The community life also developed very quickly. In the synagogue, and in the schools, you could see young men who were studying the torah; a new Cheder was opened for the beginners, and the Yeshiva for the advanced. Grandmother made an acquaintance visit with Rabbi Kahanneman, the Rabbi who in later years founded the Panevezys Yeshiva in Bnai Brak. He agreed to accept Isrolik to the Cheder and me to the Yeshiva. In this meeting with the Rabbi she asked his opinion about my father's books, whether to donate them to the synagogue or to the Yeshiva. The Rabbi told her she should keep the books for us and he is sure that the sons of Ruvin will make use of them.
After the fire, we moved to a different apartment that was a little bit further away from the center of the city near the big Christian church. The name of the street was Saint Miriam. The owner of the house, a Polish, lived in a separate yard that was a very nice yard with green and with flowers. Except for the days he used to pass and ask the neighbors to collect the rent he wasn't noticed. The grandmother of the family was sometimes seen standing by the fence and talking to the neighbors. During Passover, our Grandmother used to send them matzos. Like in all of our previous apartments, in this apartment we also did not have much room. It had only one small room, a corridor, and an entrance corridor that was only one meter wide. We could hardly place the furniture. There were two beds, one for Isrolik and me and the other one for Grandmother. Between the two beds there was a table that was used for doing homework, for eating, and also for Grandmother's work. Opposite the table there was a heating oven with wood and, right near our bed there was a very small dresser with four drawers. The bathroom was outside, about twenty meters away. If we had to do what we had to do during the night, we did it in a big pot and I was the one who had to empty it in the morning.
We started to study and during the first year we already knew how to read and also a little bit of writing. When we got back home from our studies we found a meal on the table. The basic course was potatoes, herring, and bread. I, as the grownup man and the first one in the family, took upon myself the duty of the buyer or shopper. Before Saturday we always bought a chicken and I learned very quickly the rules of kashrut (kosher). I even learned how to take out the tendons from the chicken's neck in order to make the chicken kosher. Sometimes, I used to run back to the Chochet and ask him if we were allowed to eat the chicken because I found a nail inside. In time, I became a real expert in shopping including the heating wood and Grandmother used to compliment me once in a while.
As I mentioned before, Isrolik and me slept in one bed. Our most loved exercise, in order to relieve our bones, was to lie on our back in both ends of the bed without our pillows. We would tie our feet together and press with all of our power until our feet would rise a little bit up together with the lower part of the body and the fence on both sides of the bed used to lean on me. This role of being the housewife once in a while interfered with my games and then I gave part of it to Isrolik. He not always gladly accepted it. The result was a slap on the face, wrestling, shouting, and then Grandmother used to interfere, separate us and mumble, vey, vey, vey, Jacob and Esau. Who from us was Esau I leave to your imagination.
When the economic situation in the country improved, Grandmother did not lack from work and she used to get up very early in the morning and, by the light from the hall lamp, did her job. Her only request from God was she would be allowed to put us on our feet until we would no longer have to rely on other's help.
From this day our economic situation became better and better. Each month we received a sum of money and, together with the money that Grandmother earned there was a great improvement in our level of life. We could afford to eat more than enough and when you are content, and not hungry, you have a better perception of life.
The studies were not that hard. We used to bring home stories from the Cheder and share them with Grandmother. She enjoyed listening to them and, sometimes, would even smile. We told her the legend about the river that was boiling and stormy for the whole week but on Saturday it rested. We also told her about God and how through him the Tzadikim are able to perform miracles. We shared with Grandmother other stories like how the world is depending on the thirty-six Tzadikim, about ghosts, demons, witches, and stories about the next world. Also about the revival of the dead, about heaven and the seventh heaven, about the divine court in the skies, and the wonderful meals of the Tzadikim in heaven, like meals from the best bull, the white one who has the best meat and from the whale. This is the richest meal that can be served. More and more stories, both scary and mysterious, were learned in the Cheder. We used to share all these with Grandmother who showed us knowledge of herself and even added more stories about the nine seas, the falling of the temple, the ten days of Shavu'ot, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, about Yom Kippur and the day of forgiveness. We had a lot of satisfaction when she heard from us stories from the bible, about heroes, about the wars and about the victories. She was pretty sure that if we moved to America we would not have learned and known all of these good and beautiful things.
