TELECHAN BECOMES A FACTORY TOWN
The world does not stand still. Even Czarist Russia, backwards Russia, after abolishing serfdom, began to develop some industry. Three Chernichov brothers from Slonim arrived in Telechan to build a glass factory. The town was jubilant; it meant jobs. The mood of the Jewish population suddenly changed from gloom to happiness. Thousands of persons would be employed at the factory; the city would expand. The glass factory became a reality and 5000 employees were hired by the Chernichovs. The three brothers, aside from being capable businessmen, were well versed in Talmud, Modern Hebrew, and were ardent Zionists. They brought in experts from Germany, Austria, and Russia to run the glass factory. In the hiring of laborers, technicians, and artisans, preference was given to Jews. The Telechan Jewish population came to life. They could hardly believe what was happening. It became obvious that the presence of the factory would help to eliminate poverty.
When in 1895 the construction of the factory was completed and the manufacturing of glass began, the townspeople felt revived, strengthen, and hopeful that an end to their misery had come. A new page in the history of our Telechan had been turned.
Let us now evaluate the influence the factory had on the various types of Jews in Telechan and the adjacent communities: What effect did it have on the cultural, social, and political life? Was the religious lifestyle that had not changed since the Middle Ages about to lose out to new ideas, thanks to the arrival of the diverse newcomers?
In the later part of the 19th century, two new movements appeared in Jewish life. Political Zionism and the Bund. The anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus trial in France caused most of the assimilated Jewish intelligencia to realize that assimilation was not the way to solve the “Judenfrage” (the Jewish question). Dr. Theodore Herzl was instrumental in creating political Zionism. In Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, the struggle against the Czar’s reactionary regime intensified. The laborers began to organize themselves to challenge the despotic exploitation of the Czarist regime. Influenced by the liberation movement, the Jewish labor movement organized the “Bund.” The Jews who worked in the factory formed these new organizations. The Telechan Jewish youths were excited and stimulated by these new ideas and ideals. They organized groups to study Yiddish and Hebrew literature, and Jewish history. A library was opened. A self-defense unit was organized to protect against pogroms. It was the Zionist ideals that excited our youth first. They displayed the Jewish flag at their meetings.
Hershel Rosenberg and Asher Gurshtel were the leaders of the political Zionist movement in Telechan. The Czarist regime, ever on the alert to organized youth activities, began to persecute the Zionist movement and ordered Hershel Rosenberg to leave Telechan.
The Bund slowly began to attract the poorer youth and laborers and became the stronger movement in town. Telechan found itself divided into two opposing ideological camps. The religious community consisting of Hasidim and Misnogadim continued to attract the older generation. The younger people were divided between Zionists and the Bund. The Zionists emphasis was Jewish nationalism; the Jews of the Diaspora were subjected to persecution and pogroms, therefore, the Jews must concentrate on securing a homeland in the land of Israel. Hence, there was no need to join any other freedom-loving organization to fight the Czarist regime. The Socialist Bund supporters considered themselves part of the Russian working class and joined the other freedom-loving groups in battle for a free democratic Russia. Their aim was to overthrow the Czar and create a democratic socialist state. In 1899, two years after the two movements appeared on the Jewish horizon, the Zionist movement was a monolithic organization. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Zionist movement began to divide into different factions (labor, religious, etc.). Influenced by the general Russian freedom movement, the Jewish proletariat wanted a synthesis between Zionist ideology (the ingathering of the Diaspora) and the Marxist socialist ideology. Thus a third organization was created, the ‘Poalei Zionism’- labor Zionism.
The older generation stuck to its previous lifestyle, but quietly complained about their children’s new directions. This led to constant debates and discussions between the two generations. The parents lived in fear of their children being dragged into the revolutionary movement and eventually falling into the hands of the Czar’s police. The older generation concentrated its life around the synagogue, praying and studying Judaism. The majority of the younger generation who worked in the factory twelve to fourteen hours per day spent the evenings discussing political, cultural and social problems.
(The original Yiddish text continues with the world war years- but remains untranslated at this time)
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