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The Zionist Movement in Sokal


[Page 132]

History of the Mizrakhi [Religious Zionists] in Sokal

by Yitzhak Birnboim

Translated by Vered Dayan

In the year 1911 I became son–in–law to Rabbi Yisrael Bard, of blessed memory, and moved to Sokal. I came from the town of Monastrisztcz near Buczacz, where the general spirit of Zionism, and more specifically the spirit of the Mizrakhi movement, had long since prevailed. It had of course found resonance in my own personality and I was drawn to it with all my heart. I was therefore greatly disappointed to suddenly find myself constricted, surrounded by an atmosphere fanatically hostile to any person emitting the slightest odor of Zionist spirit. Even in the Husiatin–Czortkow Clois[1], where I had a designated seat with my father–in–law's family, whose Hassidic leaders had already been known to sympathize with the national Jewish movement, I felt obliged to hold my tongue and refrain from making any wrong movement that would result – God Forbid – in being “uncovered” and ostracized, irrevocably damaging my father–in–law's reputation. I was therefore compelled to suppress my own spirit and became somewhat withdrawn. But soon enough my spirit broke free and began urging me forward. My first step was to buy a subscription to the newspaper (Der Lemberger Tagblatt). Wanting to inspire my two brothers–in–law (my father–in–law's sons) David and Yehoshua – May God avenge their blood – and knowing they had many young friends, I enticed them to secretly read the newspaper. I gave them fundamental explanations, and within a short while they started convincing others to support the movement, letting them into “the secret orchard” as it were. Those souls, having been resurrected, began to seek my company and meet with me in the strangest of hours in order to borrow some forbidden book or simply enjoy my fine words…

The Bible says: “Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Indeed, the news spread fast, I became the talk of the town, and even the older Hassidim in our Clois raged and spoke ill of me: I was poisoning their children, they said, even to my father–in–law and to his eldest son, my dear noble–minded brother–in–law, gentle Avraham (nicknamed Avramchi). Here I must speak favorably of my brother–in–law, of blessed memory. He was truly devoted to his Husiatin Rabbi, with no “political” motives, and acted upon his beliefs. As I have already mentioned, the Husiatin Rabbi's followers approved of Zionism in general and of the Mizrakhi movement in particular. He [Avraham] paid them [the older Hassidim in the Clois] no heed, and his father tried to set their minds at ease. Actually, after that we continued with our business more vigorously: I did my part and my young brothers–in–law did theirs; The first buds began to show.

There is no way to tell how things would have developed if World War One had not erupted, but immediately after it was over, new winds began to blow. The fanatics had cooled, the youngsters had matured, or [as the Talmud says], “Young goats became billy goats”. My fear of glaring eyes gradually subsided, the frowning died down and our campaign briskly continued in broad daylight. Fortune smiled on our efforts and dozens of youths – boys and girls, as well as Yeshiva students from all social strata – joined our movement, so that within a short period of time we qualified as a formal organization and opened a club named Mizrakhi Tza'ir[2]. The opening ceremony was grand and festive, held in the presence of the honorable Rabbi Dr. Federbusz, who accepted our invitation and obliged us with a warm captivating lecture. Upon noticing people no longer fitting the term “youths” within the crowd, the honorable Rabbi smiled and asked me up to what age one could be considered a youth. He was amused to hear my answer: “[Genesis 19, verse 20, says:] ‘Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it, it is very small, isn't it?’ Rashi explains that small means young, and that the town was fifty one years old.”

Our cause aroused great interest, captivating even people who had not yet dared to reveal themselves. It became clear through the results of the following elections to the Jewish Council: The Mizrakhi candidate got a much bigger number of votes than the number of registered Mizrakhi members in town. With time we gained more popularity, especially in our Clois, and for a very important reason: When Rabbi Prof. Fogelman (now a rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin, Israel) visited his father in Sokal, himself a Husiatin follower, he honored us with several interesting, inspiring lectures. Those meetings with him served, [as the Talmud says,] “as pegs to hang from”.

To our great satisfaction, we were gaining more sympathy almost every day. But while the youngsters were happy enough to convene in the club every evening, on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays, attend lectures and “stand at the gates of Zion” as it were, we the adults felt that we had not yet fully accomplished our mission: Without a firm base, those young people were vulnerable, and we feared that the whole building might collapse. Without childhood there shall be no adulthood. Without roots, there shall be no trees. We therefore debated on the right way to fill the void, and then decided to set up a school by the name of Yavneh, on a piece of land belonging to my brother–in–law David Bard. David had become a fine man, and it should be noted that he contributed considerable amounts of money and time to support the school and brace its foundations. In that too we were successful. The school grew very quickly. Different kinds of students came from all parts of town, and the management and staff were admired and cherished by the parents for the good schooling and Jewish–national education the boys acquired, including our significant fatherly care.

This is the history of the Mizrakhi from the day it was founded until the year 1935, when I made Aliyah, while all of its actions and accomplishments since then until the Holocaust remain buried with our dear friends – May God avenge their blood – who were murdered by the cursed Hitler's hounds.

P.S. I would not want to convey any inaccurate information or – God forbid – hurt the feelings of the many active movement members who were deeply devoted to it. I must therefore mention Meir Taprinski , Tzvi Zeltzer may God avenge their blood, and many more (whose names I regrettably do not remember). I should also mention the following, may they live long: Mr. Chamaidis, who was a welcome teacher in our school for many years, and Ms. Yona Rosenfeld, whose pleasant singing often made our social gatherings pleasurable. They are both in Israel.


Mizrakhi activists, 1937
From the right: Yaacov Leibish Rappaport and Simcha Schnitzer


Translator's footnotes
  1. A cloise is a small synagogue, rather than the main town synagogue. Return
  2. Young Mizrakhi, a youth movement. Return


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