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[Page 139-140]

Enda, the Lady-Butcher (Katzfke)

Translated by Milly Hock

Wearing a plain cotton dress, wrapped in a large linen-like apron, runs Enda the lady-butcher in her men's slippers, self-absorbed and talking to herself.

What do they mean? she thinks, – and if they owe me a few gulden, would I let them go to their Shabbos table without a little soup, without a piece of meat? No, dear people, Oy Veis Meir!! She moans.

It is late and Enda runs with a little package of meat wrapped in white paper. She arrives at a poor family on one street, and immediately is reminded of another housewife who didn't come today to buy meat, being too ashamed to borrow.

“What is there to be ashamed of?” she would argue with the women, as she laid the package on the table. “When you will have the money, you will certainly pay me.”

“Meanwhile, why should the children suffer? I am in a hurry,” she would say as she stood in the doorway. “Don't be offended. Have a good Shabbos!”

She runs further, her wig blowing in the wind, with a pale, tired face.

Berish Taharness, her neighbor, teases her. “Why do you run, Enda? You are losing your apron.”

While running further, Enda would respond to him. “Stop your foolish talk, Berish. Better go in and help your Yideneh get ready for Shabbos.”

And Berish would talk into his red beard. ” Let there be already such a year, what a dear person she is!”

And the people of the shtetl, from one border to the other, know well this special woman who lives among them.

It was about time for the stores to close, when Enda turns around, tired and smiling. In the distance, one could already hear from afar the cry of Yitschak-Jacobs. “Jews, close the stores!”

She sits down for a while to catch her breath. Chana, her daughter, stands over her and murmers impatiently.

“Mama, let's close already.”

But Enda is absorbed with again counting the merchandise, and her customers, to determine whether she had forgotten someone.

“Wait, don't nudge me!” she answers Chana and continues to count on her fingers.

“Chinkeh-Rachel. Yidl Polker. Ezri-elkin. Paluchi. Chatskel, the teacher. David Volvishes-”

And thus counting, her face lightens and becomes more restful.

“It seems to me, nobody is forgotten, thank God. Now, Chana, we can close the butcher shop and make Shabbos.”

Enda and Chana go home, wash themselves, dress in their Shabbos garments, and set forth to the synagogue. On the way people greet Enda with a cordial “Good Shabbos,” as was proper to a distinguished person in the shtetl. On the steps to the women's synagogue she meets Chaveh. They greet each other. Chaveh's “Good Shabbos” strikes a chord in Enda's heart. She stops Chaveh.

“Tell me, dear Chaveh, why have you not bought any meat from me for Shabbos?”

Chaveh blushes a little.

“In truth, dear Enda, a piece of chicken has remained from yesterday, and we managed somehow.”

In the synagogue, Enda stands in her usual place, opens her prayer book to Kabalas Shabbos, and when the cantor begins the “L'chu n'ra-nan”ah,” a question arises in Enda's mind. How did Chaveleh get a hold of a chicken? She wants to go to Chaveh but her mind speaks again. Here, we can't talk. And what good would it do? The dear Chaveh couldn't possibly have cooked for Shabbos.

“Oy, veis meir” exclaims Enda. “What will they eat today? I am thinking of her sick husband and their dear children?” she murmers.

“What's the matter with you?” asks the wife of the Shamus quietly.

“I am very warm and my head is spinning. I must go out and catch a breath of fresh air. I'll soon be back,” she answers, softly.

Enda slips out of the synagogue, goes home, takes out the hot pot with the Shabbos soup, wrapped with a cloth, and runs breathlessly to Chaveh's house. Upon her arrival she doesn't even knock, but goes into the kitchen and places the hot, covered pot on Chaveh's cold stove.

“Children,” says Enda, “I have brought your mother's soup which she had cooked in my oven. Tell her it is a bit tight in my oven, so I brought it here,”

And without waiting for a reply, she goes back to the synagogue.

When Enda arrives the praying is already over and the people of the congregation are heading for home. She doesn't find Chaveh.

* * *

The children in America had written Enda more than once that she should go to them. They had even sent her a ticket for the ship, and the necessary papers. The children often begged their mother to leave the butcher shop, make them happy, and go to America. Enda would read the letters from her children, look at the ship's ticket and cry. How could she leave the shtetl, her dearly beloved people? So many years to be together, in joy and in sorrow! How can a person just travel away, never to return?

