[Pages 123 - 126]
Translated by Marsha Kayser My life in Orheyev, where I was born in 1885, goes no further than 1923. Then I traveled to America from Kishinev, where I had directed a school for young children and at the same time was a teacher in a professional school. And although it is over thirty years, memories from that place are still fresh in my mind, the mountain Ivanus on one side of the Reat River with the Shes opposite. I still remember when you could hear the springtime shushing of the water from the Yas channel in the stream, past the Ivanus valley, and how one would have to skip across stones to the other side to play. Quite often, slippery rocks were stumbling blocks from which I would fall, with new boots, into the noisy water, afraid that my parents would be angry with me for ruining my Passover clothes. I pause now and turn my thoughts to other dear memories of joyous suffering. To this day I still have a desire to climb up the mountain, the way our gang used to do from Ivanus Peak, from which I was sure, looking up, that one could reach and touch the sky.
Today the wide Reat which I used to swim across until the transverse . Good friends wailed to me about my parents, and they warned me, Be careful! Be careful! but I forgot, pushed it out of my mind, and embracing life, made a point with my feet up or entirely face-up on my back.
To that end, the winter repaid me when instead of sitting with a seyfer (ed. note: religious book) in school, I was skating on the frozen river. My father, trailing me to Khovodski Shul, where I had come from my crime with telltale evidence - a pair of flaming red cheeks, honored me with a slap, and I immediately got an old book as my dessert.
I remember another obstacle to childhood pleasures associated with the Shes. Studying in Yeshivah, which was in the same place as the younger children's schoolhouse, I went one Shabbos to my friend Itzel Yehudah-Moyshe's (Yitzchak Spivak), and we went out on the Shes to carry on, picking up a stork which had been rummaging in the swamp for food - going into a garden after fruit, and now had come along until The Chapel on the hill behind Matya Malmud, but to go further? No! because: on Shabbos one must not go on the grass, one could crush sticks or a blade of grass and with the transgressor violate a Torah prohibition. The strict piety had the opposite effect on me. What kind of service to God from good deeds and worship is this, I thought, which does not allow partaking of life?!
But were those notions, resulting in about six dozen strikes and maybe a spanking, obsolete? I will tell about a related matter - how I became a jargonist [ed. note: a contemptuous term used by detractors of the Yiddish language.]
Yes, what happened followed private Hebrew reading lessons and then in our Talmud-Torah (ed. note: Jewish school), not long after joining the local Safa Brura (Clear Language) group (see Stirrings of Redemption by A. Zenzifer) [ed. note Tel Aviv, 1952]. During the time that I was writing an article called This is My Name (Zeh Shmi) based on the first letters of the name Zev Shaposhnik, at the meeting of the local library, I suddenly proposed buying more Yiddish books before buying Hebrew books and was crowned with the name jargonist. How come? For what? Running a china shop in those days, my father ordered items along with his furrier materials, half and half, in the first place as a protection against poverty, secondly, so that I should not also have to become like him and my brother Pini (or Fini), may his memory be for a blessing, no craftsman, God forbid. I used to watch how my father struggled to talk to a Russian fool and could not. His face would redden and the veins in his neck would throb. I would then take pity on him and run to call my mother, who was a full Rusashke [ed. note: Russian woman]. She grew up in Kishinev near Katzapes, (Russian merchant who sold pigs and pork) and had therefore spoken Russian fluently. Neighbors and relatives would be envious and when they had to speak to a fool, they would come to her for help. But until my mother came to help, I saw how he suffered, unfortunately, from his not knowing how to talk. The sad picture of my father's helplessness made an impression on me, particularly when the tax collector (not the man from Yampol but the official one) in the company of two garadavoyen (policemen) would come to collect the taxes, usually when there was no money in our pockets - and he ordered the saboteurs to remove the samovar, the Shabbos candlesticks, and the like. My father, bless his memory, wanted to avoid the humiliation and took to pleading with the chump, as times were hard, no livelihood, not here etc. But go talk, with the tongue in Exile. My father would stand with his hat half in his hand and half on his head because of his head being uncovered, with his tongue floundering between half goyish (Kokhlotsky [ed. note: local dialect around Khokhol in S. Russia - also offensive ref. to Ukrainians]) and half Volechish [ed. note: lang. spoken around Walachia, Romania] (which he spoke quite well. But how to use such common talk for the official?) At the same time, I would think, is it not enough, that you rip us apart with your taxes when there is not even subsistence here, tormenting us in a foreign ignoble tongue. How easy it would have been, I thought, to argue things out in Yiddish, all the more so concerning such matters as subsistence, struggling, etc. - and the Yiddish language came to mind. Because of this, Yiddish, our mother-tongue, the language of our people, became dear to me, and I saw in it a partial solution, a help in social and public relations, in real life. From there a step further, that education for young and old is necessary for communication of a nation, for us in Yiddish, and for other people in their minority languages.
