The J.H. Brenner memorial library

In coming to write about the J.H.Brenner memorial library, I vividly remember the type of reader which one met within its walls. Girls, modestly clad, with shy looks, typical "daughters of Israel"; boys who had reached adolescence, clad in long "kapotes", their headgear the traditional Chassidic hat, stepping along all too diffidently. Outwardly, there was hardly any difference between these youths and their parents, the shopkeepers, peddlers and other middlemen whose way of life had been laid down for them generations ago: from home to shop and from there to the "shteibel". 

To a large extent the younger generation followed in the footsteps of their fathers: they, too, spent some of their time in the "Shteibel" and pored diligently over their Gemarra. But they felt that they must throw off the shackles of their hidebound, frozen existence and strive for a new life. Their groping in the desired direction led these boys and girls inevitably to the J.H. Brenner memorial library, established by the Zeirei zion. The librry proved a reliable guide. The books widened their horizon and increased their general knowledge. Well do I remember how we used to emerge from the library, the book just borrowed well hidden under the long "kapote", for fear of being regarded as apostates. 

We used to read a book(most of the books were in Yiddish, and most in Hebrew) just as we studied Gemara; diligently and painstakingly. We tried to reach the innermost secrets of the author: the true character of his hero. A good book served as a useful topic for discussion.

Here, within the walls of the library, we first met the charming girls of Hrubieszow. At first, a first encounter was marked by lowered looks and blushes. But this shyness slowly wore off, and we came to meet and talk freely, unhampered by atavistic inhabitants. In the evenings we used to walk together along the road Panska street. Walks were followed by sailings on the river. We hired a sailing boat and slowly acquired the art sailing. After some time we organized sailing races. There were often accompanied by excursions to nearby villages, communal singing and other manifestation of exuberant youth. 

The library served to inculcate in us a sense of solidarity and loyalty; it belonged to Zeiri Zion, whilst the majority of its readers were members of the Poalei Zion party. After some time we tried to rectify this anomalous situation. We appealed to yhr Zeiri Zion committee to call a general meeting of the readers. 

As a result it was decided to constitute a library committee composed of members of the Zeiri Zion committee and three representatives of the readers. This was in 1924. Since then our cultural activities started in earnest. Instead of the paid librarian, the late Sara Hai, who was pensioned off, voluntary librarians from among our members saw it that books drawn were suited to the age and standard of the borrower. Some saw in this undue interference in the library of the individual, but it was not along before it was generally realized that the benefits of the system greatly outweighed its disadvantages. In this work we received considerable assistance from the Hebrew teacher, Eisenberg Eshed, then became a member of Kibbutz Ein Harod. 

From time to time we organized cultural evenings, question-answer evenings, or just social gatherings, the receipts from which were devoted to the library. Occasionally we invited a guest-speaker who talked to us on some literary topic. These lectures were usually held at the "Oaza" hall which was invariably filled to overflowing. I remember particularly one such notable evening, when the well-known writer, Joseph Opatoshu, visited us. We also founded a dramatic circle under the direction of Maitche Hoffman, now of Kibbutz Sh'fayim. This circle presented "the big prize" by Shalom Aleikhem. It was a big success, morally and materially, and the receipts were devoted to the library and to the school. 

Thus the library developed and the number of readers steadily increased. Fees from readers were nominal, and the main income was derived from special activities, as mentioned above. In 1926 we were able to move the library to more commodious premises; we were able to devoted one of the three rooms to reading. The reading hall was filled every evening, especially by the younger generation of poorer class. Discussions were frequent. Notably the fateful question: whither? Some answered it by enlisting in "Hehalutz" and thus finding their way to Palestine. Others went to Argentina, Australia, Brazil etc. But most of them had no possibility to go anywhere, and were eventually exterminated by the Nazis.