important issue for the Bund in Russia, which gave its response during its fourth convention in 1901.

Although the Bund response about the Jewish National Question did not satisfy me, and in my mind an idea started to take root that the territorial solution of the National Jewish Question does not contradict socialism at all, not its aim, nor in the life of the movement, and if so, why not allow the masses of Jewish workers in their fight for national and social freedom, to create synthesis of platform and action? This idea came to fruition in my heart when groups of “Poalay Zion (“Workers of Zion”) started to form, and already back then were inclined to go against the psychology of reactionary–landlord attitude that impacted the Zionist movement.

That was my feeling when I arrived in Berlin in the fall of 1902, where I met Dr. Nahman Serkin, who published a few years earlier a booklet titled “Ben–Eliezer”, in which he tried to justify Zionism from the point of view of socialism, and laid the basis to the development of a Zionist–Socialist movement. Serkin spent several years with this lofty idea but only in 1901–1902 he found supporters for his ideas among the students who came from Russia. It was then that Serkin founded “Heroth” (“Freedom”), a Zionist–Socialist movement. The movement did not have many members, not in Berlin and not in Zurich, but successfully clarified the platform and the strategy of Zionist–Socialism. I joined this group enthusiastically but soon discovered resistance to some of its principals, especially to Serkin's words: “The revolutionary–Socialist war of the masses of the Jewish workers in their homelands contradicts their national freedom and is not connected to their national question.” It was a double–layered theory and Serkin stayed loyal to this point–of–view after others gave it up.

I went back from Berlin to Rovno quite depressed and to my pleasant surprise found out about the above–mentioned meeting. My old friends Shtif and Rosenzweig, my previously opponents, told me about it, and added that the aim was to organize a convention of the known “Poalai Zion” activists, in order to discuss and determine the platform and strategy of Zionist–Socialism. From them I heard for the first time the names of some of the activists: Shimon Davin, Yaakov Leshzinsky, Moshe Litvakov, Shmuel Hassidov. I was invited to the convention too, and following my suggestion it was agreed to invite Dr. N. Serkin and V. Lasky from the Berlin's group. Others who were invited were all those who attended the convention in Rovno and the representatives of the important associations of “Poalai Zion” in Debbinsk, Yakterinslov and others.

In the meeting in Rovno an outline was formed:

  1. Zionism from socialist point–of–view (one of the lecturer was Dr. N. Serkin)
  2. The position about the Bund and the Zionist Union (N. Shtif the lecturer)
  3. The status of the national question in general and of Jews specifically according to Social–Democracy (I was invited as lecturer)
  4. Organizing issues. It was decided to hold the meeting in six months.

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Zionism

At the time between the meeting and the convention, two major events took place in Jewish life and in the Zionist Movement: The Pogrom of Kishinev and the question of Uganda. The Kishinev Pogrom was a wake–up call for many and made us take into account the causes and conditions under which we lived. Those of us who thought that Poalai Zion should not recognize the revolutionary war with the self–governing, and not dilute the necessary energy needed to fulfill the national ideal, learned from Kishinev Pogrom that national force and energy cannot be concentrated and preserved by a nation yielding and accepting bloodshed from a pogrom's regime.

Pinkas Dashevesky, one of our members, got up and with a utility knife in plain daylight, he attempted to kill Krushevan, an infamous anti–Semite, the pogrom's ideologist. He managed to wound his neck. This made a great impression among all the Jewish circles, except the circles of Jewish workers, since it was a one–man–attempt and not a general decision. N. Shtif published a booklet: “What did we learn from the attempt on Dashevesky?” (the booklet was published in Russian in 1903 by the council in–charge of the convention in Kiev). The author reached one conclusion: We must fight the czar's regime.

The gap between us and the Zionist Movement became deeper, but it didn't create a rupture. We continued as part of the Zionist Union, as before. Still we felt responsible for Zionists' actions even those that were different from our views. And here, during the Sixth Zionist Congress, the Uganda Question was raised, causing mayhem and heated arguments in the congress and in the Zionist camp in general. In the circles of Poalai Zion and their supporters it became clear that you had to have both your feet on the ground and that the Zionist base was not as solid as was thought. The shock was felt all over.

After the Sixth Congress, we had our convention in Kiev and other members participated as well: Rattner, Mendelberg and Fabrikant, who formerly lived in Harkov and were not consulted in Rovno's meetings. A. Rozin (Ben–Adir) and Fabrikant published after Kishinev Pogrom a pamphlet signed by “A Group of Young Israel”. And one morning they found out about this publication saying: “What did we learn from Dashevsky's attempt?” and that their point–of–view resembled the Harkov group's platform. They hurried to Kiev to meet friends with similar ideas, and once they found out about the convention they stayed there in order to join the convention with the local comrades. The convention was held in Kiev on Sukkot 1903. The convention tried to resolve the complex problems and contradictions in Socialist–Zionism. Many questions were discussed, and it was decided to publish a theoretical newspaper called “Vozrozhdenie.” (Vozrozhdenie –Renaissance was a Jewish Socialist group in Kiev.) The two important questions debated during the convention were: establishing territorialism with socialism in mind, and the revolutionary war. Other issues discussed: immigration, organization, newspaper – were almost marginal. The Zionist Question did not need enforcing in the convention, since it already was established that every living and normal people had its own territory and a national organization, and this is what the Jewish People aspired for, according to Basel's definition: “Create a national and legal home for the Jewish people in Eretz–Israel”. But this alone did not solve the problem of the working masses. Zionism was founded on a legal base, but it lacked the sociological aspect.

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We gathered together and searched for ways of clarifying and establishing a plan according to the times and the wishes of the masses of workers of the Jewish People in all its dwellings.

The convention in Kiev was the continuation of the Rovno discussion. Different ideas of proletarian Zionism were restored in the minds of the young generation who were in the Zionist camp or close to it. The agitation among the Jewish youth back then brought forth the organizing of several groups who developed an ideology. The “Thiya” (“Revival”) group was one of them. It participated in Poalai Zion discussions in Odessa but eventually joined the S.S – Zionist Socialist party, where they found their ideological continuation.

 


A photo of the greeting sent to the 11th Congress

 


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The Zionist Urban Council and the “Zeirai Zion” fraction

by Zeev Hadas (Eidsis)

Translation by Naomi Gal

Almost every year a Zionist council was elected in Rovno. Among the members of the council in 1910 were: Dr. Yehezkel Auerbach, Yehuda Motyok, Bezalel Moravchik, Isaak Brik, Berl Corech, Anshil Bookimer, Shlomo Berez and Ben–Zion Isenberg. For different reasons, and mainly after Dr. Auerbach's death, the council grew weaker.

