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[Pages 436-430]

Chapter 16:

Mixed Streets

Here and there along the Jewish streets lived Gentiles: respectable citizens, craftsmen, street cleaners, or just plain Shabbes goyim (Christians who on Sabbath do work which is prohibited to Jews). Strictly Gentile streets were almost non-existent. The streets were of mixed population. The Jews lived as close as possible to the market; the Gentiles, as near as they could to the outskirts of town. That was the setup in all the mixed streets. Occasionally a Jewish family ventured to live far from the market, nearer to the forest, to Wulka, amid the silence of the Gentile Wimiszliny or, far away, but within city limits. A city Jew, who had spent all his life among Jews and lived on Jewish streets, was struck with terror when, even in midday, he had to pass through an unfamiliar lane. He couldn't comprehend how Jews were able to live in the midst of Gentiles and dogs. In each Gentile yard there was a dog attached to a chain that charged every intruder with full force. And indeed there were very few Jewish families who lived so far away.

On Nieberg Street, behind town, lived the old Gur Hassid Zisza Zilberberg, who was the town mohel (circumciser). In his free time he helped out in his wife Zisa-Dinah's shop. They were the leaders of the few Jewish families who lived there. Their Gentile neighbors were full of respect for this orthodox family. Close by their house were two more Jewish stores. One belonged to Itcheh Feigenbaum, also a Gur Hassid, the other, to his brother-in-law, Moteh-Leib Perlberg better known as “Ronczka” (little hand). Their wives and daughters assisted them in the shops and they made a good living.

In Zisza's house there also lived Mendel-Leib Greenberg, Ya'akov David Kleiner and the brothers, David and Izhak Yonish.

A Jew with the face of a black lamb, a small Jewish hat on his flat-topped head, dragged himself along the street on long, thin legs. He was always chewing on a straw or muching grains of wheat. This was Lask, the commission agent.

This sums up all the families who lived on Nieberg Street which reached from “behind town” to the little bridge. From the bridge on, the Jewish population was denser. Here lived Yankl-Duvid Nattelberg the Yellow, who was the old, “Mizrahi” warden, Wolf-Ber Windicki, Itcheleh Zilkes, his brother Luzer, the drunkard, and their mother, and Yacob-Yosef Witman who owned a lumberyard. He was a veteran leader of the Jewish community and the representative of the Orthodox Jews on the City Council. Here also lived David Henoch Fraenkel, a tall, dark Gur Hassid. His daughters came to Palestine with the first Aliyah (immigration to Eretz Yisrael). Moshe his son, was a long-time member of “Zeirei Zion” and a friend of Moshe Laski. At every possible occasion, he spoke of Eretz Yisrael. He was quite successful in his business affairs, bought houses, including the big building in the market place, Moshe Warsztacki's house. He didn't make it to the Land of Israel. It was in this area that Shayiah Makower had a large, fenced-off, lot for agricultural machinery. This is where Avram Zukerkorn the Black had a small store. Here lived Simha-Binem Lichtenstein, the fisherman Zureh Lengalka and his daughters who were fine singers, Azriel the Yellow, Shimshon Rosenberg and the Rope Maker. The houses of all these people reached almost to the end of the market where Henoch Zilberberg and Witman, known as “Panicz,” lived.

From behind Henoch Zilberberg's house, Priest's Lane extended from Neiberg Street to Dzialdowo Street. On one side of the lane there were wooden granaries, on the other side, the priest's orchard.

The old priest lived at the entrance to the orchard together with young and other old priests. It was there that hate and animosity kindled and blazed, there that the attacks on Jews and Jewish stores were planned and prepared.

Just opposite the icon of the crucified Jew from Nazareth, on the small window at the entrance, there was another picture that depicted a well-fed Gentile about to kick a skinny, frightened Jew. According to the caption on the picture, the Coy was yelling: “Zid (Jew) - go to Palestine. Don't buy from the Jews Buy from your own kind.” Close to the poster and near the yard, fights often took place between Jews and Gentiles. Young Jews such as Shiyah Naparstek, Usher Yonish, Haim-Yosef Eichler (׆Tsots”) and others, lay in ambush for the Gentile who like mad dogs had spread venom and hostility toward the Jews among the Christian population. From time to time they took their revenge on him for his deeds. One Friday, towards evening, they tarred the poster.

Opposite the priest's house and the nest of hatred toward the Jews, a narrow back alley called “The Sanctified” (“przeswietna”) passed next to the jail at the bottom of the hill and continued up to Nieberg Street. Only two Jewish families lived there. One was Joseph the Silent who was the father of Moshe Ljchtensztein, his wife Zipra (Zippora), their sickly son Gershon, and their daughters. The other was his neighbor, the kiosk owner, a man who dealt in dairy products and owned many cows, and his robust daughters.

On this street there was also a white building that struck fear in Jew and Gentile alike. This was the hospital, named after “St. Wojciech,” the city's patron saint.

