Chapters from the book Dzshegtshares [tar sellers], translated from the Hebrew
[into Yiddish] by the author; published by Akhiever, Warsaw 1939
Translated by Yael Chaver, Ph.D
Edited by Tina Lunson
A Grayeve tar-sellers' song:
When the husband returns
Let there be no talk of money.
He'll happily go to Lik
To buy you a satin dress.
But if you nag him
He'll abuse you.
He'll find his woman in Prussia
And you'll be in big trouble
A week or two before the High Holidays, the first tar-sellers, back from Germany, would appear in Grayeve. The wealthier ones came a bit earlier, the poorer ones later. But by the last few days before the holidays, all the owners and their young apprentices were already in the town. Although they were only a few dozen, they seemed to fill the town.
The apprentices were in green outfits, like those worn by the Gentiles in the Grayeve region who worked for the Germans and the Masurians and the owners wore fuzzy green hats with feathers as a sign that they were Germans. They would wander around the market, sneak into the houses of study [bote-medroshim] and look down their noses at the provincial folks who stay close to the besmedresh stove and haven't seen the great world Berlin, Leipzig, or Dessau.
But, wandering around Germany, they often regretted their own fate: what did they, as it were, actually see in Berlin or Dessau? What pleasure did they get out of the rich state of Prussia? They would straggle around the villages, collecting tiny sums of money, eat cooked food only on the Sabbath (and not even all of them, at that); sleep either in a barn or on their wagons and the Prussians treated them like gypsies. Poor things, what did they know of Prussia? But as soon as they sniffed the air in Grayeve, all these feelings vanished and they always boasted to the provincials about the fact that they had seen the wide world.
In the afternoon, between the afternoon and evening prayers, small groups of craftsmen, and even storekeepers, would gather around such a tar-seller, who would sit at ease on a stone in front of a building, and talk calmly and with dignity about Aleksander-Plaza and the Königlicher Palace and about the Kaiser himself, who goes for a walk in the streets of Berlin each morning; about the evening illumination of Berlin or Leipzig, which is, for example, seven times stronger than that of Grayeve during the daytime Another one would sit in a different nook and talk about beautiful Dresden (which he had never seen) and about the cradle of Catherine the Great that stands in the palace at Zerbst-Anhalt. The truth was that, although he had spent his whole life in Zerbst and its environs, he had never dared to go inside the palace, which was open to the public on Sundays. He had only seen the palace from the outside, from the edge of its park. And, a cradle is just a cradle isn't it the same as if he had seen it with his own eyes?
And Grayeve's curious Jews would stand, open-mouthed, and keep asking endless questions in the deepening twilight: is the cradle made of gold; does it simply stand on the floor? And the tar-seller would answer with whatever came to his mind. God forbid, he wasn't lying.
He had seen the great palace with his own eyes and the rest could be deduced, just as though he had experienced it with his own senses
And in the evenings, you sit on the threshold or on rocks in front of the house, at open doors and the tar-sellers recount all these wonders, while old and young listen. The old listen out of curiosity, yawn and enjoy it. The young are consumed by a strange longing that draws them, as if with ropes, over there, and many of them lie sleepless later that night. They think of what they heard that evening and envy the tar-seller who wanders from town to town, but sees the wide world Everyone knows that the tar-sellers are uneducated: a storekeeper or a merchant would not make a match with them. But on holidays, when they recount the miracles and wonders in the big, beautiful world, their lowly lineage and their trade are forgotten and they are respected out of envy. That is the only poor compensation that a tar-seller has in this world, because even a holiday is not a joyful occasion for him. If he has even a bit of feeling and many tar-sellers have that from the minute he sets foot in his home, he anticipates the day after the holiday, isrekhag. One of them, who understood the meaning of the term, called that day harness up the wagon
Reb [Mr.] Avrom-Khaym Eysov was one such person. He used to say that he had never felt the flavor of a true holiday since he became fully aware of life. He was an odd person: while wandering through the German villages, he would practically faint with longing for dear Grayeve, which was his only ray of light during his journeys. But the moment he set out on the way back, traveling from Dessau to Berlin and from Berlin to Kenigsberg [Kaliningrad], the nearer he came to his home, the sadder he became. Once he had crossed the border and taken a seat in the cart bound for Grayeve, he would become miserable to the point of weeping. Would he ever be so lucky as to travel through the forest and the sands feeling that he would never have to go back? If he were a prophet and knew how much longer he had to live; if he were able to marry off both his daughters without a dowry and his small fortune would be just enough to live on, he would stay at home once and for all.
But Reb Avrom-Khaym was a clever Jew and thus knew that no one was wise enough to know what the next day would bring would it be fire, or illness, or an actual war? For that reason one must, as the Russian peasants say, strike the iron while it's hot. As long as he can travel, a Jew who knows the meaning of the phrase making a livelihood is as difficult for Jews as the rending of the Sea of Reeds must never sit idle. Reb Avrom- Khaym knew himself well and knew that as long as his legs held out, he would start out on the way again the day after the holiday, and would always remain a slave to tar. That's why he was always gloomy when he came back home for a holiday.
His wife was quite different. She was busy to the end of Simkhes-Toyre (and in the spring, to the end of Peysakh), running around from one store and butcher shop to another and wasn't concerned with the end of the holiday. She would stay home all year and take care of the girls, living a meager life and worried about every penny that she took out of her savings. But the moment her husband came home, she seemed to come alive. She opened her bundle of savings, which she had collected over the previous five months and poured money over butcher shops and fish stalls.
All year round she would buy calves' lungs and liver, or a foot and tripe, with which she and the two girls would make do the whole week: sometimes stewed lungs, sometimes with vinegar; sometimes a foot with potatoes; or cold and jellied foot, never varying the diet. But when her husband came home, she would proudly enter the butcher shop, push herself among the respectable ladies and say in a rich woman's tone, I don't like lungs, would you happen to have a whole fresh liver? Give me a pound, and don't be stingy--I don't mind if there's another quarter pound. Do you have young calf's meat? No? Then give me a piece of this rib; ribs are wonderful in soup.
The butcher laughed inwardly, but a person needs to make a living. He flattered her: Maybe, dear lady, a foot? It was clear that he meant to insult her, but he said it so seriously, lifting the animal's foot up to her nose, that she didn't understand it negatively: A foot is fine, she said, even though I really don't need it, but sometimes a relative comes for a meal, or my husband brings someone and in that case I can prepare something to eat. And so it went, on and on.
She did this to annoy the ladies she would stand behind all year round, along with the dogs who waited for a bone. The same ritual would be repeated at the fish stall: Be so kind as to show me the fish you're keeping for Anshel, the rich man; my stomach, and especially my husband's stomach, is no less aristocratic than his.
To annoy all the other women, she would fill her apron with the best produce, gesturing and moving around. In order to irritate the women who were always haughtier, she would yell to her daughters from afar, to come out and take the fish indoors as they were a heavy load. The moment she went inside her house, she would call all the neighboring women and show them the large live fish that were available in the market that day, and not expensive at all, she would add several times.
While the mother was all agitated, the daughters were as quiet as frozen water, as though they had lost their tongues. During the year their mother would curse and constantly threaten them that she would tell their father everything. Now that their father had come, they felt as though a policeman was in the house. They knew that every time their father came home he would ask how they had behaved. The mere thought of that forced them to obey their mother. Ten times a day, she would send them to the store or the baker's, give them her and their father's shoes to shine, tell them to patch their father's shirts and old trousers that reeked of tar so badly that you could choke. In short, she couldn't let them be still for a moment. In the evenings they had to stay indoors and go to bed very early. They longed, especially on Saturdays and holidays, for the Green Hill where boys and girls would meet and have lively times, but they were afraid of their father. In actual fact, their father was not that strict, but he was religiously observant and believed the Green Hill especially the walks to the spring to be evil. Can you imagine worse torture for grown girls than having to stay indoors? To them, their father was a stranger, because they saw him only on holidays. If he was in a good mood he would pat one of them on the head. She would turn as red as a beet, as though a stranger had touched her.
In their hearts, both girls wanted the holiday to end as soon as possible, but neither dared to say it to the other. For the first few days they accepted everything gladly especially as their father would bring fabric for a dress or an apron but after that they would count the days impatiently until he would leave, and both waited eagerly for the day he would go back to Prussia.
Simkhes-Toyre [Simchat Torah] was coming.
Along with all the other Jews of the town, Reb Avrom-Khaym went to the old besmedresh on Synagogue Street, paid for the right to say half of the prayer before the procession of the Torah scrolls began and gave the right to the young religious judge, as a mark of respect. He was given one of the first turns carrying a scroll in the procession, which annoyed the other tar-sellers, although they knew that he was more important than them. He would dance and yell out, Rejoice in the joy of the Torah, but his heart was far from joyous. At this time tomorrow he would be on the other side of the border, in Lik or perhaps in Korschen. Rejoice he wanted to forget what the next day would bring, at least during the prayer. He looks at the other tar-sellers, at how they down their drinks one after the other until the drink seems to leak out of their eyes, but he was already thinking of the day after the holiday. How could he not think of the cart now, as he saw the cart-driver, whom he needed to tell to pick him up the next day? For as long as he could remember, Simkhes-Toyre was Tishebov for him The kind-hearted Reb Avrom-Khaym, who envied no one, now envied the cart-drivers, the water-carriers, the old beadles. Who's keeping you from becoming a cart-driver or a water-carrier? The thought crossed his mind. And he answered himself, Don't ask God questions.
After prayers, the entire congregation was invited to the home of the synagogue's chief trustee for Shabes [Sabbath] lunch. The property owners who sat in the first two rows always went, and Avrom-Khaym also had a place in the second row. He had bought it from an aunt who had inherited it from her uncle, who had no sons. But he didn't go to the shabes lunch because his mood was bad. The time was going by quickly, he told himself painfully. As he left the synagogue, a large heap of withered leaves blew across his path, and their rustling sounded like a quiet moaning, in tune with his own feelings.
When he entered his house, the fragrance of the roasted goose greeted him at the door. It reminded him of his childhood, when his father was alive. He thought to himself, If my father were alive I would not have to wander in these lands. As he opened the door he shouted Good holiday, good year! His wife knew this shout, which rang with stifled sorrow and always caused her to weep. She stayed in the kitchen for a long time until she was calmer, then came into the room and started serving the food. This was the only meal during which they didn't speak to each other. The girls brought and removed bowls. They ate calmly, as though their father wasn't preparing to leave for six months. But the mother changed as the evening went on. She seemed to shrink and her eyes were red, though no one saw her weeping. He, the father, just chewed his food. He didn't raise his head from the glazed bowl and thought only of one thing: this was his last meal at his own table.
In the afternoon he returned to the besmedresh and danced with the congregation, as though he were as drunk as the others. The men played games all afternoon and even after the evening prayer and he dreaded the moment when the games would stop and he would have to go back home. He especially liked the game of cat and mouse: the men stood in two rows and two smart yeshive students played the roles of cat and mouse. He enjoyed that game because it took a long time. When people got tired of it and wanted to leave, he told the beadle to go get some beer, and they started all over again. He wasn't the only tar-seller in the rows apparently, the other tar-sellers also felt miserable.
When the fun was over, the tar-sellers walked along like mourners. Who's chasing us? Why do we need to cross the border at dawn? thought Avrom-Khaym.