Grandmother usually asked us, and wanted to know, what did we learn today? It seems that she was very pleased but it was very difficult for her to understand what Isrolik was studying in high school and what the purpose of all of these secular studies was. She, of course, understood perfectly the purpose of the studies in the Yeshiva. We explained to her that once you finish the studies in high school, there is a possibility to continue to study in a school where you can learn medicine, law, engineering, and other things. Grandmother said, One thing I ask of you, don't study to be a gynecologist.
I continued to study at the Yeshiva until the end of the year and I am determined to leave and start to study a profession that I could make a living of. As it was the custom in those days, the trainee who wanted to study a profession worked for two or three years without being paid. In addition, it was established at the beginning the payment you had to give to the trainer for teaching the profession. For me, they also found a place where I didn't have to pay anything with an old Jewish man who was a watchmaker. He was a specialist in his trade, a widower, who did not want to live with his children. He used his reputation in his trade and accepted clocks with very unique problems to repair. He specialized in antique clocks and owners who had sentiment toward their clock and they did not argue with him about the price of the repair. This is how he made an honorable living.
The compensation that I had to give for not paying the training fee was that every Thursday I went with him to the bathhouse. I would carry the bag containing the clean laundry and the towels. In the bathhouse, he was considered a personality, they were saving for him the leaf broom, and they were pouring new water on the hot stones so there would be better steam. My job was to hit him with the broom on all sides of his body until he said, enough. I would then help him down to a recovery room and he used to say that he enjoyed my slaps with the broom.
In the area of work I made advances quicker than it was expected. In those days, we developed a thirst for knowledge. Isrolik was telling about his studies and about what was going on in the high school, about the teachers and about the educators. This was not at all like they used to teach in the Yeshiva. We started reading books that were not allowed and also the newspapers. We especially liked geography and Jewish history. We got a map of Europe, hung it from the dresser in our room, and we used to test each other in the knowledge of capitals or countries, and about rivers in various lands. Of course, no river, not the Mississippi in America, the Nile in Africa, or the Volga in Europe could reach the power or the strength of the Jordan River in Israel.
Before the end of this period, in the Yeshiva, we listened to two sermons. One was of the very famous Magid (fortune teller) who could make the women cry. The contents of this sermon were the life of the man in this world that resembles a huge chandelier with many, many candles that is hanging above our heads. ( Translator - Snip, snip the description of the second sermon could not be translated). This is how a chapter in our life ends and a new era begins which is very different from the one before.
During those first steps toward a new way of life, it was difficult to describe that in such a short time we stopped feeling the past. Grandmother was aware of the change we went through, but she did not mourn over it, and she adjusted to the new situation together with us. It was obvious to her that neither of us would become rabbis.
In one of the days after the Bar Mitzvah we had a visit from Ethel and Sarah and a student accompanied them. Sarah was a beautiful girl, at the age of 15 or 17, and my grandmother questioned whether the student was a groom. She told them that I was studying some kind of a vocation, or trade, and Isrolik was studying Hebrew, the holy language, in the high school. The student also participated in the conversation and Isrolik showed him his ability in poetry, and in singing. Ethel patted Isrolik on his head and the student left a present.
After several weeks, they appeared again without the student, this time to say goodbye. They were leaving for America to meet the two older brothers who were already there, even before the war. The separation was very sad. Ethel said that yesterday, they paid a visit to the cemetery and said goodbye to their mother, and to our parents. We were all crying, except grandmother, and we said we hoped they would cross the sea peacefully and with hope. All those they had visited the day before, who had already died, would be there and would speak to God on their behalf. Ethel hugged Isrolik and mumbled, Oh, how much this boy is planted deep in my heart. This is how the closest relatives we had disappeared. During future years we received several letters from them and, inside each letter there was five dollars.
