[Pages 18]

The City of the Threshold of this Century

by B. Demblin

(From the book, “Before Night”, Published – Tel Aviv, 1954)


The Modjzitz Market Place

In Modjzitz people were making a living in one door and out the other. The fortress of Ivangorod, which the Russian Czar had built after conquering Poland, was full of military people and contractors and their employees. Jews with stuffed purses of money busied themselves around the fairs and market places, in the whole area. What they did was to buy the supplies that were needed by the people who were in the military in the fortress. That included feed and big silos full of grain, fields full of cabbage, potatoes and onions.

Besides that, there was a big train center in Ivangorod in Russian-Poland. There was a whole town of red brick houses that had been built up around the station. The train employees, conductors and clerks, were able to provide a living to the little town of Jews. Through the station, finished goods from half of Poland passed out to the broad Russian provinces. Also, from the other directions towards Prussia and the empire in Austria, came trains full of Russian wheat, fish from Rostov, sugar from Kiev and Polish pigs and fowl of every sort.

Jews of Modzjitz lived and laughed at that time. On Sundays the town was full of soldiers. Organ grinders in gentile hats with shiny brims and polished boots with lacquered polish, tapped on their organs in a very spirited way. They would play Kamarkas [folk music] and very soulful, Ukranian songs. The white mice, with transparent little pink ears, would creep on the organs in and out of their little cages. The green parrots, with sharp, down turned beaks, sat looking very wise and dignified on the little sticks across their cages. For a little copper six cent piece, with their beaks, they would extract from a little cookie a scroll with your fortune inside from little drawers. Sometimes the little scrolls would be red, sometimes green and sometimes they would be blue. And the parrot would carry this little scroll over to the soldier, who stood impatiently, and who would quickly read the secret fortune that was his.

Moving away from the organ grinders, on both sides of the market, standing there with their knife sharpeners and key makers, were tailors with their journeymen. There were people with white bakery goods and sweet meats with fruits and other goodies. Also in their little tents, behind their half leaning doors where one didn't dare to violate the holy day with a few cents of redemption, were packed with soldiers, making up for the whole week.

In the market place, forthright and free as the wind, the Jews moved around the soldiers and bought little bits here and there of leather implements, old boots and canvas packs. Everything that the Kunza [Czar] let the soldiers have for their own use. Other Jews, not the pious kind, had their own little forbidden taverns which their wives and underage daughters would quietly run for them. Behind covered up windows, around bare, wooden tables, the soldiers and peasants would drink booze, eat fried liver and broiled pieces of duck and always try to grab a young woman with broad hips and pull her down onto their lap.

[See PHOTO-A1 at the end of Section A]

Before the Modzjitzer shop keepers filled up their shelves again, after Sunday, there was the Wednesday market, when the city was packed with horses and wagons which the peasants had hitched up. When they got there they would unhitch the horses facing the wagons and give them a pail of oats to eat while they were gone and then they would take off into the market place.

The hurly burly of the market began even before dawn. On both sides of the highway, the length of it, along where the channels where rain water would flow, sat gypsies in bright colored, striped tents and around them were sacks with produce with golden onions, silver-white garlic, tied up fowl and baskets full of eggs.

A little bit further up the road on the other side, were little stalls where little Holy things were sold. On broad tables under canvas awnings there were pictures spread out of the Holy mother with the Holy child at her breast. There were little necklaces of prayer beads, brown and black, with little and bigger crucifixes. And they hung in little clumps, little Jesus' stuck with a pierced bloodied heart and a crown of thorns on his head, others with his hands and feet bound, carved into the cross. These were thrown in big piles. The peasant men and women would go from stall to stall and they would chose and buy the little images of God with the same suspicion and caution with which at other stalls they would but their little candies and sweetmeats.

Near the area where the little Holy beads and crucifixes were sold were the beggars, Djodis and Bobis [Grandfathers and Grandmothers], with their legs wrapped up, barefoot, with crutches and canes near them. They would sit on little bundles of straw with their feet behind them and they would rock back and forth as if they didn't even have any bones in their body. With bare heads and outstretched hands, to the people going by, they would repeat little Holy verses and sing church songs and would cross themselves repeatedly every time a penny fell into their hat.

Down the highway, in the middle of the market place, it was like an anthill. Horses whinnied, pigs grunted, cows and calves mooed, hens crowed, ducks quacked, geese whistled and bit the air. The Jews and peasants would slap each other on the hands, finish a deal and with the prophets go off and drink a little bottle of booze.

In front, on the other side of the market, there were big spreads of second hand stuff. Under big, open awnings, there were all kinds of clothes hung and spread out, boots and fancy shoes, furs, hats and near them, under the open sky, piled up on the soft, moist earth beds and armoires, which smelled of freshly finished wood.

In this way, from the Sunday market and the Wednesday market, the Jews of Modzjitz made a living. Butchers bought livestock, tradesmen rented horses, storekeepers weighed and measured and packed all of the goods and raw produce that would come from the countryside. They put it in sacks and boxes and sent it off into the fortress and got it loaded onto rail cars and sent it away to cities that were far away. The craftsmen of Modzjitz, with their journeymen, had more work than they could handle. They finished wood, they hammered and they were busy from early in the morning until sundown. In winter, they worked late into the night. Because of the volume of business on Sundays and Wednesdays, the Jewish population of the town and of the surrounding villages grew, and people made their way to Modzjitz to settle there. They could find a roof over their heads and a little bit of bread to eat and so they came.