In 1912 a group of young Zionists was founded in Rovno as a fraction of “Zeirai Zion” as part of the city's Zionist Union. This group was not different than the other Zionists and had hardly any special characteristics, since the Zionist activities proceeded as before, but the urgent wish for liberation, that increased in those days in many Zionist centers, pushed the members of this group to be part of the association. Remembered is the question Rabbi Yehuda Motyok, a veteran Zionist, asked one of the members of this group: “What is the real difference between you and me when it comes to Zionism, is it just the beard I have and you don't have yet?” But as time went by, different attitudes and orientation in ideological questions and ways of work became obvious, as well as different ways of electing representatives to conventions and congresses, which transferred the members of the fraction to other rails. From that stemmed the dissatisfaction of the veteran Zionists (later known as “Generals”) since the active forces and the youngsters adopted their own points–of–view.

 


Members of the fraction council “Zeirai Zion” – 1912
Standing (from right): Mendel Biyaler, Bouzia Aienbinder, Yosef Magen, Mordechai Licht, Yaakov Barchman, Goutya Salzman, Meir Kodish, Akiva Shulman, Ze'ev Goycrch. Siting (right) Israel Bahrel, Avraham German, Shifra Barenboim (Shindelkroyet), Rachel Motyok, Blooma Eisenberg, Arye Gerbuz (Avatichi) and Nehemiah Peer

 

In the spring of 1912 the fraction's council of sixteen members was elected. Shortly after, the council managed to gain around 150 members; many of them were never Zionists, most of them clerks in the stores and banks and some from workers' circles and the city's students. The driving force of the council was a few members, Gautier Salzman at the head, and this fraction advanced Zionism in Rovno, after the weakening of the local Zionist Association between 1906–1910 due to the political persecutions and the immigration of many of the activists.

In order to strengthen the Zionist spirit in the city the Zionist organized public lectures by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Hiam Greenberg and others. The main organizers were again the members of the fraction,

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as part of the local Zionist council. The fraction disseminated large–scale propaganda during friendly–meetings, in which appeared the lecturers: Salzman, Peer, Grabouz and Goycrach. The members were charged regular contributions to the Jewish National Fund, for the fraction's expenses etc. The fraction also distributed the Shekel and sold the shares of “Israel Land Development Company” (in those areas a coordinated activity was executed by all the Zionists). Zionist Rovno acquired many young members thanks to the fraction's activities, and its members stood–up also in the “Hebrew Friends” association, created at that time.

One of the interesting aspects of the fraction's actions were attracting members from the workers' and laborers' ranks. The members of the Bund disliked it, sticking to their view that they were the only ones who had the monopoly on the workers' consciousness. Working youth socialized with their friends and neighbors of the same age, and even if they belonged to a different class, they became close together, being part of the Rebirth Movement. The sons of laborers from Krassna street, who were Zionists, followed their fathers and supported the Zionist Movement, and so the fraction thrived also, with the assistance of workers' sons whose hearts were given to Zion and to the rebirth idea.

With the awakening that the Russian Revolution brought to the political lives of the Jews, the Zionist circle was reorganized in Rovno in 1917 and a municipal council was formed including Zionists from all walks. Truth should be stated that back then the gap between different movements and fractions were not yet felt, but soon enough they did feel the difference between regular Zionists (later known as General), the fraction “Zeirai Zion”, the orthodox – “Hamizrahi” and “Poalai Zion”. Still, the different points–of–view did not prevent Rovno's Zionists from cooperating together in the municipal Zionist Council. At first “Zeirai Zion” used to convene in Rabbi Herschel Baharel's house on Eptikarska street and later they moved to the municipal council club in Plotnik house on Shossejna street, where the first Hebrew kindergarten was hosted. Zionists met at this club, there was also a reading room where the meetings and assemblies took place.

On May 19–20,1918 new elections were held for the Municipal Zionist Council. Four parties were competing, running a real election campaign, the way it used to be back then, and the debate was fierce. The results were: the first party of “Zeirai Zion” won seven seats and the elected were: P. L. Hirschfeld, Karp, Keniver, M. Rasis, Z. Eidsis, H. Cohen and S. Kolker. Party no. 2, the Students' Union, received two seats and the elects were: Yosef Bookimer, and Yaakov Kirchik (now Panoeli). List no. 3 “The Active Group” (Democrats) won five seats and the elected were: Yaakov Berman (Yardeni now), David Tobin, Mordechai Licht, Mordechai Naiman (Neman) and Dov Corech. List no. 4, General Zionists, elected Kalman, as well. With this line–up the second Municipal Zionist Council was activated and the moving force were the members of “Zeirai Zion” and the active group.

That year Rovno saw many positive activities in propaganda, education and culture of the local Zionists, who spread their net also over Rovno's surroundings. In addition to the lectures, public meetings and other propaganda tools, there were books, and Zionist newspapers and the Zionist camps in the city were growing fast. Gur–Arye, Terlo and Arye Garbouz came back from their studies. Terlo dedicated himself to Zionist propaganda while Garbouz took charge of the cultural institutions. After his first Hebrew lecture in December 1918, a branch of Tarbut (Culture”) was founded in Rovno, whose center was back then in Kiev

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and under the branch's flag, Hebrew lectures were delivered. As in the “Hovevei Sefat Ever: (“Hebrew aficionados”), two Hebrew kindergartens were opened successively, Tarbut, the Hebrew gymnasium was founded, a Hebrew books' warehouse was opened, a shelter was built on the Volynia, etc. All this cultural activity was done under the auspices of the Zionist Council, by a specially designed cultural council, and supported by all the city's Zionists. The chalutz (Pioneer”) organization was under the Municipal Council, as well, and was aware of every national and public activity for many years. When the Aliya to Israel began and an Eretz–Israeli office opened in Rovno – the activists of the Zionist Council were the leading force.

It is impossible to erase the Zionist experiences of those days, engraved in the hearts of those loyal to the Zionist flag in Rovno, who acted with devotion and with the thrill of sanctity for the idea and its fulfillment. Blessed should be the active members of these days: Yaakov Berman (Yardeni) from the Municipal Zionist Council, Moshe Kipper (Nahashon) from Tarbut gymnasium, Pessah–

 


The members of the municipal Zionist council in 1917

 

Lieb Hirschfeld, Israel Dins, Avraham Armal and others, members of the “Zeirai Zion” fraction, Arye Garbouz and Meir Kodish from Tarbut Council, David Baharel, who headed the Israeli office, Yesayho Tactinsky, Shmuel Roznek, Yaakov Edel (Adini) from the Chalutz organizers, and the writer of these words, who participated in several Zionist institutions and establishments in Rovno and in the Municipal Zionist Council.

Trumpeldor's affair was a special experience. All of a sudden, the news reached the city about the riots that took place in the northern Galil mountains in Eretz Israel: a handful of heroes, full of enthusiasm and faith, stood courageously against a band of Arab rioters and Tel–Hai became the symbol of the whole country. In the diaspora they hardly knew what was going on, especially about the dangers the young settlements faced. Rovno's Jews, immersed in daily worries and the bloody happenings that Ukraine's Jews suffered at that time, knew next to nothing about it.