In the evening Enda goes to Mendel, the scholar, to counsel with him. He knows Enda quite well. She lives not far from him and she goes to him often with her bitter heart. He knows well how difficult it is for Enda to tear herself away from here, and her longing for her children. Mendel speaks to her as though he is her brother.

“How long, Enda can you hold out here alone, in your butcher shop? The competition in Poland is affecting the Jewish trade, and you carry more and more packages of meat on loan. The poverty here cries out to heaven. True, you have the heart of a saint, but you have children, may they be well. Be a mother to your children! It is a great mitzvah. Go Enda. Go to America, in good health, and help them prosper.”

The time comes for Enda's departure. The shtetl is saddened as in the Nine Days of Tisha B'Av. People come to the butcher shop and to Enda's house, for the farewell. In these days many tears are shed by the women, neighbors and friends, There were those who owe Enda for meat and had nothing with which to pay. Enda cries along with them, comforts them, blesses and thanks them.

Nighttime, in her bed, Enda is not able to sleep. Her sole thought is, how can I convince the Ribono shel Olom to feed his people Israel? She had already read all the books of prayers for women but she is not satisfied. She must talk it out with God, in her own words.

She goes away to the large Bays Ha-midrash, falls to her knees with eyes closed, clasps the Ark, and these are Enda's words, her own prayer!

“Thank you, dear Gottenu, loving heart, Father, for the kindness you do to me and my children. Forgive a sinning woman, who comes to you, not for herself, but for all of Israel. Master of the Universe, you know the truth, that I did not want to depart from our shtetl. These are your plans, that you have sown like seeds, and spread my little calves, my little children over the seas. Now I order and command You. You shall, trustful Father, nourish Your children of the shtetl. They should have, at least, a little piece of meat for Shabbos!”

Enda clasps her face with her hands, which had held the Holy Ark, and cries and moans bitterly.

Thus does Enda depart painfully from her shtetl. We shall remember her name with great love, esteem, respect and faithful memory.

[Page 141]

Hershele the Water Carrier

by Yisroel Osman

Translated by Hershl Hartman (Los Angeles, CA)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Special thanks to Pamela Russ (Montreal, Canada)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Who is it who disturbs sleep during quiet Friday nights with his arousing singing? What sort of voice is it that descends from afar, opens doors and shutters, bores into deafened ears, pries open sleep–sealed eyes, infiltrates tired hearts and fills them with strength and freshness? What is the source of the passion of the Jews, exhausted by a week's hard labor and care, who awake before dawn on Shabbath and rush off, refreshed and joyful, in frosty winter dawns and in the sleep–inducing breezes of the last moments of short summer nights – to dash ecstatically to the old Beis Medrash to recite Psalms? It was neither the rooster nor the alarm clock that awoke them, and they were not torn from sleep either morosely or resentfully, but in holy anticipation, lively, fresh and full of joy, as though for a mitzvah tanz,[a] ready to sing and to praise …

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… God and his beloved, holy Sabbath. It is the voice of Hershele the water carrier (Hershele, der–wasertreger) that tears the deathly silence of the night, arousing and calling:

“Please wake up! Please awaken yourselves! Please stand up! Yidelech [literally, “little Jews,” endearing term], arise to the service of God, rise up to recite P–s–a–l–m–s!”[1]

Hershele awakened the shtetl to Psalms for many years, every Friday night; the task was his by right, all his long life. He was young when he began to awaken the town, the town was young and small when it began to stir to the voice of his waking. Hershele the water carrier and his generation are gone, and there is almost no remnant left of the old town, and to this day the same awakening call is heard every Saturday morning from the midst of the old market place where once the old pulley–well stood, awakening and interrupting sleep – and parents tell their awakened children the story of Hershele the water carrier.

The shtetl was young and small and it had just begun to grow. The first Rav arrived, Reb[2] Aba'le, at a salary of 50 kopecks a week plus two bundles of firewood. He began to develop the community, to convert it into a Jewish town. He provided for everything, but was unable to find a place for the dead. The fields and pastures surrounding the town belonged to an evil priest, who would not sell land for a consecrated Jewish cemetery for any amount of money. So a corpse had to be taken to a nearby little shtetl that Jews were in the course of abandoning.

