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In late July 1934, the largest newspaper in Mandatory Palestine, "Haaretz," published an intriguing note. A new repatriate from the USSR, neurologist Pinchas Feldman, shared a curious telegram he received from Odessa. It read, "We mourn the death of H.N.," written by Odessans who signed even more mysteriously as "Family." For readers, journalists provided an explanation: "H.N." referred to the recently deceased Jewish national poet Hayim Nachman Bialik, and "Family" denoted Zionist activists remaining in Soviet Ukraine. From the newspaper report, it became clear: Zionism in the USSR had not perished, but Zionists operated underground, constantly risking their freedom and lives.

Dr. Pinchas Feldman was also a member of the Odessa "family," but he managed not only to escape to Eretz Israel but also to rise triumphantly in Zion. He was the man who secretly brought the remains of one of the founders of the Zionist movement from the Soviet Union - Yehuda Leib Pinsker. Pinsker's publication of the book "Autoemancipation" in 1882 attracted widespread attention among European and Russian Jews, leading to the emergence of the "Hovevei Zion" movement advocating for the creation of a Jewish state.

Pinchas Meirovich Feldman also belonged to the old guard of Zionists. He was born on the seventh day of Passover in 1890 in the town of Nova Ushitsa, in Ukrainian Podolia. The Feldman family home stood behind the synagogue courtyard, between a ravine and Postal Street. His father, Reb Meir Dov Feldman, was a Boyan Hasid and a well-known public figure in Nova Ushitsa. Pinchas's mother, Bat-Sheva Isaakovna, from the Masis family, managed a fabric store and looked after a large family: three daughters and four sons. Despite their devotion to Hasidic tradition, the Feldmans actively supported the secular education of their children. In the shtetl, they were also known as ideological Zionists, supporters of the "Hovevei Zion" movement, whose home practically served as the headquarters of Eretz Israel patriots.

In his childhood, Pinchas attended the cheder and then the first Jewish school in Nova Ushitsa, founded by his father. When he was still a teenager, his parents moved to Odessa. There, Pinchas continued his education in a gymnasium, which he graduated from with a gold medal.

Odessa resembled a boiling cauldron. This city was not only a center of commerce but also of political life. The Zionists in the capital of southern Ukraine had one of the strongest organizations, which couldn't help but inspire young Pinchas and his family. As a high school student and later as a university student, Pinchas Meirovich was a member of Zionist youth circles, participated in theoretical debates with youth from the Bund. In his free time, he could be found at the club of the "Tarbut" society, which promoted Hebrew.

After receiving his high school diploma, the young man was admitted to the medical faculty of Odessa University. Despite choosing such a practical specialty as medicine, Pinchas showed a clear inclination towards literature and journalism. Even as a student, he frequented the homes of renowned publicists and politicians, developing a close friendship with Menachem Ussishkin, an ideologue of Jewish settlement in Palestine and one of the leaders of the "Hovevei Zion" movement.

The first of the Feldmans to head to Zion was Yehoshua, the younger brother of Pinchas Meirovich. In 1910, he embarked alone to study at the "Herzliya" gymnasium in Jaffa. In his letters home, Yehoshua instilled enthusiasm in his siblings for the resettlement in Eretz Israel, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, their plans for early immigration began to fade.

When under Kerensky the Jews were granted the right to be elected to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, Pinchas Feldman decided to run for election in his hometown of Nova Ushitsa on behalf of the Zionists. "Place ballot number two in the box!" the Zionists urged from posters hung around the city - they were second on the list. However, the free political life in the country ended as unexpectedly as it had begun. Battles were erupting in Ukraine.

Throughout the Civil War years, which he spent in Odessa, Pinchas Meirovich harbored hope that sooner or later he would be able to leave for Eretz Israel. His wife, Berta Shmuelevna Drut, whom he met during his medical studies, fully supported him in this. In 1923, a son, Shaul, was born to the couple.