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It was on a Thursday toward the end of Adar month, 1920

 

Unexpectedly a newspaper from Warsaw reached Rovno and using American sources it said that Yosef Trumpeldor and his friends were slain by the hand of miscreants while defending the Galil land. When the news reached the Municipal Zionist Council, Pessah–Lieb Hirschfeld and Arye Garbouz went out to get that newspaper and when they brought it back to the club everybody was shocked to read the news. Deep sorrow engulfed all. Many remembered Trumpeldor, the Jewish soldier of Port–Arthur Fort, his activities during the revolution and especially his preaching for pioneering and fulfilling the Zionist dream. We were inconsolable at his and his friends' deaths. It was suggested we gather the Municipal Council for a mourning assembly to lament the heroes in the big synagogue.

On Saturday, after the reading of the Torah, comrade Garbouz went up to the synagogue's bimah and lamented Trumpeldor and his friends who gave their lives and died like heroes on top of the Galil mountains. He spoke about Trumpeldor's life and about Tel–Hai, the farthest spot on the north, and his enthusiastic speech filled the crowd with Zionism. Thus ensued a wave of volunteering and activities for the rebirth of the people and the Homeland.

Note: The town of Kiryat Shmona (“City of Eight”) is named after Trumpeldor and the seven others who died defending Tel Hai.

Rabbi Noah, too, the chairman of the synagogue council, who was not a Zionist back then, welcomed the members of the Zionist Council and was satisfied that these things were said in the synagogue he headed. Even the zealots, who were not Zionist supporters, did not dare speak this time. On the other hand, there were many ordinary Jews who were moved by the words and became closer to Zionism.

When Garbouz and his companions left the synagogue, the Zionists among the praying crowd accompanied them and gave them their support. Many joined them on their way to the mourning–assembly set by the Municipal Zionist Council.

Following the February revolution of 1917, a center was founded by “Zeirai Zion” association in Russia, that developed a large ideological activity and Rovno's fraction was a branch of this center. Since then “Zeirai Zion” was an important official fraction in the Zionist Union.

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The Municipal Zionist Council – 1924

 

Due to all the divisions in “Zeirai Zion” movement the fraction became in time Poalai Zion and Z.Z Association, who acted separately, but the Municipal Zionist Council was still active under a different form throughout all the time of the Polish regime, till the beginning of World War II.


The Central Zionist Chamber

by A. A.

Translation by Naomi Gal

As a result of the riots in Ukraine in 1918–1920 Rovno was disconnected for many months from the center of the Jewish activities. For many months the city did not receive newspapers from Kiev nor from Moscow or Petrograd, or from abroad. Volynia and Podlia regions were ruled by Ukrainians and almost every week the authorities changed in different places, some arrived, others left, announcing new republics every day and each one of them went after Jews, their assets and their lives.

Rovno's Zionists, who were used to active and transparent activities since the beginning of the Russian revolution, could not accept the situation the Jews of the city and its surrounding suffered, and committed in these frantic days to strengthen their national work; they decided to found a temporary center for Zionist affairs in Volynia and Podolia, that were back then under Petliura. For this purpose, a special consultation was set on Tevet 17, 1920 for the Zionists activists, among them were Greenberg (Radzibilov), David lander (Loszek), Yaakov Borak (Kovel), Moshe Kipper, Arye Garbouz, Mordechai Neeman, David Baharel, Meir Kodish, Pessah–Lieb Hirschfeld, Shmuel Kolker, Yaakov Berman, Yosef Shvidki, Zeev Kornik, Yosef Bookimer (Rovno), Arye Eshel, Aaron Shinker (Koritz) and some others from Sarny, Austraah, Zvil and more. In light of the news and weighing the situation, it was decided to create a new Central Zionist Chamber responsible for the Ukrainian occupied territories. The representatives

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The group assembled on Tevet 17, 1920

Sitting (from right): David Lander, Mrs. (?) Yaakov Borak, Arye Garbouz (Avatichi), Moshe Kipper
Standing: Arye Eshel, Mr. (?) Mordechai Neeman, P. L. Hirschfeld, Shmuel Kolker and Aaron Shinker

 

From Lutsk, Austraah, and Kovel directed the Rovno activists chosen for this Chamber to organize it in Rovno, the main city of Volynia where prominent, reliable activists lived. The Chamber was active from the day after the decision. Messengers representing the Chamber went to visit the provincial towns (Kodish, Garbouz, Kornik and others), six printed newsletters were sent and hundreds of letters with instructions, guidance on subjects like organization, funds, Aliya, culture etc. (copies are shown further). The Zionist association in Rovno and the “Zeirai Zion” fraction were assisted by the Chamber in their activities and served it, too. The heads of the Chamber were Moshe Kipper (chairman), Dr. Yaakov Berman (Jewish National Fund), Arye Garbouz (culture), Yaakov Edel (Aliya), Ze'ev Dagany (organization) and as members served David Baharel, Kalman Gam, Meir Kodish and others. Besides them there were representatives in the Chamber from every city and town and there were open seats left for the Podol region, who were not able to attend the assembly.

This Zionist establishment quickly became a center for the whole region, not only for Zionist activities, but also for Jewish public matters, Hebrew culture and the Aliya to Israel, which became a general wish from all the Jewish homes. Each and every city and town, even remote villages where Jews lived, turned to the Chamber for advice and assistance. The “Joint” money for help and assistance was directed by the Chamber to places and establishments to ease the situation of the needy, victims of the war and pogroms, especially children and orphans, and to establish educational institutions.

The first goal of the Central Chamber was to make a census of the Zionist camp adherents and those interested in advancing Zionism. At that time the Chamber issued a local Zionist Shekel, since it was impossible to get Zionist Union's official shekels. The cultural department established kindergartens and schools in the towns.

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Far more important was the activity for Aliya and organizing the Chalutz in Rovno and its surrounding. The Chamber found ways to connect with a number of Zionist associations in Podol by way of messengers who could travel the roads. The work was hard, including from a political point–of–view, as it seemed as if the days of Czar Nikolas were back, but the partisans did not despair.

After the Polish occupation, new Zionist horizons opened to Rovno's Chamber and it promptly contacted the Zionist Center in Warsaw. Meanwhile the San–Remo decision was announced and spread through all the Zionist followers in the world, and Zionist Rovno celebrated lavishly and enthusiastically this historical event. Chamber representatives were sent to the towns and villages to announce the great news and to coax the masses to volunteer for building the Land of Israel. In public meetings they extolled the event and declared the foundation of “Keren Ha'geula” (“Redemption Fund”). Zionist Rovno aimed to reach a million rubles for this fund and the activists enlisted to this endeavor enthusiastically. A special council was created for this purpose by the initiation of members Yaakov Edel (Adini), Ze'ev Zied (Meshi) and others, members of the Union of the Zionist Students. The council gave a public ball in Zafaran Theatre and many came to listen to Dr. Shvidki, Dr. Berman and others. The shared enthusiasm made the participants take off their jewelry, give their money and declare monetary commitments. Mrs. Hannah Gimberg and Mr. Israel Zilberdick and Kalman ceremoniously received the donations on stage.