A major epidemic struck, may we be spared, and people died like flies. Other cities and towns did not allow entry [burial] of those corpses, and that town itself [where the epidemic was] did not allow delays. Some Jews died, and they did not know what to do. So, Reb Aba'le took the most prominent businessmen with him and they went to see the priest to plead that he sell them a piece of land. The priest was not in town, and his representative responded to them by saying he would sell them a piece of land on one condition: If the priest would return and not agree to this, they would not have their money refunded. They would also have to disinter the bodies and return the land. They had no choice – and they agreed.

When the priest returned, he wanted nothing other than to keep his word. He did not help at all. He did not allow anyone to speak to him, and sent out the dogs. Reb Aba'le took charge, and went on his own to the villain, spoke to him kindly and angrily, but it did not help at all. The villain said that if they wouldn't unearth the bodies on their own, then he would order them to disinter the bodies and throw them to the dogs. Reb Aba'le went home and sobbed. A stranger, a young boy, carrying a small sack on his shoulders, approached him. He stopped the Rav, and asked why he was crying. Reb Aba'le poured out his whole heart, and told the story. The young man became incensed and cried out: “I'll show him, that villain! A thunder will penetrate his intestines even on this very day!”

The Rav looked at this crazed young man, embarrassed that he had poured out his heart to this uncouth young soul.

Later, when the Rav and his congregants were in shul, and in their great need they cried and pleaded to God, suddenly heavy clouds gathered and a storm broke. There was thunder and lightning, and then in the middle of the lightning, they heard the news that a thunder had struck and killed the priest.

When the Rav heard this, he cried out in great wonder:

“Aye, oy, oy, oy!”

But he did not say anything to anyone. That night he found the unknown young boy, strolled with him in the outskirts of the city, almost until daylight, and whispered discreetly with him. That next day, there was a wedding between that young boy Hershele and the town's orphan Khinke–Rokhele. The wedding was in the cemetery. The Rav and the congregants were the parents and in–laws. As a dowry, they gave him all the Jewish homes in town; the wedding gift was the “poverty”and “buckets” [i.e., the poverty and empty buckets of the Jewish homes]. The Rav himself took him into the group of Psalm sayers, and gave him the position of “weker.”[3]

And the epidemic died down.

From that time on, Hershele's voice was heard every Friday evening. An unsettled voice, that awakens, tears one apart, breaks the heart, and brings you closer to the Father in Heaven.

And still, such a wild illiterate, such an uncouth soul.

The genius, Reb Shloimele Eyger, may his memory be blessed, traveled from Warsaw home to Pozen. He left from his son's engagement celebration. The road was terrible, an axle [of the wagon] broke, and other reasons. He barely made it to Wyszkow, and had to remain there over Shabbath. The wealthy man, Reb Eliezer Karpel, gave him his entire home. There was a buzz in the town. The surrounding towns found out about this, and the local Jews came together for Shabbath. The crowd was large, and the “tish[4] went on until late hours.

They had just about gone to sleep, when the voice of the Psalms weker was heard. Reb Shloimele Eyger heard the voice, and was very surprised. The voice did not permit him to remain in his bed, so he got up and went to the Beis Medrash and recited the Psalms with the other congregants, with great passion and dedication. The melody of the Psalms weker rang through the Beis Medrash. Everyone praised him in his own manner. He had never heard such a heartfelt recitation of Psalms. He felt that King David himself, with his entire chorale, the Bnei Korach, Asaf, Yedusun, Eitan Ha'Ezrachi, and all the rest, were here with him in the Beis Medrash reciting these songs.

He understood that it was not for nothing that the twists of Heaven had brought him here to this foreign town for Shabbath, and quietly, he undertook to figure out this situation. And he discovered who this Psalm weker was. But from the Rav, there was not a word.

[Page 143]

But he was not finished with this.

Some time went by, and there was wonderful news in town: Rebbe Shloimele asked from his son's father–in–law to be, that the wedding be held in Wyszkow – Warsaw is just too large and too spread out. The father–in–law agreed, and people were sent over to prepare for a wedding that was appropriate for such esteemed people.

Reb Shloimele Eyger arrived in the town, and once again took up with Reb Eliezer Karpel. Learned and distinguished Jews rushed over to him, wanting the honor of becoming his sexton, but he would not allow it: It was not right for a simple Jew to act as the sexton for a Torah scholar or a Torah student. It was an honest illiterate whom he wanted. So the lot fell to Hershele the water carrier.