In 1926, almost all the Feldmans left for Palestine, changing their surname to the Hebrew Bitan upon arrival. The very last to depart was the eldest brother, Yechiel, who left the USSR in 1930.

Although Pinchas Meirovich, utilizing all his connections, managed to help his relatives emigrate, he himself struggled to repatriate for a long time. Feldman and his wife had to establish their "own Palestine" in Odessa. Managing the neurological department at the Jewish hospital, Pinchas Meirovich turned his home into a place frequented by Jewish educators, Hebrew writers, and former members of Jewish political parties and organizations. It was an underground Zionist committee in Odessa, connected with similar groups in Moscow, Leningrad, and Tbilisi.

In the conditions of Bolshevik dictatorship, such actions were extremely dangerous. Pinchas Meirovich remembered how his young son Shaul, whom he had been teaching Hebrew since kindergarten, once said, "Dad, if you don't stop pressuring me to learn this foreign language, I'll report you to the GPU! You're teaching me counter-revolutionary language!" The boy just wanted to go play with his friends in the yard, not to pore over Hebrew grammar and vocabulary, but such incidents could easily lead to tragedy.

However, even in these conditions, underground activists continued to operate. One day, the Odessa Zionist committee learned that a family of dedicated Zionists was in exile, without work, and suffering from severe hunger. The activists faced the question of how to quickly raise funds under constant surveillance by the secret police. Fortunately, a well-known cantor named Pinchuk was performing in Odessa at that time, having sent his entire family to Palestine. Without hesitation, Dr. Feldman went with another member of the underground to the "London" hotel and asked the cantor to contribute to the cause. The cantor fearlessly agreed and immediately offered to donate all the proceeds from one of his concerts to help the needy. In turn, Pinchas Meirovich became an "agent" distributing tickets among his acquaintances, friends, and numerous patients. The concert was a great success, and the funds raised were enough not only to help the starving family but also other victims of repression.

Soon, the Odessa Zionists were presented with a much more significant task. In July 1932, underground activists learned that the city authorities of Odessa had decided to demolish the old Jewish cemetery, which included the grave of Yehuda Leib Pinsker, the father of Zionism. All existing tombstones were to be destroyed, and the cemetery leveled to the ground. The Zionists decided to take action. Pinchas Meirovich became the executive leader of the mission, with his wife as his right hand, and another prominent Odessa Zionist, Yakov Landasman, providing assistance.

The activists began to seek the transfer of Pinsker's remains to a new cemetery through legal means. Within a few days, signatures were collected among the Jewish professorship in support of a petition to the government. The explanations in the petition were entirely Soviet: Pinsker, they argued, was a military doctor who worked among the poor, providing unpaid assistance to the working class. The main petitioners were Pinchas Feldman and his wife, listed in the petition as "relatives of Pinsker." In reality, they were kindred spirits in their beliefs but not by blood.

To everyone's joy, permission was granted. Pinsker's body was placed in a lead coffin and reburied. Even the monument from the grave of the Zionist leader was successfully relocated to the new location.

This success was followed by another: the family of Pinchas Meirovich was allowed to reunite with their relatives in Palestine. The spouses began counting the days until their departure from Odessa. However, they did not want to leave the USSR empty-handed. They couldn't bring their friends from the Zionist committee with them, but attempting to bring the body of one of its contemporary prophets to the homeland was entirely possible. Understanding the importance of the gift they could present to the people of Israel, the Feldmans decided to take the risk.

The doctor wrote a statement requesting the exhumation of the body of "his relative," whose remains he wanted to take with him when leaving the Soviet Union. The bureaucrats accepted the application without many questions and almost immediately gave their approval. However, after obtaining the signature, a terrible bureaucratic hassle ensued, with Feldman having to run from one institution to another. As a result, the initial permission was annulled. Unfortunately, the official who had helped Feldman was arrested for some administrative offenses. There were moments when Pinchas Meirovich wanted to give up, but his wife, Berta Shmuelevna, showed extraordinary resilience and continued knocking on various doors.

