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[Page 410]

Beitar in Volozhin

By Beitar members

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by Moshe Porat z”l

that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

A Beitar chapter was founded in Volozhin in 5688 (1929) as a Zionist-scouting movement without any political inclination. We were very few. The purpose was to gather the graduates of the Tarbut school into an organized structure. However, the Volozhin youth, who were alert to the issues of the times and to what was transpiring in the Zionist camp, were not satisfied with only sporting and cultural activities. They aspired to a political life. Mr. Chaim Golobanchich, the principal of the Tarbut school who had leanings toward the Revisionist movement, recommended that the chapter take on a right-leaning direction. His recommendation was accepted, and he turned his energies to travel to Vilna and bring a fitting counselor from there.

The principal brought Mr. Betzalel Lichtenstein (currently in Israel) from the Brit Trumpeldor movement, which became Beitar [acronym for Brit Yosef Trumpeldor] with the passage of time. Our first paths were not paved with roses. We encountered misunderstanding from many parents, who regarded our activities as “sharpening swords” and a waste of time. Nevertheless, the opposition abated through the influence of Mr. Golobanchich, who had a significant level of pedagogical authority, and many of the students of the Tarbut school registered for Beitar.

Members of the chapter were instructed to purchase pocket notebooks, in which they listed the “ten commandments” of scouts, which had to be actualized every day. All activities were conducted in Hebrew. Member of the chapter were called “Brothers” and “Sisters.” The connection between the Brothers and Sisters with the counselors was especially strong and enthusiastic. The symbol of Beitar resembled a menorah, and was tied to the cap or the lapel. Instead of Shalom, the greeting was Tel Hai.

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Beitar leadership with Betzalel Lichtenstein on 28 Av 5688 (August 14, 1928)

Right to left: Efraim Rogovin, Batya German, Betzalel Lichtenstein, Dov Lavig, Baruch Mordechai Myerson


A leadership committee was chosen, with the following members: Shabtai Baksht, Batya German, Dov Lavit[1], Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Efraim Rogovin. Dov Lavit served as the first commander of the chapter. Batya German served as the secretary. After her death, Yisrael Berkovitch was appointed to that role.

Mr. Lichtenstein divided the members of the chapter into groups according to age and gender. The members of the leadership committee served as group heads. The difficult, tiring work of Mr. Lichtenstein bore fruit. After a brief time, the chapter numbered about eighty Brothers and Sisters.

Through the influence of Mr. Golobanchich, the hall of the Tarbut School was put at our disposal during evenings. In general, the group heads conducted educational activities. However, from time to time, local speakers were invited, who lectured, among other things, about the history of the Zionist movement and the geography of the Land of Israel. Mr. Chaim Golbanchich, Mr. Chaim Derechinsky, and Mr. Binyamin Shishko were among the speakers. One of the important cultural activities was the wall newspaper, in which the fruits of the pen of members of the chapter were published.

In time, our space in the Tarbut school became too small, and we rented a room in a private house. We covered the costs through amateur performances that we performed.

The chapter aspired to “disseminate its wellsprings to the outside.” To that end, we founded Beitar chapters in Vishnyeva,

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Beitar Chapter in the year 5688 (1928)

First Row, from top to bottom (left to right): Zalman Perski, Yosef Dubinski, David Buminovitch, Etka , Mina Berman, Hinda Rudnik, Feigel Kramnik, Beilka Mordechovitch, Lea Potashnik, Rachel Perski Kopel Kagan, Chaim Eli Perski.
Second row: Chaim Kisiel, Avraham Berman, Roda Alpert, Zlatka Lavit, Yisrael Berkovitch, Bela Potashnik, Peshka Rogovin, Chaim Alpert, Shmuel Berman, Yitzchak Perski.
Third row: Shabtai Baksht, Yaakov Berkovitch, Munia Dubinski, Dov Lavit, Chaim Golobanchich, Bella Kramnik, Eliezer Mazah, Shlomo Liberman, Yitzchak Kaplan.
Fourth row: Chaim Shalman, Tzila Perski, Hiene Rogovin, Miriam Rosenberg, Peretz Rogovin, Pesach Berman, Perl Rudnik, Roza Berman, Rivka Perski.

