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[Page 199]

The Route to Redemption –
Community, Movements and Organizations


Hashomer HaTsair Nest in Voronova

by Abrashka Moltsadski (Sharid)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

I wasn't privileged to be among the founders of the nest, I was too young then, but to my recollection this privilege belonged to the late Shabtai Grodzenchik and, may they live, Sheyke Olkenitski and Shloma'le (Berkovitch) Aviel.

The group began to organize in autumn 1929. With their poor savings they hired a club in the house of Shaya (Yehoshua) Grodzenchik and began preparing activities.

We usually gathered in the evenings. We divided into groups by age or seniority. We learned Hebrew songs about Erets Israel, we danced Hora to the sounds of Hassidic music, which was new in our town due to its having belonged to the Mitnagdim–Litaim,[1] and we conducted discussions. Most of the talks were about the new community life formed in Israel and about life in kibbutzim.

The elders saw our activity as a game of youngsters. They couldn't decide – should they ignore this phenomenon or take it seriously.

We were not the first in town to start Zionist activity. Before us there were experienced activists who collected money for Keren Kayemet, spread Zionist newspapers etc. We were also not the first to make Aliyah in 1924/25. Some of those returned to Voronova to tell us about HaAretz.[2]

Our achievement was innovation in our activities. We added young spirit to the Zionist movement and were prepared to act and live the [dream] through its weakest moments.

At that time communist propaganda was increasing. They organized textile workers unions and it looked like a pragmatic action. Our activity was considered “utopian”, not connected to reality. We were mocked, called “detached”, and given “convincing” arguments from the communist lexicon–– which was very popular with the revolutionary youth.

Gradually the nest became more attractive to the youth, and more youngsters came to join it.

What was its secret? First of all, the personal approach to every girl and boy, and a committed interest in their issues; second, a warm embrace offered to reserved or shy kids who were looking for attention and affection.

We went hiking outside the town. We called it “sailing”. These escapes to nature and nighttime walks brought a romantic atmosphere and calmness to the soul, which couldn't be found elsewhere.

During our first activity, a political argument broke out, and we split in two factions. Several friends resigned and joined Betar. Until 1939, the two factions acted separately. As a result, the whole town divided into 2 factions. Every parent joined the camp of his son or daughter.

In 1930, Shlomo Aviel and Shabtai Grodzenchik departed for Hachshara.[3] This started a new phase in our life. No more youthful tricks and actions; now we were concerned with vital matters of destiny. The short training course those two took before their Aliyah was a turning point for us. We absorbed passionately all their stories about kibbutz life, all seemed so new, unusual and inspiring. They were escorted to the train station by old and young, with excitement, singing and dancing– “Hatikva”, “Vetehazekna”.[4] This was to the amazement of the Polish passengers who didn't understand what could be so exciting about a couple of zhidaki[5] traveling to Palestine. They wondered how that could be so joyful.


Hashomer HaTsair alumni before departing for training


The nest was strong. The departure of 2 of its heads didn't cause a negative impact. Every evening we met for our activities. With our poor savings and with hard work (such as “wood–carving”, etc.) we maintained our club–– which was our escape from boredom and emptiness in a town so slow in development and growth.


The first Hashomer HaTsair chapter


Friends kept departing for Hachshara. An Aliyah action by one of us always turned into a big event and celebration for the whole town.

We were taken to the railway station embraced by love and blessings, with a clear sense of the unity between the individual and the community.

In our memories, the years spent in the Hashomer HaTsair nest in Voronova are the most beautiful years of our lives.

Since 1933, the year I went to Hachshara, I never went back to our town. But I know that the nest continued to be active until 1939, and in this crucial year many youngsters from other places found shelter there, help and assistance, and a place to stay. Members of the nest smuggled them across the Lithuanian border while risking their own lives, just as they had been trained.

They succeeded in helping many, but were not able to help themselves. In 1942 their lives were taken together with all the Nazi victims in Voronova.

The dear youth, dozens of young boys who represented future dreamers and fulfillers, were lost. With their loss our nation lost future generations of creativity and devotion. We, the Voronovers, remained brothers in our hearts and connected with our souls and minds.

May we be worthy to say: in our lives we shall fulfill your dreams and aspirations.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. Lithuanian Jewish faction considered more conservative and strict and non–Hassidic Return
  2. i.e. Israel Return
  3. literally training, temporary living and training in a Kibbutz Return
  4. the Israeli national anthem and a popular song Return
  5. Polish slang for Jews Return

[Pages 202-204]

The Zionist and HeKhaluts Movement in Voronova

by M. Kuznets, of Blessed Memory

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

In the beginning of 1925, I was among the founders of the “HeKhaluts–HaTsair–HaMizrahi” union. At that time in Voronova 2 Khaluts unions coexisted: “HeKhaluts–HaMizrahi” and “HeKhalutz–HaKlali”. “HeKhaluts–HaMizrahi” was considered a strong force in Voronova, with many members making Aliyah. Yocheved Bloch (Yachka) the first pioneer to make Aliyah from our town, did it as a member of “HeKhaluts–HaMizrahi”. But for some reason there was no continuity in “HeKhaluts–HaMizrahi” and only few of us were left – about 12 members[1]. The members of the committee were Shimon Levine, Avraham Levine (rest in peace), Moshe Volpianski (rest in peace) and me. And also there was a representative of the seniors' “HeKhaluts–HaMizrahi”: first Yakov Konikhovski, then later Yakov Konopke. Our club was in the house of Avraham–Eli and Mettla Dvilianski on Eshishuk Street. This was near my parents' house and so that's why I could dedicate myself to the “HeKhaluts–HaTsair–HaMizrahi” activities, but this didn't last for long. In the beginning of 1926, with the breakout of an economic crisis in Erets–Israel, some of the pioneers from both organizations returned to Voronova, and things fell apart.

In 1927 there was no Zionist activity in Voronova, and one could see influence of the communists who had bought the trust of the youth by organizing a professional union. They even took charge of the Y.L. Perets library.

