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[Page 200]

Yoshe (Yosef) Ast – The Book-Seller

by Moshe Bar-David

Translated by Joseph Schachter

The only Yiddish bookstore that sold both Hebrew and Yiddish books in our town was operated by the “bookseller”, Yoshe Ast. He was not just any old bookseller who sold books to others without himself reading any of them, but to the contrary he read them before he sold them. At one time Yoshe Ast had been a grain merchant, and later he began to deal with books. He was a devout Jew, well grounded in [Torah] learning, and, yet, was also enlightened, loved a Hebrew scholarly text as well as a modern Hebrew novel and good Yiddish literature. He read every book and knew all his customers and knew what to offer them. He also had Holy Books [religious literature], tales of the Sages, and occasionally a rare manuscript. He knew a great deal and was familiar with the families of many previous generations who lived in the city, their pedigree, their rise and fall, and the complicated branches of the families, as well as a bit of local gossip. One could say that he was a living encyclopedia of the town. He was a friendly and upright person. The young people would happily patronize his bookshop and would listen to his talks about authors and their works, Rabbis and good Jews from the past and the present, a deep well-spring with much knowledge. His shop was in Yerucham Leber's house and he lived on the Bernardine Street near Shloimele Prisant's house. He had two children, a son Yehoshua (Shike) and a daughter Dvorke, both well educated as teachers. Both, while living in Brzezan, were members of Zionist youth organizations in which they were actively engaged. In later years they lived elsewhere having taken educational posts in Congress Poland.

Yoshe Ast who gave good advice to many Jews was not able to find a solution when he himself really needed one. His honest and high moral stature presented him with a dilemma he couldn't overcome. When his son-in-law became enmeshed in business difficulties and involved his father-in-law as a witness – and since Yoshe felt he would have to testify under oath in court – which was against his principles, he was unable to bear the burden, he took it to heart and several days before the trial he died of a heart-attack. The Jewish population was orphaned without a Yiddish bookseller who for more than a generation provided them with their needs of Yiddish and Hebrew books.

[Translated by Joseph Schachter - June 4, 2012}

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