After a few days there was a public celebration of “Keren Ha'Geula” in the Train Station Garden and this, too, yielded a large sum of money. The Chamber activists visited people at their homes and received donations for the fund. Rovno was under the impact of San–Remo's decisions for many days.

 


A Zionist parade in 1921 on May Third Street

 

Another detail to the Chamber's activities: by the end of 1920 the writer Menahem Rivolov arrived from Kiev to Rovno. Since he intended to stay a while in the city, Rivolov was invited to serve as the Central Chamber's secretary. Thus, a general plan was formed and they planned for a Hebrew publishing house. An agreement was signed with Warsaw's “Ahiasaf” Publishing House and three books were published. But Rivolov's plans changed and he left Rovno. Soon after, the Central Chamber merged with the Center of Polish Zionist in Warsaw.

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Copies of memos

Translation by Naomi Gal

The Temporary Central Zionist Chamber
In Occupied Ukraine
Circular 3
April 1920

To all the Zionist associations in Ukraine occupied territories.

The Central Chamber announces hereby, that despite the different difficult circumstances and obstacles, it decided to convene a Zionist convention in occupied Ukraine. The convention is set for May 17–18 in Rovno. The temporary Central Chamber will deliver during the convention a report of its work throughout the months of its existence. Many Zionists' questions will require solutions, we will discuss the work plan in occupied Ukraine, our attitude toward immigration to Eretz–Israel and we will elect a Central Chamber that will be in charge of the work of the Zionist Union in the occupied territories. Preparations for the convention are on the way. All Zionist Associations should attend the convention in the occupied territory. The results of the elections should reach the Central Chamber by April 20 of this year.

The Union Office announces to the associations' councils that in the coming days shekels would be printed to celebrate the 12th Congress.

The office demands that all councils send to the Central Chamber's cashier all the monies they have in the different centers, to avoid any delays in sending the shekels for this year.

The Eretz–Israel office informs that it convened and organized a meeting of the chalutz councils in Rovno on the 17–18 of Nissan, this year (1920). A list of decisions was recorded and a chalutz management was elected by the Eretz–Israel office. From now on all chalutz affairs should be addressed to the above–mentioned management. The opening of agriculture courses was delayed for formal reasons, but the office hoped that they would open soon. Registration began of those who intended to go to Israel (details can be found at the Office Information).

The cultural office announced that preparations were made for the opening of summer courses for Hebrew teachers during the summer in Rovno, according to summer courses programs designed by Tarbut in Kiev in 1918. The pedagogical library was already open. In the main books warehouse of Tarbut there were new electric lights and new Hebrew literature. You could read there all the Zionist press. The propaganda department sent the associations different newspapers and magazines.

The Jewish National Fund demanded the income that was collected during Passover and all the monies collected lately. The associations that haven't yet submitted the monies, needed to submit them before the next convention. All the pennies of the Jewish National Fund are sacred for the people of Israel and we should never prevent the arrival of the monies to their destination.

With the blessing of Revival and Rebirth,

The Temporary Zionist Chamber

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The Temporary Zionist Central Chamber in occupied Ukraine Circular 4
August 1920

Dear friends!

The Zionist Central Chamber in the occupied territories announces hereby to all the Hebrew public that are loyal to their people and land, that the peace–conference in San–Remo recognized the right of the Hebrew People to its land. This promise, that was given to us two and a half years ago by Balfour, is now a special clause in the peace contract with the Turkish Government. Our upmost aim, that we presented 23 years ago, during the First Congress: the establishment of a safe haven for our people in Eretz–Israel – has been ACHIEVED.

The day of redemption arrived, the great rebirth, our national victory, our flag will float again on Judea Mountains and impact all the diaspora. In the fact that major nations recognized our right on Eretz–Israel we see a new phenomenon that changes the course of our lives in the present and in the future. We now have to fulfill our aspirations, two thousand years aspirations, when the son returns home. A new era begins for our people.

If till today we waited and anticipated the coming of our rebirth, now, when the great day has arrived, we have to pass to actions, to make Aliya, to build and inherit our historical land.

stamina and restore Zion's ruins, we shall rebuild Jerusalem's walls, labor Judea and Galilee fields, we will water our crops, we will tend to our vineyards, we will create life full of light, freedom and a brilliant future to all our people. Fill the land and conquer it because the time has come, and let us not leave one weakened soul in our ranks who cannot summon his last strength to assist in building the people in their land, inspired by our Hebrew culture.

The Chamber, as soon as it received the announcing telegram, organized a celebratory meeting and sent congratulatory telegrams to the Council in London and to the representatives in the Land of Israel. We decided to print the telegram and send it to all the cities in the occupied area, to establish in occupied Ukraine “Kern Geula” and collect shortly the sum of ten million rubles for different purposes of building the land.

All the associations were committed to use all necessary means and to allocate immediately large sums of money for this fund. The collected monies should be transferred every week to the Central Chamber's cashier. We should not, god forbid, delay the building of the land because of members' negligence.

Attached were forms for money collections. In addition, there should be in every case and opportunity money collections, organized balls, lotteries, markets, exhibitions etc. etc. – your work, dear members, will be the cement necessary for the building.

The cultural office reminds the members the importance of Hebrew evening courses, talking courses and preparing those going to the Land of Israel. The cultural work should be one of the basic Zionist activities at this time.

The chamber announced that because of different reasons the Zionist conference scheduled for May 15–16 was postponed; a new date would be set shortly.

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Eretz–Israel's Office demands all members to provide it with a list of all the tradesmen who are ready to move at once to the Eretz–Israel. New information states that the yearly conference of the Global Zionist Union will take place in Carlsbad on July 4.

The Chamber is positive that our brothers in Ukraine would realize the seriousness and importance of this present moment and fulfill their debt to their people, their homeland and culture – and we hereby call on them: friends, to work! Be strong and of good courage!

The temporary Central Zionist Chamber in occupied Ukraine

 

Circular 5

July 1920

To the Zionist Associations in occupied Ukraine

Dear friends!

San–Remo's decision of recognizing our right over the Eretz Israel and the beginning of the fulfilment of our highest aspiration had a huge impact on all the Hebrew public. The Zionist work for Eretz–Israel evolved and increased and is now the work of all the people. Our party grew and includes now all the different movements and unites us all as one body. The Zionist Movement has become a prominent people's movement. This is joyful, especially when we are about to erect this immense structure for the people and their future, which requires effort and enlisting of all forces.

