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[Pages 479-472]

Chapter 10:

Plock Street

The Jewish back streets and Mikveh Square seemed to be embraced by the two, long arms of Warsaw and Plock Streets The German murderers utilized that limited area for a ghetto within which they confined all the Jews of Mlawa and its surroundings.

The two arms, together with the alleys, reflected the character of the city's Jewish life. Each yard, each house, and each individual made its contribution to this special, cozy atmosphere. Certainly architects and civil engineers had taken very little pains in constructing the streets and houses. Each house was built wherever its owner so fancied, and according to his particular taste. And the result? The streets were crooked, the houses built in the “original” architectural style of each owner. If one looked at the one, and two-story wooden buildings, covered with all sorts and colors of oil paint, green and blue, yellow and gray, one could readily picture their creators. Like its owners, each house differed from all the others. Each of the inhabitants had ways and custom of his very own. But, all together, the houses were small and simple and reflected a quiet and modest way of life.

Not very readily could the residents of the wooden houses have adjusted to the big stone buildings in which every- thing seemed so strange and cold. The little balconies and the wooden steps responded to each tread with a creak and a sigh. The small windows, the half-dark rooms with their heavy, solid furniture, the kitchens and the wide benches for sleeping, the cooking pots and the copper pans on the walls - all these had something comfortable and snug about them. The houses were partners to their tenants' lives for many years and represented a considerable investment of their time.

Here was a yard with no gates, only half a gate suspended on heavy iron hinges and weeds growing among the stones. Another yard was fenced off and closed except for a wicket gate that barely opened. Here and there was an open yard that seemed meant for public use. In the middle there would be a well from which people drew water as they passed from street to street. Just by looking at a yard one could point out its owners.

Small crooked doors were suspended in front of narrow entrances to wide-open stores. In front of several of the stores there were small, glass doors with thin, iron handles. Some of the stores were closed with heavy locks, others with small chains. At the entrance to Plock Street, there were inns on either side of the street. There the peasants stayed when they came to the fairs with their horses and wagons. The owners of the inns were, Abraham Terzer, Mendel Cohen and Yizhak Eichler.

The upper portions of the inns with their little roofs and turrets looked strange and out of place. Without benefit of clanging entrance bells, the small doors would open and Jews step out. They were husky porters who, with a swing of their arms, would sweep sacks of flour from the smooth boards in the granaries straight into the heavy wagons.

A few steps away there was a store right out of a fairy tale. Black Yospa, who looked as though she had just stepped out of the Bible, brought out handfuls of wonderful and rare fruit: dates, figs, carobs, peanuts and pistachios, almonds, grapes, oranges, and many more which we could not name. One would look at these delicacies with longing. Since they were very costly, one could at least inhale their pleasant aroma that filled the air outside the shop. Boys put away one penny after another and sometimes, in partnership, bought a piece of fruit. They took bits in turn: “One for you, one for me,” and while so doing, each suspected that the other had taken a bigger bite than he. Yospa's store in the middle of Plock Street served as live greetings from the Land of Israel.

For many years, bad-tempered Aharon-Yosef Narzemski lived next to Yospa. His little rooms and his corridor were always full of old clothes brought from Germany. Aharon-Yosef had an only son, Ya'akov-Moshe. He was pale and thin with a neatly trimmed, black beard. He wore a Jewish cap made of cloth and a three-quarter length black capote. His stiff, white collar and long, black tie testified that Ya'akov-Moshe did not ad- here to the conventional ways of young men his age. A fire kindled in his soul. He was totally dominated by the two great ideals that, in those days, began to glorify the Jewish street: human emancipation in general, and Jewish emancipation in particular. He would hop around on his lame leg in the various circles and at underground meetings. In 1905, when a crowd of Jews and Poles assembled in the market place, Ya'akov-Moshe courageously addressed them from a raised platform. While he was still talking, Cossacks grabbed hold of him and, in front of all those gathered there, beat him up. That was but a part of the punishment. He paid for his Zionist-Socialist activities with a term in prison, and tuberculosis. He died before his time.

During the last years of his life he went about ostracized, surrounded by silence, like a stranger among friends. And if, once in a while, he did go to visit some relatives, they would become silent in mid-word. They couldn't forgive him for the shame he had caused his family. People were afraid of him, they distrusted him. “He's worse than a goy,” they said. “Even a goy believes in something, and he doesn't believe in anything.” People thus sought to justify their hostility to Ya'akov-Moshe.

In a yard on the other side of the street, a little way down the hill, lived Yankev-Herzl Galant. He used to add to himself and members of his family as many names as possible. It was enough for someone in town to say Yankev -Herzl and everyone knew that he was referring to a tall, emaciated Jew whose face looked as though it had been strewn with ashes and at any moment he would burst out crying. Even his beard showed no hint of Hassidic liveliness. It was a stiff, colorless, sandy beard whose hairs seemed to be attached with pins to his pale, wan face. His looks could be attributed to his frequent shrieking, his devout- ness, his weeping and wailing over the Destruction of Jerusalem.

During the week Yankev-Herzl dealt in sacks. A long time ago when he had been young, after the dowry money had come to an end, like others in his position he became a melamed. His sons, may it not happen to us, did not live long. The first son lucky enough to attain bar-mitzvah, was dressed in white. He had no fewer than four names, Haim, Nathan, Simha-Binem. Yankev took the same opportunity to provide himself as well with additional names: Ya'akov, Naftali, Herzl, and to his wife's name he added, Hava, Hayah and Feiga. Apparently this combination worked and Haim-Nathan-Simha-Binem flourished and opened the way to more and more children.