In 1928 a unified, non–political Zionist movement was founded in Voronova. Its leader was then Nekhemia Shapiro with a couple of other senior Zionist activists. All of the youth with Zionist beliefs joined this movement. I remember the arguments we had with other youngsters. We didn't know which Zionist movement to choose. Finally we decided to join the “HaShomer HaTsair”, which at that time was more of a scout–movement than a political movement. We made contact with the district leadership of the movement, situated in Grodne, and with the leadership of the whole region in Lida. The first committee members were Ysroel Berkovski, Abba Lipniski (of blessed memory), Aharon Kalmanovitsh, Shabtai Grodzenchik (of blessed memory), Yesheyahu Olkenitski, Shlomo Shmerkovitsh, Avraham Levine (of blessed memory), and me.

Our activity went smoothly for several months, until we went to a regional convention in Lida. We went there with patches on our shoulders symbolizing the movement as a scout–movement. But as soon as we returned, there was a split because many members felt that the “Hashomer–HaTsair” movement was becoming too left–winged. A large group of members, with Ysroel Berkovski and Aharon Kalmanovitsh at the head, then established “Betar”.

Thus there were two strong organizations in Voronova. In the month of Av Tarpa”t (1929), while the violent events of Hebron–Zefat took place in Erets Israel, we participated in a convention of commanders of the HaShomer movement in Yeshtsenko[2] near Grodne. I didn't like the discussions there and I left the movement disappointed. I joined the activity of “HeKhaluts”. Incidentally, the graduates of HaShomer–HaTsair now belonged to “HeKhaluts”, so this made my transition easier.


The HeKhaluts Union in Voronova


The clubhouse of “HeKhaluts” was then in the home of Meirovitsh on Vilne street, down the hill,[3] and the leaders were Shabtai Dlugin (of blessed memory), Yehoshua Shmerkovitsh, Abrashka Moltsadski, Katriel Kaplan (of blessed memory), Yakov Bloch, and me. During the period of our activity we sent Daniel Grodzenchik, Leyb Abramiski and Pesyeh Piskovski (the miller's daughter) to hakhshara.[4] At the end of their hakhshara they made Aliyah to Erets Israel. We got help from some of our supporters, especially from Peysakh Itskovitsh and Aharon Lefkovitsh.

One day a “Gordonya” group from Vilne came to Voronova. They asked us to help them with their work and accommodations in the neighborhood. I took them to Herminishok estate. The estate owner Kulvitsky agreed to give them part–time jobs in his estate and accommodation in one of his buildings. During their spare time they did educational activities. We, the members of “HeKaluts”, used to visit them every evening. They had a great influence on our town.

When we returned to Voronova from hakhshara, I found “HeKhaluts” almost paralyzed. In order to bring some renewal of spirit we decided to organize a regional convention of “HeKhaluts” in Voronova. Katriel Kaplan (of blessed memory) and I went on foot to Divenishok, Eshishuk, Olkenik, Ivia, Lipnishok, and Lida. We met members of the “HeKhaluts” committees and persuaded them to take part in the convention. The HeKhaluts convention in Voronova turned out to be an impressive event. After the convention the Voronova branch became very active.

Sometimes small, haphazard connect into one long chain of narrative, and one sees them as logical links of a chain leading to revolution and the struggle to change reality. Such were our hakhshara and Aliyah activities–– pity we managed to save so few.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Trans. Note: both boys and girls Return
  2. Ed. Note: In the original text this name is spelled: yud–shin–tzadek–nun–kuf–vov. Return
  3. Trans. Note: This phrase is written in Yiddish in the original text: arop–barg. Return
  4. Ed. Note: Hebrew word meaning ‘preparation’. These were training programs to ready participants for the challenges of making Aliyah. Return

[Pages 205-206]

From the Memories of an Emissary

by Yosef Bankover (of Ramat Hakovesh)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

For me Voronova is connected to something special and has kept a special place of honor in my memory.

I was an emissary from Israel. I come to recruit people for Aliyah, but I received much more in Voronova. I received encouragement and high spirit. This small town made me a believer in the Jewish folk of the Gola.[1] I'll try to recreate the circumstances and factors that bonded my soul to Voronova. It was in 1923–24.

Erets Israel was experiencing a huge crisis. Part of the Olim had departed.[2]

The unemployment in the cities – and especially in the settlements – was a result of the farmers' neglect of the national need for Hebrew employment and absorption of Aliyah. The farmers flooded the settlements with cheap Arab labor. There was a strong need of an organized, pioneer Aliyah, conscious of its needs and mission, aware of the reality of having to deal with, and fight for work positions with, the Arabs who had expanded everywhere, and with Jewish farmers who supported the Arabs.

The HeKhaluts movement – in Poland – stood before a challenging trial. Its fast and unnatural growth (from 2,000 to 10,000 members) endangered the whole movement and could have lead to paths totally unwelcome by us. Acute intuition would be required to control the situation, and to turn the HeKhaluts into a union of the masses, without compromising its ideological principles. While the movement expanded there would be a need for stronger implementation of its values, for organized training, and for management of the difficult situation.[3]

We, the emissaries, had to put a special effort into our triple mission: to prepare a new generation for leadership of HeKhaluts, to organize and enforce the union [Trans. Note: the Histadrut] in Poland, and to fix the situation in Erets Israel by means of a steady flow of people of shared ideology and eagerness, consciousness and readiness. The news from the Histadrut in Israel was that the pioneers weren't up to the challenge and were relocating to the cities and other places where they would not face any immediate danger from hostile elements, and from the authorities who supported these elements.

The district committee of HeKhaluts in Vilne took upon itself to perform this most urgent mission, and decided to establish a Kibbuts by the name “Hakovesh”, populated by HeKhaluts members from the Vilne district, who would make Aliyah as a group, and would lead the Workers' Union[4] in Erets Israel in the fight for settlement and labor. Approximately 200 people were approved by the Center for immediate Aliyah.