After numerous bureaucratic procedures, the couple finally succeeded in obtaining permission in 1934 to excavate the coffin entirely and arrange for the transportation of Pinsker's remains. They managed to transport him on the Soviet ship "Franz Mering," which was departing from Odessa to Jaffa.

With very little time left before the voyage, Feldman received a call at work. An unknown voice, without any greetings, asked the doctor, "Which organization is handling the transportation of Pinsker's remains to Palestine?" Feldman repeated his legend, emphasizing that Pinsker was his relative, and that only he and his wife were dealing with all matters related to it. Apparently dissatisfied with the response, the stranger hung up without saying anything.

Three days later, Feldman was summoned to customs, where they demanded to open the coffin with the deceased. It sounds strange, but it is said that to the surprise of all present, Yehuda Leib Pinsker, wrapped in a silk prayer shawl, looked as if he had died only yesterday, 43 years after his passing. The person in charge attempted to search the body, but upon seeing Feldman's face turn crimson with outrage, he immediately closed the lid.

Even before his departure, Feldman informed members of his family in Palestine about the valuable cargo. One of the brothers of the Odessa resident contacted an old friend of Pinchas Meirovich, Menachem Ussishkin, who was then the chairman of the Jewish National Fund and a member of the main Zionist executive body in Eretz Israel – Va'ad Leumi.

Ussishkin began consulting with knowledgeable individuals. Logically, it would have been appropriate to choose the Tel Aviv cemetery for Pinsker's burial, where in 1926 co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, Max Nordau, was reinterred. Pinsker could have been buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where just a few weeks earlier, the defender of world Jewry's interests, Aryeh Leib Motzkin, had been buried. However, Ussishkin insisted on a third, far more unique option: the Nicanor Cave on the campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

This ancient burial cave was discovered in 1902 and identified by scholars as the burial place of Nicanor of Alexandria, who, according to legend, paid for the gilded Eastern gates of the Jerusalem Temple. Ussishkin enthusiastically embraced this idea and proposed transforming the cave into a national pantheon, where it was planned to reinter other Jewish national leaders. It was there, in 1941, that Ussishkin himself was buried...

Pinchas Feldman, with his son, wife, and their valuable cargo, arrived at the port of Jaffa on the morning of June 20, 1934. From there, the coffin with Pinsker's body was transported to the "Ohel Shem" hall in Tel Aviv. Placed in the center of the hall, it was adorned with white and blue flags and surrounded by lit candles. Pinsker's resting place was guarded by scouts and representatives of " Brit Rishonim," an organization of Zionist veterans in Eretz Israel.

On June 24, 1934, Sunday, the ceremony began. Schoolchildren gathered in the hall, waving national flags. Pinchas Feldman took the floor, followed by members of the "Hovevei Zion" council led by Ussishkin, who carried the coffin outside. The procession, which included not only ordinary citizens but also policemen, firefighters, and officials from the health department, marched through the central streets of Tel Aviv.

At the burial site in Jerusalem, representing the Zionist General Council, Itzhak Ben-Zvi spoke, followed by Ussishkin and the first rector of the Hebrew University, Judah Leon Magnes. With a large crowd in attendance, including prominent representatives of the Jewish national movement, the coffin with Pinsker's remains was transferred to the cave on the eastern slope of Mount Scopus.

Two days after the solemn reburial, Dr. Feldman spoke to the press, recounting the situation in the Soviet Union. "The situation of Russian Jews is terrible. Judaism is degenerating there. Assimilation is progressing by leaps and bounds; there is no Jewish school, no Hebrew," noted the Odessa Zionist. However, he added, "It should be known that supporters of the late Pinsker's ideas are still numerous, very numerous among the Jews of Russia." Feldman informed readers that hundreds of young Jews in the USSR languished in prisons for the ideas of the late Pinsker. He did not forget to mention his friends who remained in Odessa: "Even today there is a group of writers and poets there who create poetry and literature in Hebrew, despite the suffering, persecution, and real hunger."

