My Father's Agony and Ecstasy
When Organizing the Mizrakhi

By Matisyahu Prawda

Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski

In my memory, Czyzewo remains a shtetl of hasidic shtiblekh (small prayer houses) and Zionist organizations. The youth were brought up with a life purpose, with ideas to campaign for a better tomorrow for the Jewish nation.
The youth organization, which after 1929 was extremely active, was not created with ease, because most of the Jews of Czyzewo were hasidim and simple religious folk, who held that one had to wait for the arrival of the Moshiach before emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. Yet, the Zionist cause was nonetheless being instilled in many young Jewish minds and partly amongst the older generation as well.
My father, Yekhiel Asher Prawda, from the Aleksander hasidic sect, was one of the first to create the religious Zionist party “Mizrakhi.” By doing this he induced the wrath of the hasidim. Their anger was so strong that he was forced to stop praying in the Aleksander shtibl. This was harsh punishment for my father, similar to a kheyrem [being shunned]. Yet, all of this did not scare him away from his Zionist activism. With even greater fervor, he delved into the work of proponing the Zionist cause to religious youth.
The greatest satisfaction of his work was his opponents' slow transformation into the Mizrakhi camp. He saw this as a manifestation of recognition and comprehension of the Zionist cause, which was the purpose of his life.
When it came to the Sejm [parliamentary elections], he was tirelessly active. On shabes, in the big besmedresh, before the Torah reading, he got up and delivered a sermon in which he attacked the Agudas Yisroel for supporting Pilsudski's list # 1. He and the Zionist Berl Gozshaltshany, a merchant, stubbornly fought the tendency of endorsing the government party.

The Rabbi held with the Agudas Yisroel, who also called upon the Czyzewo Jews to vote for the Pilsudiski slate. The Rabbi was against the idea of religious Jews going against the government. On that same shabes, someone reported to the police commissioner that my father spoke against the government. In the midst of the heated fight, the commissioner entered the besmedresh searching for my father. The Jews standing near my father, threw a talis (prayer shawl) over him so the commissioner wouldn't find him. Afterwards, he was forced to go into hiding for an entire week because the commissioner threatened him with severe punishment. We were very frightened then, knowing that the commissioner was a very strict and brutal man. Once, during a wild holiday celebration, he cut someone's hand off with his sword.

The following week when his wrath calmed he ceased searching for my father, who again delved into his work of proponing Zionist ideology to young and old. In 1933, the youth organization Hashomer Hadati was created in Czyzewo. In 1938, as a member of the Hashomer Hadati, I made aliya to Israel. The words of Zalman Belfer, “Hold a plowshare in one hand and a gun in the other; fight for your own country,” accompanied me.

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Four rows of young Mizrakhi members

First row: Meltser, Rabinowitch, Radtshkowski, 2 brothers, Chaim Grade, Vollmer, Grosbard, Belfar.
2nd row: Eybishets, Eliahu Gura, Eliahu Zilberstein, Yisroel Yitzhak Lev, Avrom Berl Lyubeltshik, Balender, Kitai.
3rd row: Tselniker, unknown, Balyender, Starkowski, Kitai, Zusman.
Last row: Kahan, Moltsman, Belfar, and a boy fun Staker shoemaker