To the left, opposite Zisza Zilberberg's house, the narrow “wymysliny” where almost no Jews lived, twisted and turned, extending until the starostwo house. There were two parts to this lane. On the side where the little bridge was, in the direction of the Rosegard, lived the Gentile potters. Their profession was not held in great esteem by the Jews. Only the young people who intended to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael got to know the potters and wanted to learn their trade. On the side opposite the little bridge, closer to Dzialdowa Street, lived only Jews.

The district commissioner's house (“wojtostwo”) was on Butchers Lane near the butchers market that fed the city's inhabitants. The butchers had a building of their own here and their own Hassidim. Mordechai-Leib Rak, who was a well-to-do Jew and the son-in-law of Shimon Lipsker, Yonathan Segal, Mordechai Shtrumpfman, Motele Zilberstein and Mordovicz were all wealthy businessmen, Hassidim who attended various “shtibbls” and Batei midrash. On Saturdays and festival days, they always prayed at the Butchers' Synagogue.

Half the street was taken up by Yuda-Nissan Tachna's vegetable garden. The street had a Gentile atmosphere about it. At the entrance leading from Dzialdowa Street, there stood a big iron pump from which one drew “hard” water. It divided the street into two: one part in the direction of Wulka, the other, to the market. On the way to Wulka there were several Jewish families. Abraham Pszemiarowicz and Berish Perlmutter lived in a red brick building surrounded by a pretty garden. Haim Drattva had a lumberyard there. In the section nearer to the market lived only Jews: Huna Taifeld - the baker from Warsaw, Sima the Baker, Eliyah-Berish Zilberman, the tailor Tzudek Windicki, Joshua Frocht the house painter who later emigrated to Eretz Yisrael with his family, Moshe Laski, Mattes Katz, Shmuel-Avigdor Greenberg, Korn, and others.

Mendel Gurni was an important figure in town. He was the first violinist and the conductor of the town's klezmorim (street musicians). He lived in the Jewish section of Dzialdow Street. Close by lived the “second violinist,”' Fischel Green. The other musicians, Ya'akov Greenberg, Mendel Green and Berl Badhan (rhymester) who played the hand organ, lived on other streets, among Jews.

The Jewish klezmorim who gladdened Jewish celebrations were for the most part wretched paupers. In order to maintain their families, they also had to work as barbers or male nurses. That is what Ya'akov Greenberg, Fischel Green and Mendel Green did. Those who lived only from their music were Berl Badhan, dressed in a capote and a Jewish hat, and Mendel Gurni who already then wore a jacket as did other musicians. People were particularly proud of the great violinist Mendel Gurni.

A Jewish heart yearned and longed for melodies. As a thirsty man to a spring, a Jewish soul was drawn to music that cleansed one's soul, purified it and elevated one's life from its day-to-day dreariness. Sabbaths, festivals, celebrations, prayers and fasts were full of song and music. The Hassidim's souls went out to melodies that tugged at one's heart and in which the “Bnei Hahala” were sung in the shtibbl as Sabbath drew to close. For the Hassidim a melody was one of the basic element of life. When a Hassid visited a Rebbeh, he always tried to bring along a new tune. It was considered merit for a learned young man to be able to carry a tune, to be able to conduct prayers and be the cantor at the reader's stand. For the Hassidim praying was interwoven with singing.

The Mitnagdim did not sing during prayers. They were familiar only with the Sabbath festival songs sung at mealtimes in their homes.

After Havdalah, on the Saturday evening of the week of wedding celebrations, Mendel Gurni, a tall, erect and well built Jew, would appear at the in-laws' home. He came with a band of musicians at the conclusion of the Sabbath to play “Shavua-Tov” (good week).

Inside an oil-lamp would be burning. The table was still covered with a white Sabbath cloth. In4aws and friends we contentedly seated around the table wearing velvet hats or velvet skullcaps, dressed in silk or satin caftans, or in red or blue dressing gowns embroidered with flowers of many colors. The women wore silk and were bedecked in gold and precious stones. Everybody drank tea, the men talked and smoked cigars. At the close of the Sabbath it was customary to smoke cigars.

All of a sudden Mendel Gurni would appear. The sweet strains of his violin drew at one's heart. Mendel Gurni played on is fiddle accompanied by Fischel Green on his fiddle, Ya'akov Greenberg on his concertina, Berl Badhan on his flute, and Mendel Green on the double-bass. They made it their business to play only melodies of joy and gladness. “Shavua Tov,” “Shavua-Tov,” Mazal-Tov,” a wedding, a wedding! But the room was not filled with joy. The more they played, the more tears poured out. As result the atmosphere was sad and plaintive, like at Jewish weddings or Jewish celebrations in town.

The man of the house, a Hassidic Jew, was the first to shake off the spell of the music. Reluctantly, he tried to be rid of the enchanted sounds that were like a rope around his heart. He rose and said his thanks to the musicians who immediately ceased playing. Everybody awakened and wished one another Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov, Shavua Tov, a week of good health. This was how a wedding week began.

The wedding day arrived. Both bride and groom fasted. In the house there was a half-festive, holemoyd (the intermediary days between the first and last days of Passover and Sukoth) atmosphere. Sima the Baker worked hard. Inside, smells of baking filled the air. In-laws from out-of-town in everyday and holiday dress, came and went.