The Fifth Year [1905] in Modjzitz

[Note – in 1905 there was an aborted revolution in Russia]

In the middle of the summer, guests would come to Modzjitz who usually would show up only before Passover and before Succoth. Very unexpectedly, they began to come home, the daughters and sons of Modzjitz, from Warsaw and Lodz, where they worked in shoe shops and tailor shops, in laundries, in carpenter shops and in all different kinds of businesses. They weren't coming home as they would sometimes do during the high holidays, on carriages, with certain display. Their new clothes were packed into baskets and valises in fresh paper and one by one, very quietly, with little bundles under their arms, they came home now.

From the guests, Modzjitz learned, that in Warsaw and in Lodz and in all of the big cities of the Russian state, things were growing dark. “There are strikes at factories, the workers are marching with red banners, shouting “Hurrah!” and “Down with the Czar!”. In many places, in Warsaw, they were getting ready to carry out pogroms.

Along with these scary stories about pogroms, the people also brought other unheard of stories, which both uplifted and oppressed the mood and filled people's hearts with a certain bit of awe and terror. The guests told about the unity between Jews and gentile, about burning stoves and boiling pots of water which people had ready to pour from the windows on people who tried to carry out pogroms.

Like the decrees about the schools that came before, theses kinds of stories created two sides in the town. On one side were the fathers and mothers of the kids who had come back. They were simple people, crafts people and butchers and carriage drivers. They were the kinds of people whose blood ran hot in their veins, Jews with fists like big heavy loads. People for whom bending their heads down in humility wasn't an option. People who would honor the person who attacked them with two smacks for one. Just folks who were well trained, even as well as soldiers. These Jews felt inspired by the news they were getting about revolvers and Kinshjalen, with which people prepared themselves to meet those who wanted to carry out pogroms, and their blood boiled when they heard about atrocities, their fists rolled up in fury.

On the other side were the bosses of the town, those who had journeymen working for them as employees, the fine people, so to speak, of the town. Among them, there really wasn't much of a difference as there used to be between Abel and Simcha Puterflam. Each one, the Hasid as well as the businessman (the rich merchant who was an undertaker), they all had the same reaction to this kind of mood and talk and they felt it was just rebellion against God and against the State with the only difference that for Abel and his folk, the rebellions were a desecration of the Jewish religious way of life. For Simcha Puterflam and the other bosses like him, it was a rebellion of shoemakers' apprentices and cooks who wanted to run the world upside down. Both the aesthetic, religious Abel, and the well turned out Simcha Puterflam, who was a nouveau-rich, with a big, fat belly and a smoothly shaven, red head, both of them, mocked and disparaged both the people who were bringing the news from the other parts about what was happening with these kinds of issues as well as those who listened to them.

Simchala Puterflam even threatened the folks who were coming back with this kind of news. Surrounded in the market place with a group of Jews who toadied up to him because he was a rich man and a man of the world, he warned, “In Modzjitz, there's not going to be any strikes. All theses crazy people aren't going to raise their heads up here. This is a fortress town. And don't forget that the fortress has its own troops and people to take care of this kind of stuff!”

Among the younger people who came back were three sons of Modzjitz, each one of which had ripped out the heart of and caused great shame to their own parents. There were Isaac (Yitzhak) Kanterovitch, the Purim businessman's son, Vladimir (Velvel) Horwitz, the son of Yoel the butcher and Yaacov-Hershela, Moshe-Leizor's son.

These three boys were from a while back already quite out of step and at odds with the town and with their parents.

The Purim businessman's young son really slapped his father in the face. The father had hung all of his dreams on the son. He himself wasn't able to tear himself away from his business life in exile. For that reason, he always dreamed of bringing up his son according to the ideal that he carried in his mind, to make him a new kind of Jew, who would go off to Israel and help build up the Holy Land.

The Purim businessman didn't entrust all this to happen just by miracle, he didn't give his son over to the religious teacher of Modzjitz who would teach him a little bit of the Tenach, the old testament, nor to the other religious schools, where they would stuff the children full of Gemorah. Since this was before the era of the Lithuanian religious teacher, the father decided that he was going to teach his son by himself. Every day after Ma'ariv [evening prayer], he left his store in charge of his wife and sat down at his table with his little boy in order to drill into him a little bit of Isaia and Jeremiah, some grammar, but also the holy language “Hatzfira”. Even before Modzjitz had heard of a State school, he had already sent his son to learn Polish and Russian, and when he got his Bar-Mitzvah, he decked him out in a student hat with a lacquered brim, dressed him up in the appropriate little uniform, with the back pack, with books in it on his shoulders, and sent him away to the agricultural school near Czenstechov.