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Trab, Ivanitz, Baksht, and Horodok. Threads to the other chapters extended forth from Volozhin, which served as the central city for the Beitar chapters in the region. Regional conventions took place in Volozhin, which left strong emotions in the city and contributed greatly to the strengthening and growth of the Zionist movement. Counselors of renown always participated in those conventions. These included Tzvi Berman from Baranovich, Gershon Ashkenazi and Yisrael Sorogovitch from Vilna (he changed his name to Tanai in Israel, and died a few years ago). In addition to the conventions, we also arranged summer camps outside Volozhin, that took on a definitive military character. One of the camps took place in the village of Rudnik. Similarly, we sponsored courses in [military] training, under the direction of Mr. Baruch Eidelman.


The Beitar chapter with the writer Daniel Perski on 14 Cheshvan 5689 (October 28, 1928)

Standing from top to bottom, left to right: Yitzchak Perski, Baruch Simernitzki, Ben-Zion Goldschmid, Leah Potashnik, Zlatka Lavit, Chaim Eli Perski, Eliezer Mazah, Leibel
Second row: Yaakov Berkovitch, Aryeh Dratvitzki, Leah Schwartzberg, Peshka Rogovin, Roda Alpert, Mina Berman, Rafael Shlosberg, Binyamin Kleinbord, Shlomo Berman
Third row: Yisrael Berkovitch, Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Dov Lavit, the writer Daniel Perski, Efraim Rogovin, Shabtai Baksht
Fourth row: Shmuel Berman, Aharon Golub, Kopel Kagan, Yitzchak Kaplan, Chasel Perski
Fifth row: Yaakov Rogovin, Yosef Dubinski, Shmaya, Chanan Rogovin

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One of the strongest experiences etched in our memories from my life in the chapter was the visit of the writer Daniel Perski, a relative of the shochet Reb Yehuda Avraham Perski. He was invited to the chapter, and we heard from him a speech full of content on a Zionist topic, which contributed to the deepening of our national knowledge.

We merited having talented and effective commanders, male and female. These included: Shabtai Baksht, Yaakov Berkovitch, Yisrael Berkovitch, Sonia Dubinski, Dov Lavit, Eliezer Mazah, Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Kopel Kagan, Binyamin Kleinbord, Bella Kramnik, Efraim Rogovin.

Our movement obligated personal actualization. To that end, members of the chapter went to Hachshara. The first Hachshara location was Nadworna.


Members of Beitar on Hachshara in Volozhin

Right to left: Leah Schwartzberg, Yaakov Berkovitch, Shmuel Rogovin, Mina Berman, Izik Girkop, Avraham Ber


The chapter stressed military Hachshara to its members. We placed a request to the commander of the border unit that camped in Volozhin to train our members in military maneuvers. They agreed to our request, and a commander was placed at our disposal. Similarly, we received guns and arms. Training took place next to Mount Bialik The P. W. (Przysbosobienie wojskow) was a semi-military organization that trained in the use of

[Page 415]

light weapons such as pistols, guns, gas masks, etc. The appearance of the Beitar members with their uniforms, armed with guns, grenades, and gas masks aroused awe and honor among many of the Jews of Volozhin, who regarded military Hachshara as the first step toward the great task that will fall upon the youth in its struggle for a Jewish state. However, these appearances also aroused negative reactions amongst certain circles of Volozhin Jewry, who regarded this as “militarism” and “playing with guns.” Nevertheless, during the disturbances of 5689 (1929), even the doubters agreed to the importance of military Hachshara.[2]


A P.W. (military trainees) group of Beitar with the commander Efraim Rogovin
(Mount Bialik in the background, on the right)


Members of Beitar participated in military parades that took place on the national holidays of Poland. Their appearance was impressive. All the youth movements arranged themselves in the market square, and the Starosta would receive a report from the representatives of the youth movements, including the name of the movement, the number of participants, and the number of those absent.

[Page 416]

The command of the Beitar Chapter, with Gershon Ashkenazi, in the year 5690 (1930)

Standing, right to left: Binyamin Kleinbord, Yisrael Berkovitch, Yaakov Rogovin
Sitting: Efraim Rogovin, Bella Kramnik, Gershon Ashkenazi, Dov Lavit, Shabtai Baksht


When Dov Lavit went to Hachshara in the year 5690 (1930), Efraim Rogovin was appointed as head of the chapter. He did a great deal to strengthen and develop it. After a brief time, Efraim also went to Hachshara. Bella Kramnik was appointed as commander of the chapter in his place. Bella's contribution to the chapter from the time of its foundation until her aliya to the Land of Israel was recognized and successful. She knew how to forge deep soulful connections between herself and the members of the chapter. She was dedicated to the movement with all hear heart and soul. Bella and Efraim made aliya to the Land in the year 5693 (1933). The had a very emotional farewell from all the members of the chapter.