Other tar-sellers may have asked themselves the same question, but no one thought that it could be changed and arranged so that they could stay at home for another week. They were fearful of the competition, of lost clients. You would never know if a person told you he was going to visit a relative in Prussia, whether he was stealing across the border and snatching up your clients A tar-seller is destined to be a wanderer.
When he came back home after the holiday fun that evening, Avrom-Khaym went straight to bed. His wife baked khale [challah, a twisted egg bread] and biscuits so he would have home-baked goods for a few weeks. Then she placed his patched trousers in a pillowcase, laid one bundle over the other by the door, and went to her bed. Both pretended to be asleep, but were not sleeping. She wept her heart out silently in effect, she was an eternal aguna [an abandoned wife who is not divorced and therefore can't remarry] while he sighed into his pillow, bothered by bad thoughts, thoughts about dying in a foreign country. Such thoughts exhausted him every year before leaving home. Nothing bad ever happened to him, but each time he would be sure that the thoughts were justified
But the girls slept very well. They woke up when the cart-driver knocked at the window. When they opened their eyes they saw their mother rushing from the kitchen into the main room and back into the kitchen and their father tying the two bundles together.
You can get up now! their mother said, passing by the wooden sofa where they slept. Then, as if by command, they quickly got up. Their mother was saying, So this is how you leave me with the two wild girls I didn't want to say anything until now. But he seemed not to hear what she was saying. When the bundles were on the cart, Avrom-Khaym picked up his tales [prayer shawl] and tfiln, asked his wife whether she had remembered to pack the Five Books of the Torah; shook hands with his wife and the girls, not saying a word he was choked by tears and quickly left the house and climbed onto the cart.
Go fast! he told the driver. Be well! he shouted to his wife and daughters who stood at the door. Bogushe Street is long, but it was still dark and the cart soon disappeared. The girls went back indoors and the mother stood and listened to the noise the wheels made. When the noise stopped, she went indoors.
Snowflakes started falling from the sky. Wrapped in a dream, the cart crawled through the forest on the way to the border. Avrom-Khaym bundled up against the cold and sorrow and sadly thought about the good holiday days that had gone by and about the long, bitter winter that awaited him in the foreign country.
Zundl the Scholar
When God blessed Avrom-Khaym Eysov and he became rich, he decided to choose a yeshive [a Jewish school of high Talmudic learning] scholar as a son-in-law. Avrom-Khaym was a smart person who thought ahead. He would always joke about the life of a tar-seller and was considered an old jokester. But he never forgot the lesson of his life-in-exile. Before considering a tar-seller as a son-in-law, he decided to go to the yeshive of Lomzhe [Łomża] to pick a husband for his older daughter Tsirl. A storekeeper or a merchant, or even a well-off tailor, would not consider a match with a tar-seller. As for the blacksmiths, who were numerous in Grayeve, or even a good cobbler, Avrom-Hayim wouldn't consider them for a match.
One fine autumn day, between Rosheshone [Rosh Hashanah] and Yonkiper [Yom Kippur] he went to the Lomzhe yeshive and picked out a fine boy, Zundl the Studious, of Shtutzin [Szczuczyn], the closest town to Grayeve in the west, two miles away. Because he had to go back to Germany the day after the holiday, he did it all fast. The betrothal document was written the day before sukes [Sukkot], and the wedding took place during the week of sukes. Tsirl, who used to take walks on the Green Hill when her father was away, and would meet boys there as well, was very offended because she had been given a husband she knew nothing about. But when she saw him the first time under the khupe [wedding canopy], she was happy.
She realized that her father was an experienced merchant and that he knew what to buy: he was big and handsome, more handsome than all the tailors' apprentices, cobblers and carpenters, and even more than the tar-sellers who used to come down from Prussia dressed in finery.
Because Avrom-Khaym was the first tar-seller who had bought a scholar for a son-in-law, his prestige rose among the rich men in town, among the members of the rabbinical court, and even with the rabbi. But the good-for-nothings of Steam-Bath Street were not impressed. When the guests left Avrom-Khaym's house with the bride on their way to the synagogue, those guys accompanied the bride with old and new songs that they composed specifically for tar-seller weddings and drowned out the fiddles. At the khupe, Avrom-Khaym stood embittered, because the rough guys stood around and made the guests laugh so much that the marriage ceremony couldn't be performed. If they were ignored, the rascals yelled so loudly across the synagogue courtyard that they grew hoarse. They were especially loud with the song, A tar-seller has a new servant, worthless to him and his daughter [hot a dzhegtshar a nayem meshores, far zikh un far der tokhter af kapores]. But Avrom-Khaym smiled; they weren't referring to him he had taken a yeshive-student as a son-in-law, who would sit and study and do a bit of commerce, but wouldn't be a servant.
During the Seven Blessings Zundl the Studious gave a learned speech. Avrom-Khaym didn't understand a crumb of the scholarly reasoning, but his eyes were full of tears when the religious judge shook the bridegroom's hand. His wife, too, who watched the speech through the cracks of the kitchen door with all the neighboring women peering in behind her, was also so astonished that she started kissing all the women. It was a powerful expression of her excitement, especially if we remember that she hated the neighbors and wanted them to die of frustration when she carried home baskets full of good food during the holiday season
This time Avrom-Khaym left home, the day after the holiday, in calm spirits. First, it was a huge load off his mind. Second, he was leaving a man at home and not just a braggart, but a very fine guy His wife, on the other hand, suffered. For years, with no man in the house, she had been accustomed to make do with a lung and a foot all week. But now there was a son-in-law at home and that wouldn't work. When she got used to him, she wanted to start economizing a bit.
But Tsirl wouldn't let her do it. Once, when Zundl was in the besmedresh, mother and daughter had such a fight that people came running when they heard the shouting. If the daughter hadn't been ashamed she didn't want her husband to know about it the fight would have gone on for a long time. The end of the game was that the daughter wrote her father a letter and Avrom-Khaym soon wrote his wife such a letter that she nearly fainted when it was read to her. After that she improved, but stinginess is, after all, a natural trait, a passion like other passions. She would occasionally try to overcome her passion, but was never able to.
The year that Zundl lived at Avrom-Khaym's house and was supported by him nearly drove her, the wife, crazy. She had not saved money for those five months and so couldn't show off at holiday time to the ladies at the butcher shop and the fish market. She lived with this for a whole year and almost burst from frustration.
When the year of support was over, the question of a livelihood for the young couple arose. Avrom-Khaym believed that Zundl wasn't suited to be a storekeeper and Zundl was of the same opinion. But what would he do with the hundred rubles of the dowry? He lent them to his father-in-law. As soon as Avrom-Khaym left for Germany, Zundl went to Shtutzin, his home town. He had many relatives there and hoped to find something. His Tsirl stayed with her mother, because they had gotten a room for five years, in Avrom-Khaym's two-room apartment. Zundl wanted to become a teacher in the Talmud-Torah, but he couldn't get in: the teachers with good connections had finalized everything at the beginning of the year. He wanted to open a kheyder [Jewish religious school], but when the other kheyder-teachers found out, that dream also vanished. What could he do? His uncle, with whom he was staying, told him, The surest livelihood is through a craft. I will teach you tanning and you will be a tanner. Zundl went pale. Why had he studied so hard in the yeshive? He had dreamed of being a rabbi and now he would become a tanner? His uncle understood that Zundl had doubts because tanning was not a very respectable occupation. He said, Your father-in-law is a tar-seller,
does that make him an unfit Jew? Shtutzin is fourteen viorts [one viorst = 1.06 kilometers] away from Grayeve. Who needs to know what your occupation is? You tell your wife that you're a kheyder-teacher The moment he heard that he could hide it from Grayeve, he agreed. He would come to his wife for one Shabes a month, bringing some money for her and for Moshe-Berl the child who suddenly appeared and on Sunday he would immediately leave again to practice his nasty trade.
At the beginning of nisn [Nissan, the 7th month of the Jewish calendar] Avrom-Khaym came home. His wife told him that Zundl had become a kheyder-teacher and was bringing Tsirl his wages. Avrom-Khaym was very pleased: over time, Zundl could become a real rabbi During the last week before Peysach [Passover], when all the teachers had already left their khadorim and Zundl hadn't come, Avrom-Khaym wondered, especially as Zundl knew that his father-in-law was about to come back from far away and should be greeted. A man does everything for a livelihood, Avrom-Khaym thought, but what was a kheyder-teacher doing in Shtutzin on the eve of Peysach when his family was in Grayeve? And when his wife told him that she had dreamed that Zundl was ill, he thought no more but got into a cart and was in Shtutzin two hours later. He went to all the houses of study and the prayers groups, and didn't find him. Then he went to Zundl's uncle, the tanner. There, he saw Zundl eating in the kitchen. Seeing Zundl's clothes, and how pale he had suddenly become, Avrom-Khaym immediately understood what had happened. Zundl stood up and with bent head shook his hand. The uncle immediately appeared and said, as though answering a question, What's the fuss? Is a tar-seller a human being and a tanner an animal? If Zundl is a scholar, his trade won't take the pelt off him. He came into the room and sat down at the table. Avrom-Khaym's heart was racing: he had chosen a yeshive student and gotten a tanner. In order to calm him, Zundl's uncle said, And you, Avrom-Khaym, if you're a tar-seller, aren't you smart with many good qualities? When the uncle saw that Avrom-Khaym was listening, he added, And Rabbi Yohanan the shoemaker and Rabbi Yehoshua the blacksmith, didn't they revive the dead? This was the argument that craftsmen always used, when they wondered why the rich folks, many of whom knew the Talmud, looked down on craftsmen At that point, Zundl came to himself and calmly told his father-in-law how this came about.
I did it, he concluded, to be able to support my wife and child, and not depend on you, nomad that you are, for my living. Avrom-Khaym softened, and tried to set his son-in-law's mind at rest. Nevertheless, he believed it would be better that no one in Grayeve, and even at home, knew the truth. The two of them decided to say that he had caught a cold and was staying in bed at his uncle's house.
When they got home, Avrom-Khaym immediately put him to bed and Tsirl cared for him like a mother. When there was no one in the room, Avrom-Khaym came in to see Zundl, patted him on the head, and they both laughed at the clever idea. Zundl got up the day before Peysakh and the next day he went to synagogue with his father-in-law, dressed in a black coat and a rabbinical hat. Avrom-Khaym took great pleasure in the way everyone looked on with envy.
When the holiday week was over, Avrom-Khaym went back to his tar wagon, and Zundl to his uncle's tannery.
On a Friday in Tamuz [10th month of the Jewish calendar], an event took place that determined Zundl's fate for the rest of his life. Before he went home, he would go to the Shtutzin steam bath and steam himself thoroughly. That Friday, the father of the steam-bath's owner died suddenly, and the steam bath was not heated up. Zundl gave himself a good immersion in the ritual bath, but the cold water apparently didn't dispel the bad odor of the animal skins that clung to his body. On the way to Grayeve, he had to drop off a few skins in Popov; he emptied the sack and took it with him. When he came home, he first went into the barn and hid the empty sack in a corner, to take back to Shtutzin on Sunday. Tsirl actually saw him coming out of the barn, but was ashamed to ask him what he had done there. Sitting at the Friday-night table, a bad odor came from him. Being used to it, he himself was unaware. But Tsirl felt it strongly, and even had a perverse desire to breathe it in deeply. Something in the smell was familiar, but she couldn't recollect it. At night she nearly suffocated, and couldn't sleep a wink. While he was snoring, she moved closer to him and smelled his shirt and his neck.