The pale, half consumptive, Purim businessman, was always hoping for the day when he would be able to send his son on his way to Israel so that his younger brothers would someday be able to follow him there and he would be able to help them and then he himself would be able to throw off the weight of his life in Poland and he himself would follow and go to the Holy land and establish himself there as well. But his son Yitzhak took a very different path. He decided he didn't want to go to the agricultural school and left and entered a polytechnic school in Warsaw. Well, that wasn't too terrible. After all, to build the new land of Israel, you did need engineers, just as you needed people who knew about agriculture. But, even worse, he not only walked out of the agricultural school, he also threw out the Zionist ideals. He no longer had any interest in speaking a single word of Hebrew and instead of the great dream of liberating Eretz-Israel, he burned to liberate Poland. Poland, he said, was his home, not Palestine. Even the yiddish language no longer found its way to his lips. Just Polish, and more Polish. It didn't help, no matter how much his father talked to him or how much his mother cried. Of course, his father would have liked to find some way to resolve this with his son, but on the other hand where is it written that he has to carry on his shoulders the burden of his son until he becomes a regular Polish engineer, and for that matter a Polish patriot. It might even be more of a mitzvah if he were to withhold the allowance he sent his son every month, in order that he himself, that much sooner, could get out of his business, close down his store, and save himself by going to Israel before the younger children grew up and were led astray by their wayward older brother. But God punished him. And Yitzhekel, the son, had in fact inherited not only his father's stubbornness, but also his weak lungs. The story is that Yitzhekel was just skin and bones. His pallor had turned an ashen green, he was even coughing up drops of blood. Now, should Yitzhekel be allowed to work in a factory, as he threatened to do, and then spend the whole night buried in his books studying? And if that were to happen, it wouldn't be very long before he wouldn't have a son to argue with about whether or not he should go to Israel, or whether or not he should be a Zionist or not, or whether or not he should be a Pole or not. This really tore up the father's heart, this whole process. Maybe with the help of God something good would come of all this. Also there was the anticipation of very, very unsettled times in the world. The son, instead of studying, had taken to hanging out in the cellars and attics of Warsaw. He all of a sudden became a proletarian, with the “P.P.S.”. Day and night he ran around to meetings and talked his weak, consumptive lungs out. God forbid if his father had not run to Warsaw to bring him home, who knows what would have happened to him. He might even have rotted away in prison.

The other individual who came back in those days was the butcher's son. He was just the opposite of Yitzhekel. Just as thin and green and pale as Yitzhekel was, Velvelva was red faced and healthy, just as if he'd been taken off the butcher's chopping block. Until a little bit after his Bar-Mitzvah, he liked to hang around the religious study house, he liked to study the Gemorah. But then he began to secretly, instead of that, looked at secular books. He buried himself in secular books. He prepared himself for the examination at the University.

But before Velvela lived to go to the University, his father, Yoel Katzev, a bitter Jew, with a pair of heavy, menacing evil eyebrows, got infuriated. More than once Velvela's father wanted to cut him off, and the wars between he and his father just never stopped, until at one point, if the son hadn't had his mother's, Yechbudel, the butcher's wife's big head on his own shoulders, he wouldn't have come up with a really super idea or trick. In the middle of his father's scolding him and telling him he was going tod rive him out of the house and turn him out without a bite of bread in his mouth, Velvela came out with this, “I'm going to convert”.

This little word worked like magic. Yoel the butcher was absolutely stunned into silence, like an ox who gets hit over the head with an ax. From terror of conversion he became soft as butter. The poor man wiped his mouth and in all this business with his son he decided he was just going to turn it over to his wife, a woman who was a head taller than him, a Cossack with a mannish voice for whom the women who came into the butcher shop trembled. But this very Yechbudel, just as she could be sharp and tough and boss people around, also knew, when it was necessary, how to hide her toughness and wrap it up in sweet, flattering tones, and speak in her manly voice so softly that it was like oil flowing from her broad, big mouth. And in that way, she, Yechbudel, hearing of her son's threat to convert, said to her husband, “Let me take care of this, Yoel, I'll work it out with him”.

In truth, Yechbudel, the butcher's wife, felt that it really wasn't such a dangerous situation. After all, the kid didn't go to a priest. It was just a little conversion game. Nevertheless, you shouldn't tease the devil. And so she prepared to talk to him in a very honey, sweet voice and she went back to the house and she sat down across from him and laid her two butcher's hands, which were all bloody, on the table, and began to talk to him in a very soft, soothing way.

“Tell me, what's really going on here Velvel? You don't want to study [religious], you don't want to work in the butcher's shop, a person has to do something!”

“I want to study [secular],” the boy raising his head from his book, said calmly and sharply replied.

“What is it with this, what are you talking about studying? How are you going to do this?” But, on that score, Velvel wasn't really worried. His father and mother could cry all they wanted, but he knew that since the War the father's business, though Simchela Puterflam, was going great guns, because he supplied the meat to the fortress. In the process his leather wallet which he kept under his shirt, was swollen with money. Not only did he now have a one story house, but he had a wall around it to show for himself. So his father was quite wealthy and he wasn't worried about his father's ability to take care of him.

“It's not really going to take that much anyway for me to get an education.” He calmed his mother. Then they essentially started to haggle with each other, he and his mother, until he pretty much got what he wanted. Poor old Yoel the butcher, groaned and gave up the money to his wife and his wife fixed her boy up with clean laundry and took care of his clothes with money and a monthly allowance and sent him on his way. Frankly, people barely knew where he went. A while later, people learned that he had gone to St. Petersburg and was studying medicine there. Now, though, he came home, but the person who came home was not Velvela the butcher's son, but Vladimir-Horowitz, a medical student in a black satin shirt, buttoned all the way up to his throat with a red silk belt and a thick, black curl over his brow. A regular “Socialist”.

The third kid, Yaacov Hershela, was, to tell the truth, really not a student at all. He wanted to study, but he stayed in his father's shop. The father, a very well dressed Jew, with a black, meticulously combed beard, was a timber merchant who had two sets of clothes, one for God and one for the World. He wore a big fur hat, and a black coat on the Sabbath to pray at the Rabbis. During the week, when he was on timber business, he wore a slightly battered coat but of elegant gray material. His hat was narrow with a little brim, very Jewish, yet foppish.