After Bella and Efraim made aliya, Eliezer Mazah was appointed as the commander of the chapter. The new command consisted of the following Brothers and Sisters: Nechama Lunin, Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Kopel Kagan, Binyamin Kleinbord, Peshka Rogovin (treasurer).

The chapter developed greatly during the final years before the Second World War. Many people from the Tarbut school joined Beitar under the influence of the teachers Yaakov Lipschitz and Gliker. At that time, the chapter numbers had about 160 Brothers and Sisters. It was awarded a token of excellence from the Beitar leadership for this. Mr. Aharon Propus (leader of Beitar) came to Volozhin to mark the occasion of the receiving

[Page 417]

Visit of member of the leadership command Gershon Ashkenazi to the Beitar chapter in Volozhin, 25, 26, 27 April 1930

Standing right to left: Binyamin Kleinbord, Chaim Alpert, Yaakov Berkovitch, Leibel Heler, Rafael Weisbord, Yisrael Berkovitch, Yochanan Gelman, Zlatka Lavit, Mina Berman, Rivka Kalik, Hershel Bunimovitch, Mina Berman, Y. Dolgov
Sitting (first row): Yitzchak Perski, Feiga Kramnik, Chasia Daul, Sonia Dubinsky, Hinda Rudnia, Shabtai Baksht, Gershon Ashkenazi, Dov Lavit, Efraim Rogovin, Bella Kramnik, Bella Potashnik, Shmuel Berman
Second row: – , Chaim Eli Perski, Shlomo Berman, Kopel Kagan, David Bunimovitch, Aharon Golub, Yaakov Rogovin, Yosef Gelman, Chona Rogovin, Yitzchak Kaplan, Yaakov Skliot

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the award. When Mr. Menachem Began was chosen as the head of Beitar, he too visited Volozhin. Hs visit became a major event in the life of the chapter. We arranged a splendid reception. Mrs. Rikla Shepsnevel was very active in greeting the guest. She was very dedicated to the revisionist movement in Volozhin, and would often provide food for the members of Beitar when they went to the summer camp.

When Mazah was accepted as the teacher in a town close to Volozhin and left the city, Baruch Mordechai Myerson was appointed as commander of the chapter. Members of the command were Pesach Berman, Michael Garber, Tzvia Mazah, Eli Perski, Tzvi Tzart, and Yaakov Kagan. Tzipora Shepsnevel served as treasurer.


A brigade of Beitar members on an excursion into the Volokompia Forest in Vilna on 14 Av 5689 (August 20, 1929)

Standing, top to bottom, right to left: Yitzchak Perski, Efraim Rogovin, Aharon Propus, Kacharninski, Gershon Ashkenazi, Betzalel Lichtenstein, Dov Lavit, Chaim Kisiel, Hershel Bunimovitch
Second row: Eliezer Mazah, Yisrael Berkovitch, Sonia Dubinski, Lea Schwartzberg, Hynda Rudnik, Shabtai Baksht, Esther Berman, Bella Potashnik, Kopel Kagan
Third row: Chaim Eli Perski, Yitzchak Kaplan, David Bunimovitch, Chanan Rogovin, Aharon Golub, Yaakov Rogovin
Sitting on the ground: Binyamin Kleinbord, Baruch Simernitzki, Mina Berman, Chasia Daul, Yaakov Berkovitch, Pesia Rogovin, Mina Berman, Yochanan Gelman

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The chapter did not have a permanent meeting place even during that period, and it wandered from house to house. We put on performances on various topics in order to finance the expenses. Eliezer Mazah served as the stage producer. The performances were on the topic of current events. On the Tal Hai day, we performed a performance on the life of Josef Trumpeldor, and on the 20th of Tammuz, on the life of Herzl.

Even though the members of Beitar had few certificates, they still prepared themselves for physical labor in the land of Israel. A Hachshara enterprise of Beitar members existed in Yuzefpol, working for Mr. Schiff. In Volozhin they worked for Rappoport and Perlman.

The Polish government began to afflict the chapter during the latter years. The chapter would distribute Shana Tova cards, the income of which was for the benefit of the chapter. Once, Tzvia Mazah and Tzipora Shepsnevel went out to distribute the greeting cards, and they were stopped by a policeman. They were taken to the Gmina building on Vilna Street, where the police were headquartered, and imprisoned there, since they did not have an appropriate permit. The city notables worked for their freedom, and they turned into the “heroes of the day.”

