Rabbi Yakov Leib Alfenbein

Efraim Alfenbein, Translated by Jessica Cohen

More should be said of my father, of blessed memory, Rabbi Yakov Leib Alfenbein, who was an enthusiastic Zionist in his youth, even before the Zionist movement existed and before Herzl’s “The Jewish State” appeared. I will briefly mention the founder of the first Zionist association in our town of Buczacz (the “Zion” association), the establisher of the “Safa Brura” [“clear language”] society, and the founder of the Hebrew school of the same name, and I shall outline some of the features of his life.

As the president of “Safa Brura,” my father, of blessed memory, often spoke with the children who learned in the Hebrew school, and encouraged them to love the Hebrew language and Eretz Yisrael. The parents of these youngsters, mostly from the Haredi circles, objected to this and complained to my father, saying that he was a negative influence on them and that they would deviate from the proper path because of him.

And some complained to him: “what use is it for you to awaken others to fulfill the mitzvah of settlement, when you yourself do not fulfill it?” To this my father, of blessed memory, would reply: “I belong to the generation that must prepare itself in the diaspora, to go to Israel and build it.” Even so, he intended to make aliya, but he fell ill and passed away.

And indeed, his influence on these young schoolchildren from “Safa Brura” was evident. Despite the objection of their parents, some thirty of them made aliya after World War I, comprising the first large group of immigrants who went to Eretz Yisrael from Buczacz.

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In 1921, as is known, Keren Hayesod was established. At that time, I was able to donate a respectable sum of money to the fund (25,000 korona), and I told my father, of blessed memory, about my donation from the city of Vienna, where I then resided. My father, who returned to Buczacz after World War I, responded to my letter, saying amongst other things:

“Your letter telling me that, thank God, you have donated 25,000 crowns to Keren Hayesod, breathed life into me, for I realized that you have a Jewish heart and you know the soul of our faith and that you wish to fulfill your obligation to our nation and our country. At once I said: a son of Israel – if he refuses to give a tithe for the construction of our country, he is an apostate to his people and his country. Even if he prays every day according to the law and sways forward and back as is customary, but if he opposes the construction of our land, his prayer is idolatry. For the time has come to build our land and plant our vineyards…”

My father, of blessed memory, was highly educated, a talmid chacham and a Hassid. His entire life was dedicated to Zionist and Hebrew activity, and to Jewish-national work in our town (he worked hard, and under difficult conditions, for the Jewish candidates in the elections for the Austrian Parliament).

Until his final day, he took an interest in the building of Israel and a few hours before his death he asked a friend who was visiting him: “Tell me, how many people made aliya this month?”

During his old-age too he was very active in favor of the Zionist idea, and knew how to enthuse younger people as well, for he himself remained young in spirit.

Efraim Alfenbein