Moshe-Leizor wasn't particularly afraid of conversion, like simple Yoel the butcher. And he also wasn't afraid of his son's threats that he would darken the family name by becoming a wagon driver. Moshe-Leizor was of Abel's way of thinking. He was not of an elite, Hasidic family, but he was a Hasid from Modzjitz. He was a stubborn man and a powerful, influential person. His motto essentially was, either his son follows the path he set out for him or he can get out. He really wanted, this Moshe-Leizor, that his son, Yaacov-Hershela, the only son of his first wife, should be like he was, a man who was devoted both to God and to business. He didn't spare any money. He spent freely on the best religious teachers. He also allowed him to learn to write and to do math, because a Jew without a pen was, in Moshe-Leizor's mind, like a blind man without a staff.

But, all of these things didn't appeal to Yaacov-Hershela at all. He really didn't know what he wanted. He was an orphan without a real sense of belonging from childhood on, in a house with a stepmother, his father always on the road or in Danzig or in the forests. The boy grew up without a real sense of respect. He was always at odds with everybody around him. Moshe-Leizor might have allowed him to go and study but, he was afraid to entrust any money to him, especially somewhere where he couldn't keep an eye on him. Even under his father's roof, the boy wasn't a very respectful person. He never picked up a religious book, and what's even worse, he was a thief. As soon as the father, Friday evening, used to stick his purse with money into the cabinet, the boy, with his own key, the hell with Sabbath, took the purse and used the money, not only on himself, but with other kids, who he hung around with. They went around to restaurants and pigged out on roast geese, they drank beer, and fooled around with girls. And even if Moshe-Leizor hid his purse, so that his son couldn't find it, he stole something from the house and he pawned it, whatever he could get. He carried on so. One day he lifted his father's golden cigarette case, his father's first wedding present.

For awhile, Yaacov-Hershela tried to fight it out with his father to try to get his father to give him money so he could travel to Warsaw and prepare himself with the University, meanwhile though, while he was still in Modzjitz, he started to grow his hair long, like Gorky, whose picture he had, just to spite his father, hanging over his head where he slept. He also had a shirt with a silk belt, he used to wear all the time. Seeing his son acting this way, his father, Moshe-Leizor, instead of giving him money so that he could go to the University, just threw him out of the house all together. At that point the son went away to Radom, and really got back at his father. He really darkened the family name and spit on his inheritance by becoming a wagon driver.

Now, he came back home, Yaacov-Hershela, a regular socialist. Not even a student. Still though, because of his family background, he hung around with students like Vladimir-Horwitz and Isaac-Kanterovitch, but he would also scold them and call them assimilationists and he used to say they danced at the weddings of strangers. Not the P. P. S., that Isaac belonged to, that's not going to free Poland, nor the Bund, the Socialist movement in Russia of the Russian Proletariat that Horwitz belonged to, that isn't going to do any good either, that's not going to help the Jewish people at all. Only a Jewish Proletariat and a return to Israel is going to answer the Jewish question.

Little by little, the young people who came back, these three in particular, became sort of important people in Modzjitz in their own way. Their word was listened to, became a command almost. When they gave the word, the work place would just shut down. And when they winked, the workers would go back to their jobs. They started to dictate or give orders about just how much work the boss could ask of one of their employees, and how many hours in a day they should have to work. Girls who were servants came to them and complained about their bosses. And poor folks came to them looking for justice against all kinds of things that were done to them. Already people had stopped going to the Rabbi to work things out and had begun to start going to the State courts. Not only poor folk came to get some kind of resolution from these young men but even Yoel the butcher who had awhile before made up with his son, said before his son's eyes, the way it is now, it is my son's word about a given matter that has more import now, even more than the Modjitzer Rabbi's!

Modzjitz really was truly and really turned upside down. The workers didn't buddy around like they used to with the bosses. They didn't play around anymore at cards with the bosses. They didn't go to the synagogue anymore to pray. Even the school kids became a lot more bold.

With a mixture of fear, respect and mockery, the bosses looked on while their workers quit work at six o'clock in the evening, washed up, changed their clothes, took a little walking stick in their hands and walked up and down the highway as if it were a Sabbath day!

And the police didn't even get mixed up in all this. The local troops were never actually seen, they kept a very low profile. It seemed as if they were hiding out at the tavern and looking out from behind the curtains, smiling into their mustaches. The “goyim” were somehow in turmoil. Their peasant heads weren't able to take in everything that was happening. They couldn't understand why the State authorities were apparently just keeping quiet and why they didn't ask them to get involved and why the fortress just made believe as if nothing were happening. Event he army patrols and the Cossacks who roamed over town with loaded rifles acted as if nothing were going on. If somebody from some corner would scream out, “Down with dictatorship, Hurrah!” the Cossacks just smiled and went on their way, as if it really didn't mean anything.

Something like a very sunny, happy, magical holiday, had descended on the town.

The Rabbi's House

The Rabbi's house was just as few steps from the courtyard where Yarme-David, with a whole bunch of other poor people lived, in little broken down houses, yet the Rabbi's house seemed like it was on a different planet.

It was a very spacious, wooden house. It's color was a dark brick color, with carved cornices over the door and big, broad windows. There were many acacia trees in the front of the house and their perfume filled the air throughout the summer. Their broad, thick branches covered and separated the house from the open market and spread a cool shadow over the little park area.

In the courtyard, as in an office, the Rabbi had his own, big study hall. On holidays, it was packed with Hasidim who had traveled there from all over Poland. Behind the study hall there was a little bit of a field with a thick orchard where rich Hasidim rented out spaces for their carriages that they traveled in.