Years passed, years of hope and faith, until the skies darkened and foretold the advent of the Second World War, the war of destruction of the Jews of Europe. The Jews of Volozhin waited tensely and with worry for what was going to happen. The events developed at a dizzying speed. The Polish government collapsed a few days after the outbreak of the war, and the Soviets entered Volozhin. The spirits were very depressed. Tzvia Mazah, David Shmerkovitch, and Tzipora Shepsnevel hurried to Mordechai Myerson, took the key to the locale from him in haste, and burnt all the documents. The Beitar flag and the medal of excellence were placed into a can and buried in the ground.

The Beitar members were under no illusions. They knew what awaited them. Therefore, they decided to escape from Volozhin and find their way to the coast of the Land of Israel. Already in the year 5698 (1938), Pesach Berman and Peretz Rogovin made aliya with Aliya Bet [The Second Aliya wave]. Pnina Rudnik made aliya in the year 5699 (1939) on the Parita ship. Many members of the chapter went to Vilna, which served as the gateway to the Land of Israel during those days. Those who went included Sara Bunimovitch, Nechama Lunin, Tzvi Lunin, Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Yaakov Finger, Yaakov Kagan, Peshka Rogovin, Leibel Schwartzberg, David Shmerkovitch, Chaya Liba Shepsnevel, Tzipora Shepsnevel.

David Shmerkovitch moved the can with the flag and the medal of excellence to Vilna. The flag was hidden in the ground, and the medal of excellence given over to Tzipora Shepsnevel. She guarded it carefully through all her wanderings and tribulations, and she still has it.

From the time of its founding, the chapter knew no crisis or schism. Every Brother and Sister knew their path. They cleaved to their faith, and accepted the doctrine of Jabotinsky upon themselves in its full essence, for they were convinced that this was the one and only path that would lead us upright to our land.

The chapter only existed for eleven years. During those few years, it became a great force, which earned the appreciation of many of the Jews of Volozhin. The chapter was the living spirit in Zionist activity in Volozhin. It conducted the main work on behalf of the national funds. Similarly, it worked to collect money for the

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Beitar Chapter in Volozhin, Vilna Region, 1932
Members of the Beitar chapter in the year 5692 (1932) with the member Dov Lavit before his aliya to the Land of Israel (Dov Lavit is sitting in the middle, wearing a hat)

[Page 421]

Beitar graduates and “Soldiers league” members during the visit of Lipa Leviatan from the Land of Israel on 7 Kislev 5695 (November 13, 1934)

Standing from top to bottom, right to left:
1st row: Yona Shapira Freidel Kramnik, Pesach Berman, Tzvia Lunin, Leibel Shalman, Tzila Perski, daughter of Avraham “Asher Yatzar”, Rafael Schlosberg, son-in-law of Sharira, Binyamin Kleinbord, Feigel Kramnik, Chaim Itshe Oreh.
2nd row: Peretz Rogovin, Shlomo Meltzer, Anya Rubin, Lipa Leviatan, Rivka Perski, Avraham Berkovitch, Baruch Mordechai Myerson, Mordechai Maretzki, Yaakov Lipschitz.
3rd row: Peshka Rogovin, Elyokim Zimerman, Rivka Rogovin, Chinka Rogovin, Itka Kalik, Leibel Schwartzberg, Chaim the son of the lawyer, Moshe Kaplan, David Bunimovitch.


Tarbut school. During the years of crisis and decline, the chapter stood at the pinnacle of its guard, and stuck to its faith that the nation of Israel is alive, and that we will merit to see the rise of the Jewish state already in our days.

Through the influence of Beitar, the league of Revisionist Zionists was founded in Volozhin, headed by Shlomo Chaim Brodna, Chaim Yitzchak Weisbord, and Avraham Tzart. Similarly, Brit Hachayal [Soldiers League] was founded, with the leadership of Avraham Berkovitch, Shmayahu Chadash, Mordechai Maretzki, Shlomo Meltzer, Shneur Kivilivitch, A. Rubin, Reuven Rosenberg, and others. All of them were army veterans.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. Mr. M. Porat z”l notes that he was the first head of the Organization of Volozhin Natives in Israel. Return
  2. There is an editor's note at this point, appearing on the bottom of page 415: Editor's note: Those who mocked the “militarism” did so through the lack of knowledge of the history of the new settlement in the Land of Israel. Jabotinsky of blessed memory was not the first to speak about this. He was preceded by the people of the First Aliya. Zeev Dubnow, the brother of the historian Simon Dubnow, wrote on November 1, 1882, from Jaffa to his brother, among other things: “In dreams, then the splendid day will arrive, whose coming was foretold by Isaiah in his enthusiastic visions of comfort. Then, the Jews themselves will announced that with hand weapons (if there will be a need for such), and a loud voice as masters of their ancient land.” (See David Ben-Gurion, The First Ones, published in the government annual publication, 5723 [1963], page 32.) Return