This was the first time I saw a dead person in front of me. The manual pump that we used to pump the water was in the square in front of the church. There was always a line there of people from all around. More than once I saw people filling two buckets, starting to walk, slipping, falling, and starting again. The ground around the pump, including the pump itself, used to be one piece of ice. In one of those winter days, there was also thunder and lightning. A woman with a big belly had her bucket near the pump, she took the handle, and after two or three pumps lightning hit her and she fell and died. Her face became blue and somebody from the line shouted, You have to put the bottom part of the body in the ground and, in this way, the lightning will come out. I was very frightened and scared and went back with the two buckets of water. Grandmother said, even if we do not have one drop of water in the house I do not want you to go to the pump in such weather.
Even though we had a lot of work in the house, and at work, we always found some time to go to the frozen river. There we would watch, not without envy, lots and lots of young boys and girls, by themselves and in pairs, parents with their kids, skating on the ice and enjoying it, and we could not taste that taste. We were content with the very little free time that we had, and we used it to read books. Books by Sholem Aleichem, Mendel the Book Seller, Bialik, Mapu, and more. Once a week we went together to the library, which was quite far from our house, to read the newspaper. We were reading a different chapter each week of a story that was written by Victor Hugo, in Hebrew. We also read the books by Jules Verne.
One of those cold nights, by the heated oven, we felt like tasting chocolate but this was something we could not afford to buy as this was a product brought from Switzerland. We consulted with grandmother and we decided that the ingredients of chocolate were cocoa, sugar, and milk. These ingredients we did own. We mixed them in a pan and we put the pan on the stove but chocolate did not come out of it. In those long winter nights, we sometimes used to read papa's books. Even though long ago we read the text from religious books we are not praying more except on Yom Kippur. This we did for the sake of grandmother. The Tsitsis we used to wear when we were kids, we did not wear anymore.
We liked to go through the books, especially the Rombom (Rabbi Moses ben Maimonides) books with the very fancy covers. The famous Rohm Publishing House in Vilna published these books. We liked as well two small books, the Babylon Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud, and other Jewish religious books. From the foreign books we read mainly the professional ones. They had very thick dictionaries, half red and half blue, English and Yiddish, Yiddish and English, and another dictionary of English and Russian. You may say that we were very pleased with ourselves, and with our ability to integrate into what was happening in the Jewish environment.
It was a period of revival that came after the Balfour Declaration. The Jew began to feel proud and walk with his head held up. All kinds of movements began to organize themselves as it used to be with the Jewish people from the beginning, Liberals, general Zionists, the Public Party, Mizrachi, Politzion, Communists, as well as other political parties. In the field, the most popular Zionist stream was the Halutz. They were dealing with transfers from the very Jewish professions into more productive professions that were more connected to building Israel.
Most of the youths that were still studying focused on and were members of Maccabi. There, they could show the goyim that the Jew is not the fragile, weak anymore who gives in so easily. In those groups, we were also with the swimming groups. Since I did not have to prepare my work I devoted myself to Maccabi with all of my heart and soul. I was among the best in sports, exercises, and I could master all the different equipment like the exercise bars, the horse, and I also played soccer.
At the age of 15 I received the title of sports trainer and I went to a small shtetl to organize a group there. I organized all kinds of sports and also raised money to purchase equipment to be used for training. While doing this it was my first opportunity to travel in an automobile that was used for five passengers. In order to shift gears in this car, there were like sticks from brass, they were shinning, and they were outside the cabin of the driver. What it meant to shift the gears I only understood after awhile.
Isrolik, during this time, was occupied by studies in the high school and preparing homework and he couldn't take part in all of these sports activities which took place outside the school hours. It could have been the most beautiful period for us but it wasn't like this. Grandmother began experiencing signs of weakness and she needed to rest very frequently. My help alone was not enough anymore and we needed to hire a woman to help her. At the beginning we got a girl, at the age of 16 or 17, from a village Jewish family whose parents wanted her to know the big world. This girl had no experience in housework and grandmother very quickly decided that she wasn't qualified enough for her very modest requirements.