Finally, she remembered that she would smell the same stink passing by the tannery on her way to the baker's. She jumped out of bed, got dressed and went to the barn. When she found the sack and put it to her nose, she felt extremely nauseous. She went back into the house as pale as the whitewashed wall, and wouldn't let him near her the entire Shabes.
Sunday morning, after his farewells, he sneaked into the barn to take his sack. Tsirl followed him quietly, and when he was about to leave the barn, she stepped in. What kind of sack is that? she asked, annoyed. He stammered. You are a stinking tanner and not a kheyder-teacher, she let him have it very quietly so that no one outside would hear, God forbid, I won't go on living with you! and she ran out quickly. He stayed for a short while in the dark barn, holding the sack, confused and frightened. When he came to himself, he twisted it up and started towards the carts for Shtutzin, ashamed and pained.
The next month he washed himself properly in the steam bath and poured many ladles of hot water over his body. He climbed up to the highest bench and paid the attendant half a kopeck to give him a good thrashing with the broom. He refused to take any sack with him from Shtutzin, but when he got to Grayeve, Tsirl nevertheless wouldn't talk to him. She sat at the other side of the table during the meal and at night she lay at the edge of her bed in order to be as far away from him as possible. Neither could sleep, but they never spoke a word to each other. He wanted to ask her why she was angry at him, and remove any suspicions she might have. But he was afraid to say anything, in case his mother-in-law on the other side of the wooden wall could hear; that would be the end of him The next day, when Tsirl was nursing the child in their room, he found a chance to talk with her. He came up to her, brought his sleeve to her nose and quietly said, Sniff my sleeve. You must have been mistaken. She turned her head away, and when he didn't give up, she stood up with the nursing child at her breast and went into the next room, where her mother and sisters were sitting. The poor man went back to Shtutzin the next day, without having made peace with Tsirl.
The mother saw that something had happened between Tsirl and Zundl. When she couldn't get anything out of Tsirl, she left it alone. They'll make it up, she thought to herself, and remembered the folk saying, Where two heads lie on the same cushion, a third person shouldn't intervene, overcoming her curiosity He wasn't able to make it up with his wife even on the Shabes before the start of the month of Elul [the month of the Jewish year, dedicated to spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days]. On the contrary, the moment she saw him she became enraged and slept on the chest that stood near the beds. To annoy her, he left for Shtutzin Saturday night. Later he often wondered what had annoyed her The closer it got to Rosheshone, the calmer he became. His father-in-law would come and would make peace between them. He would slap her around and she would be with him again.
Avrom-Khaym came home a week before the holiday, five days before Zundl arrived. His wife immediately told him that something had happened between Zundl and Tsirl. But Tsirl told him nothing, as though it was her mother's secret. That evening, when Tsirl had gone to bed, Avrom-Khaym went in to her and asked her sharply what had happened. Even after the wedding, Avrom-Khaym was more like an uncle to Tsirl, an uncle who would come from Prussia for the holiday. Ashamed, she pulled her feather comforter over her eyes and said nothing. If I whip you, he threatened her, holding the end of his belt in his hand, you'll have to answer me. She burst out in tears, and lamenting as though over the destruction of the Temple, told him everything. But you're a big fool, he said more softly, and left the room. The next day he saw his chance and wanted to confront her with an argument. This time she didn't weep; she opened her eyes wide Eysov's family were famous for their large eyes and with a resolute voice declared, I won't live with a stinking tanner, no matter what you do to me! Avrom-Khaym, who loved his daughters and understood them, bowed his head and made no answer. To be sure, he, too, was not pleased with his son-in-law's work, and didn't think he would do that forever.
His wife sent both daughters on errands, one to the baker to roll out matze [matzah] with onions and the other to the market that was the only way she could get them out of the house when their father was at home. She heard the whole story from her husband. For a time, she was angry at her son-in-law and then at her daughter. Does she think you're Rothschild? True, it's a nasty line of work, but if you divorce from him, you have to pay back the hundred rubles. My wife is a smart woman, thought Avrom-Khaym, because at that very moment he was also thinking about the hundred rubles he had invested in the business, which were making him a fine profit.
The next day, he sent his wife and younger daughter away and stayed at home alone with Tsirl. He played with Moshe-Berl, who lay in his cradle and laughed out loud when Avrom-Khaym touched his neck. Then he called Tsirl and asked her to make him a glass of tea. When she brought him the tea, he asked her, And if I had gotten you a tar-seller husband, would you have been happy? Of course, she replied, after all, you are a tar-seller, and even your workers don't smell and they're dressed in fine clothes. Suppose I take Zundl with me? he asked quietly. She was silent for a time and then answered, Then I would have a husband. As it is, he is neither a scholar nor a tanner. He clapped her lovingly on the shoulder.
Avrom-Khaym's spirits lifted. That solution had many good features. First, he wouldn't have to return the hundred rubles; second, he needed two apprentices or one partner and one apprentice. In that case, it would be better for his apprentice Hatskel to travel with his son-in-law Zundl, who was family, after all, and an honest man besides. Third, on Saturday evenings and during the long winter days when nothing was happening, his son-in-law would study the Torah, Rashi and commentaries with him. Fourth, Tsirl and Zundl would have a peaceful life He waited for Zundl impatiently, but was not worried, because he knew that Zundl would agree to everything he said. He told Tsirl that he had decided to take her husband with him, and she sobbed for joy.
On the way to Grayeve, Zundl rehearsed what he would tell his father-in-law. He would interject verses from the Bible and allegories from the Talmud and Midrash and the old man would teach his daughter how women should behave
When he came home, his wife greeted him very amicably, to his great astonishment. And he, the scholar and kindly man, forgot in an instant all the trouble she had caused him for months, and was happy. That very same evening, as they walked back from the synagogue, the father-in-law told the son-in-law: I know everything. I have decided to take you with me. Zundl was stunned and remained silent. Only one thought went through his mind: would he end up a tar-seller? And Avrom-Khaym explained: A tar-seller is a merchant, whereas a tanner is no more than a chopper, a skin-flayer. You'll be a merchant and instead of spending your life as a small tanner and a manual laborer dependent on others, you'll be a decent tar-seller, because you're a scholar. You'll be independent, my partner and my heir; after all, I have no other son. You're both smart and kind, Zuyndl stammered his thanks, bowing his head in shame.
So as to totally uproot tanning from Zundl, Avrom-Khaym sniffed his clothes energetically and said, You must have gone to the steam-bath, yet you still smell of carcasses. Soot, blubber, and tar are clean and have a healthy odor. That's true, Zundl added, though he had never smelled those substances.
When they got home, they sat down at the table. Sit next to him, Avrom-Khaym ordered Tsirl, in a fatherly manner. Let him first go to the steam-bath, Tsirl whined, sitting down next to Zundl, and blushed.
That was the end of the quiet tragedy in Avrom-Khaym's house.
The day after the holiday both left Grayeve and started for Prussia. All of Grayeve was in an uproar: a yeshive student had become a tar-seller. The old man led the young guy astray, the yeshive students said. One of the rich residents said, Instead of raising himself to the level of his son-in-law, he pulled the son-in-law down to his own level. He'll teach a bit of Torah to uneducated Jews. Avrom-Khaym is a good Jew and knows what he's doing, the religious judge took his side.
The tar-sellers, who travelled to Prostken together and would scatter from there throughout Germany, were thunderstruck by the news. Now that he has a scholar with him, Avrom-Khaym will monopolize all the towns, they worriedly told each other. Avrom-Khaym strolled around among them head held high, proud of his son-in-law, like a Jew who carries a Torah scroll with him on his travels
At a time when places to stroll were unknown in Shtutzin, Stavisk and other nearby towns, Grayeve already had two such places, where young men and women could meet. One place was the Shtutzin road, for the rich folks. The other was the Green Hill, for poorer folks. When the train station was built, that became a strolling place for all classes.
They say that the Green Hill became famous since Velvl Bok buried his oldest son there. It started by visiting family graves; boys and girls would accidentally meet there and then take walks on Shabes and holidays. That would be the meeting point. Many love affairs in Grayeve were played out there. One person would come down the hill happy and another would be downcast. Girls looked at the Green Hill longingly and mothers fearfully. The mothers certainly did not want their daughters to slink up to the Green Hill, but the daughters couldn't stay away. It might be a lucky place, at least once. How can a mother refuse her child? The fathers were stricter in this matter. They were worried about a sad end to these walks. Often, an old father would stroll along the cemetery fence, constantly glancing upwards, towards the Green Hill Incidentally, a very nasty incident had already happened, but that was on the Shtutzin road, where the fancy folks strolled. Every girl of the working-class families experienced the same course of events over a short time: first, she would accidentally walk to the Green Hill with her girlfriends on Shabes. Afterwards her mother would hit her and warn her never to set foot on the cursed hill; after that, the father would hit her and moralize.
The end was that she would be the winner and go there even on weekdays. What's the point of a boring life in a shtetl if a girl can't get some distance from the eyes of her parents and neighbors, and get closer to the eyes of the boys, who are full of such love and longing?
When Elkanah came back from Prussia and appeared on the Green Hill for the first time it was the Shabes-shuva [Sabbath before Yom Kippur] all the girls watched him. He had left Grayeve as a wild boy, the leader of a gang of rascals, and had come back like a thunderbolt, a rich guy, a real count. Though he was Hertzke's apprentice, he looked like a boss, more impressive than all the other tar-sellers and many of Grayeve's rich kids. He climbed the Green Hill with his uncle Fayvl's son, and asked him who every passing girl was. They finally stopped at Bok's grave. Under the tree that grew out of the grave there sat three girls, one of whom was the daughter of Mendl the baker. When they were still far away, he had heard a pleasant, delicate voice singing:
You fool, why are you annoyed,
Why the long face?
Do you want to know your history?
Come, I'll tell you.
[Translator's note: This folk song rhymes in Yiddish]
When he came close, she didn't stop singing; she glanced at him and went on singing.
He looked down at her blonde hair and white throat, and stopped as though glued to the spot. He was deep in thought and because his thoughts were strange, he didn't dare speak to her. He left along with his cousin, and didn't say a word about his feelings. As he stepped aside, the girl again began to sing. His pace slowed The voice was carried to him like a golden thread and his heart was agitated. He passed by the girls again, walking stiffly, but something seemed to press on his shoulders, bowing him lower.
He had gone to the Green Hill proud and easy-spirited, and now was coming back down beaten, heavy-hearted.
His uncle, the tailor, started seeking matches for him. A guy like you, he said, would suit even the Rabbi's daughter. But Elkanah's response was that no one in Prussia made matches. Each person sought out his own match.