[Page 422]

On Hachshara in Volozhin

By Rachel Kna'any (Berman) of Merchavya

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by M. Porat z”l

that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

I arrived in Volozhin in 5693 (1933). It was a period of rapid expansion of the Hachshara network in Poland – of Hechalutz and the pioneering youth movements. I came together with a group of thirty people. It was the first detachment of “Hasadan” (the Anvil), the Hachshara Kibbutz of Shomer Hatzair members from Vilna and its vicinity, which included my hometown of Rakov. We arrived, a group of youngsters at the age of eighteen-nineteen, during a cold winter, on a wagon hitched to horses – the sole form of transportation in the region during those days.

I have already forgotten the name of the street where we lived. Polak's sawmill was on that street. We worked there and earned our meager salary. The Hachshara location included, in total, a small dining room, a kitchen,


Hashomer Hatzair members in Volozhin in 5694 (1934)

Standing from right to left: a lad from Vilna, Yocheved Dolnov, Avraham Perski, Gittel Rappoport, a lad from Vilna.
Sitting: Rachel Perski, a lad from Rakov, Hynda Rudnik, a lad from Vilna, Lea, Yitzchak Kaplan.
Sitting below: Eliyahu Naroshevitch, Alta Horodishetz, Mordechai Eliyahu Girzon.

[Page 423]

and a common bedroom for all of us. It was impossible to stuff forty beds into the room, so we installed Narot, simple wooden boards through the entire length of the room, on two floors. Even so, the place was too small, and several members had to sleep in the attic. We slept in indescribable crowding – males and females together. It is possible that you will not believe it – and the Jews of the city barely believed it – but to the best of my knowledge, there was a high level of morality, opposite of what would be expected from youths, but completely appropriate to the spirit in which we were educated in Hashomer Hatzair.

The small kitchen had a wide brick oven. It served for cooking our meager meals and at times for baking bread. There was a curtain spread on the corner next to the oven, with a bowl where the girls washed their body in front of the oven. (On rare occasions, due to the cost, we all went to the bathhouse, with the treasurer marching proudly at the head.) This was the sole private, “intimate” corner in the Hachshara, for there was no “private area” in which to gather, or in which to remain alone – in the same manner that we did not know of private property, even of the smallest item, due to strict adherence to commonality and equality. We had no clothes other than those on our bodies. At times, when I got up, I did not even know which shoes I should put on when I went out for work. The shoes that were gathered in the shoe area were designated for me for that day – and would be worn again by someone on night guard…

We were young girls, but we worked very hard. It was literally backbreaking work according to current conceptions. To us it seemed like a very simple matter, and we did not have any grievances. We chose this path, and we desired it. In the sawmill, we had to fill sacks of sawdust and haul them on our backs to the large field. We had to empty the sacks at the top of the heap, so that it turned into a high mountain of lumber. The mountain got higher from day to day, and we were forced to climb to the top with a hunched back and a heavy load. The pace of work was quick, like the pace of a machine. The sawmill room was small. If we did not succeed in emptying it, it would fill up with sawdust and the machine would get clogged.

Dragging the board remnants (obrezki in the vernacular) after sawing the planks was a different job. We would carry a large bundle of boards under our arms. They took on the form of a very long broom. We would haul them to the tall mountain. There were days when we arranged the boards in the form of a square. We, the boys and girls, would also go out to cut trees and saw them in the yards of the Jews of Volozhin. The work was difficult, but, as I have said, we accepted it lovingly, for we had come to prepare ourselves for the hard work waiting for us in the Land of Israel. Our salary was very low, approximately one zloty per day. We often suffered from lack of work.

How wondrous was it, then, that our food was very simple: bread, tea, potatoes, and soup It was the same on weekdays, Sabbaths, and festivals. It is difficult for me to believe today how we maintained ourselves and how our health did not weaken at all. The only “excess” food we had was fresh bread after work or on the Sabbath. As we lay on our beds, we would take a loaf of bread and devour it with enjoyment. I recall fondly the baker from Volozhin who gave us bread on credit, and did not stop even when we owed him a large sum.

