Shoshana Rabinowitz (Shochen)
Translated by Sara Mages
Our city Korets was named after the Kortchek River. The river wrapped around the city and with its twists cut it into sections. The place where the five tanneries stood was called below the tanneries, the place where the flour mills stood was called below the mills and the area where the earthenware factory stood was called Crockery
A number of bridges crossed the river. Across from the main bridge lay below the mills and on the other side of Orenstein's bridge lay the New City, which was built after the great fire that broke out at the end of the 19th century.
The river overflowed in the spring, swept fertilizers and foodstuffs, and fertilized the fields and the gardens on its shores. The gardens bloomed and flowered, and covered the city with a carpet of greenery. And then, Korets looked like a blooming garden. The lawns and meadows on the riverbank were called flowery banks. From here we left for boat excursions on the river.
The river had a special magic in each season of the year, and enticed the residents, mostly the youth. And when the river froze, and the ice thickened sleds loaded with firewood and wheat traveled on it, and in this manner shortened the way from one part of the city to another.
Groups of boys and girls went down to the river with joy and exultation to skate on the ice. We climbed on the hills with small sleds, and sled down to the frozen river with a youthful whim.
In the winter, the water drawers broke holes in the ice, and draw the drinking water for all the members of the city. Dozens of families earned their living from that. The washerwomen went down to these holes, and beat the laundry in the cold water until they looked like frozen boards.
As spring approached, the city was shaken by the sound of loud explosions: The icebergs are coming. The ice broke, and huge chunks floated in the strong wind. And then, the Kortchek became a vast river. The bridges were destroyed more than once, and not just one tree has fallen victim to the malicious icebergs. It was a magnificent sight to see how this small river achieved greatness and raged in a youthful vigor. But, nothing lasts forever. The icebergs melted, the river returned to its natural borders, and the
|The Kortchek River by the bridge|
When the earth was swampy and the legs sunk in the mud, we, the children, spread out along the river to welcome the first guest - the green leaf, and with it the small flower that we haven't seen during the months of the angry and difficult Ukrainian winter. Summer came when the sun shone in the sky, and the air warmed. During this period we spent most of our days and nights by the river. At daybreak, the diligent woke up early and went to the river to immerse their bodies for the early morning dip. In those days, it wasn't yet known in Korets that there was something in the world called a bathing suit. We bathed in our Mother Chava suit [naked]. Of course, we bathed in white shirts, but we tied them on both sides, turned them to balloons, and lay on them as lying on a swimming-pillow. This way we practiced and leaned the art of swimming. Obviously, women bathed separately and men bathed separately. The sounds and screams rose to the midst of heaven when a man made a mistake and found himself in the women's section. And when a naughty boy tried to get closer to us, we taught him Parashat Balak [taught him a lesson] and he lost a tooth and an eye [suffered a great loss].
Great was the commotion by the river on Friday. Clear the way and give respect! The pot-bellied samovar is walking to immerse itself in the water and smarten up for the Sabbath, and all the other kitchen utensils are marching behind it.
The amazing sand, which was used to brush and scrub, was only found on the riverbank, and the samovars and the skillets shone and dazzled the eyes. This work, which lasted from sunrise to late at night, was accompanied by singing and laughter, and merged with the singing of the Ukrainian washerwomen.
At night, especially on Friday night, old and young went down to the river bank equipped with blankets. They spread on the lawns, enjoyed the cool air, the fragrant of the flowers and the singing of the nightingale which spilled into space and filled the air with its magic sound.
The playgrounds and the athletics fields were also located on the riverbank, but they weren't the most advanced. The boys played soccer there, and we put up tents and built camps there. But our parents drove us away from there, because they saw in it a desecration of the Sabbath. In particular, they had many complains against the sailing, what, even on the Sabbath! Once, when we didn't have enough oars, we took shovels to sail the boats with. This matter caused a great storm, because the pious of our city suspected that we left for work on the Sabbath
And when autumn approached and with it the High Holidays, we spread along the riverbank and searched for braches with thin leaves for Hoshanot. And when the day of Tashlich arrived, not a living soul was left in our city Korets. Everyone streamed to the riverbank, some on the bridges and some on the shore. Old and young prayed by the water, emptied their pockets and threw all their sins and crimes to the Kortchek's flowing water.