After awhile, a woman came to us, a mother of eleven children and very fat. She used to work and talk, but always to the point, and grandmother was very pleased with her. In two hours she managed to cook, make laundry, and clean. Sometimes she worked while her daughters helped her. Her husband was a painter. He used to walk to work, from house to house, always accompanied by two or three of his sons who carried the ladders, the buckets, and the paint. This help in the house added to several hours of worth to my grandmother and she could devote herself to knitting, especially socks and gloves from wool. Towards the coming winter, this was a nice work to do. This took some of the pressure from me also and I could enjoy the sports and social activities.
We visited the first time in a cinema and the movie that we saw was with the comedian, Max Linder. We laughed and laughed. We also visited the theatre and there was a group there by the name of Streichman, the main actor in the group. They showed the plays, The Dybbuk, The Witch, Yosse the Calf, and also The Treasure. It was a nice feeling, we got a drift of the songs, the rhymes, and it was a nice day. Even today, it is nice to sometimes repeat them in the Yiddish language the way we remember it. We also told grandmother about all of those experiences we had but this had no impression on her. However, she was pleased that we were having fun with all of this nonsense.
The news about the death of Trumpeldor, and his friends, while they were protecting the settlement of Tel Chai caused sadness in all of the Zionist youth movements. However, it made us stick even harder to our beliefs and hopes. Very close to this incident, Vladimir (Zev) Jabotinsky, one of the most well known Zionist thinkers, came to visit. Even today his beliefs are still engraved on the flag of the right movement in Israel. One of his most famous sayings was, if you do not kill the exile, the exile will kill you. This was many years before the Holocaust.
The city was decorated in celebration of his coming, many people came to the hall where he was supposed to speak, and kids from Isrolik's class presented him with flowers. Jabotinsky's speech was in the Russian language, there was silence in the room, and you could hear his voice even if you were seated in the last row. They said he was considered to be the third best speaker in the world, after the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and Leon Trotsky who founded the Red Army in Soviet Russia. The impression he left on all of the attendees in the hall was very strong. For many days the Jews kept talking, arguing, and discussing his speech. The admiration for him weakened after the agreement he had with the Polish ruler to drive Jews out of Poland. Jabotinsky felt that would force more Jews to go to Palestine.
Jabotinsky did not have that much influence on the youth movement. There were some local groups who talked about his concepts and ideas. These were mainly young boys from rich homes who did not have to work. They were always at the beginning of the line and were always the first to take pictures of him. They were also the ones who carried the flag of revisionism. This is how it was in our city. In larger cities, their influence was even greater. This is the way in which we grew up in 1923.
I had a constant letter connection with Uncle Jacob in America who, interesting enough, wanted to know more and more about out life and plans. When I wrote to him that we want to leave Lithuania and go to Israel, he replied, I am not against it but it is not clear to me what you will live on. He did not think much of my profession and indeed, he was wise in his estimate. Again, he brought up the old idea to come to him to America.
Meanwhile, Grandmother was two years older and her moments of weakness were more frequent. One day she said to us, Kids, I feel that my days are limited and I ask you to take care of one another. When we heard those words, we began to cry and I went to bring the doctor who lived nearby. He knew Grandmother from his previous visits and he tried to calm us as he began his routine checkup. The pulse, the heartbeat, and at the end he determined that the situation does not need to worry us as it is only a typical weakness for her age. He prescribed drops of Vallion (Valium) and said she needs to eat more to get more strength. After the instructions from the doctor, we always gave grandmother the first bowl of soup that had the most fat in it. We bought for her in the bakery cookies that melted in the mouth when you drank tea with it. Indeed, after several days, she was back to normal and was doing her everyday chores and things.
As much as she needed us to be with her, we had more and more problems and events that pre-occupied us. More than once we were busy with our things instead of being with her but she did not complain. She understood that we could not exclude ourselves from all of the good and beautiful that children of our age need to get. Sometimes, she mentioned to us when we came home very late that she couldn't get down to take a cup of tea. Only after several years did we begin to understand the guilt that we felt. The result was we did not repay her in the way that she deserved.
