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[Page 167]

Tze'irei Mizrakhi [Mizrakhi Youth organization] of Sokal

by Yakov Z”K [Zak]

Translated by Vered Dayan

When World War One was over, the tidings of Zionist revival influenced all young people; It was only then that we learned about the Balfour Declaration. There had been a Zionist organization in our town prior to the war, but its members had not been close to the world of the Torah – mostly students and some loafers from well–to–do families. Now, the spirit of revival penetrated every Beit–Midrash[1] and Clois[2], demanding to be clearly addressed. Eretz Yisrael was becoming a household name. One after the other came the news of pioneers who were making aliyah to the land of our forefathers, and surprisingly, several Torah–learners decided to abandon their apathetic routine life, form an organization and do something for Zion, who was calling her sons. When first signs of organizing began to show in the Beit–Midrash and the Clois, agitation spread among the Hassidim[3], who did all they could to interfere, threatening the parents or the youngsters themselves that if they join a Zionist organization, let alone the Mizrakhi, God forbid, they would be thrown out of the Beit–Midrash.

Intimidations were followed by actions, and soon enough, those suspected of belonging to Zionist groups were harassed and abused. Yet this attitude did not deter us – just the opposite. We began looking for a suitable apartment for our organization and debating on the right name for our newborn: Whether to call it Tze'irei Mizrakhi, or simply Mizrakhi, or perhaps Religious Zionist Organization etc. Eventually, to avoid annoying Hassidim and other anti–Zionists, we decided to call it Agudat Akhim – Brothers association – planning to launch cultural social activities without connecting ourselves to any Zionist group for the time being. During that period, Agudat Yisrael[4] was organizing its own youth movement across Poland, and talk of their activities reached our town, but one should note that the Hassidim opposed them as much as they opposed Zionism. After much effort we managed to obtain a small one–room apartment in an attic not far from the Hussiatin Clois. It belonged to Katz, the iron merchant, opposite from Yisrael Rehr's [shop]. We then began to officially act as an organization, a “farreyn” in Yiddish. Within a short while, the Hassidim started trying to persuade us to shut the “farreyn” down. At first they were polite, and then they threatened again to throw us out of the Beit Midrash. To no avail. I remember how Avramchi Kisnok came up to me saying, “Listen, I know you're dealing with the farreyn. Whatever for? Why should you collect money and transfer it to Lwow? Is our town lacking in poor people who need financial support?” Again and again I explained to him that we were not philanthropists and do not give handouts, but that was his idea of Zionism: Collecting money and sending it to Lwow.

The Hassidim – the novices among them, to be precise – could not forgive us the terrible crime of Zionism and harassed us in all sorts of ways, for example telling the porter to deny us the candles needed for studying at night and throwing wet rags at us while we were studying. To defend ourselves, we sat together at one table, where Chaim Bareish had a designated seat. As a result of the harassments we started to speak Hebrew amongst ourselves, which produced more hassles. I remember how one day a member of our group lost his Yiddish book by Opatoshu[5]. As it turned out, the young Hassidim found it and held a public “autodafé”, openly burning the book while shouting, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”[Deuteronomy 17, 7] All of this only intensified our desire to go against the opposers and therefore we officially declared ourselves part of Tze'irei Mizrakhi. We rented a hall not far from Dr. Kindler's [office] and followed our plans by organizing Zionist cultural activities. We opened a religious school – not an easy task, since it was difficult to find a teacher who could teach Hebrew in Hebrew and would also be learned in the Torah. The school syllabus consisted of Talmud, Hebrew in Hebrew, Bible and so on. After convincing the learned Mr. Pelch [Felch?] to be the principal, we started with a small number of boys, and by exempting parents from paying tuition, the number of pupils grew and we managed to get to thirty. At the same time we established a separate organization for girls, Bnot Mizrakhi, since it was not considered appropriate for boys and girls to be socially organized together. This was our view as well as the common notion. Other groups, such as Tzionim Clalliyim and Hitakhdut held activities for boys and girls together, but in the Hassidic society it was considered wrong. Establishing Bnot Mizrakhi was not easy either. Not all girls from Hassidic homes agreed to join. The common notion said, “The king's daughter is all glorious within”[Psalms 45, 13] and not outside, as part of a group. Therefore I should mention the names of a few girls who did help us organize it: Reiza Rachel Flam, Yuta Neuer, Chana Meyer Schops [?] and more. We arranged Bible classes for the girls, and rented from Katz the milkman an apartment especially for them, opposite from Mendel Treppel's [shop]. I remember how one day after Bible class I was approached by Leibele Deitz [?], may God avenge his blood. (His daughter, by the way, had joined Bnot Mizrakhi). He said: “Maybe it's not so bad that girls are organized as Bnot Mizrakhi, separate from the boys. But having young men come and teach the girls the Bible goes against an explicit ban: ‘Whoever teaches his daughter Torah [it is as if he] teaches her tiflut’”[6].