Zahava Riess (Goldman)
Translated by Sara Mages
It may seem odd, that one day, when you reminisce about the distant past, you remember the pleasant and dear, and forget the sad and shocking. Perhaps, subconsciously, a person is trying to forget the unpleasant, and for that reason he's drawn to the pink and the heartwarming memories.
Here's Synagogue Street with its unattractive one-storey houses, but how beautiful and fascinating they were on the Sabbath and on the holidays. Great light penetrated from the windows of the little houses with their white curtains. The synagogues shone brightly. Our parents became princes, filled the houses of worship and the nearby streets by the hundreds, and a delightful sound came out of them.
And here's the praised Yeshiva, the house of learning for the majority of Korets' sons and all of Wolyn. It left its mark not only on the religious life, but also inspired an atmosphere of study and research throughout Korets. Sons gave up their comfortable life at home, and spent several years in the Yeshiva, to draw from the springs of our ancient civilization.
We were born in one of these houses. Most of the furniture passed from one generation to another, and weren't replaced as it is customary these days. But, they didn't smell of mold, only of pleasant memories of past generation.
|A general view of the city|
Indeed, new spirits blew in every house, at least in most of them, but they were related to the far distant past, when the nation of Israel sat on its land. They integrated into the vision of the future that seemed far but tangible.
I remember the stories about the Land of Israel in which we will be farmers, and I was given the role of a shepherded. These stories were accompanied by pictures that my mother of blessed memory found in one of the Russian geography books. It told of the different races and nations, including an Arab with a cruel face and grinding teeth. A shiver ran through my body, and I barely got over the fear that attacked me when I thought that I'd meet him at my work in Israel, and how could I defend myself?
The Hebrew School completed the picture of the distant past, explained it, enlarged its scope and made the future more tangible. To this day I remember the teacher Gilman of blessed memory, who dramatized the story of Bat Yiftach, and we were so close to the same glorious past. Every important event in the Zionist movement was celebrated grandly. So it was during the opening of the university on Mount Scopus, and so it was during other Zionist celebrations.
A youth movement was added, and made the heroes and the kings of the Jewish nation more daring and venerable. We started to see the present as a passageway to something more beautiful. Then, we saw the poverty of our homes. We felt that there was no point in our present life, and therefore, we had to prepare ourselves for the future. The youth of Korets, which was part of the youth of Wolyn, constituted the natural reserve of manpower and creativity, and the revival movement was built from it.
The heart is hurting and grieving that such a rich Jewish source was destroyed and diluted. We will fight the minister of forgetfulness to the end of our days, so we won't forget our parents, our brothers and sisters, who were our flesh and blood.
by Louis Osher (Leible Ocher), Boston
Translated by Murray Kaplan
At the end of World War I, the winds of freedom began to blow. The revolution broke out and it gave the Jews the possibility to organize their own institutions. And in this way, the communities of Volhyn came back to life.
Here, too, in Korets, we had municipal elections. I belonged to Poale- Tzion and the party elected to the municipal committee the following members: Leible Ocher, Motek Finklestein, Izzie Kaminer, Osher Tobin, Zeidle Fifer and Isaac Himenis. The seventh, I believe, was Jacob Rice, the son of Alter the bookbinder.
In the first Jewish community, Rabbi Nehemiah Herschenson, Rabbi Litzky, Judge Avigdor, Meir, Rabbi Isser's son, Dr. Yanyeh Gerschenhorn, Isaac Horowitz and Yizchak Whiteman were also elected.
|A view of Korets|
The opening of the community Council occurred in David Gershfeld's hall. A huge holiday was declared in the city, that day. The hall was packed full of people, that listened with great interest the reports of Rabbi Nehemiah Herschenhorn. The Rabbi spoke of the activities of the Talmud Torah of which he was at the forefront for many years. An important part of his report dealt with the activities for the poorer students. This report lasted a couple of hours and it was listened to with great respect. The stately appearance of this humble Rabbi remains in my memory to this day.