The time has come to move from words to great deeds, to fulfill the great debt our main institutions placed on our shoulders. First of all, we should remember our “Shekel”. This year is the twenty–third year of the Zionist Congress, and it is vital that each one, standing under our flag, should make his contribution. The Central Zionist Chamber in Ukraine decided that Shekels' Day would be until July 1st and demands that all associations receive the number of shekels needed, in order to be able to sell them to the members by the due date; every shekel is 10 marks. The shekels' money should be submitted to the chamber until July 5th this year, with the receipts. The members should have special meetings and whoever desires a liberated life, life of freedom, whoever craves the good of its nation should join us and stand alongside our fighters and the builders of our future!

In the fourth circular, the chamber announced the foundation of “Keren Geula”.

This is a basic fund to begin the building of our land. Judging by news reaching the Chamber the fund–raising advances well and reaches high sums of money. The chamber founded a special central department that will handle “Keren Geula” work. All associations and movements who are raising money for this purpose, should transfer

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all the money and goods to this department at the Central Chamber, which will pass it to London. Tardiness in getting the monies to their destination would cause huge losses to the building and the enterprise. The central department imposed a fixed sum on all cities and towns; the members should submit these sums in the next two months.

The main chamber of the Jewish National Fund announced that from June 17 the price of the donations will be raised: Inscription in the “Golden Book” 5,000–mark, donation of < acre 500 marks, planting one tree in Herzl's Forest 50 marks. Please, friends, go on collecting the money for the Jewish National Fund and submit the collected money so that it will be published in the newspapers.

The cultural office announced that starting on July first summer courses will be opened for the teachers of the Hebrew schools in Volynia region for a month. There will be two departments: for mathematics (in Hebrew) and drawing and handicraft (in Ukrainian), only thirty students will be accepted. Those who wish to register should submit an application and detailed information about their pedagogical background. The office will help by providing free lodging and inexpensive meals. There would be no stipends.

Applications should be submitted until June 25. Show up only if invited, the cultural office demands detailed answers to all the questions asked by the education institutions of education and culture in your city.

The Eretz–Israel Office is organizing Aliya from occupied Ukraine to the Eretz Israel. A first group of pioneers will leave this month.

The Chamber demands the submission of all the paperwork needed by those who want to make Aliya to Israel (and certified by the local Zionist councils).

The office printed a new set of questions for those intending to travel to the Eretz–Israel (each paper costs 1 mark) and can be obtained at the Central Chamber.

With friendly greeting,

The Central Chamber

*

We don't have all the newsletters issued by the Central Chamber in Rovno, but they were published sporadically and strengthened the contacts between the Chamber and the towns' and villages' associations. “Zeirai Zion” and “Hamizrhi” accepted the Chamber's authority, since this was the main Zionist institution in the Ukrainian part that was now under Polish regime. Every circular published instructions for managing the Zionist activities in organizing, education, funds, Chalutz etc. and helped found new associations in places that didn't have them.

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San–Remo's Message

Translation by Naomi Gal

Spring 1920. With the war over, the people of the world breathe peace, life resumes and all eyes are upon the peace conference that convenes at San–Remo. In the conference global questions are discussed, demands and requirements; suggestions and ideas, most of them to do with clarifications between nations. Meetings and assemblies are being held with representatives of almost the whole world, in the corridors all kinds of plans are “simmering”, and each side makes sure that its business is being taken care of. The representatives of big nations, who determine the future, talk high–and–mighty about a sustainable peace in the spirit of Isaiah's prophecy: the world's End of Times: turning swords into spades…The voices of the smaller peoples are being heard, too, and the representatives of the people of Israel are here as well, waiting to be redeemed and demanding their rights – the right of a minority – in the diaspora and a national home in the Eretz–Israel.

The eyes of Jews all over the world, and especially those of the bearers of the Zionist–flag, are on San–Remo, where their fate will be decided and redemption will come. All are waiting for the historical decision certifying Balfour's Declaration concerning the Eretz–Israel and recognition of minorities' rights. The leaders of the Zionist movement arrived earlier to San–Remo, following the discussions and doing their upmost to promote their goals. During their talks with influential sympathizers of Israel they were promised full support for Eretz–Israel question, and chances were good, but one has to be on guard until the final decision is reached. They enlisted friends and more supporters since there is no pity in politics…

Zionist Rovno, where the Central Zionist Chamber is located, now joined the Zionist Center in Poland, and was waiting for news from San–Remo. The tension grew from day to day, from hour to hour, the Warsaw newspapers did not arrive on time and the Zionist heart was in turmoil…

And then the sun shined! The news that moved the souls arrived – the historical news from San–Remo, recognition of the rights of the Jewish People on Eretz–Israel in the spirit of Balfour's Declaration. It was the beginning of April 1920, at noon. A telegram arrived from London to the Central Chamber in Rovno and from the Chamber the news spread to the local activists, who came at once, all happy and excited, to an urgent meeting. That evening, a festive meeting was convened, with the participation of the local Zionist Council and guests from elsewhere, who waited especially for this. Words were excited and enthusiastic, the differences were bridged, the central idea of the Israeli people in San–Remo united all. Now came the demand to the people to get up and activate the Zionist Theory – to make Aliya to Israel. That was the important act, that opened new horizons for action in Eretz–Israel, and mass fund raising was declared in preparation for the new tomorrow.

The speakers' words were enthusiastic: Kalman Gam, the head of the city's Zionist Council spoke with tears of joy; Dr. Yaakov Berman spoke about the conditions created and described moments from the nation's history and the partial repair of the wrong done; Yaakov Edal (Adini) announced the first group of pioneers that will at once prepare to make Aliya; Moshe Kipper, the principal of the Hebrew Gymnasium elaborated about the spiritual and pioneer preparation needed ahead of the Big Aliya. Others spoke in this spirit and all demanded effort and volunteering from all people.

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A series of suggestions were adopted without arguments:

  1. The Central Chamber is appreciative of the San–Remo decision and regards it as a turning–point in fulfilling the Zionists' aspirations for the good of all the people of Israel.
  2. Open the registration for making Aliya to the Eretz–Israel, the first in line: pioneers and tradesmen.
  3. Create a fund that will involve the people in the building of the Land and discuss it with the center in Warsaw.
  4. Organize in Rovno and in other Volynia settlements “Redemption Week” for announcing San–Remo's decision and collecting 10 million rubles for a fund dedicated to the needs of the Aliya to Eretz–Israel and its future.
  5. Increase Zionist activities and strengthen them in every way; open preparation courses, continuing education programs, Hebrew teaching and preparations for a massive Aliya to Eretz–Israel.
The news about the London's telegram spread swiftly and became everybody's conversation. People from all sides turned to the Chamber with questions and congratulations: “Mazel–Tov” and the names: Eretz–Israel and San–Remo were on everybody's lips. To hold the “Redemption Week”, a special license was required from the region's authorities in Lutsk; hence, Dr. Israelit, Moshe Kipper and Zeev Zied (Meshi) went to Lutsk, where they were joined by Hikel Wietz, a Chamber member. They presented themselves in front of the Voyevoda (the head of the region's authority) holding the London's telegram and received a permit to hold “public celebrations for a week in all of Volynia that is under Polish regime”. The celebrations were successful and large sums of money (with valuables and jewelry) were collected for the building of Eretz–Israel. Volynia's Jews, who were back then under the spell of redeeming the land and the rebirth of the Nation, gave generously and wholeheartedly and many registered for Aliya.