On the holiday, after the meal, Elkanah sprayed his clothes with eau-de-cologne at that time, only the richest girls were familiar with it and left for the Green Hill. What can one say? One heart feels the other. Zelda, the daughter of Mendl the baker, had put on her finest dress that day, her mother's golden chain around her neck, and left with her girlfriend for the Green Hill. When the two saw each other, they both blushed. He had always fantasized about such a girl: fat, blonde, and fair. She, for her part, dreamed about a tall, handsome and rich guy he didn't really need to be rich, but had to appear rich. That holiday afternoon, he was able to stay near her. At first he spoke briefly with her friends. Later, his cousin stayed with the two other girls and he went on ahead before them, with Zelda,
The next day, he came to visit her at home. He was daring to do something that no guy dared to do at that time. As he came in, a fragrance of perfume entered the house. This intoxicated Mendl the baker, and completely confused his wife. Both of them were very happy.
A guy like that has to be rich, said Khaye quietly to her husband, when they both happened to go into the next room. When he left, the parents asked him to come again. Khaya told her daughter happily, Why do we need matchmakers? God will be the matchmaker. Keep him at your side, using your brains, and don't say a word to your girlfriends
Elkanah would come in the morning, during the day, and at night he was completely out of his senses. Zelda, for her part, like a sick hen, stopped eating and drinking or talking she thought only of the handsome Elkanah. Bath-house Street was seething like the bath-house furnace: some said that he wasn't suited to her. Others said that she wasn't right for him.
No one was willing to see how happy they were
Four days went by, and Elkanah felt as though it had been four months. His uncle kept admonishing him: Mendl is rich; all the non-Jews buy his bread. Don't let them fool you into marrying her without a dowry. Elkanah considered this and thought that his uncle was right. One marries only once in a lifetime; why shouldn't he receive a dowry? The fifth day, when he was in the back room with Zelda, unaware that her father was in the next room and separated only by a wooden wall, he started off very simply: Zelda, do you love me? She turned red as a beet. Who asks such questions before the wedding? When he asked her again, she answered, embarrassed, You're a low-life that's not a nice thing to ask. Elkanah laughed. People of the world have a better idea of what a low-life is. She turned even redder. Your father will give us two hundred rubles and we'll be married, he said quickly. Her heart beat fast, as though she was committing a crime, and she said quietly, Where would Father get money? From the fortune he placed around your mother's neck, Elkanah smiled. Zelda looked down in embarrassment, wrapped herself in her warm shawl, and said, All my life, my father has worked hard at night. If he's managed to save a few pennies, he needs them for his old age, after all. Mendl, who was standing glued to the wall in the next room, was very pleased and moved at his daughter's wise words. His eyes filled with tears. If so, we can't get married, said Elkanah, and struck the table with his hand. Zelda was silent. Elkanah was certain that Zelda loved him, but that her father wouldn't give over his pennies. He became angry with himself. He stood up, like someone who had been shot, and said, So what do you say, Zelda? When she didn't answer, he shouted angrily, When your father dies an unnatural death, we can get married. Zelda turned as white as chalk. She stood up and wanted to say something, but her father suddenly came into
the room. He, too, was as white as though he had just emerged from a sack of flour. He stood opposite Elkanah, barely reaching his chest, and yelled, Get out, you rascal! Elkanah took fright, and vanished.
On the following days, Zelda didn't leave the house, and Elkanah roamed around the Green Hill, in the market and through the streets as though he had lost his senses. He had confided everything to his cousin, and begged him to go and make peace for him with Mendl the baker. But his cousin was afraid even to go near Mendl's house Bath-house Street immediately knew that something had happened between Zelda and Elkanah. Many people took pleasure in murmuring that Mendl had caught Elkanah and Zelda hugging on the wooden sofa
Elkanah, who had come to town before the holidays ruddy and happy, left the town after the holidays pale and mournful. Reb Hertzke said that he looked ready for a coffin. Oy-oy, if only he had kept his mouth shut for a minute, he would certainly have been married today! Zelda was ashamed to show her face outside. Everyone had already envied her; she had been so close to happiness. If she hadn't annoyed him, he wouldn't have stumbled. Today, the day after the holiday, she would have been standing, in white, under the khupe Until today, they were both hoping that things would work out somehow. Now Mendl, may his name be erased, will marry off his daughter, thought Elkanah. He won't come to town again for years and will forget about me as though I were dead, thought Zelda and complained to him silently.
But if God is running matters from above, people down below have no chance of spoiling things. Elkanah didn't forget Zelda even for a minute and waited very impatiently the whole winter, until Peysakh. All the gentile girls, whom he used to toy with, were now unattractive. Zelda suffered in silence. She was too embarrassed to talk about it with her girlfriends, let alone with her mother. Her mother and mothers, after all, see everything saw what was happening in her Zeldale's heart. Similar things were happening to her. When she was alone with her husband, she would try to calm him and say that even an angel might stumble over a word, let alone a tar-seller. Mendl also loved
his daughter and sympathized with her, but she couldn't give in. Man and wife often argued about the issue, arguments that always ended with Mendl's refusing to eat all day.
When the Peysakh vacation came around, Elkanah wanted to go to Grayeve with Hertzke. When he got there, he asked his cousin fearfully whether Zelda was engaged yet. When he heard that she was still free, his heart lifted. He suddenly became the most pious of men and told himself, It's ordained in heaven, she's waiting for me. His heart overflowed with love and longing, and he decided to go to her home and make peace with her father. It was Friday. The next day, Saturday, as soon as he reached the Green Hill with his cousin, Zelda's face shone out at him He hadn't expected it and she didn't know that he had arrived the previous day. Both became as white as chalk. She passed him. Zelda, he called her in a trembling voice. She couldn't control herself and turned her head towards him. Her girlfriend stopped first and she stopped as well. His cousin told the other girl, Let's walk on our own, and Zelda was immediately alone with Elkanah
The next day they met again on the Green Hill. She told him that she had talked with her father and that he could come to their home on the first day of Peysakh. He came to Zelda's home, bringing a silk kerchief for her mother (he had bought it in Prussia to give Zelda if she was still free) and a nice tobacco container for her father. Forgive me, Reb Mendl, he murmured, unable to look the older man in the eye, I didn't know what I was saying.
Mendl pretended to completely forgive Elkanah, but he secretly bore a grudge and wanted to hurt him. Elkanah was sure they would be married the day after the holiday and Zelda would finally be his. But Mendl had a different idea: If I arrange a hasty marriage people will immediately talk and give her a bad reputation, he said. Elkanah was embarrassed to keep talking about it and remained silent.
He did tell Zelda that her father was being unjust, but she shrugged her shoulders and answered, shamefacedly, We can't interfere; after all, it's up to the parent.
The betrothal document was drawn up in the evening at the end of the holiday. Mendl wanted to set the wedding for the week of Sukes, when Elkanah would be back from Prussia. Elkanah was stunned. May you be struck dumb, you old hound, he thought to himself. He finally mustered up his courage and said, Torn isn't far from Grayeve, and I'll make a special trip for Shvues [Shavuot]. And so it was all decided.
Anyone but a Tar-seller
A favorite song of the Grayeve tar-sellers
If God gave you a daughter,
Don't give her to a tar-seller;
He's a nomad all his life
And she as lonely as a stone.
Tar-seller, give her a cobbler husband,
He'll make you strong shoes;
Or a tailor a true noble,
He'll sew you a jacket.
But don't get involved
With a rich man;
He must be out of his mind
To want your sweet daughter
If you have no choice, a rich man will also do,
Just not a tar-seller, three times no!
He'll be in Prussia, far from her,
She'll be in Grayeve, lonely as a stone.
Translated by Joshua Shanes
Edited by Tina Lunson
Grayeve possessed a significant Hasidic island in the great misnagdish [traditional, non-Hasidic] sea of Grayeve itself and of the surrounding shtetlakh [small villages], like Raigrod [Rajgród], Ogustove [Augustów], Shtutzin [Szczuczyn], Rodzilova [Radziłów], Goniondzh [Goniądz], Trestiny [Trzcianne], etc., where there were perhaps individual Hasidim, but no organized Hasidism no Hasidic shtiblekh [prayer rooms].
My memories about the Hasidic ways in Grayeve are youth memories. I have lost the home-city of my early youth and will have to rely on how well my memory serves me and on discussions I have had with several people from the community who, just like me, received a Hasidic upbringing in their childhood years and for whom the Hasidic shtibl [prayer room] was a second home.
Grayeve in the time about which I write (the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth) had two Hasidic shtiblekh the old one, on Shul Street, and the new one, on Rov's Alley.
The old shtibl remained the property of the Hasidim since the last recent failed Polish uprising against Russia, in 1863, after which the government confiscated the property of the Polish nobleman, the owner of the shtetl, and divided the houses and the surrounding fields among those who lived in the houses.
The new shtibl was founded several years after the great fire, around 1895, when Khaym Shmuel's Gerer shtibl burned down.
There was also an attempt at one time to find a separate Kotzker shtibl, in an upper shtibl on Shul Street, but it didn't last long.
According to Mr. William Friedman, a son of Yitskhok Mayer Friedman of Atlanta, Georgia, (Moshe Nekhemye's son) the Kotzker shtibl was founded due to a clash in the new shtibl between two close friends his father, who was a Kotzker Hasid, and Yankel Ginzburg (Avigdor's son-in-law), a Gerer hasid. This took place at the end of shabes [Sabbath], at the third meal. It was about whether to sing bnei heikhola with a Kotzker melody or with a Gerer tune. The battle spread and the Kotzker Hasidim then split off and founded their own shtibl. With them went the Gerer Hasid Nosn Silberman (the wine maker), because the Kotzker Hasidim needed him as a good Torah reader. The above-mentioned two good friends remained enemies after that for a long time.
Most Hasidim in Grayeve went to the Gerer Rebe; a significant number to the Kotzker Rebe. There were also several who went to other rabeim. There also arrived from time-to-time the traveling rabeim the Kobriner [Kobryñ, Belarus] and the Slonimer [Slonim, Belarus].
I was actually reared in the old Hasidic shtibl. It's already almost half a century since I left the shtibl, but I still remember the particular type of life in the shtibl and the interesting personalities which it contained. Therefore my memories relate to the old shtibl, but actually the difference between the old and new shtiblakh was quite small.
The Hasidic children felt quite uncomfortable with their long Hasidic frocks, Hasidic caps and long peyes [sidelocks]. Misnagdish children usually called us skhidakes!  The average person rarely spoke the word Hasidism. Usually they used to call us shkidim. The Hasidic children rarely had much to do with the misnagdish children
Hasidic children mostly lived their lives in Hasidic shtiblekh especially on shabes and holidays, and especially at the end of shabes for the third meal, when it was dark in the shtibl, the
fathers seated around the table, singing Bnei heikhola and other shabes songs, telling stories about good Jews and trying out new melodies, which were brought from the Hasidic courts. The main singers in my time were: Yehoshua Leyzer Banish, the baker; the Mishkovskes Shlomo-Hirsch and his sons, Henokh and Moshe-Mendel, who later became the butcher in Grayeve.
We, the Hasidic children, had pleasure from special holiday activities, which the misnagdish children didn't know.
One such holiday was tishebov [Tisha B'Av]. Even though everyone fasted and recited kinos [dirges: somber song expressing mourning or grief], we children thought of the day more as a holiday than as a day of mourning. Perhaps it was because with tishebov the mourning period of the 3 weeks and 9 days ended. We children, used to get good with the burrs, which we used to throw into the beards and short beards of the young Hasidim and obviously in each other's peyes.