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It must be said that the Jews of Volozhin generally related to us well. They showed appreciation to us and even understood our situation. I was sent as a “seamstress” to the homes of the wealthiest families. I had to cut and sew underwear, clothes, etc. My experience in this work was almost zero, and I made many mistakes. However, my employers did not scold me. They only smiled, and paid my salary.

Our lack of experience was felt in everything: in work, in cooking, and in organizing our lives. Regarding the sub-par, insufficient food, the hard work, and the crowded living spaces – our hygienic situation was frightening. A difficult, irritating, physically draining disease broke out: scabies. I and a girl from Vilna were designated as medics. Our job was to smear the backs of the members every night with lead paste that we made with our own hands. I “merited” a difficult embarrassment: I went to the pharmacy to purchase a large quantity of materials to prepare the paste. The pharmacist told me coarsely: “Nu, from this day and onward, you will be free from searching for work. You will be busy with scratching…” I kept this insult to my friends in the recesses of my heart for a long time.

We were proud of our hard work, of our strong will, and of the kibbutz-style way of life. We were very careful that there should not be, Heaven forbid, any breach in equality. There was complete equality. It was curious: Excess money, such as for a move or the theater, we of course did not have. The lads of Volozhin would visit us on occasion, and they would invite us to a movie on occasion. “Us” of course refers only to the girls. A storm broke out. The boys rose up and complained about the discrimination. A meeting of the kibbutz was convened, and it was decided to accept the offer of the lads of the city, but in turn – for both the boys and the girls. However, this was not the intention of the philanthropists of Volozhin, and they stopped inviting the Hachshara members to the cinema.

We had our own means of enjoyment: singing together for long hours at night, reading books, kibbutz discussions, hikes in the area, youthful joy, and mischief, all together. One of our members, with a sharp sense of humor, lay on his bed in a dark room when an emissary of the movement came from the Land, imitated the cry of a baby and cried bitterly in the voice of a young woman about the tragedy that occurred to “her”: “she” had given birth to a baby. The emissary started a conversation with him, and urged “her” in a lengthy fashion to leave Volozhin so that our ill repute will not spread in the city. The “woman who gave birth” refused strongly and claimed that if we were expelled, she would cast herself into the river… We could no longer control ourselves, and we put on the lights…

We participated in a very different type of experience with all the Jews of the city, a moving “performance.” A robber wreaked havoc on the paths around Volozhin. One day, a Jew of the city was murdered. The robber was captured, and we all went to watch as he was taken out to be killed – because of youthful curiosity and because of feelings of revenge over the murder of a Jew. To this day, I can see the scene before my eyes in all its minute details: the green meadow and grove next to it, the executioner dressed in black, the sun above our heads, the expressionless murderer being brought to the gallows, and the stool pushed away from beneath his feet…

One murderer received his punishment. Who will avenge the spilled blood of thousands of Jews of the city? Who will punish their murderers? How is it possible to imaging the sight of Volozhin without Jews?

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Keren Kayemet L' Israel (JNF) in Volozhin

By Binyamin Shapir (Shishko), Karkur, Israel

First half translated by Naomi Gal and lightly edited by Jerrold Landau, second half translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Activities for JNF [Jewish National Fund] in Volozhin were an important part of the Jewish life in the city. The building of the Tarbut School with the blue and white sign, reminded the citizens that their homeland is in Zion. One could feel the ambience of the Land of Israel in this building. Anyone who went in – be it a child or an elderly person – was a partner in the revival and for aliya for the Land of Zion. Between the walls of this house each “circle” found its own corner. Hechalutz, Shomer Hatzair, Beitar – they were all in the same home. Points of view were different, but the common ground turned them all to one family – the family of Zion's children.

The JNF council, under the direction of Rabbi Israel Lunin (representing


The Bazar's committee (“The Market”) of JNF on 15-16 Tammuz, 5693 ( 9–10 July 1933)

Standing (right to left): A. Shlomo Skliot, B. Polia Farber, C. Lea Kivilevitz, D. Yaakov (Yani) Gerber, E. Gittel Klein, F. Eliezer Maz'a
Sitting: A. Hannah Rogovin, B. Yaakov Lipsitz, C. Sara Yizgor, D. Onya Rubin (Kahanovitch's son-in-law), E. Rikla Shepsnevel, F. Chaim Stkolshik
Sitting on the floor: A. Michael Perski, B. Rachel Rogovin, C. Yosef Schwartzberg

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the Mizrachi of the city), included members of the General Zionists, Tzeirei Zion, Hechalutz, Beitar, Hashomer Hatzair etc. The meetings took place on Saturdays in the Tarbut School building. These meetings were the Sabbath pleasure of Volozhin's Jews, craving redemption. Whoever saw Reb Israel Lunin walking, after a Sabbath nap, to a meeting of JNF, his face illuminated, relaxed, as if he had a revelation – would understand the secret of the existence of the people of Israel.