He instructed that a pallet be installed for Hershele in a corner in his own room. In this way Reb Shloimele Eyger could closely observe his behavior. But he saw nothing. He monitored him by day–nothing; at night he would fall into a deep sleep. One Friday night, after the first sheva brochos,[5] he felt he had to learn the secret. He feigned a bit of tipsiness, and fell back into bed as though in a dead sleep. However, he peered through the slits of his eyelids and saw all that occurred in the room. This time, he did not fall asleep.

In the middle of the night he heard Hershele sighing on his pallet and tossing from side to side. A light flared in the room's darkness–it was Hershele's face, his eyes were twinkling. He sprang up like a lion, gathering strength for God's service. He quickly left the house, having performed the ablutions, and his voice was already heard in the outdoors. A strong spiritual awakening is felt in all worlds.

The next morning Reb Shloimele Eyger confronted him and he had to confess.

And before Reb Shloimele Eyger departed from the town, the leaders of the community asked him to bless the town so that they would not suffer as much from fires, since no year had passed without several house fires. So he said to them:

“The Lord of the Universe has created a spiritual remedy for fire–water. The Bug River flows here; you have a very good water carrier. Buy him a barrel and a horse and cart, and He Who Rules Over Us will do His part. When one is careful with water, fire does no damage.”

Sixty years went by, the entire generation passed. Only one of them remained, Hershele the water carrier. He lived all alone in his half–collapsed shack on the outskirts of town. The town was old and its houses bent in old age. No fires burned there and no floods carried the houses away. No one accurately remembered the words of Reb Shloimele Eyger; they knew only that he had blessed the town and that old Reb Hershele had been there.

Old Hershele continued to carry water for the town. A barrel of water always stood ready at his house.

On Friday nights he would awaken the residents for Psalm–reading with his singing. His voice was young and fresh and the melody resounded ecstatically. The entire town would arise and fill the old Beis Medrash.

He refused to renounce his right to the task; they could not get him to give up carrying water in his old age.

Hershele died suddenly on a mournful winter's day. Almost no one in town knew of it. They became aware only when several saintly men in the area unexpectedly arrived for the funeral. They eulogized him and interred him with great honor.

A short time later, the shtetl burned to the ground.

Yisroel Osman


  1. At the end of a chassidic wedding, there is a mitzvah tanz, i.e., a dance held because of the law of God [mitvzah], where the most respected guest or religious attendees dance solely with the groom and then, accordingly with the bride, but holding onto a long belt [gartel] or other item so as not to have direct physical contact with her, according to Jewish law. Return

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. P–s–a–l–m–s: Written in this manner to indicate that Hershele used to stretch out the word as he uttered it. Return
  2. Reb: This is the Yiddish honorific term commonly used as a formal prefix and respectful way to refer to or address a male, similar to Mr. in U.S., or Sir in England, etc. Return
  3. Der Veker was the person who went from house to house early mornings, knocking on the shutters to awaken the men in time for reciting Psalms and early morning prayers. Return
  4. A tish, literally “a table,” refers to a gathering of chassidim who sit at a large table with their Rebbe, chassidic leader, celebrating a particular event or auspicious time. Return
  5. Sheva Brachos are set of seven blessings recited every evening, for seven evenings after a wedding, thus continuing the marriage celebrations for one week. Return

[Page 145]

My Teachers

by Motl Wenger [or Venger]

Translated by Hershl Hartman (Los Angeles, CA)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

When I reached the age of three, my father took me to study with the Broker' Melamed.[1] He lived on Wanska Street. I do not remember his family name. He was a widower who lived in a single large room with a foyer. The greatest space was occupied by a long table and its large pointer.[2] In winter, we would sit inside near the large stove and play; in summer – in the corridor on the wooden floor and carry on. The Melamed would call each of us and point to the poster with its large letters. In this way we learned the alphabet by the end of the semester, because one went to kheyder[3] by semesters. In the second semester we already began to learn biblical Hebrew. My parents were very impressed by the Broker' Melamed.