Unfortunately, this era of freedom did not last long. Various groups of Ukrainian bands of hooligans began to appear and the situation became very cloudy for the Jews of the Ukraine. In Korets, The Petlyura gang of murderers came in. The city turned to darkness, people were afraid to go out into the streets. Stores closed, and very soon thereafter, two Jews fell victim and were killed. The first one was HershWolf, the tailor's son. I don't remember the name of the second one, his nickname was Hanchik.
The Jewish community was powerless. We didn't know what to do. Day by day the situation deteriorated. A sergeant in the Petlyura army was billeted in Dudek Feldman's house. He gave Dudek an idea, that the Jewish community should supply bread, boots and underwear for his squad and he would take care that the Jewish people would not be bothered. We went along with his idea we took bread from the Zhitomir bakery and underwear from Aaron Shmuel Shteindle (Dobeh the stovemaker's son) and brought it to the sergeant as a gift.
One fine morning, we heard a lot of shooting. We went outside and saw that the Red Army had entered the city. The Petlyura army had retreated without any resistance. All of us gave a sigh of relief and ent out into the streets.
The next day, the Bolsheviks ordered a meeting in David Girschfeld's Hall and everyone had to attend. The hall quickly filled up. An officer of the Red Army gave a fired up speech, indicating that from here on we will have real freedom.
At the end of his speech he asked that three people be chosen to organize the Revcom [Revolutionary committee} which will perform the business of the city.
A Gentile by the name of Gremmer, was chosen. He worked in Hersh Salamanyek's tannery and was the chairman of the Tanner's Union. The second one chosen was Moisheh Volkenstein, he had just arrived from America. Since he was oriented to the left, he came to Russia in order to help build the revolution. The third chosen was myself. I said that they should remove my name as a candidate. However the Red Army officer interjected at this point. He stamped his foot vigorously and yelled out: those people that refuse to serve the revolution, we stand up against the wall, that is, we shoot them. After that outburst, understandably, I turned hot and cold, and relented, and indicated that I agreed to faithfully serve the people.
The Revcom opened an office in Yudel Finer's house. We hired a secretary and began to do the business of the city. We applied to the upper echelon in Zvahill for money with which to do our work. They answered us, that there was no money, and that we should assess a tax on the wealthy people of Korets. Understandably, some very sad scenes ensued. Some of the Jews came into the office and pleaded their tax should be reduced. But nothing helped they had to pay.
I took upon myself the office of social security. I knew very well, that there were many poor people in Korets, and I gave the order to the bakeries that bread should be supplied to the poor of the population. Whenever someone became sick, and needed a doctor, I gave him a ticket to Dr.Zeitlin or to Dr. Y Hirshenhorn. And the same, with medicines. The pharmacists gave medicines on my prescription.
One fine morning Leibke Gerstein and Leibush Krautman entered our office, which was located in Isaac Horowitz's building and confided to us the following secret: when the Petlyuras occupied Korets, there was, among them, an officer who was a Christian, from Korets, by name of
Garris. He did not want to serve with them, because he did not agree with their murderous methods. And when the Petlyuras retreated from Korets, he hid out and remained in the city. Now he is applying to us for a certificate indicating that Gerris is a responsible person, so that he can obtain his freedom. Gremmer and I were for it, but Moisheh Volkenstein was against it. He said that you must not believe a dog, but we did not agree, and it turned out well, as you shall soon see.
The regime of the Bolsheviks in Korets lasted from after Passover until the high holy days in the year 1918. A band under the name of Sokolovtses was organized in our area. They entered Zvahill and enacted a horrible pogrom there. Our police clashed with these bandits a few days prior totheir entering Korets. The guards would station themselves at all four corners of the city by the power plant, at the ramparts, at the crockery factory and at the zhidkivkeh (?) In order to show the murderers how to enter the city.
