By Chaim Landsberg
In the early 1920’s, a branch of “Maccabi” was set up in Keidan. The impetus for this organization came from a committee of Zionist activists from various political parties, such as the General Zionists, Poalei Zion, Socialist Zionists, and ordinary Jews who were worried about the future of their youth.
Among the members of the committee were: Yisraelov, Chaim Blumberg, Chana Landsberg, and the late Hirshel Golombik. Their aim was not just to organize the “Maccabi,” but primarily to prevent the youth from joining the anti-Zionist parties, the Communists and Yiddishists.
I remember that Hirshel Golombik was given the job of starting up the operation. He was chosen because his home – the Golombik house – was open to all ages (from 10 to 30). This large family included Hirshel, Faivel, Shalom, Yerachmiel and Kalman, who were very active and energetic, and each of them had many friends. One evening, when a few friends gathered at this house, Hirshel Golombik suggested they set up a Maccabi sports club. More than 20 people signed up on the spot. This group was given the job of signing up additional members and, within a few weeks, they had about 80 members, male and female.
A hall was rented, and at the founding assembly a new committee was elected. This committee included Hirshel Golombik, Faivel Golombik, Shmuel Landsberg, Shimon Shibolet (Zang), B. M. Shibolet (Zang), and others.
The first activities did not involve sports per se. People used to come to the hall for meetings and evening entertainment. Some played chess, checkers and dominoes, while others came to read a newspaper or just for friendly conversation.
At a later stage, a team of instructors in various sports was set up. Assistance in this matter was given by the central Maccabi office for Lithuania. The sports which they began to organize were: soccer – three teams; gymnastics – a men’s team and a women’s team; gymnastics on parallel bars – two teams; light athletics – javelin and discus throwing, long jump and high jump.
The first soccer team consisted of: H. Dameretzky, S. Shibolet, S. Landsberg, V. Eidelman, Y. Sholomovich, P. Golombik, Sochin, B. Shibolet, Chatzke (I forget his surname), S. Golombik., H. Lipchik, Y. Rochin and others.
The second team included Yaakov Dameretzky, Y. Steinbek, Ch. Bein and others. (By the way, the son of Chaim Bein is Alan Bean, the [American] astronaut, who took part in the Apollo program and was one of those who walked on the moon).
The third team was the youth team, and the following were players: L. Sirkin (A. Sarig who, many years later, became president of the Israeli Football Association), Y. Golombik, Chaim Landsberg, Baruch Bobilski, David Bobilski, L. Donsky, H. Gelfer, Lipchik, Y. Dameretzky.
Eventually, the teams began dwindling. Many team members emigrated to South Africa and America, some went to Eretz-Israel, joined “Hechalutz”, went to kibbutz training farms, and joined the army. In the end, one team remained with a few reserve members. This team was fortified by members of the third team: Leib Donsky, the Bobilski brothers, Chaim Landsberg, Hirshel Gelfer and Lipchik.
Many competitions were held in Keidan, among them: against the Yanova (Jonava) team, the Vilkomir (Ukmerge) team, the Ponevezh (Panevėžys) team, the Shavli (Šiauliai) team, the Academy team from Dotnuva, the garrison team (the second artillery batallion) and the Shaulist team (L.P.L.S.)
In one of these games against the army garrison encamped in Keidan, V. Eidelman broke his leg and suffered from his injury till his last days.
The Women’s gymnastics team was led by Yocheved Weitzer. The other participants were: Zelda (today Sheila Lipchik), Golda Lieba Bukshnevski, Chaya Yaffe, Lieba Magdalenski, Reiza Zaltzburg, Sarah Pokroyski, Riva Rom, Rachel Morgenstern, Riva Frank (Landsberg), the Shapira sisters, Sarah Linde, Gita Golinski and others.
The participants in the men’s team were: David and Baruch Bobilski, Y. Golombik, Chaim Landsberg, L. Donski, Lipchik and others.
The first light athletic meets were not auspicious for the Keidan Maccabi competitors. However, the Vilkomir Maccabi team was once invited (footballers and athletes). Much was learned from them, but we did not reach high levels of achievement. Nevertheless, this meeting stimulated contestants who started coming to practice sessions, and the situation started improving.
Sports exhibitions were held a few times. These included free gymnastics for men and for women. The outfit problem for the men was solved by white shirts and exercise shorts, but how could we bring the women onto the stage in shorts? How would the audience react when the girls exposed their legs before the viewers? In particular, what would their parents say? We finally found a compromise: The women wore three-quarter-length trousers (below the knee), held by rubber bands.
Parallel bar gymnastics (for men): this sport included a number of compulsory exercises and one optional exercise.
Pyramids: The team performed two- and three-story pyramids. To tell the truth, we succeeded here and the performances were beautiful and complete. I remember that we once performed a pyramid in which I was sitting on the shoulders of Yudel Steinbek – quite a comfortable spot – while on my shoulders stood Kalman Golombik.
