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Sefer Vladimirets

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Pages That Remain

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Shlomo Reznik 

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).


Before me lie yellowed, old pages, pages that remain from letters that were written in those far-off days when our town was a thriving, living Jewish settlement.  I took them from the archive, precious remainders from the days of our youth, so as to revive with them memories that have been forgotten in the tumult of time.  They continued to live, with wonderful patience, only on these hidden pieces of paper, in some concealed and stubborn struggle against the hand of Time.

I will hear what they say before I read them.  They speak to me with the yellowed spots that spread over them, whispering silently.  Every detail is precious and arouses interest.  Here, this is a letter from my good friend, Yosef Smolar, my companion in the movement.  I ruffle the pages, because I want to feel the experiences of those days, their actuality, also with my fingers.  Rows of quick, hastily written letters – with which my friend wrote his ideas clothed in words and sentences.  The words are fluent and hurried – they have to tell about many, many matters – management meetings and student meetings, "Oneg Shabbat" [Enjoyment of the Sabbath] parties that the members of the group hold every Sabbath night; reports of our members' activities on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, and alongside these, an indication of satisfaction and pride in the HaShomer HaTzair group, which was first among various collectors of donations in the town.  Here, he will tell about a wall newspaper and the group's hall that Elchanan  succeeded in decorating, about members who are going out to hachshara {preparatory course before immigrating to the Land of Israel], and about members who received permits to immigrate; about the Chanukah party that will be held jointly with HaChalutz, a party for which a rich and varied program had already been prepared.  And here, my friend will veer away from the report and turn to me with a request that I send to him some photos of the Land of Israel for that same party, and the photos will certainly be nicely integrated into the exhibits that they are preparing.  At the end of the letter, again a request – that I send them newspaper articles that I have written.  He promises that they "will write the material in a special way" and from that promise, you hear that "to write in a special way" means to write love of the Land, the trembling of faith and the fervor of action.

The letter laid in the archive for many years, hidden from eyesight, until I remembered it together with other letters.  It contains nothing about my friend's private life.  Everything happens and is celebrated in the circle of the movement.  I think about the experience of activity and the freshness of youthful self-denial that HaShomer HaTzair established. Here is another page, on which is written about the HaShomer HaTzair newspaper that they receive from Warsaw, and how the members of the group study and memorize it, learning the Hebrew language from it because there is no Hebrew school in the town.

And here is another remainder.  It is not a letter, but a circular that I myself prepared on the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the group.  The hand of Time has touched it also.  There are many erasures and stains of the folds.  This is a rough draft, the first version of the circular that we brought out for the parents.  "The HaShomer HaTzair group in our remote town has existed for five years, with no assistance, without a Hebrew school." That is the first sentence of the circular that was issued to the parents, to relatives and friends.  "It stood alone in our town, and it obstinately fulfilled its double task, to teach Hebrew (the task of a school) and to educate.  About one hundred children receive a nationalist education in the movement; they have learned to recognize their nation and its history…" From this it is understood why the yearning to see the Land and to live in it was so great.  "We plant in the tender hearts of the children a love for the manual labor of the pioneers in the Land of Israel.  Who would educate these children if not us?  Would the Polish school educate them to this purpose?"

"Do we gather only to dance and sing?"  The question is asked in the same circular.  And here is the answer:  "Indeed, yes, we do sing and dance, and we are full of life, because we want to take off our clothing of exile and wear clothing of the Land of Israel."  And further, a notation that "Our ten members who went out to hachshara, and those who are waiting to go, all of them must be accompanied by the blessings of their parents and relatives and friends."  And alongside these statements, it is already told of one mother parting from her daughter, her eyes streaming with tears, wishing her success on her journey.

"The road is difficult and filled with obstacles," ends the circular, "and we believe that we will know how to overcome them and reach our goal.  So, parents, relatives and friends, give a hand to our deeds and your portion will be with us."

It is an experience of Zionist activity and innocent faith.  For a moment, I close my eyes, and pictures beyond these pages arise.  But they have a common origin – the origin of the Zionist experience and the love for it.  Childhood pictures from the days of the holidays in the synagogue and at home, of the prayers and blessings in which this love found its first strength.  And here, that same parade forward, on the day of the Balfour Declaration, when I was still a small boy of seven – in the synagogue square, a great, huge crowd had gathered.  Blue and white flags fluttered in the breeze.  Fiery speeches were heard, and engraved in memory is mainly that rider on a horse dressed as a Turk, or an Arab, but historic precision is not important at this moment… I well remember the singing of HaTikva.  How we sang it at that occasion, along with the vow in Yiddish:  "Mir Shveren – we swear not to forget you, Land of our Forefathers and longings."    And I was so excited by that song, that my small hands were clenched into fists by great enthusiasm and devotion. 