Later I was taught by the Hebrew–Melamed, “the hat maker”. Apparently, his previous employment was as a hat–maker. His dwelling was in Ita Mates' courtyard, near the drainage ditch and he lived in one large room. He shared the dwelling with his elder daughter and his son Mendele. The last was an older boy, but quite short – and he helped his father as an aide. All the children …

[Page 146]

sat on the floor. Each boy was called up by the large pointer. The boys, on leaving the Rebe,[4] would almost always be crying. The Melamed was a very angry man while Mendele, his son, would play with the children. The joy among the children was very great when the Rebe would let us go for lunch, or at night. It had the appearance of prisoners escaping a jail. But, for all that, he taught Hebrew well.

Then I was assigned to the Dodzhilover' Melamed.[5] I remember that he came to our house during the intermediate days (of a festival–trans.) to talk about me. The Dodzhilover' Melamed had his kheyder in the Gerer[6] prayer house. The Melamed, with twisted legs, may God preserve us, was an angry man and often talked to himself with his fingers…This Melamed also taught us khumesh.[7] (In kheyder there were two groups of boys: one studied only Hebrew, and the other was already studying khumesh. And in the time between one subject and another, we played at cards…).

Later I was taught by the Melamed Mendl Trane's,[8] a Gerer Hassid[9] who lived at the drainage ditch, in Shloyme Dlugashodler's courtyard. Mendl Trane's was a tiny little Jew with a large beard, who possessed a large pointer. He lived in a room with an adjoining kitchen. All day long his wife, Trane, would berate the boys for their carrying on. Luckily, there was a large area there in which to play. The greatest punishment a boy could get was to be forbidden to go into the courtyard to play. Reb Mendele taught the entire Bible and a bit of Gemara.[10] Every Friday we would review the portion with “a great spreading and raising” to a sweet melody that resounded through the entire street. On Sabbath eve in kheyder, we also studied the Sayings of the Fathers.

There dwelt in the same courtyard another children's teacher, Reb Aaron with his goatee. There was a legend told that his students once glued his beard to the table while he was dozing and then lit papers under the table and shouted, “Rebe, fire!…” He had to tear off one side of his beard – which remained thus.

Sometime later I was placed with a higher Melamed, who was called the Lodzer' Melamed.[11] He lived with his two daughters near the Bug River in two rooms and a kitchen. He was a tall Jew with spectacles, a Gerer Hassid but somewhat modern. He taught us Gemara with Rashi's[12] commentaries and the whole Bible. At midday, his daughter Ratse, would lecture us in writing Yiddish and a little Polish.

And every week there would be a visit from Reb Borukh Cywiak, the son of Itche–Meyer the slaughterer, who would hear us recite and issue awards. To a certain extent this encouraged the kheyder boys in their studies.

Later I was taught in a kheyder in the small House of Prayer, where older boys studied Gemara and its added commentaries. There were times when we played “21” with cards under the table. Reb Shimon would teach by rote. When he noticed us playing cards under the table, he would ask one of the boys: “What are we up to in our studying?” The boy, confused, would place his whole splayed hand on the Gemara, so that his fingers would point to every part of the page… On the first occasion, the Rabbi would forgive the miscreant; the second time – he would be expelled from the kheyder. Most of us had great respect for Reb Shimon.

This is how I recall some of the melamdim[13] of our birthplace.


A House and Its Inhabitants

At the corner of Strazacka Street in Yiddish: Strazhatske) and Senatorska, across from the Senator's garden on the bank of the Bug River, there was on a hill the large corner–house of Isaac–Hersh Venger, a part of which belonged to Jacob–Ariye the butcher. The house was famous for its inhabitants of all classes: the great wholesale merchant Yekhiel–Meier Rubin, who provided food for the town and environs. Day and night wagons would arrive to unload and take on merchandise. He owned large food warehouses. Porters found employment there. Reb Yekhiel–Meier and his wife were childless and lived very modestly. Characteristically, if a child happened in to buy something for a penny, they would wait on it. They would say that a business is built on pennies.

In the first fore–house [it probably refers to the front section of the house], at the right, lived the town's miller, Itche–Meier Wysocki/Visotski and his family. He supplied the town with flour, conducted an orderly home, prayed in the second Gerer prayer house, and helped any needy Jew with a full hand. Their nearest neighbors were Zilke Rosenberg and his family; a bit of a banker (cashing checks on commission for traders), he was the representative of the leather business in Warsaw. A good man who did favors with his heart and soul. Later his dwelling was added to by the ladies' tailor Yoynish from Warsaw, who married Sheyndl, the sister of Khaye the baker's wife. In that same fore–house, on the first floor, lived my family, the Venger family. The proverb says that another should speak of you, but since my family was martyred in Glorification of The Name, one wants to say something about the house, whose walls had absorbed Torah and hymns of Hassidim and good Jews. Ours was a spacious house, open to all. There was a canopy in the house. During Sukkes/Sukkot[14] they would remove the covering and replace it with skhakh[15] – and all the neighbors would take their meals in our suke.[16] Almost the entire second night was celebrated there in song, at the Festivity of Water–Drawing.

