The Mizrachi Organization of Czyzewo

By Eliahu Gora of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At this time, we do not have in our hands the exact date of the founding of the Mizrachi organization in Czyzewo. To our great sorrow, none of the elder founders who stood by the cradle of its foundation are still alive. As far as we can estimate, this was at the beginning of the 20th century. However, what we do know from the handful of survivors of the Mizrachi organization who live with us today in our Land, and were active among the religious youth in our town – that the annals of the existence of Mizrachi in Czyzewo can be considered to have started from the first appearance of the idea of that movement in the general Jewish world: that is during the last decades of the 1800s.

Our small town was always attuned to every new movement in the life of our people, whether social, cultural, communal or general. The fundamental idea of national renewal in its variegated manifestation, whether from the founding of Chibat Zion or afterward, as well as the national Zionist movement founded by Dr. Herzl of blessed memory that spread in the Jewish street, penetrated our town as well and conquered strong fortresses in the hearts of the young generation – most of them fine young men, the children of Hassidim immersed in Torah and people of good deeds. Czyzewo, as a fortress of Hassidism, was blessed with many such people.

With the crystallization of the national religious idea in the framework of the world Zionist movement that resulted in the founding of the Mizrachi movement; a group of young men found in it a suitable domain for their national spirit and their religious foundation. They went ahead and founded the first group of the national religious movement, and with this they established the foundation for the Mizrachi organization in all its manifestations, which was organized later and existed in Czyzewo for all the years until its destruction.

The spiritual resource from which the pioneers of the national idea received their sustenance was, among others, the Hatzefira newspaper, which was published by Reb Zerach Starkowski of blessed memory. He was also known therein as the correspondent regarding life in the town. This activity was obviously conducted underground, and was hidden from the Hassidic parents, who saw this newspaper as “treif and passul” and would be prohibited as “bal yiraeh and bal yimatzeh” in a Jewish home. Indeed, the influence of the Hatzefira newspaper was significant. People would enter secretly into the women's hall of the great Beit Midrash in order to read the newspaper in unison. They would exchange impressions and enjoy the aroma of the national spirit that this newspaper imparted to them. They would also arrange meetings and gatherings of youth in order to instill the idea of the religious national renaissance to them.

Reb Chaim Yehoshua Tancze, particularly excelled in this holy work. He was one of the unique people in our town given that he was a Jew imbued with Torah, a Hassid and a Maskil all in one. He served for all these years in the task of the secretary of the Jewish communal council. The following were his friends who gathered around him and helped him with this factional work: Reb Moshe Najmark, Reb Yaakov Landau, Reb Yechiel Gozlancki, Reb Fishel Bronsztejn, Reb Fishel Lubelczyk, Reb Moshe Aharon Belfer, Reb Shalom Kitaj, Reb Meir Shimon Rybak, the brothers Avraham Yosel and Binyamin Slucki, Avraham Lampert, and Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda of blessed memory. There were also those who worshipped in the Great Synagogue: Reb Yosel Baruch Lepak and Reb Shmuel Velvel Kandel of blessed memory. Their efforts were expressed not only in the conducting of publicity meetings, but also in collections for the Jewish National Fund and other Zionist activity.

czy355.jpg [35 KB] - Hashomer Hadati and Young Mizrachi

Hashomer Hadati and Young Mizrachi

The following story, which I heard in Israel from Reb Moshe Najmark of blessed memory, will testify to the level of holiness to which they related to the Zionist movement and its leaders.

On the day of the passing of Dr. Herzl of blessed memory, they gathered for a memorial evening in the women's hall in the Great Synagogue, where they eulogized him appropriately and studied chapters of Mishna for the elevation of his soul. This fact proves clearly the level of feelings of awe and honor to which they related to the founder of the Zionist movement, even at the first steps of nationalistic religious activity. This organizational and ideological activity continued on throughout all the years until the end of the First World War.

The activities of the Zionist movement moved to a very different level in the year 1918, after the Balfour Declaration. The era of intensive activity for the building of the Land started, as did the period of the Third Aliya.
The Mizrachi organization was reconstituted in Czyzewo. Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda of blessed memory stood at the head of the movement. The following members joined efforts with him: Simcha Ljew, Yaakov Astranzanski, Yudel Richter, and, may he live, Reb Yechiel Eliasz, who was among the first of the Chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) who made aliya. During a later period, the following members excelled in their faithful efforts: Moshe David Litwak, Yisrael Yitzchak Ljew, and may they live, Eliahu Zylbersztejn, Pinchas Frydman, Eliahu Gora, Yaakov Kandel, who are today in Israel. The son of the rabbi, Reb Chaim Zwoldower of blessed memory was also active. All of them were the children of Hassidic parents, who were themselves frequenters of the Beis Midrash. They gazed and were affected by the national spirit that began to express itself with greater energy among Polish Jewry.
As a result of this blessed activity, factional institutions were founded, such as the Yavneh School, and the Hashomer Hadati youth movement. The movement also supplied appropriate representation to all the communal bodies and institutions that were in existence, such as the communal council, the fund committees, and election committees for the congresses, etc.

A new era of vibrant activity began with the organization of the Hashomer Hadati youth movement. The establishment of the chapter of Hashomer Hadati stemmed the tide of the migration of the religious youth to the liberal youth movements. The sons and daughters of Orthodox homes who joined us took upon themselves the yoke of Zionist doctrine blended in a fine fashion with the love of the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel. These youths were blessed with the values of the nationalist Zionist movement, and bore the flag of Mizrachi in our town with pride.

Through the efforts of the religious youth, a Kibbutz Hachsharah of “Hechalutz Hamizrachi” was established. It only existed for a brief period, but the pioneering influence of the youth was quite recognizable. The following martyrs were among the active counselors in the Hashomer Hadati organization: Baruch Grossbard, Dov Lubelczyk, and the girls Tova Zylbersztejn, Yehudit Rotman, Moncarsz, and the Szwarc sisters, may G-d avenge their blood. As well, there were the following people, may they live long, Yehoshua Walmer (in Nicaragua), Chaim Belfer, Eliahu Zylbersztejn, and Avraham Kandel (the latter three in Israel).
A significant number of these boys and girls came from homes of Hassidim of Gur, who were opposed to any movement that had even a scent of Zionism, even if religiously based. However, they became enthralled with the religious Zionist idea with the entire flame of their hearts, and their young souls worked with enthusiasm and love for Zion and Zionism together. They were infused with faith and hope that the day would come when they would be able to make aliya to the Land of Israel, to build it and be built by it. However, to our sorrow, fate was cruel to them, and they did not merit to do so. Most of them went to the stake and perished together with all the Jews of Czyzewo in the terrible Holocaust that was perpetrated against the splendid Jewry of Poland. May G-d avenge their blood.

Their holy memory will never depart from us!