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[Pages 177-179]

Are Jews Capable of Hard Work?

By Dov (Berke) Zeligson

Translated by Judy Grossman

Sara Weiss (Slep): Without advance notice, one morning I arrived at the home of the Zeligsons in Ganei-Am (Magdiel). Stories of far off days, that now seemed so close, began to flow from Berke's mouth:

Are Jews capable of hard work?

I will tell you a story from when I was a child.

We were three childhood friends: Avrehmke (Avraham Slep), Itzik Toker and I.

One day, before we were even teenagers, we decided to earn some money. How? We got the idea of working in the sawmill belonging to Velvel Milun, a Jew who employed workers. They used to lace together rafts made of logs and place them in the river. The logs would “flow with the current” all the way to Germany. This is hard, backbreaking work that requires knowledge and skill. It was usually done by Gentiles. And here we were, three children, offering to work. Milun, the owner of the sawmill invited us to come the following day, which was a holiday for the Gentiles, so they wouldn't be working. “Come and test your strength,” – he said to us.

The three of us came the next day, carried logs, tied them together with ropes, stood in the water and pushed! And now – Berke said, stressing the word – we have to return home. We are injured and filthy, and completely soaked to the skin, because the work was mainly done in the water. What will we tell them at home about where we have been and why we are so wet? We made up a story to excuse our appearance. We didn't know what I would catch at home, and what Itzik would catch, but we knew for certain that Avrehmke would not get a beating!

The next morning we asked each other: “What did they do to you at home?”

I remember that Avrehmke told us that his mother, Chaya-Tzipe, scolded him and said, in Yiddish: “Gelt darfstu? S'felt dir epes?” (You need money? Do you lack anything?) . I had said that Avrehmke wouldn't get a beating…

Later on the sawmill owner told us that when the Gentiles came back to work and saw the rafts that had been prepared, they asked him who had constructed them. When they learned that Jews had done the work they were amazed and said: “Are Jews capable of hard work?” We were filled with pride.

For what reason should we have our pictures taken?

Our friendship continued in Eretz Yisrael too. I came to Haifa to visit my friends Avrehmke and Itzik. This was apparently in 1927. I was in their room, and they served me tea. I took a sip, and discovered that there was no sugar in the tea. I asked them: “Guys, what's this?” And they didn't say a word. I understood that they were very low in funds…

Suddenly Avraham said: “Fellows, let's go to the Technion to get our pictures taken.” I was taken aback: For what reason should we have our pictures taken?

And why was I taken aback?

A short while before then, a man from my shtetl, Leib Gordon, had come to my home in Magdiel. He was unemployed at the time, and I somehow managed to find him work in a citrus grove at a good salary, much higher than was the norm at the time. The date for Gordon to begin working was decided on. In the meantime he asked me to go with him to have our pictures taken. We had our pictures taken and he returned to Jerusalem to collect his belongings. I never saw him again. Later on I heard that he had left the country, and in actual fact had come that day to say goodbye to me, but was embarrassed to tell me so.

And now you can understand, said Berke, why I was frightened when Avrehmke suggested that we go have our pictures taken. I asked him: “Avrehmke, what's happening? Don't tell me that you want to leave the country!” Then we went to the courtyard of the Technion and had our picture taken, and here it is.

 

 
The Three Friends
From left to right: Avraham Slep, Berke Zeligson, Yitzchak Toker

 

 
Dusiaters meet in Eretz Yisrael
From right to left: Yoel Zeif, Berke Zeligson, Micha Baron and Daniel Zeif

 

 
From right to left, standing: Abba Poritz, (-), Berke Zeligson
Seated: Dov-Berl Levitt (son of Hirshl and Tzirl) and Leib Gordon

 

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