This particular Sabbath evening, when Yarme-Ddavid went in to see the Rabbi, the house was very, very bright. The lights were on in all of the rooms as if it were a holiday. The Rabbi's family, his sons and daughters, sons-in-laws and daughters-in-laws, grandchildren, big and small, in rustling silk and quiet, soft satin and fur, busied themselves throughout the rooms as if now it was the week time again, it was no longer officially the Sabbath, and they were going to start to make up for the time they were not doing anything.

It was very bright now in the Rabbi's courtyard. From all sides in the closed courtyard Hasidim walked around with the remains of white challah loaves stuck in their shirt. Some of them brought along a little bit of schnapps that was left over from the Sabbath feast. Store owners brought fat, juicy herring in to Tirtze, in the kitchen, so that she could chop them up with onions and apple, mix it up with vinegar and make a very tasty borscht.

In the big kitchen, which was placed in the house as if it were a pack on the back of the house, poor Hasidim worked over pots. They stirred them and lifted them onto the big, blue colored lime stove in which fire crackled happily under all the burners of the stove. In the middle of the kitchen the cook moved around, she was an aguna [a wife who's husband has left her], with a big behind and a pair of thick arms and a mouth that never stopped moving and never stopped telling the Hasidim what to do with the baskets full of potatoes and beets. She bossed them around like you would a shoemaker's apprentice.

“Why are you peeling that so thick? There's not going to be anything left to throw in the pot!”

Also, in front of her, in a brightly lit study hall, it was very lively. Young men with beards, in their Sabbath hats and coats with their belts hanging out, busied themselves back and forth. They sat at the heavy, carved table and on the benches and they sang Psalms in the original words of David the King, and they sang out with joy and gusto, “David, Melach Yisrael, Chai, Chai, Vekayam”.

It was quiet though, in the other wing of the house and around the Rabbi's room. The Modzjitzer Rabbi, a very distinguished man with big, wise gay eyes and a broad, gray beard with curly payes, had just come in from the big dining hall where he made havdala [end of Sabbath prayer] for the whole household over a golden beaker of wine. Two little boys, the youngest grandchildren, in silk coats with gold braided Yalmelkas stood on two chairs on the sides of the table and held high the braided, many colored havdala candle, which flickered and spritzed with joyous light over those for whom the Rabbi made the blessing, “Boray…”.

Meanwhile, there in the lit up dining hall the sons-in-laws and sons sang the “Hamavdel Ben Kodesh Lechol”, and while they were doing that, the Modzjitzer Rabbi, with a wrinkled hat on his head, in a big silk coat and white socks with soft slippers on his feet, went into his room and walked back and forth, from the book case with the Holy books, to the table, and from the table to the book case with the Holy books, and very quietly to himself he kind of murmured a little melody that he just made up. He completely forgot his long, blue porcelain pipe, freshly lit for him, which the Shames, Noteh, gave to him, as a token of the beginning of the week. Deep in thought, he mulled over the tone and rhythm of the new melody that he'd made up. He held one hand inside of his garment as he did this and out of his garment there was just a little tip of red, Turkish handkerchief.

It was very quiet in the anti-room that led to the Rabbi's room. Noteh, the Rabbi's Shames, a short Jew, gray, hairy, with a lot of veins in his brow and nose, whose appearance resembled that of an old tree, was already very much involved with weekly activities. From one side he blew on the hollow part of his boot, which he didn't have on, as if it were with the bellows, and he blew over the chimney of the samovar.

“Isaac told me, before praying in the morning, that you have to have a conference with somebody.”

The hairy little Jew started to scratch under his satin shirt. He was a little bit uneasy because as long as he could remember nobody had come to see the Rabbi on a consultation during the regular week.

“Wait a minute”, he said and began to pick up his boot. Now he slowly walked to the window, wiped it a little bit with his forefinger on the moist glass and put over his soft jacket a long coat and slowly walked into the Rabbi's room.

Yarme-David, with three groshen notes already in hand, which is the Rabbi's fee, was standing now in front of the door of the anti-room. The whole time, Noteh, the Shames stood. Yarme-David stood with his heart beating in a state of trepidation. “Rebenu Shalolem, God-almighty”. Would he at least be able to maintain his strength? Would he at least be able to tell the Rabbi everything that was pressing his heart? Would he be able to confess that he himself, with his own hands, had brought about this tragedy? First, he had brought about his mother's death. Now Chana-Leah is so very, very sick, will the Rabbi at least give him a hearing and would he be able to give him some kind of counsel to guide him?

But just then the door to the Rabbi's room opened. Yarme-David kind of twitched, as if he were about to lose his balance and he couldn't even go any further and he just about fell in through the open door, Noteh, though, with his own breath, his own body, stood in his way, said quietly, “Wait”, and even more quietly to the Rabbi through the door behind him.

For the first time, the hairy little Jew, in a pretty unpleasant way, began to berate Yarme-David about what the Rabbi was supposed to get.

“Illiterate, bumpkin, cattle-driver!” he said very sharply and looking at the Jew with the red beard, who was almost on the verge of tears. “Before you go into the Rabbi, I better write out a little bill for you about the transaction.”

“Of course, of course, Reb Noteshe “, Yarme-David in a beaten down way stammered. “Of course I brought the fee for him”. And he began to open his hand with the three copper coins.

The little Jew slowly walked to the window, sat down by the table and began to write something with a goose feather over a little bit of paper and while he was doing this he frequently lifted his head and looked at Yarme-David.

“How is the sick woman doing? And how is your mother? How is her mother and how's your mother?”