Days of yore … and following them, the days of establishing HaShomer HaTzair – with what excitement I received the first slogan:  "Speak Hebrew!"  This wasn't just Hebrew; it was Hebrew with the Sephardic pronunciation.  How great were the values of the new songs and dancing the hora, which united children from all levels of the congregation – children of the wealthy and the poor, without difference – into a single unit.

How sincere was the longing in those days for a life of labor, for integrity, for modesty.  With what trembling we went out as woodcutters to the yards of the different houses in order to fulfill the commandment of conquering work and to compete with the gentiles, who had always been woodcutters… And here are memories from the days when I was the coordinator and manager of the Tarbut library:  with what dedication did I bind its old books that required rebinding.  I established my bindery in a hut in our yard, a hut that stood between two plum trees.  With what innocence did I add a few more bundles of flax to sew and strengthen the back of a book – bundles of flax, strips of fabric and the addition of glue, so that the books would last and be worthy of their purpose.

This Zionist existence and longing for the Land of Israel did not mark only us, the youth – before me is another old letter, a letter from my dear Uncle Ben-Zion Zhuk, of blessed memory, a testimony that touches the heart and teaches how strong the desire to immigrate to the Land of Israel was, not only among the youth.  How he, the head of a family and the father of children, was knocking on the closed gates of the Land and the gates did not open for him.

The date was at the beginning of 1935.  The hand of time also was felt on this letter.  But its cry, even now, is stronger, after its writer and all of the members of his family did not merit to immigrate and were murdered in the Holocaust … now, I will hear from its contents the silent cries of his dear wife Teibel and their young children, Rivka and Devorah and Moshele…

In a tone of humor and good spirits, he expresses his sorrow, because my Uncle was a popular Jew, popular and straightforward:

"Sometimes I think of new plans.  Today, I found in the newspaper a greeting from a program that is the perfection of novelty – certificates for rabbis.  In other words:  whoever has an acknowledgement in his possession that he was ordained as a rabbi, has a chance to immigrate to the Land of Israel.  The explanation of the matter is that he must first present a letter signed by three rabbis stating that he indeed has such an ordination, and after that he must travel to Warsaw, to take a test at the Union of Rabbis and answer questions that he will be asked, and here he receives the hoped-for acknowledgement according to which the Land of Israel office will grant him the desired permit.  But the matter is not so simple…I, of course, am doing everything…I even began to grow a beard…

"And here is another plan how to get out of here – to receive a request from the Land for a butcher.  Nu, this is a simpler matter.  For a week I have learned the rules of butchering and I will go out as a kosher and honest immigrant to the Land of Israel … But who from the Land of Israel will request me as a butcher? That is the question.  Maybe I should immigrate as a tourist?"

"I read in the newspaper that a tourist is obligated to deposit 60 pounds as security.  The visa will be given for three months, and after that it is possible to request an extension for another three months, and when we are already located among our brothers in the Land of Israel, possibilities for remaining there always will be revealed, but this will depend upon an employer who will have to guarantee that I will not be unemployed; and perhaps there will be chances to establish a business, if not alone, then with a partner.

"Indeed there are important plans, and the main thing is that my "schlimazel," the prosecuting "schlimazel," doesn't get there first.  Ah, if he fell into my hands, I would severely punish him according to the Law … My dear, stand guard and do not lose any opportunity … I heard that Meir Baril is working wonders in this area.  If you knew, my dear, how hard it is for me to become absorbed in all of these imaginary plans, but it is many times more difficult to live here.  Every month, every week, every day, and every hour…"

Indeed, the lot of very many of the residents of our town was with us, the youth who longed to immigrate, and this letter is only a bubble in the hearts of many, many residents of our town, who wished, but did not merit…

The prosecuting Satan did not fall into the hands of my dear Uncle, nor into the hands of other precious Jews.  He was not severely punished.  On the contrary … he grew stronger day by day, and his shadow covered the earth. He is the one who struck, who killed and did not have mercy…

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