We heard the shooting begin at 12 o'clock at night the Sokolovtses had entered the city. They and our police attacked the building of Isaac Horowitz where our offices were located, and we were shooting from all sides. In that battle Moisheh Volkenstein and a sailor were killed. Naphtali Katz (Chaim Katz's son) jumped out of a window and was injured in both feet, he crawled to a house that was close to St. Michael's church and there he received instant attention. This same night I left and hid at Michleh Richkeh's house, on the second story, Moisheh Gildenman's mother.
On the second day, the bandits went to Gerris's house and forced him, against his will, to become the mayor of the city. He was forced to accept this office, because none of the other bandits were able to read and write.
Here, at last, the goodness of Garris was shown: when my brother was arrested, Garris said, nothing bad will happen to your brother or to the Jewish people of Korets in general, so long as my head remains on my body, because he will never forget the favor that I bestowed upon him
when I gave him a certificate indicating that he was a fine man. And that's the way it was: they freed my brother and there were no more casualties among the Korets Jews. And that is how Korets was saved by me, indirectly. Goodness pays off, as King Solomon said, Cast thy bread upon the waters, and it will return to you, in future days.
by Eliezer Basyuk
Translated by Murray Kaplan
After World War I, when the Red Army marched into Moscow and declared a workers government, certain dark elements were found that did not wish to go along with the new government, and indeed, immediately, various generals arose and organized groups of soldiers, with which they thought they would defeat the Red Army.
Those murderous groups, such as Denikins Guards, Koltzak's Bands and the infamous Petllyura, the murderer of many thousands of Jews.
Our brother Jews, as usual, looked to save their lives, and they began to wander from one shtetl to another, believing that they would be more safe there.
And indeed, our town Korets, that lies on the main highway, Moscow to Rovneh, quickly filled up with refugees, the majority of which came from Zvahill (Novograd Volinsk}.
The refugees brought with them the terrible news of the murderers, that they were killing young and old. A restlesness enveloped all the residents, merely thinking of what, God forbid, could happen to them.
And indeed at that time, there were found people that suggested organizing a self-defense organization of armed Jews, where 100 men would be on call every night.
There was no shortage of weapons in our town. In our house alone there was a warehouse of arms from the 30 battalions of Russians, that when they left, they abandoned guns and ammunition, that was sufficient to arm a whole Battalion.
After several meetings, we organized a self-defense organization of Jews, and since there were Gentiles living in the city as well, we informed them that they must remain quiet and not help the enemy.
This was a time when the city was left powerless. The red Army had left and the Polish Army had not yet arrived. I recall a situation when the red Army was leaving our town. At the only bridge, which was wooden, they placed barrels of tar and kerosene and lit them, in order to prevent the enemy from transporting heavy equipment across the bridge.
Then our forces began shooting from all sides and drew the attention of various groups. In the meantime several people rolled the burning barrels into the water. Our only bridge was saved.
With the arrival of the Polish military, the functions of the self-defense organization ended.
The Jewish self-defense organization of Korets was a symbol of Jewish strength and self preservation, which enveloped the Jewish youth in dozens of towns and shtetlech in the realm of the Ukraine and White Russia. It arose spontaneously and served in the defense and preservation of Jewish life and property. This youth also served the national freedom movement which found its expression in the formation of the Zionist movement in the city which had unified itself in Jewish strength and the spirit of freedom.
Translated by Sara Mages
|The elderly woman Hinda Kligerman
(Hinda Zlata Dubas)
The fire broke out 77 years ago. I was a little girl then, about 13. On Rosh Chodesh Tamuz 1881, I stood in the store, and suddenly I heard people shouting: Jews, fire! What's burning? The Mitichica is burning! The Mitichi building stood far from the city, next to the cemetery. The straw roof started to burn, and immediately the fire spread all over the city.
Yehusua Bublick's store, which sold gunpowder and explosives, stood on Shasiene? Street. The fire reached the store, and in an instant, a terrible smoke burst out of it and covered the city's sky. Although it was 10 o'clock in the morning, it seemed to us that the sun had set. Many people suffocated from the smoke. Those who could fled to the river, but the fire was so great, and its sparks reached the riverbank. I remember very well, that in a moment, the city turned into a huge blazing fire. A sea of flames raged all day, and tongues of fire protruded from the windows of the meager houses, which disappeared from the face of the earth one after the other. It seemed, as if the sky was burning, the clouds were red, gripped with fire.
