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4 Conquering Communities: Zionists, Cultural Renewal, and the State

Tatjana Lichtenstein Indiana University Press ePub

IN EARLY JANUARY 1919, AS THEY PREPARED FOR CZECHOSLOVAKIAS first Jewish Congress, the Jewish National Council published its program for a revolution in Jewish life. Paradoxically, the manifesto’s authors began not by looking to create new Zionist institutions, but by turning to the one social and cultural space that more than any other embodied Jewish tradition, declaring, “The Jewish community is the organic center of Jewish life.”1 In their quest for a national revolution, Zionists looked for continuity in the one institution that had historically provided Jews with a social, legal, economic, political, and cultural framework – indeed they argued, a national structure – in the absence of state institutions: the Jewish community. They immediately set out to transform the existing Kultusgemeinde, an institution with religious ritual obligations alone, into a Volksgemeinde, a community that served Jews as a people, with an extensive social welfare, educational, and cultural agenda. At stake was the very survival of the Jewish nation.

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5 A Stateless Nation’s Territory: Zionists and the Jewish Schools

Tatjana Lichtenstein Indiana University Press ePub

IN MID-JUNE 1921, AS CZECH, GERMAN, AND JEWISH NATIONALISTS in the Bohemian Lands were getting ready for the annual campaigns to recruit children for their nation’s schools, František Friedmann reported on his recent visit to Prague’s new Jewish national school. Impressed with what he found, Friedmann noted that if only Jewish parents could see the happiness of these children, at ease with each other and their teachers, learning Hebrew through song and play, they “would no doubt care much more about Jewish schools.” At the end of his tour, the teacher invited little Frischmann and little Winternitzová to the class podium. From up there, they recited “proudly and straight from the heart”:

Born in Bohemia, I speak Czech

And I take pride in being of Bohemia

I am a Jew and I will remain a Jew

I shall not forget my nation

The one who is ashamed of his own nation

deserves to be scorned by all people

I will not be silent about my nation,

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7 Promised Lands: Zionism and Communism in Interwar Czechoslovakia

Tatjana Lichtenstein Indiana University Press ePub

IN 1937, THE WELL-KNOWN COMMUNIST WRITER AND TRANSLATOR Jiří Weil (1900–1959) published his first novel Moskva-hranice (Moscow to the Border). A longtime left-wing activist, Weil had returned to his native Prague the previous year from the Soviet Union. He had spent the last three years there, first in Moscow, followed by a six-month “reeducation” exile in Soviet Central Asia. Critical of Stalinism, the novel was in part inspired by Weil’s experience in the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, it was received with scathing criticism from his Communist colleagues in Prague. Yet, in Moskva-hranice, the Soviet Union was not the only collectivist experiment the author scrutinized. Weil, who had grown up in a poor, observant Jewish family in the village of Praskolesy/Praskoles near Prague, was perhaps eager to preempt accusations of being a bourgeois-Zionist agent, so he began his account in Palestine.

In the novel’s opening chapters, the reader follows one of the main protagonists, Ri, a young Jewish woman from a small town in Moravia, and her ill-fated experience as a ḥaluts (a Zionist pioneer) in Palestine. Ri had been introduced to Zionism by a friend who jokingly invited her to a meeting with “some local lunatics, Zionists, who call themselves ḥalutsim.” Much to her surprise, Ri is swept off her feet by that evening’s speaker, the “Zionist agitator” Karel Geisinger, “this young man, strong, with broad shoulders, an energetic figure, with fair hair, he cannot possibly be a Jew.”1 Driven less by ideological conviction than emotional attraction, Ri joins the “self-confident and proud” Zionist youngsters in her town and soon finds herself at a training farm, a hakhsharah, in Slovakia. Before long Ri has left behind her middle-class life, her tennis lessons, pretty dresses, and coffee, for the unfamiliar, dirty, and exhausting physical labor on the farm. Once in Palestine, Ri and Karel, now a married couple, and their Zionist group join a kibbutz, an agricultural collectivist settlement.

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6 Making New Jews: Maccabi in Czechoslovakia

Tatjana Lichtenstein Indiana University Press ePub

IN THE MONTHS PRECEDING THE 1936 OLYMPICS IN BERLIN, debates raged in several European and North American countries about whether or not their athletes should be allowed to boycott the Games. No country pulled out of the event, but individual athletes did. Some Jewish athletes decided not to participate; others traveled to Berlin with their non-Jewish team members.1 In Czechoslovakia that summer, audiences followed the boycott debate with great interest. Months earlier the Czechoslovak Jewish sports organization Makabi ČSR (Maccabi Czechoslovakia) had announced that its members would not participate in the Berlin Games.2 This decision was met with support in Jewish and non-Jewish circles.3 It might have gone unnoticed had it not been the case that some of the country’s top swimmers and water polo players belonged to the Jewish clubs Hagibor Praha/Prag, Bar Kochba Bratislava, and Maccabi Brno/Brünn. In addition, several other Jewish athletes, who belonged to non-Jewish clubs, were also members of the Olympic swim and water polo teams.4 Sports commentators believed that the Czechoslovak teams had a good chance of bringing home medals from Berlin. They predicted that the Jewish athletes’ withdrawal would weaken the national teams considerably.

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1 The Jews of Czechoslovakia: A Mosaic of Cultures

Tatjana Lichtenstein Indiana University Press ePub

ONE WINTER, SOMETIME IN THE 1930S, HANA SHAFAR, A YOUNG Jewish woman, traveled with her fiancé, Ivo Karajich, from Moravská Ostrava/Mährisch Ostrau, a bustling industrial center, eastward to Hana’s home village Polana, deep in the valleys of Subcarpathian Rus’. Hana had been in the city for only a short time. She had moved there to join a newly established Zionist commune and prepare for emigration to Palestine. She, like so many others in Polana, had been mesmerized by the visiting young Zionist activists’ fiery speeches about Palestine, work, prosperity, and freedom. But Hana also joined the commune to escape the bleak future awaiting a village girl with no dowry.1 Before long, the beautiful Hana attracted the attention of a salesman and atheist publicist, Ivo Karajich. Formerly known as Isaac Cohen, Karajich had renounced his Jewishness and changed his name, though he could neither escape his own physiognomy (“What a nose!”) nor his attraction to the exotic yet familiar Jewish girl from Polana (“it is his blood calling him”).2 Within weeks, Ivo “liberated” Hana from factory work as well as from the Zionist commune by securing her a position at his journal The Free Thinker. It was as if a whirlwind carried Hana away from her village, from all the truths that she had hitherto known, from all that had been self-evident. She wondered, “Aren’t there any Jews here in Ostrava? Are there only Jews in Polana and then a few in Košice and no more anywhere else? What is the truth, then? What sort of Jews do you call them if they haven’t their own tongue and talk goy even to each other and dress like goyim and do not keep the Sabbath, if they eat treyfe food and don’t pray and don’t do any of the things that make a Jew a Jew?”3 Hana’s confusion grew deeper when Ivo, in proposing to her, revealed, “I am not a Jew.”4 Despite her reservations, Hana loved Ivo and agreed to marry him. Soon, the couple found themselves on the road through Slovakia to Subcarpathian Rus’ and Polana to introduce him to her family.

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