True, we were in the Diaspora, but we lived as if our bodies were in the west while our hearts were in the east. The work for JNF was our daily nourishment, each student of the Tarbut School had a saving notebook where JNF stamps were glued. In every house hung a blue and white box in which the family members inserted their contributions to redeeming the homeland. On Shabbat Mevarchim [the Sabbath prior to Rosh Chodesh], they used to plan the emptying of the boxes. Pairs from all “circles” and movements volunteered for this sacred endeavor and fulfilled the Mitzva of offering a sacrifice to G-d on Rosh Chodesh[1]

Rosh Chodesh in Volozhin was a day of the Land of Israel for all the city's Jews. The volunteers who came to empty the boxes were welcomed cordially. At every wedding hall they would sell, between dances, flowers of Zion, with the proceeds consecrated to redeeming the Land of Israel.

Lag B'Omer was majestically celebrated by us. Flags of Zion were held in the hands of the Tarbut students who walked in rows to the summit of Mount Bialik (the mountain is in the eastern part of the city. According to tradition, Bialik wrote his poem El Hatzipor there.) The children entertained the Jews of the city with songs of Zion. Masses of people streamed after them to the bosom of nature, as if they were on their way to the Land of Israel – the aspiration of their souls.

There was a special custom in Volozhin, to celebrate the Simchat Torah of the Land of Israel on Shemini Atzeret. It was also called “the Simchat Torah of Reb Shlomo Chassid.” This celebration took place only in the kleizl on Vilna Street, which was the place of worship of Reb Yisrael Lunin (the head gabbai) and the leaders of the Zionist movement of the city – Reb Shlomo Chaim Brodna, Yeshayahu Kahanovitch, David Yitzchak Kontorovitch, Mr. Altman, and Reb Yehoshua Horwitz.

Reb Shlomo Chassid (Shepsnevel) worshipped in the kleizl. He was a native of Horodok who moved to our city. Even though he was a Hassidic man, this Jew was loved by all the Misnagdim with whom he worshipped. They appreciated and loved him. In his honor, they conducted Hakafot [Torah processions] on Shemini Atzeret, in accordance with the custom of the Hassidim. In his merit, they celebrated the festival of Simchat Torah on the day that the Jews of the Land of Israel celebrate it[2]. The following day, we celebrated the Simchat Torah of the Diaspora. That festival was dedicated to the renaissance of the Nation of Israel in its homeland. Reb Yisrael Lunin, as the chairman of the JNF, was the “conductor of the dancing.” The children of the Tarbut school designed blue and white chains, and decorated the synagogue with them. The national flag was brought in, and they danced with the flags and the Torah scrolls during the Hakafot, with songs of Zion bursting forth from thee mouths of all the participants. Men, women, and children danced with great enthusiasm, all of them dipping in the sea of

[Page 427]

blue and white. Anyone who has not witnessed the Hakafot of Shemini Atzeret in the kleizl of Volozhin has not seen joy in his life.[3]

This mighty song, the song of a nation that believes in its redemption, the song of the residents of the city in which the Netzach Yisrael and Nes Tziona organizations were created, the song of the Jews of Volozhin who constantly studied the doctrine of eternal Israel – that song has its source in “Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel”[4]. In order to fulfil the verse “And Deborah took the drum in her hands”[5], a charming girl was brought up to the bima, which stood in the center of the synagogue, and honored with singing the songs of Zion.

This song will never cease, the song of “The nation of Israel lives” [Am Yisrael Chai] bursting forth and rising from the mouths of the survivors of Volozhin, who merited to make aliya to the Land of Israel and participate in its upbuilding. It will be transmitted from generation to generation.

Finally, I include the letter of the Zionist organization of London to the local council of the JNF in Volozhin, regarding the Zionist Congress gathering.

The Zionist Organization, Central Office
77 Great Russell Street, London W.C. 1

To the Local council of the Jewish National Fund for Israel, Volozhin, 13 Av 5690 (Aug 7, 1930).