Later, when the Romanians had taken Bessarabia and began implementing language autonomy for minorities, I was delegated, with the Kishinev Culture-League and with one Ukrainian teacher, to go to Bucharest to demand from the education minister what was due to keep the promise of minority languages in the schools.
Today I acknowledge my sins: after graduating from the educational courses in Grodna, I came to the city of Elizavetgrad to a girls' school, where they taught half in Hebrew and half in Yiddish. I had the support of teachers' counsel and a somewhat more progressive liberal administration, as opposed to the chief assembly and rabbi, Vladimir Tyomkin, to replace the Hebrew classes with Yiddish. Successes mounted from the Yiddish opposition. The children's compositions in Yiddish developed quite a reputation, and the same V. Tyomkin, may his memory be blessed, subsequently advised the teachers from cheder (Jewish religious school) to take the example of their Yiddishist colleagues and make changes.
But forgive me, respected reader, I was getting off the path from Orheyev, therefore:
After my finishing the graduate teachers' courses at the first - Hebrew-Russian - ethnic teachers' institute, where I had, incidentally, together with a small group of Yiddishists led an intense fight for Yiddish, I was appointed as teacher in the Orheyev Talmud-Torah, where they taught boys and girls in separate classes. I finished morning lectures around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Then the young men would have Pentateuch study classes, where Mendel Naychin, of blessed memory, and I held forth, from which I derived no particular pleasure, and I taught Yiddish and Hebrew with a first class of almost eighty children!
Dear Avrum Barsutsky, may he rest in peace, worked in the school's management.
Although today I am very far from the ideological ties that connected us, (Hershel Chayim Maier - the furrier's son, thinking of the aforementioned Zionist matters) it brings back those pleasant memories of my visits to the 'relatively' wealthy home of dear Avrum Barsutsky and his wife Fania, both devoted Zionists and Hebrew speakers.
Their attractive house had a porch with chairs in front. The big rooms were nicely furnished. In the front room stood a big brown table with a glass cabinet of the same color and a couch, which had also served as a bed for the charming boy with dark hair, the famous Zionist Chayim Grinberg, of blessed memory, during his visits to Orheyev. Off the parlor hall, in the adjacent room, young people from Zionist and also from opposite Bundist camps would crowd in to devour Zionist theories of Sheynkin, Mosenzan, etc. and the opposing arguments from debaters like Yosel Suslik, etc.
The Barsutsky house was therefore a real Jewish meeting place (with no police interference) from which I, like the other members of the Safa Brura Society, derived intellectual satisfaction.
I also now remember with gratitude that home of my then spirituality. Holiday festivities, where one could really - around Simhath Torah - have a small glass from dear Avrum's delicious old wine, served with a generous hand, not only for worldly reasons.
Regrettably, the Jewish assistant Barsutsky, whose farm businesses fell into a miserable state, was crushed in Odessa by the people speaking about the awakening new way of life.
I should add, to keep things straight, that our Orheyev also had a small part in this new World Order. When I again enjoyed the hospitality of the aforementioned Zionist circles, as a frequent visitor I would, not without envy, observe what was happening on the other side by the Bund.
The young workers and employees, whom I had very much wanted to see on our side and did not know how to reach - I even tried to get them at least as Labor Zionists - used to gather by Yankel Stolyar in The Teahouse down from Talner Shul. Their director was my yeshivah-mate, Hertz Gilishensky, the crooked Governor, as the city bosses had crowned him, to fit his physical imperfections. I would sometimes drop into the so-called inn where the air was thick with cigar smoke and steam, sounding like a boiling kettle. Sometimes a celebrity from Kishinev would come, like the very charming brunette Susi Fikhman or Nechame, a strong speaker and skillful debater. Also a guest from time to time was the Masavik Yankel Kavval from Rezina (a Yiskravitz [ed. note: member of the Iskra communist org]). One time this Yankel, in a Zionist assembly in the Shnayders' Shul, grabbed the Torah-reading platform and began hammering about class struggle on the Jewish street, which the Zionists, according to him, had disrupted. Through the window of the women's shul, someone had scattered proclamations against Zionism and self-rule. The crowd began to run and jump through the window. This Bundist chutzpah had been brewing for some time, to hold a meeting which had been called for the Zionists.