A real holiday by for us was erev peysakh [the evening before the first Passover Seder]; the matso mitsve [the matso used for the Seder] was baked in the shtibl itself. Just over the wall from the shtibl lived Berl-Lazer, the baker. They would set long tables out in the shtibl, at which the Hasidim and their grown boys would roll and perforate the matsos while reciting psalms [hallel: chant of praise consisting of Psalms 113 through 118] and drinking peysakh liquor. Afterwards the matsos which would have taken many different shapes due to inexperienced rollers were then passed to Berl-Lazer's bakery through a hole in the wall, which was carved out specifically for this purpose. And even though we, the children, could not help with anything in the work because we were not yet barmitsve [bar mitzvah], we used to make enough tumult and stomp around among the adults.
The holiday had actually already begun the night before, when they used to go to the river, to the Kosherova [Kêdzierowo], to draw mayim she-lanu [literally, our water or water that slept overnight] used to bake these matsos. This was always considered by us to be a dangerous adventure. The path to the river stretched through goyishe [Gentile, non-Jewish] houses and we were placed in danger of being bitten by riled dogs or getting a stone in the head. But at the walk erev peysakh we felt safe, because a whole group of Jews were going and were singing Hallel all the way. Although the one God in heaven knows, that even among the grownups the heart trembled with fears under the tales-katan [fringed garment worn either under or over one's clothing by Orthodox Jewish males].
Of course, we took an especially active part in such truly celebratory holidays like purim and simkhes-toyre [Simchat Torah, rejoicing in the Torah, the eighth day of sukes], when our parents allowed themselves to throw off their daily concerns and fall into the mood of joy and felt carefree.
The grown boys had their own club in the shtibl. They stuck together and dressed a little misnagdish, their peyes trimmed and the signs of a little beard that showed itself they cleaned up with a scissor or with a number one machinke, [clippers], but this did not prevent them from joining in at Bnei heikhola. Typically each one of these songs was sung near the beginning of each one of the shabes meals or in the shabosim [sabbaths] and holidays at prayers. From this group I remember: Moyshe (Morris) Elkon and his cousins, Botshe and Khaym-Yoysef; Zaydke Simkha-Hirsch's; Sholem Zaydenberg, Khaym-Itshe Vaser, Itshe-Mayer Ayzenshtat, Mulie Zelegzon (a grandson of Paltiel's).
The Hasidic shtibl didn't only serve as a holy place, as a place for prayer and learning, but also as a center for social and charitable activities, and also as a sort of political club.
Even though Hasidim considered the Hebrew newspapers of that time, Ha'tsefira [Hebrew periodical created in 1860's in Warsaw] and Ha'melits [the first Hebrew-language weekly to appear in tsarist Russia] to be heretical papers, this didn't prevent politics from being discussed before and after prayers, especially during the time of the English-Boer War and of the Russo-Japanese War. And every little piece of news that the above-mentioned newspapers printed found resonance in the shtibl. At the time of the Russo-Japanese war they were already reading Ha'tsefira in the shtibl itself. The political club concentrated itself around Reb Akiva, a Grayeve Jew who lived many years in Hungary and returned to Grayeve a European. Leyzer Hepner, the rich man of the shtibl, a merchant Jew whose business led him to the larger cities of Russia and abroad, also had very weighty words; Paltiel the collector a stunted, hunched-over Hasid who when he was older won a large award of 20,000 rubles; Zerakh Elkon a clever Jew, and several others. We, children, used to gather around them and with strained ears grab the war news and the political discussions, which would last many hours.
The hakhnoses orkhim [welcoming the guests] duties of the Hasidic shtibl consisted in hosting the frequent guests who slept there Hasidic poor, who used to travel around, or went by foot, from city to city collecting charity. This was a higher class of poor, who did not go over
the houses from door to door begging for pennies, but would only get their portion from a fund, into which the Hasidim paid weekly and called general fund. As a Hasidic young boy it came to me for a brief time to be the collector, the solicitor of the fund. The Hasidic guests, of whom most were learned, used to get their donations honorably and while they were spending a day or two in Grayeve, used to actually spend the night in the shtibl. Truthfully, the resting place was on a hard bench, but the bench stood next to a Dutch-tiled oven, in which a merry fire burnt the entire winter and spread sweet warmth over the shtibl.
One could also encounter a baker spread out on the same bench during the day having been baking bread all night, he felt much more comfortable in the quiet Hasidic shtibl than in his tumultuous house, where the customers and children would not let him sleep.
The democratic spirit among the Hasidim expressed itself in many ways. Old and young, rich and poor with few exceptions always addressed each other informally, using the familiar du [you, informal] and not the formal ir. At frequent small simkhes [celebrations], like malva-malkas (Saturday night meals), yortsaytn [anniversary of a person's death], or holidays like purim and simkhes-toyre, one felt a true sense of family, at which the boundaries were washed away not only between poor and rich, but even between scholarly and ignorant.
Among the Hasidim there were a variety of elements: important, wealthy families like the Hepners Leyzer Hepner and his son Leybl-Moyshe, the owner of the only large factory in the city, that employed several hundred workers; and Leyzer Hepner's son-in-law, the prematurely deceased Hersh Vasser, who besides being a great Jewish scholar, was highly educated secularly, and spoke several European languages fluently, including English; the wheat merchant Weinstein (from Kobryn, Belarus) and his son Moshe-Isaac; the merchants and large shopkeepers the Eisenstadts, the Bachrachs, the Elkons; and others up to such toilers as the smiths Khone and his sons, and Yisroel; the bakers Efroym, Zishke, Yehoshua-Leyzer; the bookbinders Yisroel-Yankev and Moyshe; Shmuel-Ber the tinsmith; Leybel Fishbayn the tanner; Khone the bathkeeper, and others. It is interesting that among the most popular crafts among Jews, tailoring and shoemaking, the Hasidim were not represented.
The above were supplemented by small shopkeepers, teachers, sons-in-law living with their wives' families, and just poor people, who were supported by the more capable, which was not considered charity, but as helping a poor man in one's own family.
Among the more prominent teachers in Grayeve were specifically the Hasidic ones, like: Simcha-Hirsh, Khaym, Berl, Moyshe-Avrom, David Krinker, my father Leybush, and others.
The Hasidic shtibl did not have any sold seats near the Eastern wall for the wealthy and connected families, and a behind the bime [Torah reading platform] for the masses. If there was a seat of honor it was reserved for the so-to-speak spiritual aristocracy great scholars, sharp Hasidim, or just more worldly men. Most Hasidim felt absolutely no need to stand at any single place during prayer. Only a few used to cover their heads with the tales [prayer shawl] and quietly, or in a loud voice, complain to the Master of the Universe. The rest used to walk around, or even run around the shtibl, and only by shimenesre [amida; central prayers] would they stand still at whatever spot they found. Others, at the time of public prayer, used to simply sit and study, and when the congregation had already left they would pray individually. One of these was my father, Reb Leybush the teacher. He was regularly the last one out of the shtibl. When nobody else was left there, he could concentrate on his thoughts and set himself in a corner and quietly pray. Only very rarely would he pray with the last minyen [prayer quorum].
A second late prayer was Yisroel-Borekh, Mordkhe the butcher's son-in-law who was still a young man, an ordained rabbi, a Domatshever Hasid. He would stand in another corner and with a voice that you could hear all around the shtibl, throw his entire body into his prayers and would fall into an ecstasy, which often bordered on hysteria.
The only ones who had their set places to sit were Leyzer Hepner, Reb Akiva and also Simcha-Hersh the teacher, an old Jew and a great scholar, who lived only with his holy books and for whom the entire outside world did not exist. I don't remember him ever sitting. I can't imagine him other than covered with his tales, standing in one place; same thing with Kalman-Moyshe Mishkavski, who died suddenly in the shtibl in his standing place, wearing his tales and tfiln.
In the community life of Grayeve the misnagdim were the dominant element; still the Hasidim insisted always to have a Hasid from among themselves among the Grayeve butchers. Earlier it was Mordkhe the butcher, and later Moshe Mendel Mishkavski.
Around the end of the 19th century over 50 years ago the Hasidim over the course of several years led a strong campaign to create an office of official rabbi, in which they wanted to install the great scholar and prominent Gerer Hasid, Reb Fishel Zukert.
After the Hasidim failed to install Reb Fishel as official rabbi in a peaceable manner, several days before Passover they decided to take a drastic step. Namely, erev peysakh, instead of selling the khomets [anything leavened] with the Grayeve rabbi, Rov Eliyahu-Ahron Milekovski, they sold it with Reb Fishel, and thereby recognized him as rabbi.
Over the course of Passover the struggle grew even more enflamed, and the climax came on the last day of Passover, when Moshe-Yosel, the shames [beadle], ascended the bime and called out that the khomets which was not sold with the rabbi, but only with Rov Fishel, is khomets that was owned during Passover. That is, not only was it forbidden to be eaten after Passover, one could not even derive any benefit from it in any other way.
This enflamed the struggle even more strongly, but in the end, the Rov recalled the prohibition and the incident was ended.
Naturally, over the course of fifty years, since I left the Hasidic shtibl, many changes have come in the Jewish life in Grayeve overall. But that the Hasidim still strongly held onto their island in Grayeve can be seen in the letter which has been reproduced in this book, which the author of these lines received from the Grayeve Hasidim already on the path to the outbreak of the massacre which engulfed the Jewish world in Europe. The letter is signed by a number of Hasidim, children of Hasidim whom I mention in my memoirs. One knows that they further spun the thread that their elders had maintained for generations. The letter is the last echo from Hasidic Grayeve.
House of Hasidim in Grayeve
Grayeve the 10th of May 1938
Very esteemed and beloved [editor: illegible] Mr. Kh. Y. Blum:
How stunned and surprised we were when reading the newspaper Forverts [The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper] and learning of the passing of your noble and modest father Reb Leybush, may his memory be for a blessing, whose memory and good reminiscences still remain among the old people of the local Hasidim shtibl who knew him well and always mentioned him with much honor and respect. Unfortunately our current letter of sympathy to you has been delayed by the great trouble that has happened to us in town in the meantime, which for understandable reasons we could not write. A fine young man from the shtibl by the name of Ayzenshtat, Itsik, got apoplexy from shock and died straight away. We called together everyone from the Hasidim shtibl and studied a page of Talmud every day daf hayomi [the daily page] and after each session said a kadish [a prayer sanctifying God's name and said as part of the mourning ritual] for the soul of your unforgettable, deceased father Reb Leybush. We believe that will be the finest monument and memorial for him. At the same time it was decided, since the 28 of Sivan the month, [editor: illegible] especially to honor your beloved father may his memory be for a blessing and so that the younger generation should also know and remember your father as a student of Rabbinic lore and as one of the remnants of the older generation he was a modest/humble person. He never made a fuss about himself, and he grew to be an invaluable treasure to his pupils, and then lost to them, but they carry his intellectual traits and rare character always in their hearts.
|Shleyme Zalmen Tsukert Efroym Piel
[Editors note: many names illegible]
Hymie Shiller and Sol Shiller
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The factory was founded in 1881 by Leyzer Hepner, his son Leybl-Moyshe, and his son-in-law Hersh Vaser; a German Jew named Zalinger was a partner. Around 1896, Leybl-Moyshe became the sole owner. He also took over Zalinger's large and splendid house.