The establishment of “Hakovesh” inspired the whole Vilne district: hundreds of pioneers scattered around various small, far–off towns, united for an immediate Aliyah and fulfillment. It was not only about shaking off the chains of the Gola and apathy, but even more it was about a readiness to offer a supporting shoulder, to join a big Zionist organization, and to try building a life together in Erets Israel through labor, occupation, and settlement. This spark spread electrically through the ranks of the HeKhaluts.

In this aspect, Voronova stood out and excelled, with its vibrant and sparkling youth.

The youth of Voronova's surroundings excelled as well. In every town there was a HeKhaluts branch, an incipient HeKhaluts–HaTsair, and a wide chain of Hachshara groups doing their initial steps. It was an ideological and personal pleasure to visit those HeKhaluts branches, to meet the vibrant youth, to see the education system with Yiddish and Hebrew schools, the drama circles for the youngsters–– to be swept away in the flow of their excitement and to enjoy the freshness and beauty of the surroundings.

The people of Voronova didn't disappoint. They were among the first to join “Hakovesh” at its first convention in Vilne, and were among the first groups to make Aliyah – in big numbers. After repatriation they took hard labor upon themselves, as well as activities for the movement.

During these days of preparation for the book of Voronova and its surroundings, we approach the 45th anniversary of “Hakovesh's” establishment in Israel. Today we can be proud of Voronova's young pioneers. They played an important role in this historical transfer and brought a major change to the formation of the state and to the understanding of its needs.

During these days, descendants of the Voronova district can look at their past with pride and satisfaction.

For me as an emissary from Israel, Voronova will always be the source of encouragement, and when I remind myself of this period, I feel that I am a part of Voronova and that together we wrote beautiful pages in the history of Aliyah, “Ramat Hakovesh” being the outstanding symbol.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Tr. Note: i.e., Galuth, or the community of Jewish exiles Return
  2. Ed. Note: i.e., people who had made Aliyah to Israel Return
  3. Trans. Note: refers to the situation in Erets Israel Return
  4. Trans. Note: Histradut Return

[Pages 207-209]

Betar in Voronova

As Told by A.A. Olkenitski, Khenyeh Konopke and Khaye Levine (Rothbart)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

The founders of Betar in Voronova were mostly members of HaShomer–HaTsair. At first it was considered a scout movement, with no political status, but in 1928 at the first convention in Lida, a leftwing tendency became obvious, which was strange to us. So 9 of the delegates that returned from the convention then connected to Betar.

The first nest consisted of 30–40 members under the leadership of Betar's founders in Voronova: Ysroel Berkovski, Arkeh Kalmanovitsh, Avkeh Lipniski, Khaye Levins (Rothbart), Leyzkeh Katzellenbogen, Khayeh Mineh Konopka, Dlugin, Avramkeh Levine, Arkeh Levine, and others.

We were divided by age into Kfirim[1], middle–agers, and elders. We invited instructors from Vilne to establish the ideological foundation of the nest, and Betar in Voronova became a fact.

In 1928, at the first Betar convention in Vilne, presided over by Aharon Profos,[2] decisions were made to start hachshara and aliyah, and we began to implement.

We conducted numerous cultural events. We gathered every evening to have conversations on literature, Zionist movements, to exchange opinions on social structure in Erets Israel and other topics. We used our youngsters to pursue Zionist financial activities.[3] We participated with others in money raising campaigns for National Funds. We also raised money for the Tel–Chai Fund. We arranged dance balls, organized bazaars on Khanukeh and Purim; and also academic events on 11th of Adar and 20th of Tamuz. After a bitter fight, some of our members were accepted to the library committee. From inside, we fought for inclusion of nationalistic literature and reading material reflecting our views on national and personal matters.

Alongside our propaganda activity, we also worked on our physical fitness. We were involved in sports, purchased tents and sports equipment, and went out hiking and sailing during summer camps in the region, in order to strengthen our ideological and physical foundations.

Gradually, we began military training. Under the initiative and instruction of Yermyahu Halperin, military training commander of Global Betar, we performed this activity with enthusiasm and devotion.

In July 1939, a regional training course for military instructors was conducted by the Etzel organization. We rented a backyard from a Polish farmer in Mikelkuni near Oshmene. We obtained weapons from the Polish Army. We also obtained a Polish low–rank command for smaller units. The high command and instructors were emissaries from Erets Israel. The commander of the camp was Shraga Chaikin, his deputy was Michael Ashbal who was killed during the raid attempt on Akko prison.

It was a military regime like in a rookie camp. We arranged beds in a hayloft, which was also a compound for all personal matters. There was a tight military schedule; we trained for the use of cold weapons, for performing diversions, and for street combat. We prepared for a military underground future in Erets Israel.

The first group that went out, in 1929, for Betar hachshara in Klisov[4] and Nadvorna, included Tsve Sokolik, Arkeh Levine, Avkeh Lipniski, Menachem Olkenitski, and Hirshkeh Arkin.

With the establishment of the nest, there was an atmosphere of the concrete realization of Zionism in town, and the nest kept growing. One could say that along the way the movement was a magnet for “lost” youth. We were joined by simple folk who otherwise spent their time playing cards to forget their troubles. Tis a pity that because of various reasons we were deprived distributions of aliyah visas, and that our salvation window was short, otherwise we could save a lot of the youth from misery.


Voronova Betar – 1930


The “Tsoar” movement also prospered in Voronova. Our parents, influenced by our enthusiasm, felt that they have to join a movement with a similar ideology.

We used to demonstrate our achievements by performing military exercises and participating in military parades, marching in long rows, fully dressed in our uniforms–– this had a great impact on the surrounding region.

Our serious attitude towards military training was well demonstrated and persuasive. Such were our parades held on our holidays or Polish holiday vacations, i.e. May 3 and November 11.

During hachshara we experienced suffering and hunger. We bore the suffering knowing that our turn to make aliyah would take time. We experienced frustrations that prepared us for HaApala[5] because we couldn't see a chance for legal aliyah.