Like a very attentive and fearful child, Yarme-David stood near the hairy Jew and answered with terror and fear everything he was asked.

Finally Noteh finished up his writing, he laid the quill down and took a little sand scattering device and scattered the sand on the moist script with little rows of white dry sand. Now he lifted up his very hairy hand to Yarme-David's hand but since Yarme-David didn't grasp what the other Jew was waiting for he just simply, without getting it, stuck out his hand with red hairs on it to get the note that had been written out. Noteh said to him in an angry, belligerent way, “You cattle-driver! You know writing out this little piece of paper here costs six groshens”.

Yarme-David felt the blood rush to his face, not God forbid from anger, but from shame. It was true, he had never even thought about Noteh. He had only thought about the eight groshens that he had to pay for the consultation.

“Reb Noteh, I will, with God's help, make this up to you.” Yarme-David said with shame. “I don't have a cent more than 8 groshens for the Rabbi, blessed be his name.”

Noteh, the Shames, got very heated. The red veins in his hairy nose got redder.

“What arrogance and chutzpah!” He pushed his chair away. “During the week you're already trying to do things on credit. Do you always try to borrow money and get off free from the doctor?”

Yarme-David just stood there. He couldn't even think of anything to say. It wasn't his way to fall down in front of somebody and beg. He could only try to reply once, that was the best he could do rather than try and explain something a second time. He'd rather be buried alive before he'd ask anybody to lend him anything of God forbid, give him anything. He wasn't that kind of person. Reb Noteh saw that there wasn't much point in proceeding this way and so he finally just shoved the bill into his hand and led him into the Rabbi's room.

“Good week, Rabbi”, Yarme-David said very quietly, he stammered it with fear in his voice.

The Rabbi didn't pay any attention to Yarme-David's greeting, he simply answered, “Good week, good year”, and continued sitting with his back to the inner part of the house. All that Yarme-David saw was a high back of a very soft, red material chair, two long gray curled payes, and a little satin hat on the top of his head. He heard a little bit of murmuring. The Rabbi was murmuring something to himself and he was rocking back and forth, to the left and to the right, like a metronome.

With great fear Yarme-David moved over to the table, with trembling hands he laid the receipt he's gotten outside with the three sixer notes and then he moved backward like a pious Jew would move backwards from a holy place.

Also at this moment, the Rabbi didn't look at him. He just sat there and pushed away the little mound of money notes, took a hold of the receipt with the information it had and brought it very, very close to his eyes.

His reading of it took a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to Yarme-David. Finally the Rabbi turned his head towards him.

“Yare-David, son of Perel, go home. The sick woman Leah, daughter of Chava, is going to be all right, she's going to get a cure and feel better.”

Yarme-David stood there dumbly. How can he go now. How can he pass up this opportune moment with the Rabbi. Did he just come here for a cure for his wife so that his wife would feel better? And what about him? What about his own problems? He needed, unfortunate one that he was, to ask for some way of getting out of his deep problem, from the Rabbi, his great feeling of guilt, which he carried in himself since his mother's death, and now afterwards, when it seemed that Chana-Leah had become so ill and in danger.

“Holy Rabbi”, he fell into the Rabbi's lap, “Save me, I am sinful. Only God, through you, Rabbi, can help me. I'm willing to take on myself the most difficult kind of repentance.”

Just now, Yarme-David began to really cry and a stream of imprecations, begging and praying just flowed from him, as if from a full barrel where the spout had just been opened. It was the first time in his life that a great whale of tears had opened in him with such power.

“Holy Saint, with my own hands I took my mother out of this world!”

The Rabbi fell away from Yarme-David and he was really upset by what he was saying. He was very, very unnerved by it. His very refined, white hands which has been resting in the wide silk cuffs of his garment had quickly reached out to help Yarme-David to stand up, now were trembling, as if they would, God forbid, begin to really convulse seriously. After all, it's not a small thing for a Jew to confess to killing his own mother, God forbid.

“What are you talking about, Yarme-David! Have you, God forbid, gone crazy?” asked the Rabbi with his voice trembling and his face became even whiter than it already was, even whiter than the broad, white collar of his shirt.

Little by little Yarme-David cried himself out and told the Rabbi what was pressing his heart. The Rabbi, after hearing everything, calmed down. Praised be God. This Jew, God forbid, isn't any real villain, hasn't committed any real terrible crime. Maybe he fulfilled a curse which is mother called upon herself.

Just then the Rabbi very calmly laid his two outstretched hands on Yarme-David's shoulders and spoke to him in a soft fatherly voice. “Yes, it certainly is a sin to bring a curse to your mother, or, God forbid, to effectuate a curse that someone else has brought upon themselves. But God is compassionate and He will forgive you, but of course it's important that you will atone and atonement is a very, very important matter and this is what it says, especially about this, in the Law, “Where a repentant stands, even the utterly righteous cannot stand.” This is the interpretation, “Somebody who really is atoning with all their heart can purify themselves in a way that even a saint can not achieve.” So stand up, Yarme-David, and promise me that you will fulfill everything that I tell you to do.”

“Yes Rabbi, I'll even rip out the stones of the bridge with my teeth.”