On the other hand, in October 1905 they held off capture. The street belonged to the people. The shaken czarist regime was forced to make concessions to the revolutionary movement, which they had quickly suppressed while at the same time fomenting the revolutionary tide. A demonstration with the Red flag had marched through the Lithuanian street to the small synagogue. Doors and gates of the tailors' and shoemakers' small Hasidic houses of prayer stood wide open. Young people, in holiday clothes, hurried into the line, adults following at a slower pace. They were so crowded into the synagogue's wide court that you couldn't get through. On their shoulders the demonstrators had thrown Yankel Krasner - then a Bundist, who would come holidays or as a delegate from his hometown - and when he made a fiery speech, I began to understand the praise I had heard about him as a burning agitator.
The ongoing tragic events and pogroms against Jews, when the czarist dynasty incited the Black Hundreds against the Jewish workers, had slowed the revolutionary movement and called for defense and self-protection.
Orheyev had also raised defense forces, in which there could also be counted non-Jewish workers who understood the cause. And Kastia Cossack, who was said to be the organizer of the Orheyev-Kishinev gang, was left holding the bag. As after the terrible Kishinev pogroms of 1903, and thus also in 1905 in our town, thanks to the combat-readiness of the Freedom-Force, we were protected from becoming, God forbid, a copy of the Kishinev massacre of Jews.
The czarist regime had made of Russia a prison of people and had conducted pogroms but could not withstand the struggle for freedom on the part of all people, when in 1917 they acquired the power of weapons. The czarist regime was destroyed, and the power from capitalism proceeded to crash.
In that summer my wife and our tiny child left for Orheyev from my workplace in Elizavetgrad in the country, and I stayed over vacation with the remaining teachers and intellectuals - conducting political education, I read in Odeskaya Novosti (Odessa News) that in Orheyev a pogrom was already in its second day. I left everything and everyone and traveled to Orheyev. I was sure, that I would not find a thing standing with a two-day pogrom. But driving over the bridge, I saw all the houses were untouched. I mean: the Jew killing had not yet reached here. But also the higher streets were not damaged. Reading the news in the respectable and trustworthy newspaper, I learned as follows: in the town were soldiers, households and families who had left the front and were on their way home. Among them were influential people with Menshevik [ed. note: Bolshevik adversaries] and Bolshevik aspirations. The last, more conscientious and responsible, were afraid that the local wine source, from which the soldiers would indulge, would cause total drunkenness, and so that unrest would not break out, they decreed - using influence and force - to let out the wine from the wine cellars, in order to prevent a pogrom. That was how the reactionary divisions from revolutionary Russia would spread incendiary information with the purpose of exploiting the sinister views of the ignorant masses.
Actually it is appropriate to record the heroic deeds and fathers of the progressive worker-youth in Orheyev. This was in the fateful struggle between the revolutionary and capitalist divisions from Bessarabia. Our Orheyev Fisia ( or Pisia), a son of Yankel and Rivka Levinson - the eminent community leader, particularly for children's institutions - took a job at the top of the revolutionary army. A second, Moyshe Gilishensky, was condemned, in his refusal, by the reactionary Romanian-Bessarabian might - to a death sentence. Although he offered his services, incognito, between the borders of Romanian Bessarabia and revolutionary Russia. We need also to be reminded of Yosel Fleshler - Shprintza's - dear Moyshe Fleshler, Chana Abramovitz, and also, those having with youthful ardor thrown themselves into the arms of the liberating revolution and heroically bearing the torture rack of the ruling clique.
Under the fiery speech of the struggle for a better order you were destroyed, my shtetl, and beyond that were destroyed our dear brothers.
[Pages 126 - 128]
The street and the house had no attractive scenery. However, they did possess warmth and childhood joy. Eight children grew up and were educated in this warmth, four sons, two daughters, and two of our cousins who were orphaned.
My father, of blessed memory, worked in agriculture and business. He leased a plot of land in a village near the city. The villagers would work the field for a low salary. He himself would supervise the workers to ensure that they did not steal vegetables. However, only rarely did agriculture provide a sufficient livelihood for the ten-person family. He also did business with Arbshike (fishing rods), but this business was also only rarely successful.