But despite organizational, ideological and official difficulties, the hachshara groups maintained friendly relationships with other hachshara groups, and this brought brotherhood and cooperation even with HaShomer–HaTsair.

There was one occasion when our group in Nadvorna went for a hike–– only three girls and one boy stayed back to protect the house from hostile Ukrainians who treated us as invaders in their work territory. Some Ukrainians who idle, noticed there were only few of us, and decided to liquidate us–– as simple as that. In a few moments our house was surrounded by mean “hutzuls”,[6] and we were in immediate danger. Khayeh Levine showed extraordinary courage. When she saw that they were slowly approaching the house, she jumped out of a window straight into the crowd, determined to fight instead of wait for miracles.

They were startled and let her through. In a short while, in the middle of the night, she managed to fetch friends from Hashomer HatSair and Gordonya, who attacked these Ukrainian “heroes” with axes and sticks. The “hutzuls” ran away. The next day we saw them at the public medical clinic, injured and beaten–up, embarrassed and miserable.

It's important to tell this story because it demonstrates the primal hatred of the Gentiles towards Jews, and the brotherhood of all the movements which was simple and concrete.

After Ysroel Berkovski, Aharon Kalmanovitsh was appointed the next commander of the nest, and he was tragically privileged to be the last one. Together with all the dear youth of Voronova, our friends from Betar also perished. When we mourn for our Voronova youth, we also mourn for our Betar friends with whom we shared a dream of a national home, but who didn't survive.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Trans. Note: young lions Return
  2. Ed. Note: In the original text the name is spelled: pey (or fey) – resh – vov – pey (or fey) – vov – samekh. Return
  3. Trans. Note: i.e. collect money Return
  4. Ed. Note: In the original text the name is spelled: kuf – lamed – vov – samekh – vov – veyz. Return
  5. Trans. Note: illegal immigration Return
  6. Trans. Note: Ukrainian peasants Return

[Pages 210-212]

‘Supplement’ to the Image of Betar

by Shlomo Pikovski

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

The youth that resigned from HaShomer HaTsair were mostly from traditional families, who held radical views on the revival of Judaism. They opposed HaShomer HaTsair activities because of the Marxist elements in its ideology, and also because of the sports activities, which were mostly of a scouting nature, rather than defensive, and in their eyes this didn't match the seriousness of the situation.

Our first foundational meeting took place in Khayeh Levine's backyard. There, in their dairy barn, we read Jabotinsky's essay, we decided on fundamental principles and united in common goals. First we used the name “Shomer–Hashchar”[1] and later Betar.

We Voronova people also joined the cause after taking an oath of allegiance to the people, the homeland, and the movement. After a trial period, a boy had to go through a test, and if he passed, he was given the “Betar Oath” insignia. As proof of the special importance to us of this insignia is the fact that I kept mine through all the hardships of my illegal Aliyah and I brought it with me to Israel.

Our cultural and educational activity was well planned and directed towards training civilians to settle, work, and defend Erets Israel. We were assisted by frequent guests from Erets Israel, all Betar emissaries, who helped us form an image of the future citizens of Israel. They also helped us analyze the essays of Betar leaders. The “Di Welt”[2] newspaper became our impeachable source for developing solutions to Zionist problems, and for forming opinions on world and Israeli policy. We distributed the paper devotedly, thus enlarging the number of revisionist movement followers.

According to our founding principles, the so–called transition period during our stay in Golah,[3] we used the time for physical and military training, done in compliance with Polish authorities and with the assistance of their military facilities. In the Voronova nest, we put all our efforts into both. Our members participated in military training courses in significant numbers, and also in physical training camps in Klisov, Nadvorna, Baranovitsh, Kaltzeh,[4] Volozhin and with other squads, where they served as commanders and leaders.

A great boost for the whole movement, and for the Voronova nest, was made by the historical “Evacuation” speech by Jabotinsky, in which he suggested that the Jews take advantage of the Gentiles' wish to “get rid” of us and utilize their hatred as a driving force to transfer all the Jews from Poland, and other Diasporas, to a safer shore.

His words were like a sign of an incipient fulfillment of prophesy. We saw ourselves as if floating on a ship headed for wreckage, and realized that we had to act quickly for our own safety, and the safety of others. I heard his speech in the Conservatorium Hall in Vilne. I saw the urgency of the matter so clearly that I couldn't think of anything else. As soon as I was released from the Army, I immediately joined the illegal Aliyah with all its hardships.


Voronova Betar – 1929


For some reason, the “evil waves” described to us in the allegory seemed to me more realistic and dangerous than the waves of a stormy sea. I was ready to board a raft, to sail the dangerous Mediterranean, so as to not remain in the sea of Polish anti–Semitism, with the prospect of German Nazism getting closer every day.

My father, Rest in Peace, discovered my plans and he took me for a mountain hike near the town, trying to dissuade me from my intentions. When he saw he was failing, he tried persuading me to postpone for at least half a year:

“You have just been released from the Polish Army,” he pleaded, “please stay at home for a while, with your family, and then no one will stop you.”

“Father,” I said to him, “I think it would be better if we sold everything we own and made Aliyah. As far as I am concerned, I can't wait. I feel that there is no certainty that ships will continue sailing; the doors of illegal Aliyah may close any time. The sea will be closed for us.”


It's a pity that we don't take the words of our leaders seriously and don't treat them as a living reality.

We are lucky that some did acted according to their hunch and foresight, and thus many of us became the last remnants available to build the country and prepare for the entire people, and for survivors.

At the same time that the Jews of Europe were being taken to crematoriums and gas chambers in Auschwitz and Birkenau, their sons were fighting here in Israel against English manipulations and against Arabs–the few against the many–both openly and secretly, with a sense of disaster and a strong desire to live, and with the power of faith: because when wanted, we have the capacity to overcome anything, and we succeeded.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Trans. Note: defender of dawn Return
  2. Trans. Note: The World Return
  3. Ed. Note: exile Return
  4. Ed. Note: in the original text this name is spelled: kuf–lamed–tzedek–hey Return

[Pages 213-215]

Restless Youth
(A Guide to Our Perplexed Town)

by S. Levine

Translated by Meir Bulman

The times pushed the town's youth into the arms of enlightenment, progress, and freedom. The youth felt uncomfortable in their quiet town and were restless and rebellious. Their restlessness caused them to seek horizons for unwinding and change.