Of course I explained that not all [Sages of the Talmud] agree with this saying, but he stood his ground. Still, the Bible classes continued. Around that time there was an attempt to set up [another religious Zionist youth movement], HaShomer HaDatti, and they did well for a while, but their activity ended for lack of guidance. Although many Yeshiva students were reluctant to join us for fear of what the Hassidim might say, I did get an interesting response from one Yeshiva student who came to live in Sokal after marrying a resident of our town . He was from Hungary, elegantly dressed. When we asked him to join Tze'irei Mizrakhi he gave us a note, quoting a verse with his own interpretation of it: “'House of Aron, praise the Lord; House of Levi, praise the Lord; You who fear Him, praise the Lord.' It means that those who fear the Lord do not need a house (farreyn) like House of Aron and house of Levi.”

We grew in scope, reaching the highest number of members when we established a joint local committee for all three organizations: Mizrakhi, Tze'irei Mizrakhi and Bnot Mizrakhi. We developed diverse cultural activities: parties, field trips, reading room etc. We took part in the work of the Jewish National Fund, headed by Dr. Kindler. Meetings took place in his house. I should note that while collecting money for the JNF and other Jewish–national funds, we sometimes had to disguise our real purpose and pretend to be collecting “regular” donations. Otherwise we would not have reached the required sum.

I am now trying to remember the anonymous members who were not fortunate enough as we were, to build the State of Israel, and their ashes are scattered in the lands of the Holocaust. I would like to name a few members of the joint committee: David Bard, Mizrakhi chairman; Moshe Kihl, Tze'irei Mizrakhi chairman; Shmuel Shpilka, Tzipa Podhortzer, Yuta Neuer. others I remember are Wolf Herrold, Glazer Yakov, Krochmal Pesach, Feibish Strauss, Chana Redlich. My heart goes out to those anonymous fighters for our joint cause who for various reasons were not able to make aliyah and also went through many hardships in their lives, unable to provide for their families, for example. How we fought against our parents, our teachers and our rabbis for the Zionist cause, whether to gain access to a synagogue or a public hall in order to hold a lecture, or organize a fundraiser for Zionist bodies. I remember the war we waged on the eve of Yom Kippur in the synagogue for a dish to be passed around so that the worshipers could donate to the JNF. I also remember how we had to forcefully break into the Beit–Midrash before the elections to the Polish parliament, so that Dr. Shimon Federbush could give a speech in favor of the National Party. I should note that all Zionist organizations had such struggles. I hereby finish this wonderful chapter about the brave fight against many groups and factors so that we could reach out to the voice that cried to us from Zion to come and join in building the land. May the Lord bind in the bond of life the souls of those who fought on foreign soil and did not have the privilege to be amongst the builders of Israel and witness its revival. May their bones rest in peace until the dead shall awaken and rise.

 

sok167.jpg
1925, Tze'irei Mizrakhi in Sokal, farewell party for Yakov Z”k before his aliyah to Eretz Yisrael

 

sok168.jpg
Tze'irei Mizrakhi group in Sokal
Sitting, from the left: Unknown, Mordechay Glantzberg, Dina Rosenfeld (today Mrs. Terner in Kfar–Yona), Yakov Krochmal, Unknown
Standing, from the left: Yosef Stockhammer, Wolf Herrold, Unknown, Hirsh Goldberg. The fifth: H. Glazer

 

sok169.jpg
Tze'irei Mizrakhi group in Sokal
Sitting second from the right: Heshel Goldberg
[Probably meaning from the left, since Heshel is the only man in the photo]

 

sok170.jpg
Members of Tze'irei Mizrakhi in Sokal

 

sok171.jpg
Members of Bnot Aquiva In Sokal

 

Translator's footnotes
  1. Place of Torah study Return
  2. Small synagogue Return
  3. Orthodox Jews, here meaning the extremists Return
  4. Orthodox movement aimed at separating between religious Judaism and Zionism Return
  5. Yosef Meir Opatowski, Yiddish novelist Return
  6. A Hebrew word which means blandness; Some interpret it as vanity or obscenity Return

 

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