Since then, a year passed until we bought the bicycles. There weren't any happier people than us. With those bicycles, together with two friends, I did my last trip in Lithuania. We passed through many shtetlach on small roads, through villages, and forests. I was in excellent shape and I was never tired. This was the period when the idea of going to Israel was cooking in me. The incentive to do it came from the Lithuanian government who issued an order that forbid eighteen year olds to leave the country before serving in the army. There was no choice as we had to get out of the country as quickly as we could.
I started to write letters to Uncle Jacob in America, explaining to him the difficulties that were in my way. First of all, the fee, and secondly the certificate that everyone needs to enter Israel. The British government had a small amount of certificates that were mainly for older people who had already gone through training in the Halutz the Zionist movement. This involved agriculture and other trades that would be valuable for building the country. Also, it was for those who were close to the people who were dealing with the Aliyah. My Uncle told me he had connections with Jerusalem and he hoped to get me a positive answer very soon.
My Uncle's response gave me strength and hope and I decided to change profession and learn electricity to be an electrician. In order to do so, I went to the capital city, Kovno, where a second cousin of my mother's family lived. They accepted me with kindness. The head of the family, who was my father's age, was a neighborhood Rabbi. The community itself was on the terrace of the mountain overlooking the Nemunas River that was crossing the city. Nearby was the tent where the writer, Abraham Masul, wrote his famous book, The Love of Zion.
On Saturdays and holidays the Rabbi gave his sermons in the synagogue and he always talked about Israel and Keran Kayemet (the foundation that brought men into Israel). After the praying and the sermon, we used to go back home. Together with special people from the city we used to drink wine, taste the chopped herring, and then everybody went home. In one of those tastings, I also participated and drank a glass of wine. I was not prepared for the terrible burning that I felt in my mouth, and I got tears in my eyes. All of the attendees felt my embarrassment, even though I pretended that I did not care. I learned my lesson and, for the last sixty years, I never returned to drink a glass of wine that strong.
The other people in the family were the mother, a Yiddisher Moma, a very good hearted woman, and three daughters. The smallest among them was the age of Isrolik and studied in the high school. The middle one was two years older than me and she studied chemistry and Italy. The third one, aged 21 or 22, was waiting for an opportunity to join her boyfriend who studied in Vienna in the high education group or trade. The family's business was on the first floor of the house. They manufactured candles and shoe polish and everything was hand made with the highest quality. Everyone in the family participated in the manufacturing. Another person was the gentile maid who helped with the cleaning of the house, drove the carriage, and was the caretaker of the horse in the stable.
I stayed in that house for two months. The eldest daughter took me under her wing and taught me English and electricity. I also had an opportunity to do some practical work. I installed in the factory downstairs a large fan that was used to take out the steam vapors in the air. When they would pour the tallow into the molds to make the candles, the air was filled with steam. When I finished the work successfully I was very pleased with myself.
I took the train to Kovno where people were coming from all over the country. There, our guide was waiting to go with us until we boarded a ship. On the border with Germany we mounted the fast train that brought us to Berlin. Here, we had two days to wait and we went straight to Marseille. After a stay of several days we boarded the ship.
The road through Germany, as we looked through the window of the train, was beautiful. We looked with envy as everything was green and there was not even one portion that wasn't cultivated. There were fields, and fruit trees along the way and the trees resembled one another. They looked so alike as if they were made from the same mold. It was the impressions of the moment but the longing for home didn't leave me, especially at night when I was alone.
We stayed on the boat for two weeks in Marseille and Arabs coming back from America also boarded the ship. When we met them on the ship the meetings were never friendly but nothing serious happened during those encounters. In the middle of August we arrived at the Jaffa harbor after we spent two days in Alexandria. In Jaffa we were put in quarantine for several days and then we were transferred to the Immigrants House in Tel Aviv.
My first trip in Israel was to Jerusalem to meet the man who sent me the certificate. I arrived in Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, and it was not difficult to find him. When I asked the first person I met on the street, he showed me where the house was. He accepted me very nicely and I also spent one night with him. The next day, I bought a small package of land and I sent it to grandmother. I went back to the Immigrants House in Tel Aviv and, after several days we left. Each one went his own way.