About 20 Jews were burnt alive. David Mekler's two daughters, the girl brides, who had grooms and were about to get married burnt, and not a trace remained of them. Only the remains of their dresses were found. Pesia Rivka's was also burnt, and also many other Jews whose names I don't remember.
All Batei Hamidrash were burnt in this fire. The Great Synagogue, Brezner Synagogue, Chernobler Synagogue, Shuster Synagogue, and Schneider Synagogue, went up in flames. From the whole city only Commissaria Street and below the mills Street remained. A few buildings remained in Monstriska Street, but all the synagogues in it were burnt. Hirshel Solomianik and Shmuel Kleinfeld tanneries were located in below the mills Street. These buildings, and also the homes of Weinstock and Broder, were saved from the fire.
There wasn't a fire brigade. There was a wagon with a barrel of water on it, and it was harnessed to the Messiah horse. A wheel broke by the time the horse moved, and everyone grabbed a bucket of water
to put out the fire, and of course, it helped, like cupping-glasses for a dead man [it was a wasted effort]. Go and put out such a calamity that all the water in the Kortchek couldn't put out.
A well stood in the middle of the market. We threw inside it the scorched Torah Scrolls, scraps of clothing, and tools that were saved from the fire. But, it was pointless. The Gentiles from the surrounding area descended on the booty, and looted and robbed all that was left from the Jews' property.
The Jews, who were left homeless, fled to Zvhil, Rovne and Slovita. We fled to Ostroh.
The fire cast a lot of noise all over Wolyn. The very next day helped arrived with food and clothing from cities and villages far and near.
Slowly, the city was rebuilt. Batei Hamidrash were built, and streets started to emerge as if by magic. The city grew and expanded and erased the memory of the terrible fire, which even today is attacking me with terror when I remember it.
In Ha-Meliz [Hebrew newspaper in Russia], from 1881 (No. 25), we find the following report about the fire: On 2 Tamuz, 17 June, a fire broke out in a small house at the edge of town, and one hour later, a great storm raged and carried flaming torches in every direction and corner. In three hours almost the whole city went up in flames.
All the shops and their merchandise, and all the delightful treasures were burnt, consumed by fire. Several hundred families were left naked and destitute. The flames ate all the synagogues thirteen in number, including the ancient synagogue. Also, about 20 people were burnt, including two sisters and one little boy.
The notable masters from here, the brothers Wineshtock, infused a lot of money to ease the fate of the fire victims.
by Eliezer Basyuk
Translated by Murray Kaplan
It was already early in the morning when the people in the city began to notice the preparations for the welcoming of the awesome holy Yom Kippur. Businesses were closed and the whole busy neighborhood the business district seemed as though it had died. The lowering of the iron gates, signaled to the Christian population, that today everything is closed.
Dozens of Jews are hurrying to the study halls, and from there to make their final preparations. The spirit of Erev Yom Kippur dominates the Jewish streets and spills over, even into the neighboring Christian areas. Everything and everybody is filled with the fearsome holiness, the masses are preparing for judgment day.
After the customary giving of charitable donations, the Jews felt the holy debt of forgiveness for neighbors and relatives. And in this way they overthrew the heavy yoke they carried upon themselves, the year round. An enthusiastic Shalom Aleichem and new year wishes for good luck reunited brother Jews in the little shtetlech and the fearsome mood of the eve of the day of judgment enveloped them with hope and expectations for a good year for all of the Children of Israel.
At the river's bank, on a hill, attracting attention from all the neighborhood, proudly stood Rabbi Yaacob-Yossi Horenshteins synagogue. It gave the impression as though the security of the whole neighborhood lay in her hands, in spite of the fact, that the Polish Cathedral, located not far from Horenshtein's synagogue, stood tall and architecturally perfect; the modest, but also very fine looking Horenshtein's shul, demanded respect and honor from all the population. The synagogue, drenched in a sea of greenery and trees, spoke of its worthiness, and was well able to accept the prayers of the congregation of Jews, that had cleansed themselves for the day of judgment.