From the 1880s until the Russian Revolution, Voronova knew generational rebellion and father-son opinion wars. Along with the Russian Empire and Central-Eastern Europe, many Voronova residents followed the various ‘isms’ which cut through the space of idealist rebellion. They did not differentiate between socialism, anarchism, communism, and nihilism. Each ideology spoke to them with novelty and conquered their hearts with change and a rebellious shattering of the consensus. After the disappointment of the 1905 revolution the wrath of the masses was directed towards Jews in the known pogroms, and the restlessness of the Jewish youths in our town was channeled to within the Jewish community. Zion-loving romantic songs echoed through the streets of the town. The yearning Jewish soul was calmed by dreams of HaMakhresha [The Plough], and the songs of Alikhum Tsunzer,[1] Sh.I. Imber,[2] Alexander Shapiro, and Abraham Goldfaden.[3] Since then the energy of the youth entered a single path, which had its ups and downs, but was not steep, and led to Zion.

Still, on the margins of the nation there were scattered people who persisted in their loyalty to the revolutionary past. Their revolutionary spirit, however, was expressed solely by hanging a red cloth on May 1 and quietly singing The Internationale. This ensured they would not be sent to Siberia.


A small movement of underground communists was formed in the 1920s. The group was very small and was limited to a few families, but the anti-Polish stance in its platform caused its members to think they could enlist a few sympathizers from the Zionist movements. The communists began to work amongst the Zionist youth and charmed them with the romanticism of the underground and by appealing to Jewish interests against minority discrimination.

That communist organization operated for 15 years. Although unable to trap Jews using anti-Polish sentiment, the communists still invited the wrath and suspicions of the Polish police. Almost all were sent to jail. To them, jail was a sort-of certification for their empty heroism, which is still heroism. As time passed, many realized the meaninglessness of their corrupt ways and repented. The wrong they committed to themselves and their people was atoned for by ascending and sobering up towards Zionism. There were some who remained loyal to their old ideals and unfortunately paid for their mistakes with their lives.

Among the underground activists were those with solid foundations. There were thinkers, scholars, talented persons, and strong-willed individuals alert to worldly and Jewish events. We all remember Ysroel Virshudski, Alter's son (Dem Stelmakhs), who was active in the underground, and the net of his activity was cast over the whole area. Eventually he was forced to escape to Russia, but instead of reaching his idealistic resting spot, he was accused of betraying Stalin the Father of Nations, and was executed in the dark 30s of wild Stalinism.

Most prominent among the communists were the brothers Yankel and Ben-Zion Trotski. Those men, who acquired their extensive education on their own, managed to maintain a wide underground movement in our area. They were in direct contact with the pseudo-communist empire and were invincible. Until the Holocaust, they were fortunate, their rebellion bore fruit. They disappeared on the eve of the Holocaust and none of us knows what their end was.

A unique figure was Alterk'e Vidlenski, the anarcho-communist. He was an albino man of Slavic features. Alterke saw himself as Russian and identified with the teachings and actions of the Yevsektsiya.[4] He saw Voronova as an obstacle to progress and was prepared to sacrifice the town to his idealistic idol. His big dream was to shutter the houses of worship and to jail as a traitor anyone who objected. He wanted to send all the worshipers in the synagogue to Siberia.

His faith in communism was blind; he was incapable of successfully explaining himself. It was enough for someone to disagree with him to be considered a traitor to the working class and the working man. Even the craftsmen and laborers in town seemed to him to be obstructing the revolution. He would have executed them all, or exiled them to Siberia, without a trial or explanation. The movement rewarded him with its full support and gave him important underground tasks which he completed responsibly and with talent. Eventually he was captured and jailed at Vronki, a jail and labor camp for political prisoners. He was tortured to death as the secret police interrogated him. He died a short time after he was released. It can be said that until the day he died he worked for Marx, but not once in his life attempted to fully understand Marx. Alter sacrificed his life to an idol he did not comprehend.


The modern youth movement in its Zionist form arrived in our town in the 1920s. The first was an organization named Herut U'Tkhiya[5] which later joined HaKhaluts and Mizrachi. The members of Herut were the first to fulfill their dreams of Aliyah.

Membership of the youth in the Zionist framework brought hope and joy to the parents' homes. It seemed that the persistent misunderstandings among fathers and sons ended. Hebrew was heard in the streets. Songs of Zion were raised by all and Eretz Israel became the solution to the problems facing the Jews of Voronova.

In the late 1920s, as the Aliyah crisis began, and with tensions in Eretz Israel, there was a crisis in Voronova too, but the youth quickly recovered. The youth established additional youth movements which persisted until the great tragedy arrived. These movements were not particularly instrumental in Voronova and so we will not write about them. We will note that the youth’s power shined in times of crisis. Our youth withstood the test of seriousness and fitness. The youth responded to the crisis in their world with unusual mental strength and continued to nurture their growth as they journeyed on the path towards the State of Israel.


Thoughts of Aliyah


  1. Ed. Note: See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tsunzer_Elyokem Return
  2. Ed. Note: See http://yleksikon.blogspot.com/2014/06/shmuel-yankev-samuel-jacob-imber.html Return
  3. Ed. Note: See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Goldfadn_Avrom Return
  4. Ed. Note: The Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party. Return
  5. Trans. Note: Freedom and Rejuvenation Return

[Pages 216-218]

Impressions of a Teacher in Voronova

by Tova Shomroni

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

Before the beginning of the 1933–4 school year I was sent by Dr. Tzemel, Chairman of “Tarbut” education chain, to take a teacher position in the “Tarbut” elementary school in Voronova. The members of the school committee Avraham Eliahu Dwilianski and Shlomo Puziriski came to welcome me in Vilne, in a beautiful gesture and sign of their serious attitude towards education and their respect for those who profess to it.