Dear Friends

“The central council of the Zionist organization in Poland brought to our attention your letter from July 18, in which you express to us your demand from a public gathering that took place in Volozhin on 20 Tammuz in memory of the death of our leader Dr. Herzl. The executive is hereby honored to inform you that even before receiving this letter, we have decided, as is certainly already known to you from the newspapers, to convene a Zionist congress at the end of this year, around the month of December.”

With great honor and blessings of Zion
The Organizational Office

With this, we learn that the Jews of Volozhin convened a public gathering on 20 Tammuz, in which it was decided that a Zionist congress must be convened, to deliberate over what was transpiring in the Jewish world.

The central office of the Zionist movement in London took the opinion of Volozhin seriously and responded as above.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. Based on Numbers 28:11, the command for the monthly Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) offering in the Temple. Return
  2. In the Diaspora, a second day of Yomtov is observed on the first and last days of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. In the Diaspora, Simchat Torah is observed on the day after Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, where only one day of Yomtov is observed, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the same day. Hakafot, processions with the Torah scrolls, are conducted on Simchat Torah. Even in the Diaspora, Hassidim, Sephardim, and those who follow the Nusach Sephard rite also conduct Hakafot on the eve of Shemini Atzeret. Return
  3. Based on Mishna Sukka 5:1 Return
  4. Exodus 15:1. Return
  5. This is based on Exodus 15:20, but refers to Miriam, not Deborah. The song of Deborah starts at Judges 5:1 with “Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Avinoam.” The author has interchanged the prophetesses in this verse – but both are regarded as paradigms of women's song in the Bible. Return

[Page 428]

The Outlook of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin
Regarding the Exile and the Redemption

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin expressed his outlook on the exile and the redemption in his sermon that he delivered in the Beis Midrash in Volozhin on the first day of Selichot in the year 5572 (1811)[1]. The sermon of Rabbi Chaim was published in the book Neima Kedosha by Rabbi Yosef Jaski, pages 18-24, Vilna, published by Reb Avraham Yitzchak Dworzec in the year 5632 (1872). The following excerpts are taken from that sermon.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin states that the Supernal Jerusalem is the source of the souls of all of Israel: “The Supernal Jerusalem is the secret of the source of the souls of all of Israel, and therefore is called Knesset Yisrael [the Assembly of Israel]. For just like the Jerusalem of Below, when all of Israel ascends on the festivals to appear before G-d, all of Israel gathers together; similarly the Supernal Jerusalem is the secret of the source of the gathering of all the souls of Israel.”

The Diaspora leads to a diminution of the image of the Jew. Due to the difficult conditions in which he is immersed, he is unable to delve into to the Torah according to his desire and recognize his Creator: “Even the prayers that were instituted to request the redemption from the exile are also referring to the exile of the Divine Presence, so to speak, and the exile of the soul that is unable to fulfill itself currently in occupying itself with the Torah and the commandments appropriately, due to the heaviness of earning a livelihood. For when Israel was living in its Land, each person under his vineyard and fig tree, without concerns of livelihood, it was easy for every person to devote their heart and rectify their lowly souls through busying oneself with Torah and commandments. Now, however, the great difficulties of livelihood lead to a neglect of Torah and commandments, and therefore the redemption is greatly delayed.”

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin regarded the exile as a punishment. We did not follow the path of repentance, and we distanced ourselves from G-d during the time of the existence of the Temple. Consequently, it was necessary to destroy the Temple and place us into exile: “It is like a king who had an only son, and the son became bedridden with a great, serious illness, and the physicians said that there is no remedy for his affliction unless he minimizes sleep, and his father goes with the bitterness of his heart to take him out of his heavy bed and lays him on the ground so that he will not be able to sleep much - but his father sees that nothing helps yet, and he still sleeps. Then his father does several more ruses in this regard, and nothing helps, until his father the merciful king is forced to place swords and knives below him so he will be unable to sleep.

“The parable is self-understood: For when we were resting on the bed of the king, that is when the Temple existed upon its foundations in quiet and calm, as is stated, “Here is the bed of Solomon” (Song of Songs 3:7), we were somnolent regarding knocking on the gates of repentance, of returning to G-d with a full heart. Therefore, the power of the evil inclination strengthened upon us, and it became necessary to destroy the Temple and place us into exile.”


Translator's footnote:
  1. The year 5572 would correspond to 1812, as the first day of Selichot is in the month of Elul, a few days prior to Rosh Hashanah. At Rosh Hashanah, the Hebrew years moves up by one year. It is possible that the writer meant the first day of Selichot prior to Rosh Hashanah of 5572, which would indeed correspond to 1811. Return


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