People and Personalities
PERSONALITIES IN TOWN
Sarah Dekel (Erga)
I always see the town with its alleys and houses as if I was there just yesterday. Adults and children walking around, with me in their midst. They walk along like links on a chain, going about their day-to-day lives. There was once Yechezkel the Water Carrier, a tall man with broad shoulders, carrying two huge square buckets on his shoulders day and night, bringing water from the river to all the residents of town and filled their barrels. He was an old unmarried man, with no home or family. He would sit on a bench behind the oven in the small synagogue of the craftsmen. Every morning he heated up the oven to keep the congregants warm during prayer services.
People used to say that the samovar would always bubble, and he would constantly be drinking tea. On the other hand, no one ever saw him eat. Sometimes he would stand outside next to the synagogue and rest from his work. He didn't speak with anyone, he was quiet, and that's why he was called him one of the 36 hidden righteous men.
Now I could see the short Rabbi Yidel with his white beard walking slowing around. He exuded great respect. His granddaughter, Tsippora (Feiga) Kliner studied with me together at the Tarbut school. Sometimes I would visit at the home of her grandfather with her, and noticed how silence, modesty and poverty abounded there. Nevertheless, I felt something nice in the rabbi's company who always sat with a book open. However, at the end of his life he suffered a stroke and was confined to his bed for a long time. In the second bed was his wife, who was also paralyzed. There they were, two people unable to speak, with only their eyes expressing awareness of their surroundings.
Another link in the chain was Yisrael the poet he used to create rhymes. He came to our village from somewhere else. He was childless and collected charity. He was clean and handsome. His beard was always well combed; it looked like a Russian beard, half brushed over to the left, and the other to the right.
He had a beautiful voice, and he was always invited to weddings and parties, where he would think up witty rhymes. When he was asked his age, he would respond that he was sixty, excluding holidays and Sabbaths. He used to say this repeatedly for many years, and people would also use it to be funny. He had a sense of humor. Once a week he would enjoy a meal at our house, and my late mother would serve him a nourishing warm meal. She earned his trust, and he would ask her to hold onto his money. She kept his bundle in her chest of drawers.
When the Russian were driven out of town, and the Polish conquered it, the value of his money was lost. It was a dark day for this happy man, and my mother felt terrible for him, this wandering Jew who refused to be consoled.
There was a woman in town, "the mute." I don't remember her name, and I don't believe anyone else knew her name either. She would go to the homes of the wealthy to bake and cook, which was the way she provided for her son and daughter, to whom she taught tailoring. She had small eyes and a penetrating look. She understood everything asked of her; she was a modest woman, and carried her handicap with honor.
Yerucham the hunchback, the teacher. He taught small children how to read the prayer book and Bible. Whenever a baby was born, he would take his students and offer a blessing to the mother and her newborn. I can still hear the sounds of those little children singing. The prayer "G-d, O King" was sung; people would drop candies, cakes and nuts on the heads of these small children who sang with joy.
Tama the baker lived on our street and sold fresh and warm round bread buns. On Fridays, women would bring their pots of cholent [Sabbath stew], and on Saturday afternoon after the prayer services, the children would go bring the hot food home for lunch. She also came to my house, because her granddaughter, Mamtza Galprin, was my friend. This woman was a woman of valor, and she continued to bake bread for many years until the advent of modern ovens.
I remember one event that was undoubtedly the root cause and reason for the emigration of many people to Palestine. On one Simchat Torah when Jews were returning from synagogue as usual in a good mood. Some Poles (the "Samiks") started getting wild and provoking the Jews into a skirmish. As it got progressively worse, creating the possibility of bloodshed, reinforcements from all over town arrived. The Poles got a strong blow when Isser Trish arrived. He built wagons; this was always his profession. He was a worker, a quiet man, but healthy and confident. In one fell swoop he came along with a group of toughs and taught the Poles a lesson. The police closed their offices and didn't intervene in the conflict. For many years thereafter there was quiet in town.
There were many more personalities. Many of them pass in front of my eyes, a chain of links, great and small. Days of mourning and joy, events of all types. I still can't decide if I am seeing all this in a dream or while awake.
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