An Unusual Factory
Hepner's factory was unique not only 50 years ago, but even today there is no other suspender factory in the world where almost every necessary part is produced on the premises. Even today, in highly industrialized America, suspender manufacturers buy all the necessary materials from other manufacturers, and sew and pack the suspenders, but the Grayever suspender factory was different. The raw rubber came from England. From Lodzh [Łódź] came satin and cotton thread in a natural color. Here [in Grayeve] they dyed the thread, spun it, and wove it on steam-powered machines. From Varshe [Warsaw] they got metal belts cut to a specific length, and here they would hammer out the various buckles. From local butchers they bought the hides of cows and processed them into leather in their own tannery. Their own workers cut down trees in the nearby woods, sawed them into thin boards and constructed boxes. They bought paper and cardboard in Varshe and made their own cartons.
Hepner's factory employed around two hundred workers: 120 Poles and Germans, and sixty Jews. [sic]. The Germans were the spinners, weavers, and
tanners. The Jews cut the rubber, carved the leather, hammered out the buckles, sewed, and packed. Two wagon drivers employed by the factory transported the finished goods. The main office and warehouse were in Varshe, and the salesmen set out from Varshe to all parts of the Russian Empire.
The workers were divided into two categories: the Christians got paid a lot more and worked one hour less per day than the Jews. The workday began at 6:00 a.m. The workers had to get up at 5:00 a.m. On the dark winter pre-dawns, in order not to have to walk the two Viorsts [Approximately 0.6 mile/1 kilometer] outside the town alone, the workers (i.e. the Jewish workers) would gather together in one place and walk as a group. One of them would walk ahead with a lantern. The main meeting place was at Rutke the baker's. It was warm and well lit in the bakery. Rutke's reward was that the workers would buy her warm bagels.
From 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. they worked by the light of kerosene lamps and often with frozen hands. At 8:00 a.m. there was a fifteen minute break for prayers and breakfast. Since Hepner was a fervent Hasid, he saw to it that ten minutes were devoted to praying, and five to eating. The hour from 12:00 to 1:00 was lunchtime. Most of the workers brought food with them, since it would take almost an hour to go to town and back.
They worked six days a week: from Sunday to Friday, from 6:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night. Friday was a short day; in winter it ended at 3:00 p.m., in summer at 6:00 p.m., in order to give the workers time to fulfill their Sabbath obligation to bathe, in winter at the bathhouse, and in summer in the Kosherove [Kędzierow]. In order to make up for the shorter Friday, they worked Thursday nights and often, Saturday nights.
Many early mornings, when the workers arrived, Moyshe Hepner's wife, Ginendl, was already in the factory to make sure everyone was there; then she would go back to sleep. Often she would come in the afternoon to make sure everyone came back from lunch on time. She was never idle, but did the same work as the other girls. When a
worker came fifteen minutes late, he made up for it at lunchtime. If he was more than fifteen minutes late, he was penalized for twice the amount of time lost.
The beginning pay for a Jewish girl was fifty kopeks a week. If she was quick and skillful, after three years she could earn two rubles a week. A man began at seventy five kopeks a week, and after a couple of years could earn up to five rubles a week. Wages were paid every two weeks.
The Christian workers worked fewer hours: from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and they worked on Saturday instead of Sunday. The majority lived in houses near the factory and many came to work by bicycle. They earned a lot more than the Jewish workers.
Gradually, the Jewish workers started to protest against their longer hours and lower wages, and they organized. This was a very bold step. Hepner's was the biggest factory in Grayeve. Many workers started there as boys were already married and had children. They had never done any other kind of work. To turn against Hepner's could mean not only losing a job, but to be left with nothing to eat. Nevertheless, they decided to organize and sent a committee to Hepner with demands. Most of the committee members were young boys, about twenty years old. When they went to see Hepner in his office, he sent them home and told them to bring their fathers, because it was beneath his dignity to sit down at the same table with these young whippersnappers.
The same day, the workers returned to the factory with their parents. Hepner gave a speech, telling them they should consider themselves fortunate that he gave them work, because if not, they would die of hunger.
The workers demanded the same work hours and the same wages as the Christian workers. Hepner wouldn't hear of it. The Jewish workers thus decided that at 6:00 on Monday evening, when the bell rang and the Christian workers went home, all of
the Jewish workers would stop work. Several Jewish workers didn't show up at all on Monday morning. Several sewing machine operators remained at their machines at 6 o'clock, pretending that they were fixing the machines. The others stopped at 6 o'clock.
None of the Jewish workers came to work on Tuesday morning. For the first two weeks, Hepner wouldn't even negotiate. Later, he softened and proposed a raise in wages. The workers held fast and continued to demand the same working conditions as the Christian workers. The strike lasted a couple of months. In the meantime, many workers got work elsewhere. A large number emigrated to America.
As a result of the strike, the manufacturing of suspenders stopped in Grayeve. Here they only wove the rubber, and the suspenders were fabricated in Varshe. During the First World War, production in the factory almost entirely ceased, but after the war, production started up again, and on a larger scale than before.
After Leybl-Moyshe's death, his children moved to Varshe, and from there they ran both their Varshe and Grayeve factories until the outbreak of World War Two. It would appear that there were two Leybl-Moyshes: an everyday one, and a Sabbath one. All week he wore modern European clothing, was occupied with his business, travelled to Varshe, to Germany, to other countries. But when he came [to Grayeve] on shabes [Sabbath], he became a totally different Leybl-Moyshe. He took off his modern clothes and put on a Hasidic kaftan and hat, attended a Hasidic shtibl [small synagogue], and rocked back and forth while praying with fervor like all Hasidim.
His connections to the Grayeve Jews stopped there. He did not belong to any other Jewish institutions and organizations, and contributed very little to the free loan society, or to the charity that provided shelter for indigent travelers. Leybl-Moyshe Hepner's son took the same path, with one exception: he didn't even attend the Hasidic shtibl.
(Segments of a narrative)
Dr. Tzvi Wislavsky (Jerusalem)
To my brother, to Pesach, with affection
Indeed, the crown of romance doesn't befit our town: she is young in years. Among the centuries old cities with their important historic passages and changes she will not be found; and among the ancient communities of Israel in Poland, with their long and glorious pedigree, she will not be counted. Her stormy ascent, in the last decades of the 19th century; her economic and social decline was in the days between the First World War and its counterpart, the Second World War, and its annihilation with the annihilation and destruction of Polish Jewry by the villain, by Amalek of the last generations (not in vain was it common among the town's people to say: The Prussian-Amalekite!). When a son or daughter of Grajewo, who miraculously survived the terrible upheaval, turns the pages of Sienkiewicz's great epic novel Potop, [The Deluge] he will search futilely for her of fine deeds, of great desire and of enormous lust for life and splendor, of the wonderful initiative that she possessed more than the surrounding towns Szczuczyn and Jedwabne, Kolno and Stawiski, Rajgrod and Radzilow and Wansosz (even this least of the nearby neighboring towns!) all are mentioned there and pass before us, except for Grajewo. In the 17th century she wasn't in the world and didn't even exist in the 18th century; in the mid-19th century she was still out of bounds and only from the 60's of the 19th century did she begin growing and rapidly overtaking her comrades-neighbors with youthful vigor and audacity. And the quick rise came due to the important and strategic railroad that terminated there; the one that connected Odessa with its large port in Western Europe, passing through all the southwest of pre-1914 Russia, due to an important customs station a primary source of livelihood for the town, permitted and forbidden due to plenty of commerce that flourished between Russia
and Germany at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. A border town was Grajewo, its existence in proximity throughout, with all the advantages and disadvantages, infused with three competing cultures: to Poland its allegiance, originating from Poland's influence on the town its life and hopes; Poland's national struggle gradually blurred with the growth of the Russian administrative base, the growth of the military (Russian cavalry and border legions), to Russia from which came an abundance of crops, livestock and poultry, and with which language, cultural, and life style influences penetrated slowly and constantly; and to Germany where many of the townspeople found their livelihood with a certain sense of freedom, imitating her language and customs, seeing her as an exalted model of civilization and culture. All the ambitions of the town's sons, their material and spiritual efforts were influenced pulled here and there, at times one influence increases and at times another. From this emerged its greatness and from this or its social and cultural uncertainties.
A narrow sandy peninsula between lakes of water and peat a continuation of the famous lakes of East Prussia is the site of the first, original Grajewo. The nobleman's estate is stuck between the lakes and the main village. Why in fact he built his castle near the lakes, a place inflicted with bad diseases is a riddle. Near the castle is the Polish-Catholic place of worship and around it was the broad square market with a well at its center, and this is not the place to decide the difficult historic-sociologic question that pertains to all the cities and towns of Europe: which came first the place of worship which the market surrounded from three sides; or was the market first and the place of worship built in it? Three of the market's sides were occupied by the stores and homes of Jews (I remember only one Christian store from my childhood), nice strong walled houses and the fourth side was occupied by the place of worship and the homes of its servants. From here spread the first streets of the village, most of them toward the lakes and fewer toward the sands. The sands with their sparse vegetation, between the town and Prussia (along the Bogusze Prostki road) were a place for the young people to stroll on hot summer Sabbaths, with the pine forests closer to Goniądz and Szczuczyn, extending towards low lying hills at the foot and head of the town. Why the town's people didn't build it half a kilometer away from the valley, into which flowed plenty of rain water from all directions, miring its streets and attracting various diseases, seasonal and perennial; why they in fact pressed and crowded between the lakes is not known to this day. The townspeople probably wanted to warm in the light of the castle, or the place of worship with its holidays and many congregations of the peasants from villages.
Indeed hygienically the town's position was difficult and it had many ills and repair didn't come until after the First World War, when the government of independent Poland began to think of fixing and improving the town (the German occupation did so earlier): drained swamps (such as the large swamp next to the Pravoslavian house of worship); planted rows of trees (in the center of town near the post office); and other such repairs and improvements that turned the mud and dirt-filled town into a proper and nice place of refuge. However, this repair didn't come when the town was flourishing before Poland's independence when there was prosperity, but during the decline, when sources of livelihood were dwindling. Her sons began leaving, one by one and in groups and the Christian element began to press the Jews, with the aid of Polish society and government out of their nice homes and their emptying shops: the residents of the sand dunes began to conquer, not by storm but continuously, the main streets, and its first citizens by time and stature, her patrons, the layers of its foundations and builders of its walls, declined irreversibly.