In the morning hours of a day like this, Mendel Gurni again appeared with his band of musicians and played for the bride. As they played “Boker Tov” (Good morning) everybody burst out crying. At the approach of the wedding ceremony, a feeling of sadness prevailed. Saddest of all was the bride. She had to fast and pray according to the Yom-Kippur prayer book. Her day of joy turned into a day of mourning, of endless weeping and tears. Death and the Destruction of Jerusalem came to mind. In front of the canopy, Berl Badhan appeared to sing in honor of the bride. He began by saying: “Little bride, little bride, pour out your tears / Cry in honor of your wedding / I will give you a platter of bitter herbs / Weep no more, charming bride.” Even though there was much eating and drinking and people began dancing and Berl Badhan announced “wedding presents” for the couple, and let fly sallies, quips, hyperboles and proverbs, the heart was heavy.

A wedding like this provided the klezmorim with a living for many weeks. All the in-laws paid, the guests too: some for music in their honor, others for a dance played according to their request. The most handsome payments were for the “Broom dance” and the “Mitzveh Dance.”

In later years the klezmorim also performed at the theatre. At the “Zamir” they played songs from “Shulamith” and “The Witch” by Goldfadden, gypsy airs and shepherd tunes in Jewish adaptation. These melodies were incorporated into Jewish celebrations and prayers.

The band of Mlawa musicians also played in the neighboring cities and towns, at Gentile weddings and at balls held in the squires' courtyards. Jewish melodies and gefilte fish were always enjoyed by the Gentiles.

*

We mustn't forget Chorzel Street, the Green Market, Szkolna, Dluga and many small streets in which Jews lived and worked.

There were streets considered Jewish only because of the names the Jews gave them. “Granary Street” was known as Mendel Merker Street.” Mendel Merker, one of the elected Jewish community leaders, had a storeroom there in which he kept lime, wood, and coal. During World War I, he was the mayor of the city.

From this street extended “Winding Lane” also known as Ya'akov-Shlomo Lane. Ya'akov-Shlomo Mondrzak who dealt in horses, wheat and forests, lived there. He had an estate of his own. Yaakov-Shlomo was a simple Jew who on Saturdays wore a velvet hat and prayed in the shtibbl. When he became angry his voice grew hoarse and it was difficult to hear and follow what was saying. It was as though he was being strangled by his wrath and fury. When he had a fit of happiness he would gulp down some brandy, grab hold of his wife and begin to dance - even on an ordinary weekday. His anger and rage never got so out of hand that they overcame his great love for his children. He allowed them a great deal, forgave them all their pranks, and he cherished all the troubles they caused him. He dearly loved his children and could refuse nothing to Duvcze, the son of his old age. Duvcze while still a youth was among the first to emigrate to the Land of Israel.

There was an old building on Szkolna Street. People said that Napoleon had stayed there when he thought to conquer Russia. The actual truth was that one of his generals had slept there. In that same house there lived for many years the wheat dealer, Avrum Cwok (nail), an ignoramus and a boor. During his entire life he struggled against his Yetzer Horeh (evil urge-personified). The name “nail”, it was told, was to show that when he weighed a load of wheat, he would place a nail on the scales. Others were convinced that the nail was used to pierce the platform of the granary onto which the farmers emptied their grain, so that some would fall through. A Jew fighting his “evil urge” could hardly allow himself to cheat simply by pressing his foot against the scales or by using false weights.

The war he waged in the new besmedresh was an entirely different story. Avrum the Red, fought like a lion against all those who caused a holy place to look like, let's not mention it in the same breath, a church. “Where ever did you hear,” he yelled, “that a floor in a besmedresh should be washed and spittoons should be placed in every corner and a Jew should not be free to spit where he chooses?”

His greatest conflict took place in the succah (booth built by observant Jews on the Feast of Tabernacles) ,in the presence of all the neighbors. Avrum Cwok with the flushed face was a real glutton. When the head of a large carp was brought to him inside the succah, his battle immediately began, accompanied by the appropriate chant: “You, Yetzer Horeh, think to entice me to succumb to my appetite and eat the head. And I, just to spite you, may you go mad, shall not take a single bite,” and Avrum pushed away the platter with the fish head. “However, it is a holiday,” he went on and relented, “and in honor of this day it is a mitsveh to eat fish.” He slowly drew the plate back towards him. “But, Yetzer Horeh, you want to lead me astray...” The dish moved back and forth across the table. Avrum played with the carp head as a cat toys with a mouse. The eye of the dead fish on the platter seemed to be watching this battle against the Yetzer Horeh with the pale smile of death that seemed to say:

“In the end, the big fish always eat up the little fish.” The battle ended. The commandment to eat fish on holidays had prevailed over the Yetzer Horeeh.

*

Large trees stood on either side of the street. In the courtyard there were gardens and orchards full of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. On the windowsills, basking in the warmth of the good sun's rays, there was an exhibition of flowerpots full of green and red tomatoes that the Jews considered a fruit unfit to eat, suitable for goyim only.

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