Sokolka, Russia And The Balfour Declaration
Sokółka was known as a bastion of Zionism. After The Balfour Declaration, the Zionist movement became even stronger. From time to time a Zionist propaganda specialist would appear in town and deliver a speech, as a delegate of the province's central Zionist committee. He would deliver his speech in the synagogue in front of the Ark, and the Zionist message penetrated deep into the hearts of Sokółka's Jews.
With the good news of the “Balfour Declaration” the town dressed itself in its festival finery. The town was joyous with happiness. No words can describe the soul-uplifting feeling and raised spirits that gripped the Jews of Sokółka. The Land of Israel for the Jewish people! The Jews of Russia and Poland. Downtrodden, suppressed, a target for contempt and ridicule among the nations who saw them as a scapegoat - they suddenly straightened their backs and stood up straight.
As news of the Balfour Declaration reached Russia, Zionist rallies were held in major cities. A self-defense organization “Union of Jewish Soldiers,” was founded. Joseph Trumpeldor led it.
Only a few months after it was formed, the provisional government was severely weakened and anarchy reigned. Anti-Semitism, previously underground, became more prominent. Sporadic pogroms occurred throughout the Russian empire. In October 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution crushed the provisional government. Shortly after, Russia was thrust into a civil war that lasted until 1921. Between October 1917 and 1921, violent anti-Semitism became widespread. While individual soldiers of the Red Army attacked Jews, the official policy of the Red Army was to clamp down on anti-Semitic attacks, resulting in Jewish sympathy for the Red Army and the Soviet Regime. The White Army, on the other hand, was filled with Cossacks and officers, the bastions of anti-Semitism. The White Army was saturated with anti-Semitism and its slogan was “Strike at the Jews and save Russia!”
When rumors of the Declaration arrived, the Zionist youth of the town dressed up in the Zionist colors – a white hat with a blue band, white trousers and a blue shirt – as an expression of love of the Zionist flag of the Land of Israel. The blue-and-white flag with the Star of David in the center was raised on the clubhouse of the “Young Zionists” and “Ha-Mercaz” that which was located in Itzik Eisen's house in Białystok Street.
In Białystok Street, the group crushed together and the one topic of conversation was the “Balfour Declaration”. The Zionist Federation in Sokółka turned the event into a massive national festival, declaring it a work-free day: the shops closed, the artisans stopped working, and the wagon drivers rested their horses. The Jews congregated in the synagogues for a great national gathering. The school-children together with their parents appeared in military rows of four wearing home-made colored hats, fashioned by the children themselves. David-Yitzhak and his orchestra claimed a place on the Bimah of the synagogue playing nationalist songs. And all present split the air with their raised voices and inexhaustible excitement.
The biggest excitement came with the singing of The Hope, Hatikvah - “To return to the Land of our Fathers” – the dream of every Jew.
The meeting opened with a speech by the great leader of “Ha-Mercaz” in Sokółka, Yisrael Lipczer (Z”L), who spoke with excitement and soul-stirring enthusiasm. The synagogue was full from wall to wall: artisans, shopkeepers and just ordinary Jews ran to hear about “the Land of Israel." Everyone listened, tense with excitement and faith, to the lofty and wonderful hopes for a restoration of the people within the Land of Israel.
The dream then of every Jew was to immigrate to Palestine and live there. And when the gates of Palestine opened, the youth of Sokółka left their parents and their parents' homes and immigrated to Palestine to become ground-breaking pioneers.