As a young teacher, just finished with the Seminary, I was full of doubts and fears, and I took my position with great hesitation. But Voronova surprised me and made my first professional steps easier.

I found an enthusiastic parents' committee, dedicated to Hebrew education. All of them were educated people with an elevated national awareness and a deep understanding of educational needs.

The school was a 2–story building, with large spacious rooms, and a hall for dramatics and conventions.

It was an extraordinary school. In the eyes of the authorities it was a religious institution headed by Rabbi Tsipkovitsh “HaMyadler”,[1] but inside it was a modern nationalistic school. Most of its pupils were excellent. Almost all were members of Zionist youth movements and not of religious movements. The education program was similar to all “Tarbut” schools, but by common accord, senior classes studied religion and Jewish culture: Yiddishkeit.


Rabbi Goldberg, teacher


All the teachers who taught secular studies were sent from the center in Vilne. The two teachers of religious studies were local Voronovers. One, Rabbi Goldberg, the “Wiler” Rabbi,[2] was a man of virtues, full of knowledge and wisdom. The second, R. Yosef Shmerkovitsh, father of Shlomo Aviel and Meir Shamir, was a great Torah and Gemarah scholar and highly educated. His general knowledge covered a wide range of topics. Being a patriot, he added a Zionist spirit to his classes. He exposed his pupils to the eternal problems of the Jewish people, and their implications for the present. He also tried to convince his colleague Rabbi Goldberg to adopt his educational policies; they used to burst into hot arguments which were very interesting and culturally enriching, and for me – fascinating. R. Yosef was a nice man, good–hearted, gentle and fascinating. We always learned something new from him.

The financial status of the school was terrible. The parents who were asked to pay these high fees were common poor folk and couldn't afford such payments. In this regard, committee members rose to their glory: at the end of a market day they would go from door to door collecting money for the teachers' salaries. Dear Jews: R. Eliahu Dvilianski, R. Chaim Olkenitski, R. Shlomo Puziriski and R. Nekhemiah Shapiro, who can measure the heat of your Zionist patriotic enthusiasm, and your sacrifice for its fulfillment? Last and not least was R. Zeidl Boyarski, committee treasurer, who worked hard day and night to ensure the school's maintenance. It was the apple of his eye and his devotion was unprecedented.

Over time, the school turned into a cultural center and a social lighthouse, which spread the light of national patriotism to the whole town and its residents. All Zionist activities were held there, from conventions and committee meetings, to bazaars for the benefit of national funds, to memorial ceremonies and receptions for emissaries from Israel, etc.


We experienced many difficulties from the racist and shallow Polish regime. Before visits from the Polish inspector we were all terrified. Teachers and parents lived with the constant threat of closure, of their most precious establishment, and this common emotion created a special bond between them. The inspector came solely with the purpose of finding faults, and to create obstacles in order to close the school. He was always unhappy with sanitary conditions and expressed his pretended surprise:

“Why don't you send your children to a public school? The level of education is international and the children have extra privileges.”

His insinuations were clear.

I won't forget his last surprise visit, this enemy of Jews. With his arrival the rumor spread that he was in the school. He appeared with an attitude of openly rude anti–Semitism. He burst into classrooms without asking, without listening, without hearing out, bursting out with screaming accusations:

“How is it possible that the portrait of the President of Poland, Moschitzki, is hanging under the portraits of Dr. Herzl and Bialik. This is unbearable Jewish hutzpah.”

After that he turned to Mr. Gindlin, the school principal and called him humiliating names in the presence of teachers and pupils. Then he slammed the door and wouldn't speak to him anymore. Luckily, the town Rabbis and leaders somehow succeeded in calming him down.

We overcame all, as did the dear parents, the children's representatives together with us. Despite all these difficulties we succeeded in keeping the school alive and producing excellent graduates each year, who were devoted to the values bestowed by nationalistic Hebrew education, and prepared to carry the burden of reviving Jewish culture and existence as a nation. Each graduating class created new pioneers, each with a vision of the Jewish state and its social structure.

Special mention should be made of the school housekeeper Libe Zilberman whose nickname was “the bell”, not only because she was responsible for ringing the school bell, but also because she tended to talk too much, usually to herself.

She did her job like on a special mission, and performed all her assignments with great devotion and dignity. Sometimes I see Libe as an actress playing a small secondary role on the stage of the nationalistic revival in Voronova, but she played it with absolute conviction of its necessity, certain of its contribution to the narrative. In this breeding ground of the nation's soul, who can tell which part was more important than any other? For me Voronova was a spiritual and emotional second home.


Voronova Hebrew School, 1929


Editor's footnotes:
  1. i.e., from Myadl Return
  2. In the original text the name is spelled: vov–yud–lamed–ayen–resh. Possibly refers to the town of origin of the rabbi. Return

[Pages 219-221]

Educators, Education, Educational Establishments,
Educational Conditions, and Melameds

by Shimon Levine

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

Reb Tzvi Hirsh Lemelevin: he was called the “Talmud Torah Rabbi” and in his cheder[2] studied the best members of our youth since the end of 19th century until beginning of 20th century.

He was a strict Jew, punctual, straightforward and he never preferred one pupil over another. He was devoted to his work, put all his effort into teaching Chomesh,[3] Rashi, and sections of the Bible to his flock.

He was the one and only acknowledged rabbi for 50 years. Although his pupils didn't get far beyond Chomesh and Rashi, parents still wholeheartedly sent their children to study with the old well–known educator.

In 1920 a Polish hooligan pushed him under a train, and thus ended his life in an unexpected and tragic way.

His pupils were mostly members of the same families yet almost all the families in town mourned the death of this irreplaceable educator.

R. Feyvl Weiss and R. Berl haMelamed: both managed cheders alongside R. H. Lemelevin, but they were overshadowed by the latter.

R. Yehuda Kartshmer: his cheder was unique and of high level. His pupils were only boys, and they also studied Gemarah.

His wife Keileh, the hump–backed, was a “melamedet” aside her husband. She used to teach girls to read the parts of the sacred writings that every kosher Jewish girl should know.