The way to the synagogue led through Christian streets and their children greeted the Jews on their way to prayers with unfriendly glances. From off in the distance the synagogue came into sight in all her glory, lit up with many lamps and candles.
The last rays of the setting sun greeted the worshipers to Kol Nidre.
In the synagogue the Jews sat, wrapped in their clean white robes, which were the very symbol of cleansing the soul. At the Holy Ark stands Reb Shmulik reciting the last preambles to Kol Nidre. Surrounding him, at the eastern wall, sit the honored Jews with white beards and deeply lined faces, which bear witness to their life struggles of the past years. They prepare to isolate themselves from their surroundings for one day, in order to unite with the heavenly world and to pray with fervor to the creator of the world, He should grant a year of health and sustenance for all the people of Israel.
A clap on the table that holds the Torah, quiets everything down, and in this stillness, you can hear the hearts thumping of all the congregation, whose fervor and prayer are directed to the One and Only. The voice of the cantor: In accordance with this venue and with the permission of the congregation, the stillness is broken and the people's voices blend into a prayerful choir. We children, too, rooted in our places by our parents, are affected by the holy words and repeat the cantor's prayer.
After the sexton, Reb Itzik announces the time for the beginning of prayers on the following day, the Jews begin to leave the synagogue. The streets begin to fill with white clad men, all wishing each other a happy new year, and then go to rest, in order to be able to proceed with the prayers in the course of the following day. Several dozen of the Jews remain in the synagogue and repeat the Book of Psalms until midnight.
More than one of us, under the influence of the very awe of the Yom Kippur spirit, repeat the prayers silently and in our dreams see Abraham Isaac and Jacob pleading for mercy for the children of Israel, and see good Angels bearing good news in their flight.
The first rays of the morning sun interrupted this beautiful dream and drove us back to Yaacov-Yossi Horenshteins synagogue, to sit through the prayers and receive the positive seal.
Full of fear and happiness, hope and faith, that The Great God, in his infinite mercy, has forgiven all of our sins and has awakened courage and strength in the congregation of Jews, in order to be able to carry on the heavy burden of earning a living in the coming year.
by Y.Y. Segal zl
Translated by Murray Kaplan
Regarding the poor people that used to wander through the streets of Korets nobody knew their biography, and I do believe that nobody was interested in knowing , who they were, where they came from, and where they were going.
I was still a little boy, and I believe I knew a majority of these street people. I knew their faces, I knew them by their appearances, I knew the way they walked, and the way they looked. Aside from the fact that I always met them in the street, knocking on doors, I often saw them in the study hall, in Reb Osher's little synagogue and in the Makarever study hall. I really saw most of them in Reb Osher's little synagogue where I used to go to pray every morning at the time, when we lived in Reb Chaim the Cantor's alcove, and the Cantor's house was located in back of the little synagogue. There were always quite a few poor people in the little synagogue, they used to sit on the long bench next to the big stove in order to warm their old broken bones. Seldom would one of them open a prayer book and study. When there were fewer of the poor people and there was room on the bench, some of the elderly of the synagogue, would sit down," to catch a little warmth" , and warm-up the blood a little bit by the stove, and even the younger people would also take advantage of this pleasure. However, when the wall by the stove was completely occupied with the visitors, nobody would offend them. Jews, old and young did not interfere with these poor people-- but prayed and studied at the lecterns, and the warmest place, the place by the stove's wall, the eastern wall, was left for them to those that had not their own nook and cranny or four corners in which to warm up. The Jews did not look upon them, just with pity, but with a somber look of guilt. But then, what was there to be done? This is the way of the world. One helps them, as much as one could. There wasn't one household without a guest for the Sabbath, and very often, during the week, too.
In spite of it all, I couldn't help wondering: where do these homeless
Jews spend their time., these wandering Jews, after dragging themselves from house to house? There is the shul, the study hall, the old Reb Osher's little synagogue, the only place where they can warm up their broken old bones, their tired bodies. I somehow felt, that being poor, and homeless, without a table to call your own, is very hard work Going house to house, with an outstretched hand, day in, day out, pleading and begging and always holding that charity coin in hand this downtrodden embarrassment, I often thought, hangs over them like a dark cloud. It leads them and follows them, and they can never get relief from this pressure.