Thus is illustrated the growth of the town, fragmented, broken, with no historical documents (because the place was young) or literary descriptions (except those of A. Ibn-Zahav, who dedicated many of his books to the town's people and their lives). Before the railroad was laid down the market was central and the streets of the Jewish residents concentrated and crowded around it. Later, when the railroad was built, the spread of construction shifted completely, matching the shift of the main source of income. The railroad and the customs house became central and new streets were built next to the station, spreading toward Szczuczyn along the strategic road; most of them Christian, Russian (officials) or Polish, and only few of the Jewish elite who had business with the customs house, settled there. The majority of Jews in the town lived on the streets near the swamps, afflicted with their diseases, a few of them becoming immune. It is well known, the hardships of climate are exhausting; I wonder if there is any town whose health was hurt like Grajewo's, mired in peat and constant mud almost year round. There were many with tuberculosis and an alarming number were demented. On the other hand, hardships develop immunity and strength. I wonder if any other town nearby was blessed with so many strong powerful men, famously self-assured, who were immunized and strengthened by the place's hardships and put fear into people, especially the gentiles who would congregate in the market on their holidays, constantly provoking arguments, conflicts and altercations. Not only the town's tar men, who would bring home their strong muscles, bored on their long holiday
and looking for a fight (as faithfully described by Ibn-Zahav, as noted), but also its permanent residents, the famous blacksmiths, whose hands were iron bars, all the residents of the synagogue street and especially the residents of the bath house street all of their heavy and weathered hands would thoroughly work the gentiles' faces. They were first to fight, to lift heavy loads (I remember as a child, there was one such tough who would bend under a cart loaded with flour 100 poods [Russian unit of weight equaling about 3600 pounds/1600 kg] and raise it on his back) art for art's sake, and of course not to win any prize other than scars, cuts, bruises, for the pleasure and joy of the Jewish children and the envy of the Polish youngsters. At the end of the 90's the town began emptying of those young toughs, for whom the place became too confining. Prussia would no longer absorb them and in the town itself sources of livelihood were uncertain (as explained below). The Grajewo House in the U.S.A. was founded in those days and the Russian-Japanese war expanded the house as the Jewish force clung fondly and hopefully to this new source of life, and those who were last in social importance became first.
Grajewo was surrounded on the east from three sides, among the Polish towns and villages with their lifestyles, sources of livelihood, economic and social development, attached as a final boundary link to a huge country with abundant power and authority, linked to Russia at the initial flourishing time of the young Russian capitalism and its heart in the west where many of its sons absorbed all or most of their influence, from Prussia-Germany. The town's blossoming and its material and spiritual growth were associated with the enormous blossoming of Germany in the last decades of the 19th century. From here came the mercantile and intermediary nature of Grajewo, which mediated not only between the villages and the large city as did all other Jewish towns in Poland, but mostly it mediated between great countries, facing this way and that, acting as a firm master, extravagant and capable.
It seems that Grajewo had nothing of its own: it didn't evolve unique skills like other towns that specialized in various crafts, or could boast of their products; it did not establish its own industry (other than two factories, one was Hefner's for rubber goods whose fame was mostly during Poland's era of independence, and the other for bone grinding Bilistucki). Our town didn't have many craftsmen. There were few tailors because most of the townspeople wore ready made clothes from German factories; only a few, the elite, important landlords, the Chasidim and educated gentiles would use the town's tailors (indeed there were a few specialty tailors
Kurejwowski). They were more shoemakers, but even those became fewer with the founding of the shoe industry in Warsaw, which supplied all the shoe needs of the town and even this industry diminished and shrank early in our century.
Even the rural area which relied little on the Prussian clothing products, did not establish a sector of specialty tailors and shoemakers, which were the basic trades in each and every town. There were tinsmiths (remember the tinsmith on Bogusz street who would keep all his tools outside, fence off the street and no one protested), potters, weavers, blacksmiths, locksmiths (not many of them), watchmakers, jewelers, stitchers and more, barbers, seamstresses and other such craftsmen as noted, there was no specialty in the town.
Not so was commerce. In this respect Grajewo was above the neighboring towns. Here were the big wholesalers, distributing their goods to the surrounding retailers: large merchants in flour, kerosene (with large vats to which the kerosene cars would come directly and pour the precious liquid) and other such wholesale businesses the pride of the town. There were many shops in the town. In that its image was not unique the same competition that destroys and doesn't build, the same jealousy that doesn't increase customers or goods; the same hatred, sometimes between brothers and members of one family; the same chase after a bit of income and a taste of decent livelihood; the same misery that would flow from among the walls of the gloomy shops; the same faces etched with worries about payments due, of a shop empty of merchandise with no goods or money in return, as told in the Jewish literature of recent generations: the great demands of life on one hand was weighed against the meager ability to fulfill them on the other. And even though this occupation was numerous, more so than other occupations, they did not characterize the town, they did not designate its image and purpose; rather it seems that the international trade was what characterized the town.
First in numbers and strength, but of course not in importance the tar men and horse traders, shouldn't be confused: the tar men would travel door-to-door among the German villages selling the farmers tar to coat their wheels (which is why they were called tar men) and leather, sewing and other such goods. Not everyone who wished for such a business could do it: only those seen as proper and honest. Their trade wasn't the easiest or cleanest and they could barely earn enough to support their families who remained in their original homes. They spent most days away from home and would return to Grajewo only for the big holidays Pesach and Sukkot, wearing suits from Titz and Wertheim (a department store in Germany),
round hard hats (their unique sign) and yellow shoes on their feet. The most industrious among them would rise to the status of horse traders. But to achieve that they had to endear themselves to the townspeople who stayed year round, to act generously after all, they had had a taste of Prussia. These, the tar men, had an important place in the town's economic and social structure. Above them were the horse traders, some of whom achieved greatness and wealth (Biloszewski, Tykocki, Worzabolowski, Poliak, Entman, Wislawski, Jamszon, Miller, Milewicz). The horse traders would venture into the depths of Russia (as far as the Ural Mountains they would go), bringing from there elegant riding horses and gigantic hauling horses, and delivering them to Germany where they had large businesses. They too were not in the town but for the holidays, behaving like landlords and great merchants, their hands open for charity and for the synagogues' needs; ambitious they were, providing their sons learning and knowledge and dedicated to excelling with the Torah. They weren't themselves knowledgeable in Torah or general learning, but they lightly hinted at such, particular about their honor and not mixing with the ordinary tar men (but the other townspeople would call them tar men derisively). The tar men and horse traders were a large group of the townspeople before the First World War and during the war they were absorbed into Germany.
They are followed by the large wheat, geese and poultry merchants (Bufensztejn, the Marcuses, Gersztanski, Wodowski), the pillars of external commerce, the class of the town and their words were heeded everywhere. Their standing too depended on the season: some suddenly became very wealthy, others declined all at once, increasing the number of impoverished and usually working hard to make a living, diligently trying to fulfill all the demands and obligations of the wealthy, notable in their attire and demeanor at all times. Above them in every respect were the customs agents who cared for the customs matters of the large Russian businesses, which would receive machinery and machine parts for Russian industry. Their turnover reached millions per year; some of them reaching enormous wealth and greatness for a small town like Grajewo (Jazerski, Levin, Worzabolowski, Zilbersztejn, Bilistucki, Olschwanger, Fajfenzilber) the elite of the town's elite, with the dozens of clerks, making a comfortable living, unlike the other townspeople who had no constant income. These houses also engaged in banking, lending merchants large sums at high interest (Jazerski, the biggest of these agents, was enormously wealthy, and before the First World War his wealth was more than two million rubles). And these complete the economic structure of the town.
Next to all these permanent occupations there was another transient unofficial occupation, more numerous than all the others, which would take its due from all
the classes; its existence completely forbidden as it were, and sometimes being exiled to Siberia these were of course the smugglers: smuggling Russian immigrants to Germany and smuggling German goods, world goods from Germany to Russia. This was not a respectable occupation at all, yet many engaged in it: at times of rise in this occupation, and at times of fall to other occupations, and there were many such falls. There were frequent downturns in industry and commerce, and the town's economic structure couldn't support the whole population in legal occupations. The overseas migration from Russia increased with the frequent political crisis that affected this huge country at the beginning of the twentieth century: political migration of revolutionaries; escape from military service during the Russia-Japan war; the great migration of Jews to America who did not have passports for foreign travel (these passports were expensive and poor people could not afford them) for all these our town was a transition point illegally. The border smugglers were talented people, with tricks and wonderful inventions, outsmarting every decree, penetrating every crack left by the authorities stumbling and being sent away to Siberia for a few years, or to some place far from the border, reappearing, acting legally for a few years, and then returning to their dangerous, adventurous, stimulating occupation. Along with those were hundreds who smuggled goods to neighboring towns, especially to Bialystok the large nearby city which would swallow the smuggled goods and even distribute them to other places. The goods were cheap compared to Russian goods and even the many passports and intermediaries did not raise their price so much as to make them undesirable. This occupation did not enjoy riches (except for a few); it involved dangers, fears, many failures and few successes. But what wouldn't a Jew do for his and his family's livelihood? And the needs of our townspeople were always greater than those in other towns: the life style was rich, the economic and social appetite was great, an excess of feverishness, of aspiration to wealth and social advancement, was in the blood of most townspeople and it harnessed, prodded, instilled brashness and risk in the heart, energy in arm and leg, and inventiveness in the mind. This non-occupation occupation would envelope all other occupations, provoke them, over-stimulate them.
And from the economic structure to the social structure, they overlapped almost everywhere, yet they weren't always equivalent. One of the most interesting features of our town was the abundance of eligible men
from outside, from other towns, from the distant surroundings and even from far away. It seems that all those sitting at the Eastern [distinguished] wall at the synagogue, all those permitted an Aliyah [the honor of reading a blessing of the Torah] were not from the town; it seems that ours reduced themselves purposely so as not to overshadow the plentiful light emanating from the pillars of Torah, from the nice yeshiva students, wearing tall top hats, who were all from the outside. The first residents to become rich and well off saw it as an honor and distinction to take grooms for their daughters from other towns, educated in Torah and Hebrew. One remembers the distinguished rows in synagogue and especially the new synagogue, and envisions the refined forms of learning and distinction in one place and almost all of them were outsiders. Marcus and Sterling, Rozyn and Rawidowicz (the father of Dr. S. Rawidowicz), Bialystocki and Totilman, Golombiewski and Gnachowski, Knorozowski and Greiber, Worzabolowski, Olschwanger, were the town's elite, it's wise and elders, pedants and educated all were outsiders. The rich fish merchant who took two learned and rich bachelors (Kopciowski and Nowinski) was not alone, but set an example for the others. All tried with all their might to acquire learned and pedigreed bachelors and many succeeded, and the town that had almost nothing of its own became in one generation a town of learning and pedigree. This town of grooms established fine Talmud study groups (Chevrot Shas), like few in the area, with debaters who would cast fear into the great rabbis with whom our town was blessed. These bachelors, although they immediately harnessed themselves to employment and competition, would fill the yeshivas in the evenings with the voices of righteous students, who were supposedly away from studies for few hours. Among these bachelors were Torah sages (M. Bobkowski, a real genius), Kopciowski, Marcus, Rawidowicz, and also the Hebrew intelligentsia (A. M. Piorka from Lomza, Z. Sterling and more, and the Worzabolowski and Olschwanger families the town's pride in general and Hebrew education, Zionism, and Jewish activism). These bachelors strove that Grajewo's teachers would be the best in five hundred by five hundred miles; that the town's rabbis would be among the great rabbis, and they succeeded: Rabbi Miliekowsi was the town's rabbi for a long time and when he left for Krakow, came Rabbi Amiel zl, the one who the debaters, the great students, fought for weeks and refused to choose him for town's rabbi until they were all defeated, one after the other, first the small ones, then the great, and then the greatest great. Most of them also had their hearts open to the new trends that invaded the Jewish towns in those days the Enlightenment, Zionism, Hebrew, and so on.