When I was still in Lithuania I got an address in Tel Aviv of two girls who were not close relatives but were related to my mother's family. They were two single sisters whose grandfather asked them to come to Africa through Palestine. Maybe they will get lucky and find husbands and bring them to Africa. I located the address and found a small apartment with one room and a bathroom on Allenby Street not far from the beach. They accepted me warmly, put another bed in the room, and together with them I ate breakfast and dinner. During the day, I would tour the buildings that were being built around the area. Sometimes, when one of the workers failed to show up I could get one day's work. Mainly, it was taking the bricks up to the upper floors. It was done by a special thing that rested on the shoulders with bricks placed on both sides. After work, I would change clothes and take the ladies for a stroll on the beach. They had a nice time strolling with a man for company which was nicer than strolling by themselves. The result of these strolls, everyday for a whole month, was at least one husband. This was for the older sister who already had white in her hair. Another week we went on strolling together with the boys that she met, together with the husband after they got married. The hope was to find a husband for the younger sister but they didn't. Soon enough, and according to plan, they left for Africa. Since then I have heard about them only once when their uncle visited in Israel. I went on living in their apartment for two more weeks as the rent was already paid.
During my work days I met a man by the name of Shugowenski who was the general manager of the branch of the German company, Siemans, in Jaffa. He offered me to move to Tiberia where they were building an electric power station and he was sure I would find work. I accepted his offer and, with 2 ½ Egyptian Liras in my pocket, I went to Tiberia. I met two more people like me and together we went to the room near the power station that was being built. I listed myself in the work employment center and, after six weeks, I was notified about my first day working in Tiberia for the electric company.
The work was scraping the rust from the iron pillars and painting them with a special paint. The tool for doing this job was a metal brush and the pillars themselves were scattered around the street. Each one of them was placed near the hole where it was to be erected. In the southern part of Tiberia, even for me it was not an easy job. I was pleased that this work went on only for ten days.
From this moment, half a year went by until I had my second period of work at the electric company. In that time, I had many days off and I was not the only one. We were sleeping until 12 noon in order to keep rested. It is true that our mood was not high but that did not prevent us from organizing a Macabi run and an exercise hall where the impression was my exercise on the bars. The thing that made the most impression was the very smart lottery game. It was a board with twenty-five push buttons and only fifteen of them were activating a bell that announced the winner. Each press costs one penny and the person who was operating it, stood behind a curtain, holding in his hands two electric connections. Anytime someone would touch the push button, he would make the connection. In this way, I met all of the important people in Tiberia.
The power station was already in its last stages with one engine supplying 60 horsepower and the other 100 horsepower. The citizens of Tiberia did not believe when we told them that in two months they would have electricity and that is why they did not order any installation in their houses. Only when they saw the lights on the streets of the city did they begin to believe it and to make reservations for electrical installations in their houses. At that time, I started to work regularly and I could write home that if they needed help I could help.
The letters I got from Isrolik contained many details. He reported everything that was happening in Macabi, on the soccer fields, and the friends who were left behind and their plans. Each letter made me homesick again, especially for the only two most precious people I left behind. This was in addition to the regrets that I had because I could not take care of grandmother and all of the burdens that were on Isrolik's shoulders and he wasn't experienced enough.
Two years passed since I left home and inside of a letter I got a postcard. On the postcard were only several lines. Dear Mashe, again we are orphans. We have lost grandmother today when she returned her soul to God. I cannot write anymore because I am suffocating because of the tears in my throat. I will send you more details in my next letter.
Only now did we begin to feel like real orphans. We were alone and lonely. All my longings now were focused on Isrolik, but these were longings that were mixed with hope and happiness because every day that passed was bringing us closer together. Isrolik finished his studies in this year and he sent his application to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This was important to grant him a certificate, conditioned if a citizen in Israel would take care of him and would ensure that he would not become a burden to the British government. I needed two signatures that were approved by the government. I got the two signatures and, one of them in the northern part of the country said, How can I sign that you can take care of somebody else when you can hardly take care of yourself? At the end, he asked me to come to his house to do some electric repairs. After paying me for the repairs, he said, Well, I have considered it again and I can sign. After I had these two signatures, Isrolik was able to come to Israel at the beginning of December, 1930.
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