During the period of Maccabi’s florescence, the management decided to do something to show off the team. The manager of the local Maccabi in Kovno was Gold, who had played on the famous “Hakoach” Vienna team. They staged a game between the first and second teams, and Gold was invited to be the referee. Public interest was beyond all expectations, and many came to see the wonderful Gold. This exhibition raised members’ morale and improved the financial situation. Until then, the income from entrance tickets was very low, and expenses were covered by low membership fees.
That evening, there was a party in the Maccabi hall, with Gold participating. Gold was very impressed with A. Steinbeck who was rather plump, and played for the second team as a defender. Gold called him “the 100-kilo fullback” and said that this was rare in soccer.
An unforgettable experience
I once had an unforgettable experience in a game in which I did not take part, because of an injury. A few friends suggested that I should come and see a soccer game from the stands. They said that, since I was always on the field, I had no opportunity to see the game from the stands, and it was indeed an experience to watch the action from there. Yisraelov used to run (of course, outside the field itself) with the attack of the forwards, and would imitate the movements of the players. Later, he would make signs of disappointment when the opposing team’s goalkeeper stopped a ball kicked towards his goal-posts. When I asked him whether he didn’t get tired from the game, he answered that he “lived” the game and was very excited by it.
No less than he was my elder brother, Yaakov Landsberg, who used to run with me, (I ran on the field, and he off it). Although my second brother, Shmuel Landsberg, also played with us on the field, he was more enthusiastic about me, apparently because I was the little brother.
During the same period, an excellent footballer from Riga, named Brosterman (brother-in-law of S. Goldblatt), joined us. He put a bit of life into our team. This footballer was married with two pleasant children. The Jews of the town could not understand how a married man, and the father of children, could run around kicking a ball. This was a topic of conversation even at the synagogue where he used to pray on Sabbath.
When the team was left without financial backing, we exploited the fact that most of the players were members of the volunteer fire brigade, and the brigade took the team under its wings. In 1927 and 1928, we played a number of times with outside teams and local non-Jewish teams. The fire brigade bought us new uniforms (each player had to buy his own football boots) and gave us the use of a field near the railway track.
This football team actually consisted of members from all political streams, because the fire brigade was apolitical. There was even a gentile in this team. His name was Riniker.
After the Maccabi movement broke up, L. Sirkin joined the “Hapoel” organization of Lithuania and turned to us, asking to set up a local branch of Hapoel.
Among the organizers whom Sirkin (Sarig) addressed were: Pesach Shlapoberski, Chaim Landsberg, Shaul Lubinski, the late L. Donski, the late D. Goldberg, and others.
The organizers started recruiting members who had some connection to the Eretz Israel labor movement. In their recruitment of members to Hapoel, they encountered difficulties. Most of the youth were already members of various youth movements, such as Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz or Beitar, whose common goal was the preparation of their members for aliya to the Land of Israel.
We refused to admit members of the Communist Party youth movement (which was active in the underground), fearing to be identified with them and refused a license for our branch by the authorities. The Yiddishist youth organization prohibited its members from joining Hapoel. Finally Hechalutz Hatzair came to our assistance by encouraging its members to join our ranks. After much effort, we managed to recruit more than 30 members to Hapoel.
We decided to collect membership dues. The dues were set in proportion to each member’s financial ability. It appeared that the available funds did not cover expenses. We turned to the heads of the Socialist Zionist branch, the teachers Mr. Liss and Chana Landsberg, both of blessed memory, for help and advice. We received generous assistance, and a hall was rented to serve as our clubhouse, at their expense and on their responsibility. The hall was in the house in which Chava Shlapoberski lived. Current expenses for club maintenance were covered by us from membership dues.
We organized ourselves when we received the club-house. The sports equipment came as a “legacy” from Maccabi. A ping-pong table, benches, chairs and tables were made by the members after working hours by themselves without payment (the materials were cheap), and the clubhouse began to take shape. About a month later, representatives from Hapoel headquarters arrived for a visit and praised us for our success in building such a clubhouse in such a short time.
At the start of activities, we played ping-pong and set up a reading room. The reading matter was brought by the members and, since the club was open in the evenings, they used to bring the daily newspapers with them.
When it was decided to set up a library, we announced a “Book Day for Hapoel”. The members went out in pairs to supporters’ homes to receive contributions for the library. The response was better than expected and on the first day, we collected about 300 books. We received contributions of this size all the time. The books were lent without payment to club members and to members of the “Hechalutz” training group who were in the town at the time.
Slowly but surely, we began to organize the various sports, such as track and field and free gymnastics – all without the use of outside trainers. Each of us donated his experience and ability. We used the playing fields with the kind permission of the fire brigade.
As the number of members grew steadily, after six months we could already finance ourselves and we could give up the assistance of the Socialist Zionists. The branch crystalized and took form. Order and discipline were exemplary, and the committee was subject to the General Assembly. Assemblies were generally organized within the framework of walking tours outside the town, which also helped in social consolidation.
Branch members frequently attended Hapoel assemblies, in which there were public exhibitions by the best Hapoel sportsmen. Members used to return from these assemblies with new ideas which improved the sporting level of the branch.
 This is actually not the case. The astronaut Alan Bean is from a non-Jewish family in Texas. – ed.
Translated by Chaim Charutz