Rovno headed the Redemption Week's activities. Every day there were meetings, fund–raising, publications and balls. In the public celebration held in Lyubomirsky Garden most of the city's Jews participated, they closed their stores, left their working places and hurried to the big party. At the entrance there was a big national flag and many small flags, and then a Polish policeman wanted to remove the flag. The ushers objected, but he gave up once he was shown the official permit. Another unpleasant event happened during Redemption Week. The Union of the Zionist Students held a “Blue & White” Ball with a rich and varied program. The permit given for this ball stressed that the program should be in Polish and Russian only. Mid–ball, when the public's enthusiasm was at its peak, Haim Neman (Neman) approached Yaakov Edal (Adini), who together with Ze'ev Zied was responsible vis–C –vis the authorities, and suggested to recite at least one Hebrew poem. It was decided to recite Bialik's “On the Slaughter”. The poem was translated on the spot to Polish and Yaakov Adini approached the on–duty Polish gendarmery officer and asked for permission to recite the poem in Hebrew. The officer agreed, the public welcomed the poem enthusiastically, but as soon as Neman finished his recite, two gendarmes approached Yaakov Adini and Ze'ev Meshi and told them they are under arrest since they disrespected the condition that the ball's permit stipulated. After some negotiation

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the gendarmes agreed to free the friends until morning, but they had to present themselves at the gendarmery at an appointed hour on the next day. When Yaakov Adini and Ze'ev Meshi came to the gendarmery the next day, they were arrested, despite their claim that they received permission from the officer on–duty to recite the Hebrew poem. The officer, too, was punished for initiating this permission, and the arrested members were waiting for prison terms. That same day, the representatives of the community and the Joint met with the gendarmery's commander and asked his forgiveness for the mistake. The commander informed them that the affair was no longer under his authority, that it is now the mayor's responsibility and that he has to transfer both prisoners to the mayor. Indeed, the next day the commander brought Adini and Meshi to the mayor, but the intervention of the community and the Joint representatives did have an effect – the gendarmery commander “reduced” the punishment and was lenient. However, the mayor accepted the prisoners sternly, reprimanded them, said they deserve six months in prison, but he forgives them this time on the condition that they will be cautious in their behavior in the future. That was the end of the affair.

When a delegation of the Central Chamber visited the Center in Warsaw, Dr. Kromer arrived in Rovno representing the Zionist Center, and during meetings and consultations with him, plans were made concerning San–Remo's decision and the fund for “Keren Geula”.


The first pioneers' Aliya

by Ze'ev Meshi

Translation by Naomi Gal

Since the 1917 Russian Revolution and Balfour Declaration, Rovno's youth's desire to make Aliya increased considerably. The calls of Chalutz and Zeirai Zion, and the education after World War I came to fruition. The situation in Rovno, as in other Jewish settlements in Ukraine after the partition of Volynia (part of it became Polish) pushed many to leave, to immigrate and look for other locations. The Zionist saw their way to the Eretz–Israel. The anticipation for Aliya became more and more prominent, especially since the changing authorities threatened the mere leaving of the place.

Different preparations for Aliya began in Rovno, a group of pioneer youth, who no longer were satisfied by reading newsletters about the “Chalutz” and Eretz–Israel, now sent its members to learn professions, get used to agriculture, specialize in different crafts and more. That was the first pioneer group in Rovno, the beginning of the Third Aliya.

A group of fourteen–fifteen graduates began learning welding in a special workshop established in Tinee's basement on Gogolivska Street; other youngsters worked as apprentices with private carpenters, some worked in printing houses. Another group traveled to Alexandria, next to Rovno, to work in agriculture and were guided by Shmuel Roznak. This group later went to plow with Ukrainians farmers' horses in the fields around Rovno and they worked as well with Arye Avatihi in Fihser House's garden. They also went on day trips around Rovno with Titkova, the agronomist, and discussed agriculture, life in Israel and labor there.

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The beginning of 1920. Rumors arrived about the beginning of Aliya to Israel, and the members of the Rovno group did not want to delay their Aliya. When the news about the events in Tel–Hai and the falling of Trumpeldor reached us, we held an assembly to honor the memory of Tel–Hai's heroes and declared that we were making Aliya to continue their endeavor. A group of pioneers from Koritz joined us. Reinforced by deep desire and brave decision to be the pioneers ahead of the camp, we began preparing to leave.

Before the group left we turned to Warsaw for instructions, but before we got a response, a rumor spread that the Red Army was approaching Rovno and it might be conquered soon. No more postponing – the group decided to leave on a freight train by way of Kovel to Warsaw. The authorities saw the youngsters and stopped them and made them help unload ammunition on the train. Later, we continued on our way, until we were suspected as Bolsheviks, and were arrested and led to prison in Warsaw. We were imprisoned for several weeks until the National Jewish Council in Poland was able to release us. After a few weeks the whole group left for Czechoslovakia. We spent there six weeks together with a few hundred pioneers from different locations in Poland, and when our turn came to get the visas we left for Vienna. In Vienna we found other pioneers headed to Eretz–Israel, as well as messengers of Hapoel Hatzair from Israel, Zvi Yehuda and Ada Fishman, who arrived from Europe to organize the pioneers' Aliya. The members of the group were happy in the atmosphere in Vienna those days, being among Zionists and in Eretz–Israel circles, (Eliezer Kaplan and Israel Marminsky were active there, although separately) they were about to fulfill their dream. All the events and the obstacles were soon forgotten and in Simchat Torah 1921 we arrived after one hundred days of tribulations, to the craved shore.


Thus, the first pioneers group made Aliya

by Yaakov Adini

Translation by Naomi Gal

Before the first pioneers group left Rovno, I was sent by Volhynia's Chalutz to meetings at the World Center of Chalutz in Warsaw where I was supposed to handle all the necessary formalities for the group's trip. I stayed there a few weeks; meanwhile, the Red Army began advancing toward Rovno. I was in a hurry to go back home, in order to expediate the group's departure, but I was stuck in Kovel unable to reach Rovno because of the retreat of the Polish Army, escaping the Red Army. I sent messages to friends and demanded that they come to Kovel, but they decided to leave before they got my message.