“Now, now”, the Rabbi waived that away, as if he was just being much too common and coarse about the whole thing. “A Jew shouldn't talk that way. Better, in the morning, immediately after you go and pray, go to your mother's grave and ask for her forgiveness. You should say to her, “I, Yisrael, son of Malka, a sprout from the line of Zvolin, forgive me.” Ask her to undo the curse whish she originally, for your sake, brought upon herself. I hope, merciful God, that she will forgive you. A mother always forgives her children. Afterwards, go in peace back from the graveyard, and you should immediately have a brit [circumcision ceremony] because, you have with your fasting and the things that you're going to do to make up for all this, you're not going to have a daughter born to you to disgrace the seed, you need therefore to have a brit that is really sumptuous with fish and meat because Natan is the interpretation given and Chaim's life. Rebenu Shalolem God gave life and what God gives we should take without resistance. One doesn't say his beloved name lightly, you hear, Yarme-David? And if you fulfill all of the different things that I've just laid out, I tell you that, God willing, you'll come to the brit and stand there holding a child, and the pregnant woman, Chana-Leah, daughter of Chava, will as a result of what you've done, have a cure and be healthy again.

“Amen”, Yarme-David said with a quiet, humble voice. Yarme-David listened to what the Rabbi had to say with his head bent down and his eyes turned down. Although the Rabbi didn't exactly comfort him, even scolded him, still each word of the Rabbi's was like dew from heaven. He felt great stones roll off his heart so that his heart was free again, and it was once again possible to live in the world. He felt the real possibility of hope and life again that He in heaven will forgive his sins. But a brit with fish and meat and guests at the feast, how can he manage that?

Yarme-David began to stumble over this point in his own thoughts because it wasn't exactly his way to take upon himself obligations or promises when he knew that he couldn't fulfill them. It was clear to him that he didn't have the means to take care of them. He wanted to ask, “Holy Rabbi, a brit like that? I'm just a poor cattle driver.” However, the Rabbi already knew what he was thinking and didn't even let him ask. He just responded to him, “About the brit, don't worry, with God's help, everything will happen.”

Yarme-David kissed the mezuzah. Quiet and humble, he said, “God week, Rabbi”, and he went out of the Rabbi's room.

Coming outside, he wanted to run home and tell the good news, but outside there he met up with a tall fellow, Isaac.

Isaac was a kind of a bent over fellow and always seemed to be in deep thought with both hands folded into his sleeve. And he was kind of humming a little melody of the Modzjitzer Rabbi. At this moment, tall Isaac was on his way to the Rabbi in the prayer house to the meal that ushers out the Sabbath. Meeting up with Yarme-David, with great contentment, he stopped.

“Good week Yarme-David. I hope that you have some kind of great salvation happen to you.'

“Amen”, Yarme-David very piously answered.

“So, what did I tell you?” tall Isaac said with some victory in his voice, just as if he had known what the Rabbi said to Yarme-David. “So you want to follow me. Its like I told you Yarme-David, its nothing really that terrible. There's a great God in the world. Now listen to me, come in, we'll eat the feast together to usher out the Sabbath.”

“What are you talking about Isaakel? This kind of a Sabbath meal in the Rabbi's house, I don't belong there. I'm just a cattle driver, I don't belong among Hasidim and fine Jews.”

“That doesn't make sense”, tall Isaac said with a wag of his head. “In the eyes of the Almighty, all Jews are equal.”

But after all the talk, tall Isaac went alone to the study house and Yarme-David went home. Before leaving the gateway of the Rabbi's place, he turned around again once and he looked at the windows of the Rabbi's prayer house and he heard the singing that flowed out from there and it moved him. The sky was clear, the stars sparkled, a half moon like a silver horn hung over the Rabbi's roof. In the prayer house, around the big study table, Hasidim sat, bunched together. They had their big, flat black hats on, their black coats with silk material and they rhythmically rocked back and forth and with their rocking sang sweet, religious reverent song. And Yarme-David felt very warm inside and it seemed to him that everything became brighter and the trees became quieter and the mysterious fields and there roofs covered with snow and the great expanse were holding their breath and listening to the Jews as they sung:

Our descendents and wealth shall multiply as sand, and as stars at night!


Pesach Melamed's little School

Although the summer heat was awful, just like fire flowing down from heaven, Peasach-Melamed, a pale Jew with a broad white beard and gray tearful eyes, sat as always in a jacket garment of soft, black cotton which was buttoned up all the way to his skinny throat.

Te hair on his head was yellow with age and on it there was a thick, saturated by sweat, feathered, turning green, satin Yalmekah. Around him, on both sides of the table, which had been nicked and carved with little boys' knives, sat four and five year old students, bent over open, yellowed prayer books and they rocked rhythmically back and forth singing after him with feeling, “Yig Da!”

“Higher, goyim”, Pesach-Melamd encouraged them, “Higher! I want to hear it better”. He encouraged the little Jews in their big prayer shawls with the little curled payes. “Higher, once again, Yud, Yud Gimel, Petach Dalet, Lamed! Once again, Yig-Dal!”

Just as Pesach-Melamed, with the little boys at the table in front, just as he was working with them, in the same way, in another corner, near the door, sat one of his assistant teachers, a tall young man, thin, with a pale face, which was covered with red freckles. Around him, on both sides of the table, sat a whole bunch of girls, some of them fairly old, with heavy braids and high, full bosoms. The girls also rhythmically repeated what he had said, what they'd been reading from open, yellowed prayer books. They read it and he just said it by heart and they followed him.