After finishing each portion of the Pentateuch, all the boys in Ya'akov-Herzl's heder had to rise and say in a loud voice: “Haim, Nathan, Simha, Binem, the son of Hava, Hayah, Feiga and Reb Ya'akov, Naftali-Herzl - may he live to a ripe old age.”

In appearance and behavior Ya'akov Herzl was very much like his friend Binem-Shiyeh's from the Alexandrowite shtibbl. Binem Shiyeh's was a devoted and naive Hassid, innocent in worldly affairs. People liked to joke and made him the butt of many con-dc anecdotes. Once he needed to buy a chicken to use for kaparot (expiatory sacrifice of a chicken before the Day of Atonement). He wanted to know if before him was a rooster or chicken. With his feeble knowledge of Polish, he asked the goya: 'Wsi to ia, tsi to ti” (Is it I or is it you?). He took great care to keep the proper distance from a woman. (i.e. 4 cubits).

Apart from the regular long and short fast days, Ya'akov Herzl also fasted every Monday and Thursday. Night and day he studied the Torah. He did not manage to finish his preparations for praying until noon. He ate only twice a day but he did not skip a single Hassidic feast. He rejoiced his soul in the Hassidic festivities. After a gulp of brandy, Naftali Herzl would always drink some oil in order to prevent the alcohol from going to his head.

The Galant family, Ya'akov Herzl and Itcheh Mendel Galant, were descended from the Cabbalist Galanti family of Safed, from Rabbi Abraham Galanti, the author of “Kol Bohim” (The Voice of Weeping”).

For many years, clever Viteh (Lipinski) was forced to raise four children through her own efforts. She was not particularly impressed by her neighbors on either side of the street. This was her attitude to all the respectable Jews. During her lifetime, which had not been at all easy, she had acquired numerous wise sayings that she recited from time to time: “You have and you give, and you find favor. You don't have and you don't give, and you don't find favor. And that's all there is to it.”

The convert Wishinski boasted that a Jewish storekeeper had intended to cheat him. One of the partners had asked the other, “How much does it cost?” “Kaf-hey,(25)” was the answer But to him they said that the price was thirty. Never ever had kaf-hey been thirty, said Wishinski.

The Blum family from Plock Street was privileged to supply the city both with “bread” and “Torah.” In addition to Lederberg and Cegla, it was Yankel Blum who for many years attracted most of the students and adults to his bookstore. He was the principle book distributor. In those years, his mother, the Baker, supplied the town with bread.

The bakeries in town carried the women's names. Well known were the following: Golda the Baker, in the cellar next to Yankel Kozik, Mindel (Herman) the Baker, on Synagogue Lane, Malka the Baker (Kleinbard) on Chorzel Street, and Sima the Honey-Cake Baker. Sima had only to enter someone's house and everyone knew a wedding celebration was in sight.

Baile the Baker travelled a long way from Plock Street in Mlawa to Rashi Street in Tel-Aviv, via the mixed neighborhood of Jews and Arabs in Neveh Shalom. When a native Mlawian came to Palestine or when someone from Mlawa was out of work, he would temporarily receive bed and board at Beila the Baker's.

Her house was always open.

A long time ago, wise Reb Tuvia Dayan had lived in her house. He was the adviser and confidant of the Alexander shtibbl. Across the way, at Pessiah the Baker's, lived Aharon Podgrajever (Chabanski), a Gur Hassid.

In the adjoining yard, Abraham the Rope-Maker and his son spun rope. They wore linen work coats and large red-stained aprons made of sacks.

The goats in the street used to nibble undisturbed on the advertisements and announcements pasted on the walls of the kiosk next to the yard. Behind one of the walls, the wife of Eliyah the Rag-Picker, sold fruit. From there to the end of the street there were small, wooden huts that looked like scraps of rusty iron. Inside them lived: Berl Ovadieh's,Shmuel Olevnik who pressed linseed oil from flax, the glazier Gotliebowski, Shlomo who stitched shoes - ordinary people.

Standing in close proximity to the huts were the houses of wealthy Mendel Kudzborski and Yeshayah Mondri. Kudzborski's large yard had a Gentile appearance. It was full of agricultural machinery for the goyim only. In contrast, Shayah Mondri's house appeared Jewish. It was a big house made of wood that looked like two houses, one standing piggyback on the shoulders of the other. The lower part housed a wholesale grocery concern, in the upper lived Shayah Mondri, his sons and grandsons. Downstairs one could always see people who had come from the nearby villages to buy goods, or upstairs - people weak from hunger, who had come to eat their fill.

In Shayah Mondri's home the table was set during the entire day. It was the custom of the house to receive guests at all times. Here they were always welcome. This was the only house of means in town distinguished for its hospitality. One might say that Shayah Mondri was like “Kalba Savua.”

Shayah Mondri was a handsome Jew, a philanthropist and a devoted Gur Hassid. When the Gur Rabbi passed through town, he stayed at Shaya Mondri's house.

One of the leaders of “Agudat Israel” came from this house. The Orthodox movement, which was established in Poland under the influence of the German Rabbis, was opposed to all the movements that began in the Jewish quarter. It was also against emigration to the Land of Israel.

Pinhas Mondri was one of the first leaders of the Orthodox movement to visit Palestine. In spite of his opposition to all the Zionist movements, he was one of the few in his camp who forced his movement to include the question of Eretz Yisrael in its platform.

Near the orchard adjoining Plock Road lived David Optatowski and Avrum-Yizhak Wishinski, the accountant for Shayah Mondri's business. Opposite them lived Mendel Kikeleh. These three were the last inhabitants of Plock Street. Their houses were the last buildings on that street and the first houses at the beginning of Strzegowo Road and Shrensk Road.

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