And the Enlightenment it was mostly Hebrew. There weren't many Externalists in our town the social element that destroyed the cultural structure of Jewish towns in Russia at the beginning of the century. The most talented among the young men went to the kontor [foreign trading post] to the customs agencies,
and weren't relegated to idleness the mother of Externalism. Indeed these grooms did not pass their great Torah knowledge to their sons, did not send their sons to the great yeshivas (except for Ravidowicz), didn't continue their own dynasty, but didn't allow it to be broken completely: dunces they didn't breed, simpletons they didn't nurture, irksome intellectuals they didn't produce: the voices of fathers didn't bring heretic violations of sons. The girls received more general education than the boys, because the boys went to work, and the girls were caught up more in the modern trend of general education. A. M. Piorka was the promoter of knowledge and enlightenment for the educated townspeople and due to him, Jewish Enlightenment reached a peak that other neighboring towns did not approach. He was aided by an enthusiastic group of modern teachers (Pomerantz, Liss); and the town was a sort of center of Jewish Enlightenment for all neighboring towns. They created the Jewish environment in which arose Jewish writers and great Zionist functionaries (others will probably write about this and I touched it only in passing as part of the description of the social and cultural structure of the town). Grajewo was early with established schools before their time came in other places: Piorka's school attracted students from other towns, as did Karmin's school; and the study of the Hebrew language became mandatory in all classes and there were classes that dedicated specific hours to the language (and again Piorka was the first of those teachers). And the modern Hebrew book took over the home, and the Hebrew newspaper was not a rare guest from Sabbath-to-Sabbath (as it was with the rise of Yiddish journalism), but a permanent resident; and the volumes of Ha'Asif [a literary almanac founded by Nachum Sokolov] would pass from hand to hand and Sokolov his words would be heard in every home (referring to the home-owners) and the controversies in the newspapers would even split the synagogues into factions. The town was modern, its residents were modern and their hearts were open and their minds alert, quick to business innovations and life styles of the time. The town was blessed that its elite were learned and educated, who saw the wide world with its changes and trends and did not stagnate in their knowledge as did the elites of the older reputable towns whose past took precedence over present and future. The intellectuals did not distance themselves from the community, did not associate with the authorities despite their commercial and economic ties, but were involved with the community in everything, even in purely religious matters. I can see the image of Eliyahu Worzabolowski (Elinka he was called by the townspeople. By the way: The town would give popular people diminutive names and so it did with the esteemed Olschwangers), an intellectual and skeptic, who took it upon himself to build the great synagogue: he organized, collected funds, included all good people in the work, levied taxes on the town to benefit the synagogue, oversaw every detail, and it was a magnificent synagogue, and many aspired to be at the East end
even though they didn't deserve it by their social and religious standing. And I remember the Sabbath at the end of the 19th century when they announced the collection of Shabbat donations to complete the synagogue and permitted weekday food to be eaten and all this was supervised by Elinka ( who was by the way very wealthy and when he passed away left a quarter million rubles!).
The town enjoyed a varied and rich social life only after the First World War of course, with the great community division and I cannot discuss that life because I saw it only briefly when I visited mother's home. My discussion is aimed at the days before the First World War, and even then I wasn't a resident of the town, but more of a visitor, when I would come from school to celebrate the holiday at mother's house (I studied at small and large yeshivas: Borisov, Brezin, Radin and Telz, and later Odessa and Peterburg), but Grajewo of those days is the Grajewo in its essence and greatness, as noted. It was dominated by the grooms economically, in religious life, education, learning, life style: they imprinted the town's signature in the material and spiritual, and they ultimately created the foundation of Grajewo between the wars, when the town shrank and moved away, and filled with a desire to change values, to leave the town and settle in Eretz Yisrael and other countries. The image that I drew above is very proper for Grajewo on the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, but was not erased in the next period: it kept its character, continued its learning, and in its enlightenment exceeded its first mother (in my book Mixed Authorities, in my article Changing of the Guard, I envisioned our town and said what I said based on it, and I also referred to it in one of the chapters of my book Culture Pains). In her time of prosperity she didn't particularly chase after formal education, and only at the time of poverty did many of the townspeople get caught up in formal education; and there are many doctors and lawyers from Grajewo who live in Eretz Yisrael and America.
The people of the other towns would say about Grajewo: she is a glutton, bankrupt, spending more than she earns, vain and ostentatious. Surely there is much truth in this condemnation. She craved the largest fish, the fattiest meat; her bakeries were renowned throughout the land (Abramski); her clothing elegant and her dresses ostentatious. But this over-eagerness to be seen, extravagant, was felt in all other activities, secular and religious: no other town was as generous as ours for all the needs of Israel in Poland. A SDR [Shaliach deRabanan a rabbi's envoy] who came to a town would spend a respectable amount for the yeshiva, and not without cause were people from Grajewo respected by the large yeshivas,
and the support they received was greater than the support of people from other towns. They were first to any charity and joint Jewish project, first in matters of Zionism and settlement of Eretz Yisrael, first to aid fire victims, etc. They were ostentatious yes, but also ostentatious in good deeds. They were wasteful and also wasteful for tsedkah [giving of charity] for public needs. The town's young were not great experts in discussions, their hearts didn't follow political debate, but public matters, of substance, were close to their alert heart, which was open throughout the year and not only on the High Holy Days or holidays. All the central committees of Polish Jewry knew our town's address: a loyal address, which deals lightly with light matters and seriously with the severe matter of national and community life. They were epicurean, but also had a good eye, quick to take from life, from the plenty of neighboring Germany, but also quick for a good deed, lending a hand, heaving a shoulder, to help an individual or the community. This writer can testify, about the young of that time, who were immersed in worldly pleasures and drank more than a sip of the world's available indulgences, that they were dedicated to the public needs. The Silbersteins, Gerstanskis, Gewirtzmans, Berenzons, etc., etc., were all dedicated to their businesses and pleasures, and how were they dedicated in their heart and soul to matters that required sacrifice. Let it be said: they liked card games (a lust that swept our brethren in Poland in all classes and social layers, the learned and the Chasids), but those in need discreetly shared in the reward of the games.
My short narrative cannot encompass in the least the life, businesses, failures and successes of the town's people. I didn't even hint at the glorious saga of Grajewo's Zionism, its learning and knowledge, of its sons who traveled afar and achieved status and greatness through hard work and industriousness. It's a great saga of much interest, not only to our townspeople. Not in vain did nearby towns look upon it with envy, resentment, and fondness all at once, learning from its ways and deeds, condemning and imitating, praising and doing as she did. It seems: she was young and wanted to fulfill forcefully, independently, what it missed in time to be a great community of Jewish Poland, of wealth and learning, affluence and intelligence, of public life and national revival.
I would like to dwell at the end upon one group, almost removed from the other groups in the town's internal life: the Chasidim. The majority of the town was Mitnagdim [those who were opposed to the Chasidic movement in the great religious controversy that began in the 18th century]: its rabbis, intellectuals, scholars. But a small minority, strong and assertive, of Chasidim was in the town, a group that differed from everyone in attire, even in language, and in life style. It was a minority that did not bend, its existence not disregarded. A few intrepid families, assertive, fought the majority, and usually succeeded in their fight. The Hefner, Alkon, Lipszic, Eisenstadt families fought for their status and forced the Mitnagdic town
to provide their own butcher and teacher. They didn't have their own synagogues, but the Shtieblach [prayer rooms] were lively, following their own traditions. The battle tactics of a minority against a majority could be learned from them; preserving their image from being uprooted, their appearance from being blurred or tarnished. The Chasidim, who founded a kingdom within a kingdom, were proud of their uniqueness and separation, of standing in a sea of Mitnagdim and not being assimilated into it. And even the Chasidim who blended in on the week days in their behavior and dress would separate in looks and image on Sabbaths and holidays: a small, immune island in the sea of a different community. The majority did not impose itself on them, they imposed themselves on the majority due to their strong social cohesion, because of their stronger awareness as with any minority, a kind of Chasidic aristocracy in a crowd of Mitnagdim, and they served as a kind of conservative base in the town which knew and recognized its purpose. Over time the divisions blurred and intermixed, but in the glory days of the town they stood in their uniqueness and separation. By the way: they too were mostly outsiders and not of the long timers in town, and they also dealt in the businesses mentioned above: they were not inferior in their agility and initiative from their Mitnagdic brethren and didn't even refrain from life's pleasures; and they kept only one privilege, the privilege of a social-cultural minority which didn't follow the majority but fed from its own source, loyal to the Chasidic sects (particularly Gur). At first they were not open to Enlightenment, to Zionism, but in the end they joined it too, in their way, by their ability. And those who were saved from the Holocaust, their hand and energy, their mind and initiative, are felt in the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael and America. It was a vibrant town, boiling, fighting the hardships of life in its own way, weaving the tapestry of Jewish life in Poland-Russia with talent and enthusiasm, with passion of the soul and wisdom. Plenty of charm flowed from its sons with their elegant exteriors, their clothes and shoes, their manners and qualities. Someone from Grajewo was notable from afar in all of his conduct, and even the poor among them were particular about their clothes, and even those who were vapid would act as if they were knowledgeable, educated, and knew the ways of the world, dropping quotes from the old sages, the Torah, and words of wisdom. And all of this, more so on holidays.
The Jewish towns looked nice during the holidays holidays being one of the most important cultural fruits that grew from humanity's cultural garden, and by which one recognizes the strength and talent of peoples not only in religion, in excess, but also in secular, essential matters particularly in our town, which would collect the hundreds of sons who were dispersed far during all days of the year due to the necessity of distant occupations
the tar men, horse merchants, many of the grain merchants, who would bring the goods of other countries, their clothes and fashions. On those days the town would fill with tumult and noise, smiling friendly faces, the synagogues would fill with people, and the streets were full of tourists, visitors. These days were the rewards for the anguish of a whole year, the suffering of far away livelihood, the danger and indignity of illegal occupations, days of joy for babies clinging to their fathers, and days of happiness for young men and women with their long walks and lively conversations. Days of Torah study and the wonderful sermons of Rabbi Amiel, who even the agnostics of the town were quick to come and hear, days on which the cantor would sing a new tune (the tune of Avinu Malkenu that is sung in Eretz Yisrael is from Grajewo the cantor Chaikel composed it) and all the young ones (even the emancipated among them) would be quick to pick up and repeat it. On Passover of 1914, a few months before the war broke out, our cantor (Resnick) renewed the tune Vehu Yashmienu Berachamav [from the Kedusha prayer] and the young men and women of the town would repeat it with enthusiasm and devotion Vehu Yashmienu Berachamav, Berachamav, Berachamav
Another musical moment that particularly impressed this writer also happened on Passover 1914. The Russian cavalry regiment returns from training, lines up by battalion on all sides of the market. At the head of the regiment a handsome middle aged man sitting on his handsome horse, and the battalions pass before him, and the regiment's band plays the famous Russian march: In the Hills of Manchuria.
As I stood and watched the march, my heart was suddenly filled with dread, a great dread for the future of the great empire Russia and for the Jewish nation: I heard both tunes: Vehu Yashmienu Berachamav, and the Russian march. Not many days passed and the Russian empire was embroiled in the world war and it completely exploded and shredded. As if the heart sensed the approaching Holocaust. Other voices were heard from the heavens, not voices of mercy but of a harsh, severe destiny, and the destiny continued to this day
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