Away from the table, over the whole breath of the big, four cornered room, there were rows of long, black colored reading benches which actually were like a gentile school. On the seats and on the reading desks there was a convergence of a lot of little kids, it was like it was an anthill. Little boys of three to six years in long overcoats with black satin and cotton hats on their heads were gathered around there where they pushed each other and hit each other and made a lot of noise just as if the rabbi wasn't even in the same room with them. From time to time, when Pesach-Melamed just couldn't take it anymore, the noise and the uproar just got to him, he raised his disciplinary whip, a goat's foot with 12 thick tails, just like you raise up a flag, and peered over his brass spectacles with ferocity, in his pale, parchment dry face, and when he did that it became so quiet in the room that you could hear people breathing. Little boys sat down again, very quietly, like little statues, and with nervous hands held on to the edges of their desks. They cast terrified glances at the Rabbi wondering if he was going to get up, as he did, I nthese situations, and give somebody a good licking.

Because of this whip and because of that ferocious glance of his, Yarme-David decided to entrust his sons to the old Pesach-Melamed. He thought that he could really handle kids, that he wouldn't take any nonsense. The new fashions, modern reading desks, which the Rabbi had to install to comply with the regulations of the State, and he also had teaching there a couple of teachers who had German style caps on their heads and black pinch-nez and they taught the children Polish, although that part of it was a big flaw to Yarme-David, instead of something positive, he liked the school because of its old fashioned methods. Pesach-Melamed's whip, in Yarme-David's mind, overcame all the other flaws of the school. Although in other schools he would only have had to pay half as much tuition for his kids, Yarme-David skimped on the little bit of bread that he did have and sent his kids to Pesach-Melamed. The older kid, Leibel-Moshe, was already there and he already needed to begin studying Gemorah. The other one, Avram-Yankel, was there in the third year. Now he was bringing his third son, Natan-Chaim. “Here he is Reb Pesach, teach him Jewishness”, he said, sitting down his kid, who was all sweaty and silent and full of held back tears. “The most important thing, Reb Pesach, don't spare the whip!”

Yarme-David was all worked up and full of sweat and angry from trying to deal the whole way with his kid, who had been kicking him and fighting with him with his little fists, just trying to get out of his grasp the whole time. “Here you are, you little piece of goy, here you are in the heder”, he screamed at his son, and slapped him on his hands, on his clenched up resentful quiet little face, which was stubbornly holding back his tears.

His arrival at the heder with this struggling little boy under his arm, had caused a sudden silence to descend on everything. The students, who had just been singing and studying and rhythmically moving back and forth suddenly were absolutely silent with terrified eyes. They looked at the Jew with the red beard, who was panting so hard and wiping his angry face with his shirt.

Pesach-Melamed pushed the brass spectacles onto his brow and slowly turned his easy chair closer to Natan-Chaim. He stroked his clenched up, silent little face and he raised his chin and asked him with a lot of softness in his voice. “What's your name, little boy?

Instead of answering, little Natan-Chaim pushed the old man's hand away from his head and he turned around so that he would not have to look at either his father or the old Jew with the white beard.

“Oh, he really is a little goy.” Pesach – Melamed said to Yarme-David.

“You play around with him”, Yarme-David said in a very worried way to his son. “You play around with him, and you'll see what he can do with that thing in his hand!”

“Now, now.” The older Pesach waived that away with his pale yellow hand. “Just leave him alone for a minute. He'll be able to talk, you'll see.” And to show the little kid what he meant by what he said, he raised up his whip in front of Natan-Chaim's face, “You see little boy”, he warned him, “if a little boy is stubborn, we lay him down, we role up his shirt, and we give it to him!”

Natan-Chaim wanted to run away, but the old man was quick enough to grab him by one of his little hands and sit him down in his lap and keep his little legs there between his two bony knees.

Just then the little boy began to try and tear away from and punch the old man, screaming as loud as he could, letting out all the stuff he's been keeping in. “I don't want to be here! Mommy!”

In his hitting the old white Jew, the little boy didn't see his father taking off, but even if his father were there, he wouldn't have turned to him for help. Only his mother. “Mommy, I don't want to be here!”

Pesach-Melamed, although he could be a very angry Jew at times, who was quite used to raising up his whip and using it, decided to try to deal with his new little pupil with good will. From long years of experience he knew, with a boy like this, it was better to try and win him over.

“You see, little boy”, he pointed with his finger to the ceiling, “If you really want to study, an angel is going to drop a penny down for you”. And in order that the little boy should really believe him, he right away took out a copper penny from his jacket pocket and let it fall from his raised hand onto the table with a little ping.

The child opened his eyes. He looked up a few times, to the blue plaster of the ceiling. Afterwards, he tried to take the little coin in his hands, looking at the same time with distrust on the Jew with the white beard.

“Take it, take it”, the old man encouraged him. And he himself got hold of the big alphabet chart from the wall. “So, little boy,” and he turned to little Natan-Chaim, “now take a look here”.

And he pointed with his great bone pointer to the Aleph-Bet. “Do you see the little head on the top, and the little feet on the bottom? That's an Aleph. Say after me, Aleph. And the little open box, do you see that? That's a Bet. Say it loud.”

Natan-Chaim liked the game. All at once, he forgot his stubbornness and he himself began to trace with his little finger the Aleph-Bet and pick out the letters which his mother and brothers had from time to time, taught him.

“That's Kuf”, he said loudly and happily, and pointed to the big Kuf. “That's a Lamed, that's a Fay!”

Pesach-Melamed's troubled face lightened up quite a bit. “Ach, you are a good little boy”, he said to him lovingly, and stroked the red, overheated little face. “Now come with me.” He took the child off his lap and took him by the hand and led him among the rows of study desks, over to Avram-Yankel, his older brother, who the whole time had been sitting very quietly and looking at what had been going on with his little brother.

“Sit here”, the old teacher said to his new little student. “If you follow and you really want to study, the angel always throws pennies down to you.”

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