Their cheder turned into an academic institution, and with R. Yehuda's death his Gemarah and Mishniyot pupils became orphans.

Enhanced cheder Teachers

At the end of the war in 1914 War, a teacher from Divenishok arrived in our town. He established an enhanced cheder, where he himself taught religious topics including the Bible, while his eldest daughter taught Yiddish, Russian, German and even Math; she was his assistant and subordinate to him.

Because of family reasons this institution was closed shortly after its establishment.

After him came the teacher Igolski who continued with an enhanced cheder in our neighbor Beile's house on Vilne Street. The whole institution consisted of one big classroom with 40 pupils of mixed age and gender. This teacher taught Yiddish, Hebrew and a little Math, and to him were sent children whose parents could afford the high fees. I, for example, couldn't afford to pay the fees, so I used to hide in the corner outside the window and absorb his progressive teaching, and the atmosphere in which it was presented, like a breath of fresh air after a gloomy, rainy day.

Most of all I loved the singing on Shabat nights. This singing lit a sparkle in me which kept sparkling until it brought me to Erets Israel. I think that it had the same effect on everyone.

In the same cheder R. Shmuel Olkenitski taught Russian, Polish and German. Later the two parted ways. R. Shmuel remained the principal of this institution, while teacher Igolsky resigned and started a similar class in the house of Yankl Kamiunski. He got lucky: his class was recognized as a public school for the academic year 1921–22, and later as a Hebrew school “Torah veDaat”.[4]

According to tradition, for generations, in cheder the studies continued 12 hours a day till dark. Our older brothers used to come over with torches to escort us back home. The “Torah veDaat” school brought a revolution in this area. The studies lasted only for 5–6 hours a day. We studied a variety of topics, but mostly languages, math and reading at home – homework.

For several years the school grew constantly in its achievements, education level, educational methods, and clear Zionist tendency. The teachers were seminary graduates from Grodne, Vilne and Bialystok. The curriculum was approved by the center.

The principal, Shimon Dubinski, from Lida, was a true lover of children and a natural–born educator. And the same teacher Igolski from Lomzhe, whose position as leader was taken from him, remained a professional and highly educated Talmudic teacher. He was tall, potbellied, and bold, about 50 years old at the time I was his pupil. I saw him as a man of free opinions, but he taught Talmud and Torah with great conviction and dignity. More than once we found him alone in Beit Midrash struggling over a Gemarah page, with the traditional melody.

For a short period the staff was joined by Shmuel Gurvits, a student, a pioneer who deserted from the Red Army and was waiting to make aliyah. At first he slept in the synagogue and earned money doing various types of physical work. He dug holes, chopped trees, and did other similar jobs with low wages and at random. His employers felt that there is some hidden positive force there and offered him a position in the school. He taught Russian, Math and Geography and appeared to possess extraordinary didactic skills. His personality had a great impact on us by his personal example. Without words we absorbed his personal charm and adored his frame of mind… until one day he disappeared, and we knew that he was in Erets Israel.

And indeed we found him here.[5] He was the principal of a school in one of the cities until he retired.

We have warm memory of a young teacher Gelgort, the daughter of a Rabbi from a town near Vilne. She also enchanted us with her beauty, her entire personality, and her secret dream of aliyah to escape from home.

The last to close the list of teachers who had a great influence on us is Shimon Tlopp, a Hebrew High School graduate, for whom our town was a temporary stop on his way to teaching in Israel.

Teacher Gelgort died here several years ago, but Tlopp is still with us and teaching, holding a principal's position in Holon.

As proof of the high level of education in our schools are the names of its teachers: Weksler: today Dr. Weksler is a High School principal in Haifa and the author of textbooks and teachers' guides. I met him in 1947 in Germany when he was an emissary teacher. He instantly recognized me after all these years. And last is Tova Polinski, aka Tova Shomroni, a successful teacher and deputy principal, and here a successful teacher and educator of Zionism and aliyah.

We keep a tragic memory of the Math and Geography teacher Chaim Luski, brother of Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Luski, who came to our town after graduating from a Russian Technical School, and of the teacher of Polish, Mirmelshteyn. Both married in our town and continued teaching in our school until the Shoah. Both loved our town, our youth and their parents, and all together they were murdered and buried in a brothers' grave.


During their existence, the cheders continued to work and to build the foundations of Judaism, to preserve Yidishkeit at a time when new trends and influences were tempting and threatening the youth who were always looking for new paths for themselves and the nation.

We will always keep pleasant memories of the melameds of Voronova despite our differences in opinions and upbringings.

To be honest fissures opened up in this school from time to time, and the winds of Polish culture managed to waft into the institution. But the town's people kept a vivid memory of the connection between the Polish “culture” people and the murders of Olkenitski and the youngster Moshe Zhabinski, and they declined that culture and language.

One of these experiments was done by Mr. Lichtman who wanted to merge Yiddish, Russian and Polish studies, but it didn't work out. We remember him as one who married one of our compatriots Esther Eishishke, and as one of the leaders of the Yudenrat in the Lida ghetto who endangered his own life on behalf of the Jews of Voronovo, and perished together with them. Another person who tried to make us nobler by bringing Polish nobleness was the teacher Pas from Galitsia. But because of his unpleasant character we rejected him and his theories, he soon had to move to Lida and there… he converted to Christianity.

