This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page #yizkorbooks #poland

Bruce Drake

One of the bitterest divisions among the Jews of Eastern Europe — which persists among Jews to this day — was the clash of beliefs between the Hassidim and Zionists. The very religious were concerned that secular nationalism would supplant Jewish faith and they believed that it was forbidden for the Jews to re-constitute Jewish rule in the Land of Israel before the arrival of the Messiah. There are echoes of those beliefs today in the ongoing debate in Israel over whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should be exempt from military service so they could dedicate their lives to study of Torah.
This conflict is brought to life in “The Youth and the Aging,” a section of a chapter titled “Way of Life” from the Yizkor book of Turobin, Poland. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain announced support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, gave added energy to the Zionist movement. As young pro-Zionists began to organize and establish a Tarbut library, older Jews became incensed. “The aging, who were usually very devout, were not neutral and almost decreed that nobody rent a room to the criminals who were forcing the End of Days and unifying in Zionist groups,” wrote Yaakov Avituv.
Some blamed hardships that befell the town on the Zionist activity. When large swamps formed in early spring after the thaw, a stench rose from them in the days before Passover that kept away the peasants who shopped there and idled the shopkeepers.
“Gentlemen!” declared R' Yerachmiel Bronshpigel at a meeting, “we see clearly that all the troubles have come upon us because of the criminals and the library. It disseminates those books among our sons and daughters, who day and night read what is forbidden and improper. Why are we still silent? We need to begin a holy war.”
The members of the Tarbut persevered and even staged the play “Joseph In Egypt” for Passover and had the tacit support of many common Jews. But pioneers hoping to make Aliyah had trouble finding work or affording the cost of doing so. Avituv laments, “It is possible that many of those who perished in the Holocaust would [have made] aliya had the rich men of the time contributed support.”

Bruce Drake
Silver Spring MD

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