After quite a few adventures, despite the not–so–great distance between Rovno and Kovel, the friends arrived safely to Kovel. We met and were about to leave for Warsaw the next day, but all our efforts to enter the train cars were in vain. At night gendarmes arrived and arrested me and some of the members and took us to the gendarmery. We rolled all night

[Page 107]

on the floor among varied mass of prisoners, most of them Jews suspected of Bolshevism. In the morning, I demanded to be brought to the gendarmery's officer. I explained to the officer that we were imprisoned despite being innocent, since we were pioneers on our way to Eretz–Israel, we have all the necessary documents, and I asked him to release us. The officer accepted my words cordially and promptly ordered our release.

The next day I went to the train station and spoke with one of the workers, asking him to let us – 21 people – into one of the cars before the train reached the station. This for a generous secret contribution. Two hours before the train was supposed to leave we arrived with our belongings and were ushered into a car that was stationed on a side rail. When the train reached the station, and the soldiers began jumping through the windows and filling the cars, we were afraid that we would be forced out of our seats. We sat frightened, praying to hear the conductor's whistle, announcing departure. Finally, our prayer was answered – the train moved and we felt relief.

This fear of being expelled from the car did not leave us throughout the whole voyage since in each station many tried to get into the car, especially soldiers, but as we grew farther away from the front, we calmed down, hoping that we would reach Warsaw, our first stop on our way to Israel. But how shocked we were when the train arrived at Warsaw! All the people were leaving the cars, including our car, but our exit was blocked: gendarmes surrounded the car and ordered us to get out with our belongings. When we exited, we were led directly to the gendarmery. We were sure that we will be released at once, since we committed no crime, but as they say: the entrance is wide, but the exit narrow – we were arrested on the spot without being informed why. Our belongings and money were taken away, we were thrown into a small cell, where there was only standing space. We spent three days and three nights in this cell without food nor water, watching through the slits the gendarmes harassing us, showing signs of a rope tied to our throat – the fate reserved for Bolshevik spies.

On the third day our friend Asher Bernstein (Bavly) was able to bribe one of the guards to go out with him to buy some food, and also went with him to the Israeli Office to report what happened to us. When he came back and announced his success, we felt better, because we now knew that someone will take care of us. We did not realize how complicated it would be to release us.

Eventually they moved us from the narrow cell of the gendarmery in the train station to a real prison that seemed more accommodating. We were ushered into a large room and felt relief, we had a walk in the yard once a day, we could get packages from the outside, even pillows and blankets, but we still had no idea why the authorities saw us as spies, when all we wanted was to reach Eretz–Israel. Finally, we found out: among my belongings there were Chalutz rubber–stamps of sheaf and scythe, that I was carrying for work purposes, and these raised the suspicion since they resemble the Bolsheviks symbol – the hammer and the sickle. In another place, far away from the capital, we could have paid with our lives.

Hartglass, the Zionist representative was vigorously handling our affair and was able to free us after twelve days. Following our release, we moved to Garohov – a pioneer farm next to Warsaw – and a few days later we left for Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where

[Page 108]

all the pioneers on their way to Israel were assembled, waiting for the visas, fearing not getting them and not being able to leave Poland because of the war.

We stayed in Bratislava a few weeks, until we received our visas. Bratislava is a chapter in our way to Israel, but this chapter belongs to the history of the Third Aliya and not only to us, the first group of Rovno's pioneers. From Bratislava we traveled to Vienna, from there to Trieste, and on board of the ship “Carlsbad” we arrived after four adventures months, on October 5, 1920, to Israel.


From the Third Aliya Period

by Gedaliaho Levi

Translation by Naomi Gal

The Third Aliya from Poland lasted from 1920 until the end of April 1923 – from the centers: Rovno (Volynia), Lvov (east Galicia), Baranovitz (White Russia). The British Consul was in Warsaw; he provided the necessary certificates for Eretz–Israel; hence, this is where the main Israeli Office was located. The refugees from Russia and Ukraine, who arrived illegally to Rovno, illegally crossing the Russian–Polish border, received a temporary residency permit. But starting on November 12, 1920, the Poles closed the border and prevented the entrance of more refugees, but they were unable to stop the desire for Aliya, and the law–breakers managed to cross in different ways, through swamps and forests, in the wind and cold, storms and rain, and arrived in Poland to then make Aliya to Israel. Rovno, which was on the border, housed and hosted them, and enabled them to continue their voyage to Israel.

The memories of this period are bright and sparkling, the human material was varied: Hebrew educated people, Rabbi's sons, landlords, merchants, free traders and all sort of tradesmen. Most of them enlightened and devoted to the idea of rebirth and an iron–will to exchange the diaspora atmosphere for creative life in Israel.

Some of the pioneer groups from the cities of Poland and the refugees who arrived from across the border, made Aliya already in 1920, and from the beginning of 1921 there was a remarkable push to increase Aliya. But then, as a sudden storm, in May 1921 came the news about the riots and the decree: “Stop Immigration” that followed. The groups who were already on their way to Israel, in Vienna or Trieste, were stopped. However, in these troublesome times in foreign places, the spirit of friendship, the faith and the devotion to the pioneering idea shone; they suffered without complaining, in the hope that they would arrive to the Promised Land.

Meanwhile, those expecting Aliya in Rovno waited for the obstacles to be removed and the road to Israel to open again. In those times Rovno became a shelter to groups and individuals who streamed from Ukraine and Russia. A big building, of three floors, was rented on Novikivska Street, it looked like a military barrack, the two upper floors served for hosting the pioneers who came from the outside, mainly from across the border, this is where the sons of Salvota,

[Page 109]

Zaslav, Old–Constantin, Braditachv, Podol and Kiev – all met. A mishmash of Ukrainians, young men and quite a few young women too, on their way to Israel. Life was not easy. Many of them went hungry and were worried, but the idea of Aliya strengthened them. They hoped and believed that soon they would go to Israel, and from this belief they generated their vivaciousness and gaiety.

So as not to be idle and not depend on charity, they were organized in groups that went out to cut trees for Jews and non–Jews; others went to work in gristmills but most were unemployed and lived in poverty, depending on Eretz–Israel Office and on relatives. But they did participate in the Zionist activities of the city and had an important impact on the local national endeavors.

Rovno's Zionists and the activists of Eretz–Israel Office did their utmost best for the pioneers with different arrangements, and the feeling of the Aliya candidates who were stopped in Rovno, was still a feeling of being among brothers and friends. Weeks and months went by, and when it became clear that the gates of Israel were locked and no one knew when it would be possible to travel, the Eretz–Israel Office in Rovno made sure that the pioneers found locations for training. The Office, with the help of ORT, opened in Rovno courses for continued education in carpentry, sewing etc. Many learned trades there, getting ready for productive working lives in Israel. The guide in the welding course was Mordechai Segal.