Speaking about the writers and Zionist activists from Odessa, Pinchas Feldman had in mind the lawyer Benzion Shvartsman, the teacher and translator Shlomo-Benzion Kripets, the writer Abraham Freeman, and a very young man, a student at the Odessa Art Institute, Borukh Katzenelenbogen. This was the same "family" that remained in the USSR. Feldman was particularly close to Abraham Freeman, who often visited his home, used his rich library, and read newspapers sent to the doctor from Palestine.

Exactly one year after Feldman's departure to Eretz Israel, on June 16, 1935, all members of the Odessa underground Zionist committee were arrested. One of the main questions that interested the Chekists was about Pinsker's remains and how Feldman managed to take them out.

Dr. Pinchas Feldman and his wife settled in Tel Aviv in the house of Eliezer Gold on Johanan Ben-Zakai Street. In the early years of their stay in Eretz Israel, Pinchas Meirovich worked in the neurology department at the Hadassah-Balfour Hospital.

He did not forget his fellow countrymen, becoming a member of the presidium of the "Association of Russian Jews in Eretz Israel." It was established in late 1936 at the initiative of Feldman and other Russian Zionists: Abraham Kholodenko, Ishaya Adler, Abraham Amora, Israel Goldman, Aryeh Maze, Moshe Rosenstein. In the 1940s, this organization had 400 members who volunteered to assist needy repatriates. Among other activities, the "Association of Russian Jews in Eretz Israel" managed to gather important material on the history of the Zionist movement in Russia. Feldman and other presidium members were able to present a memorandum to the British authorities on the situation of Judaism and Zionism in the USSR, as well as the problems of Soviet Aliyah.

Pinchas Feldman was destined to take part in the establishment of the Jewish state. During the War of Independence, he organized a hospital where he treated the wounded. He also experienced a heavy loss in Eretz Israel. At the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, Feldman's beloved brother, once a pioneer of the Feldman family's Aliyah, Yehoshua, was killed. While providing first aid to a victim in a street clash, Yehoshua himself was wounded and soon passed away.

"Doctor Feldman is a saintly man," the understanding staff of the Tohelet Hospital for Incurable Patients in Tel Aviv, which he founded and where he worked in his later years, used to say about him. Even in his old age, he regularly attended meetings and rallies in support of the Russian-speaking Jewish community. In 1969, he participated in a memorial evening for his comrade, Abraham Freeman, whose book "1919" was published in Israel in 1968. Pinchas Meirovich did not know that as early as 1953, shortly before Freeman's death, the writer was forced to burn all their correspondence. An agent who followed Freeman's every step reported to the MGB that one of the ideological Zionists influencing his "protégé's" anti-Soviet views was "that very Zionist Feldman," who secretly smuggled Pinsker's remains to Israel.

Pinchas Meirovich Feldman passed away on January 29, 1973. A Zionist for many years, he outlived almost all of his comrades in the underground struggle but until his last day did everything to ensure that they were remembered by future generations. He was once a pride of Jewish Odessa and became a pride of Eretz Israel.


Bibliography and sources:

Bar Tikvah, Baruch, “Dr. Pinkhas Feldman zatsal”, He-avar, Volume 20, 1973, pp. 294-299;
Investigative case on charges of Abram Iosifovich Friman and others of committing crimes under Art. 54-10 and 54-11 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR, 08/29/1931–03/27/1989. ‒ GAOO, Odessa, F. R-8065, Op.2, Spr. 6657;
The criminal case against Grinberg Srul Abramovich, Grinberg Chaim-Aron Moshkovich and Livshits Shmul-Samuel Abramovich”, GAOO, Odessa, F. R-8065, Op.2, Spr. 1116;
Case No. 38 of correspondence with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Zaporozhye region on the issue of Zionists and Jewish bourgeois nationalists. T.3, 07/28/1948–01/1/1954. ‒ OGA SBU, Kyiv, F.2, Spr..2226.

Pinchas Feldman

1980 – 1973

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