We write this in honor of our admirable teachers, thanks to whom our school was a training ground for youngsters devoted to nation and culture. The nationalistic Hebrew values we obtained in school are preserved, and have accompanied us throughout our lives, serving us like a shield against foreign cultures and directing us on our long road towards safety and a homeland.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Trans. Note: religious teachers Return
  2. Ed. Note: a Jewish elementary school Return
  3. Ed. Note: the Old Testament Return
  4. Trans. Note: “Bible and Knowledge” Return
  5. Trans. Note: the writer is in Israel Return

[Pages 222-221]

The Building and its Contents
(Housing The Spirit)

by Shimon Levine

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

The cheder and chedermesukan[1] didn't need a house or a building to spread their spirit and to teach their doctrines. A single room, with a long table and benches around, was enough for Torah to exist.[2] That's the origin of the word cheder – one room, a home where Torah can exist. The Rabbi didn't need a podium. He sat at the head of the table and encouraged and pushed his flock to keep repeating after him word by word the text curved in the tablets of stone. The pupils absorbed the sounds into their blood and you got the next generation of Am Israel.[3] There was no need for learning equipment or laboratories, writing and drawing accessories, not blackboards, nor visual props. Here was only the voice of Jacob, the sounds and melodies alone did the didactic work, and the Torah was absorbed.

With time the winds of change arrived and the “Tarbut” school was established, but Voronova faced various difficulties. Now, not one room for all ages, but rooms for each grade were needed, with furniture for pupils and teachers, hallways and a school yard, and learning and writing equipment, and all of it in a suitable building. There was no such building in Voronova.

At first the school was in the house of Yankl Kamiunski (Svolik). In this house there were 5–6 rather small rooms with walls made of thin wooden boards with cracks between them. Although each class had its own room and the classrooms were separated, when the studies began, all the voices merged into one chaotic sound, with segments of sentences without beginning or ending. Whatever happened in one classroom was clearly seen by another through the cracks, and all the walls seemed to vanish– again one big room, what to do?

The entrance was through a long dark corridor, with tools scattered along the way. When the children bustled in, running from the playground, they stumbled into things, entered the wrong classrooms – there was too much failure and turmoil, interruption and difficulty.

Despite everything, this period is considered the golden age of Hebrew education in our town. The teachers' enthusiasm infected the pupils, and the pupils, who loved their school, put in every effort and executed all assignments demanded from them, including the self–restraint test which was the hardest of youth challenges.

As the number of pupils drawn to the school grew, the problem of the school building became more relevant and urgent. Everybody in town knew that there is no chance of a new building; the resources are not enough for such a mission. But against all odds that's what happened, and the building was built.

First there were contributions from town's common folk. Each one contributed as much as he could and more. From old to small, women and youngsters, in the name of every one and by everyone, the amount of money accumulated in the building fund. Then came the contributions of Voronovers in America, loyal to their home town and their old homeland, and there were also fundraising activities in town. Soon the construction began.

The architectural design was entrusted into the hands of R. Leyzer the Builder and he was the one to build the first of its kind in town: two stories of heavy wooden beams “that will stand for ages; you build once– you can't build every ten years or even hundred years”.

I remember this R. Leyzer. He was at that time the most famous man in the area. He did magic in the construction field like a wizard that no common human could understand or imagine. He used to stand with a spirit level in his hand, and this spirit level was like a magic wand which a magician holds until the end of the show. Nobody understood how this tool assisted him nor why no beam was laid on another without his approval, and without this instrument's touch. Everybody put their trust in R. Leyzer and his reputation rapidly grew in the eyes of Voronova people. There is no need to say more, enough to mention that every fritz[4] in the area hired him to build his house–palace and that no Jew ever asked to see his professional diplomas. If a Jew was acknowledged by Gentiles, no other Jew doubted him.

For us, the children, his personality was fascinating. For long days we used to watch him clapping the workers, urging them to work faster, and they obeyed. We also wanted to help. We offered ourselves, our energy and our agility to do deliveries, but he rejected and drove us out of the construction site. He succeeded so well that the Jews asked him to build the synagogue and redecorate the Beth Midrash. R. Leyzer was a great man, an outstanding Jew, and a unique character in our eyes. The roof, made of red tiles was laid by two kosher Jews Aizik and Shmerl, the shingle makers.

It was a hard summer for us the pupils. The classrooms were relocated to the synagogue, the Ezrat Nashim and Talmud Torah room with its broken windows and a view on the cemetery. That used to be a cheder full of pupils. Many of us had to study in the hallway and “work” on our knees. Yet, we tolerated these difficulties with no effort because we knew that soon would come the day for us to enter the new school.

The summer ended and we were saved. The new school was ready and it was magnificent and spacious, and we were all proud of it. It was big and bathed in light, strong and fresh, smelling of resin and forest trees, and each class had its own room totally separated from others.

Along came the winter and frost occupied the spacious building; the ovens built into the rooms without a proper architectural plan burnt too many trees for the town to finance. The more you tried to warm the space, the more the walls dripped steam and the doors and windows dripped water. It was like finding ourselves in hell. Heat and cold alternately caused headaches and fainting, noses leaked, and throats were hoarse. Miraculously nobody complained. We were proud of our large building, of its hallways and its curved staircase, of its separate classrooms and teachers' room, and library and office, and that was enough for us.


The new school and teacher Tovah Shomroni


In this building we spent our best years. We studied there and enriched our souls. In there we cherished our dreams for change and progress.

Who financed the school? We didn't know the answer for a long time. It seemed a miracle to us – what were its means? Who pays all the teachers and the other employees? Who keeps it clean? And who takes care of its maintenance?

Until finally the parents committee was established, with R. Nekhemia Shapiro as its chairman. The committee was elected by everyone. There was no other more important subject in Voronova than the children's fate and education. R. Nekhemia was an educated man who was once a Hebrew teacher and had turned into a successful businessman in older age. He was rich in material and in spirit, with education and modern youth's problems flowing in his blood. And with him there were other dear enthusiastic Jews who assisted in maintaining the school.

The story of the foundation of the Hebrew school in Voronova and the history of its maintenance is the story of the long struggle of poor communities for better education, which in their opinion was crucial for the future, and they ended up as winners. It's a shame that their victory came too late.


Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
  1. Ed. Note: The meaning of this word is not yet known. In the original text the word is spelled: mem–samekh–vov–kuf–nun. Return
  2. Trans. Note: The word cheder in Hebrew means literally ‘'a room’. Return
  3. Trans. Note: the People of Israel Return
  4. Trans. Note: a rich Gentile Return


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