The evenings and Saturdays and Holydays were dedicated to studying the language, geography and conversations about life in Israel. When a lecturer spoke – they listened carefully to everything concerning Israel, and enthusiastic singing was heard from the pioneers' abodes in the city.

Rovno has a special place in the history of the Third Aliya due to its amazing treatment of pioneers and Aliya candidates who passed through the city. They were helped by her and equipped themselves materiality and spiritually on their way to the Homeland and their new life.


From Ukraine to Eretz–Israel

by Asher Carmi

Translation by Naomi Gal

As known, during 1920–21 the Aliya from Ukraine to Eretz–Israel passed mainly by way of Rovno–Warsaw, and the first stop for refugees from the Russian side on their way to America and pioneers who aimed for Eretz–Israel – was Rovno. The City Jews did a lot for those downtrodden, and many of them remember to this day, how they were welcomed and assisted during their stay, or, on the other hand, recalled trembling and shaken, that those beloved Jews were later murdered cruelly and became the prey of the worst humans ever.

I was one of the pioneers who had the privilege to enjoy the generosity and compassion of Rovno's Jews during these days (1920), after travelling a long and dangerous road. Back then, Ukraine's soil was burning under Jews feet: the civil war was not yet over and the harassing of the Jews went on and on. Every day there were new bandits who fought each other, the names of the different Atamans were known to young and old, in cities and in villages, the mayhem in Ukraine was widespread. As a result, the roads were bad, because after the Poles

[Page 110]

conquered a large part of Volynia and White–Russia and took root there, a border was created between all parts of Volynia and Ukraine, kept on both sides with heavy, menacing armed forces.

It was especially rough for Zionism in Ukraine, where the Red Army ruled. The authorities persecuted Zionists and everything connected to the national movement and those who planned to leave for Eretz–Israel were in danger of belonging to the “reactionary–nationalists” on one hand and leaving illegally on the other. Still, the movement of Aliya made its way, without publicity, guidance or someone's orders. The idea of Aliya was in the air, and the youth were enthusiastic, risked their lives and travelled toward Rovno, whose reputation as a departure–point for the Eretz–Israel was all over Ukraine. The news about a group of youngsters who managed to arrive safely to Rovno and was warmly welcomed by the city's Zionists left an impact, and pioneers streamed to Rovno from many places. I was with one of these groups and I managed to get to Rovno, and so witnessed the touching behavior of the city's activists.

There were around 40 thousand inhabitants in Rovno back then, among them thousands of refugees. What surprised me most of all were the Hebrew and general educational institutions that were exemplary. The Zionist spirit prevailed in the city and the youth were educated in Hebrew culture and Zionism, they spoke Hebrew and many were getting ready to go to Israel. We were deeply awed by Maccabee that used to parade the city's streets under its blue–and–white flag singing Hebrew songs. After all the suffering we endured in Ukraine, this was for us unbelievable and we were surprised and deeply elated.

Since I had to stay in Rovno for a while, they hosted me and my friends in temporary abodes and made sure we were able to get refugees status and stay in the city. Meanwhile thousands of refugees kept arriving from across the border. Most of them were in dire condition, and the Joint helped them with food, clothes, medicine etc. Many among the supported were in their places of origin supporters themselves – and here, overnight, they became in need for public assistance… Only few of the refugees were able to find work and employment, but most needed work, and so they chose representatives, one from every region, who were in charge of settling the affairs with the institutions. Before I came to Rovno, Rabbi Aaronson from Kiev was the representative of the regions around Kiev, but when he was called to the United States and left Rovno – I was elected in his place. Later an Executive of the refugees' representatives was founded, an institution with many roles aiming to assist refugees, and I was elected as a member. In one of the meetings we discussed the question of the refugees' children's education, since there was no place for them in the exciting schools. We decided to approach the city's activists. They were in full agreement and decided to open in some of the schools' parallel classes in the afternoon.

I spent my first days in Rovno in an attic at R' Avraham, who hosted me and another friend and took very good care of us. In the conditions back then we were unable to live in a private home or in a public place, which was under the supervision of the local institutions, until we had refugees' documents, so that just putting us up in his attic presented a real danger. One evening I went with another refugee to see a movie. While we were standing in line at the entrance

[Page 111]

a Polish detective spotted us, arrested us and took us to the police station as communist spies. They investigated us with insults, curses and menacing, but I denied every accusation and suspicion and dared claim with national pride: We are Zionist on our way to Israel, while the communists are persecuting us like they persecuted the Poles not too long ago. I went on to say that the Polish people already have their freedom and that now it is our turn, and I expressed the hope that we will have it soon “and you will certainly help us, because it is the duty of every enlightened people, especially people who were persecuted and suffered and now attained freedom”. Finally, I said that I am sure that in Poland we will find understanding of our national and humanitarian aspirations.

The investigator reflected. It seemed that my words penetrated his heart and he let us go but demanded that we get from the authorities' refugees' documents, as demanded by the law. We went back to our attic, but R' Avraham, our benefactor was not home, he went out to search for us and enlisted help to find us. How glad he and his family were when they found us late at night, free. He invited his neighbors and had a welcoming celebration. That is how Rovno Jews were!

Our case was not the only one, and these cases pushed the local Israeli Office to take care of the refugees, especially the pioneers and precipitate their Aliya. The gates of Israel were locked back then, but the hope for Aliya was not lost. We used to come to the Eretz–Israel Office and its personable secretary Gedaliho Levi, who was like a brother to us. He explained to us the news they received, not happy news at all. But we believed a change would come soon.

We found out from Gedaliho Levi that one of the previous local activists arrived in Rovno from Eretz–Israel. Laybale Garbouz (Avatichi) was one of the first pioneers from Rovno, and he invited us to his lecture that was scheduled for the coming Sabbat in the great synagogue on Shekolna Street. A few friends went together and we arrived an hour in advance, making sure we had a place in the synagogue, and together with the diverse audience that filled the house we waited for the lecturer from Eretz–Israel who gave us many details of the situation and life in Israel. We were deeply impressed by what we heard and after the lecture, we accompanied the speaker and invited him to a friendly talk in the pioneers' house on the Volia. The talk took place a few days later in our residence, and the things we heard from Garbouz as a pioneer and an Israeli laborer had an unforgettable impact on us.

We stayed in Rovno for six months, until it was agreed to transfer us to Warsaw on our way to Israel. At this time thousands more refugees were flowing to Rovno, most of them intending to make Aliya, and the pressure on Eretz–Israel Office and on the other immigration offices kept growing. The Zionist activists never stopped accommodating the newcomers, arranging refugees' documents, providing for them and hosting them throughout their stay in the city. Their human–friendly–family–like attitude will not be forgotten by all those who were in touch with them, and with deep gratitude blessed be all those who assisted us in those days. Blessed and remembered should be all those who were later torn away in the horrible Holocaust that did not skip Rovno.

Jewish Rovno, Zionist Rovno, my heart goes out to you and to your memory!

 

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