His partner in supporting the family was my mother of blessed memory. She would get up at dawn to prepare the meal for the children. She sent them to cheder, and immediately went down to the cellar. She purchased all types of vegetables and fruits from the farmers and sold them to anyone who wanted. Aside from this, she would obtain fine, kosher butter, white cheese, Katshkobel and Kash (types of cheese) from the Jews who were dairymen and keepers of sheep. Everyone who wanted such things would turn to the cellar that was known as the bashke of Esther the Pole, and would enjoy tasty food.
My first visit to the cheder of Reb Leibele is an experience that is never erased from my mind. One bright morning, Zalman Tekel the belfer (cheder assistant) came to us, took me on his back and brought me to the cheder on Litvisher Street. The street was covered with puddles and mud for most of the year, and at times it was impossible to cross the road by foot, but rather only by wagon. What did Tekel do? He took two or three children on his shoulders and brought them to the cheder.
When I was brought to the cheder of Reb Leibele, I saw children by the long table, of my age or older. The Rebbe was waving a strap at them and issuing threats through the cheder. Sounds that I did not understand traveled through the air. Everything was boring and strange to me. One day, he started teaching me the Alef Beit (ed. note: the alphabet).
The students were mainly from poor, working families. Some were also of the middle class. It was easy to discern the class differences from the meals that the students brought with them, or that their parents sent them at noontime. The children of the poor would bring dry bread with the head or tail of a salted fish, and at times a bit of halvah. The children of the more wealthy families would bring a warm meal and two Kopecks with which to purchase some sweets. Despite these differences, the relationship between the children in the cheder was friendly.
We had a great festivity on the day of the march for Kriat Shma. On that day, the Rebbe and Zalman the Belfer wore their Sabbath clothing. They asked us to organize ourselves in rows of five, with both of them beside us. We marched through the streets toward the house of the midwife, proud and happy. I recall how Baba grandmother Tzeviya the midwife gave us sweets with such happiness. The day of the march and the image of Baba Tzeviya are deeply etched in my memory.
I reached the age of six years, and came to the level of studying Chumash. Then my parents transferred me to the modern cheder of my uncle Matityahu the teacher. There, the students were mainly from among the wealthy. My uncle Reb Matityahu set a goal for himself of introducing innovations in teaching in accordance with the spirit of the times. Aside from traditional learning, he invited teachers for general studies. Many of his students who took government exams continued on in the public school. About 1908-1912 he set up a modern school in partnership with Baruch Shalom Naychin, Yosef Pagis and Pini Gelbrukh. This was on Alexander Street, in a large dwelling of four classes. Many of the students later continued their studies at the university.
In the years before the First World War, there was an improvement in the development of Orheyev. New buildings were built for civic and regional institutions on Alexander and Gogol streets. Two Gymnasiums (ed. note: high schools) were set up for girls and boys. The main roads and sidewalks were paved. A movie theater was opened. The road to Kishinev was paved. Many people tore down the original walls of their stores on Torgovia Street, and set up fine display walls and large viewing windows in their place, as befits a large city. All of these attracted the residents of the area to the central city. Its business expanded and economic institutions were founded that benefited the city.
The world war broke out in August of 1914. The army draft frightened the community. Many families were left without means of livelihood. The anti-Semitic persecutions in the army added to the suffering of the families of the draftees. I remember a characteristic episode of that spirit: Reb Meir Kira visited his estate one day. One of his Christian workers asked him what is being heard from the front. Reb Meir answered him Partea noastra câºtigã (It seems to be that we are winning). The worker reported on Reb Meir to the chief policeman of the village, claiming that Reb Meir said Porcul nostru câºtigã (Our pig is winning). Reb Meir was immediately arrested and turned over to the heads of the gendarmes. There, they tortured him for a long period of time. Finally, the chief of the gendarmes received a large bribe, and Reb Meir was freed, broken and crushed from embarrassment and suffering. He died shortly thereafter.