I can still see them before me, these poor people, and when I sometimes try to bring back memories of home, they are the ones that come back to me, first. I see them descending the steps of Reb Osher's synagogue. They come out in bunches, and little by little, they separate in twos and threes, and finally go off by themselves. They certainly did not make plans to not go to the same places. I do believe, that intuitively, they had already divided the city into territories, where one would not encroach upon the other. When on occasion, it did happen, and one of them did see another, off in the distance, knocking on a door, he would be embarrassed, and go off in another direction, not to see the other for the rest of the day.
Oftentimes, wandering off in a little side street, in childish thought,, and suddenly, coming upon a poor man sitting on a log of a garden fence, eating something, hiding his mouth with his hand. Although I was still a little boy, the poor man was embarrassed,, and turned his head aside so that I would not see that he was eating in the street. I understood the situation, very well, and quickly left the scene. However, I couldn't resist, and soon returned: to see what the poor man was doing. It didn't even take three minutes, it seemed to me, and the man was already gone. The place on the log was empty. I could not understand why such poor elderly people had no place to sit down and eat, and how is it possible, in general, that a person should loiter
around the world without a little corner to call his own home. Many a night I lay awake, thinking of this.
In Korets there was a poor house where the poor people would spend the night. It was located at the side of the synagogue Street, where it was in close proximity to the houses of prayer and study halls. However not all the poor people wanted to spend the night in the poor house. Why, I don't know. There was a time when the poor house was too crowded and there really was not enough room for all the poor people that remained in the city for any length of time. They spoke of these people from far away places, that did not want to even cross the threshold of the poor house and would prefer to spend the night somewhere outside, on a bridge, in a shed, in a room in a slum. They were called squatters. As a youngster I strayed into the poor house a few times, and fearfully I squirmed into the long and narrow hallway. There were several rooms where sick people were lying in the beds and all of them on high pillows at their heads. I saw there, bent over elderly Jews, bent over like canes with crooked handles. Their hands drooped, as though they were broken, over their hearts and Jewish women piled up in heavy, long dresses and with many dark kerchiefs and headscarves covering their heads. They scraped along the walls and looked at me with staring eyes. I began to be a little afraid and wanted to get out of there quickly.
Through a crack in a partly open door, in a small room, I saw an old man sitting at a table, a silvery white oldster pouring over an open prayer book. Around him, on the table, there were many other books. For a moment, I was left motionless, staring intently at this white-haired elderly man that was sitting bent over the prayer book as though congealed in his bent over shape. He did not move, not a single sway of his head, not here nor there, and took no notice of me.
In the synagogue, I had never seen two beggars, sitting on the long bench, and perhaps resting from there after a long day of going house to house, speaking to each other. I got the impression that they were constantly angry at each other. A pigeon like murmur was once heard from one of them,
and the other one immediately understood what he meant. He immediately opened his tobacco pouch, unlaced it, and showed him that it was empty, or almost empty, and the other fellow, again murmured something, but this time, more to himself, and had nothing more to say to his friend, and was angry with himself, for his own bad luck.
From childhood on I could not understand and almost don't understand to this day, the secret on which the lives of these people is based, and how all these tattered lives rolled off and away from being whole, from the chain that holds all people, poor and not so poor, or rich, in one community. It is not for nothing that all these stories and legends are manufactured about these poor and lonesome people, because life itself, and their dragging themselves around the world, not here nor there. Regarding all of these stories, legends and narratives, there hovers over them, it seems to me, the spirit and the good and gentle suspicion, that these people, torn from the community at large, that they themselves, with their own hands, have purposefully chosen their own misfortune. Something private and undercover, accompanies them and follows them constantly. They have not accepted the fundamental law of life, and they have turned their back on it. If it is indeed so, and if in this legend there is concealed a kernel of truth, then they are strong personalities and have indeed been chosen by God to be masters of their fate.
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