In February 1917, the Russian revolution proclaimed: freedom, brotherhood and equality for everyone. Our city as well arose from its lowliness. The Jewish population began to set up communal organization on democratic foundations. The left wing parties, mainly the Bund, saw themselves as most appropriate to conduct the matters of the workers. However, nationalistic feelings and tendencies also took over the community. Inflammatory activities could be seen in all factions. The elections for the Utshereditielnia Soborania (The Founding Meeting) approached. There were meetings and debates. Life was turbulent. At that time, the well-known lawyer from Peterburg, and a fine speaker, Alexander Goldstein, came to us to conduct publicity for Zionist List number 9. The meeting took place in the Zemskaya Operava hall. Representatives from all sections filled up the large hall. Goldstein enchanted the audience with his fine abilities. When he finished, the shoemaker Chayim Gildin, who was sent to organize the workers and employees for the elections, ascended the podium. With cutting, fiery words, he advocated for national autonomy in the motherland of Russia, and against the Zionist option. Both of them left a deep impression upon the large audience. They both described the rising sun with great ability, one in the Land of Israel and the other in Russia that was freed from the yoke of Czarism freedom, brotherhood, and equality would pervade in wide Russia and our portion will be equal with that of the other nationalities in the country. However, the new reality contradicted the vision very quickly. The dark days of October 1917 arrived. Army battalions returning from the front passed through, causing disturbances in our city along with others, and cast a pall of fear upon the Jews.
At the end of December 1917, the Romanian army invaded Bessarabia, including Orheyev. The appearance of the invaders instilled fear upon the city, particularly upon the youth. Many fled across the Dneister. However, in Russia there was a great chaos, and a civil war. Those who fled returned to Orheyev, and once again fell upon persecution and tribulation from the Romanians. Imprisonment and bloody beatings were regular occurrences during those days. Many of the youth left the city and immigrated to America. With hopes for a free life, I myself also joined the stream of immigrants.
From Yiddish by M. R.
[Pages 128 - 129]
However, a worry crossed his mind. From where would he be able to provide his wife with the sums necessary for preparing for the holiday? Indeed, he has lots of friends. They would certainly honor him with visits. If his salary is not sufficient to meet the regular expenditures, how much more so would it be deficient for entertaining guests? It is indeed impossible to arrange even one party with such a dismal salary. To all the spirits!, he uttered, There are people born to fortune! For example, there was his old friend Mr. Mishkov, the head of the civic police. How fortunate of a person was he. In addition to his regular salary, other sums of money flow into his pocket without effort. As the guardian of order in the city, he was responsible also to ensure that the Jewish workers or shopkeepers would not Heaven forbid violate the Sunday or holiday rest. Apparently, on every day of rest or holiday, Mr. Mishkov had to go through the streets and the marketplace to ensure the observance of the day of rest. However, the head of the police did not behave thus. Due to his great courtesy, he restrained himself from bothering the merchants of the city. They, as a token of thanks to the benefactor, would give Mr. Mishkov all of his heart's desire. They would give him presents for himself, his wife and his children, such as textiles and shoes throughout the year. When the holiday arrived, they would surely give him everything that he needed for his house: food, fine wines, etc. Mr. Mishkov certainly has no worries for the holiday! Not so I, said Mr. Popesko in his heart. I have to find an additional source of income no matter what!. He recalled something. Yoska his faithful friend, visited him and advised him something indeed certainly a bright idea! You will get benefit from this without hesitation, he pressed the button. Panush, the head of the detectives, entered. Mr. Popesko got worked up, and turned to Panush angrily: Listen, lad! Matters between us are not okay! I have received word that secret groups of criminal Yids are conducting Communist activities by mouth and in print. They are issuing proclamations and interfering with the security of the state. You and your officials are not standing on your guard. You are not imprisoning the criminals. The matter will reach the ears of the central government, and I will be punished because of your negligence. Panush attempted to prove that all of the suspects had already been in jail for some time. However, Mr. Popesko was not assuaged. He demanded immediate serious activities to expose all of the Yid Communists to the Sigurnatza, whatever will be. Of course, Panush had no choice but to listen to the commands of the chief and go out on the hunt The task was carried out with simplicity. Panush and his people went out at night like hungry wolves searching for prey, and snatched any young man who returned home late at night. They conducted inquisitions until they finally decided to turn him over the secret police for additional deeper questioning.
Woe unto any person who was snatched and turned over to the care of the Sigurnatza. On the first night, he was beaten indiscriminately. On the second night they used more convincing methods: scorching the feet, and other cruel tortures until the prisoner fainted. This cruel treatment lasted for at least three nights. All efforts by the parents to save the prisoner from torture did not succeed, until Yoska the friend appeared at the parents' house and offered his assistance. It was known in the city that Yoska, was able to influence the Poretz with a sum of money. Woe to the parents who were lacking in means. They went into debt in order to pay Yoska the required sum. The sums that Yoska received from several incidents were sufficient to convince the head of the secret police about the innocence of those under inquisition. After due protocol, the prisoners were sent home, downtrodden and oppressed in body and soul. And the head of the secret police and his family had a merry Christmas
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