In the next fore–house lived the family of the fruit merchant, Brodatch/Brodacz. In recent years his wife contributed to their income by conducting a tailor shop in their dwelling. They raised good children.

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Near them lived Itche–Meier Zuzel/Zuchter and his family. He was a Hassid in shtibl number 2. He worked in the lumber exchange as a broker and was an excellent Talmud–student. In the same fore–house, on the first floor, lived Abremele, the son–in–law of Yankef–Aryeh the butcher, and his family. He studied night and day, striving to become a Rabbi, and did achieve the rabbinic post in a shtetl.[17]

On the other side of the house, one descended stone steps, where the windows were low. In the third fore–house of the building lived the carpenter Hershl Brak [possibly written Bransk in the Polish Census] and his family. He had his workshop in the apartment. Lived modestly, was an honest person, belonged to the Psalm Society; raised good children who were social activists. His grandson, Benyomin–Khayim Brak/ Bransk, was the leader of the “Young Pioneers” in Wyszków [Vishkov in Yiddish]. In next door lived Khane the widow. Later, the dwelling was occupied by a Jew from the Wyszków–region, a simple person. His demeanor drew everyone's respect. Characteristically, he died in the Little Synagogue while removing the Torah Scroll from the ark for study – collapsed with the Torah Scroll in hand and died…

A bit farther on one entered the gate of the house, which led to the courtyard. There one immediately encountered a surrey and a coach with rubber wheels. These belonged to Shmuelke Ostrowiak, who lived in the house with his family. He had one large room as well as stalls for his horses. He was a fine Jew, a man of the people, and had well–raised children. Reb[18] Shmuelke had a son during his later years. The Wyskower/Vishkover Rabbi held the child at the circumcision. That event is well remembered. Reb Shmuelke, the man of the people, drew respect for his honesty.

The courtyard was redolent with history: It heard the joyful laughter of the small children who played there. Half the yard was paved with stones. In earlier years grandfather Yitskhok–Hersh had wanted to build a health spa in the yard, because doctors had confirmed that the nearby water source had high mineral content. A wall had been erected for the building, but a flood washed everything away.

Entering through the gate one encountered Fore–house number 4. At the left side of the fore–house lived the Brama family, the pouch–makers. They created paper pouches and sold them to many businesses in town. The Bramas were honest folk, reflecting the town itself. Across the way lived der Geler Hershele [literary: Yellow Hershele, probably a read head] who sold lottery–tickets and other things, such as palm branches and citrons (carried during Sukkes ceremonies). His wife was very nice and had two little children. They lived on very modest means. The dwelling also lived through tragic times.

There were two neighboring dwellings on the first floor. Moyshe Rynek and his family, produced homemade cigarettes that sold for five for three pennies. Though he and his family barely eked out a living on his earnings, he was always jovial. The other neighbor, the Lodzer' Melamed and his two daughters, conducted their teaching in the modern style. His daughters added to the family's income by teaching Polish and Yiddish reading and writing to the pupils. He was a Gerer Hassid. In his free time he was absorbed in his Hassidic books and studied aloud.

The bestial Nazis, wiped out the house, which was exuberant with Jewish life and absorbed with the joys and sorrows of its inhabitants.

By Motl Wenger

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Melamed– stands for teacher of children, boys, in a religious school. When the teacher was called Broker' Melamed – it was done as so o denote its birth place origin, the town of Brok which was about 31 kms (or 19.34 miles) away from Wyszków. Return
  2. pointer– This word refers to a Jewish ritual pointer which has the shape of a hand with its index finger extended like pointing out, which is also known as a “Torah pointer” used by the reader to follow the text during the Torah reading from the parchment Torah scrolls. Beyond its practical usage, the “yad” [the hand] ensures that the parchment is not touched during the reading. Return
  3. Kheyder– the elementary religious school for boys. Return
  4. Rebe–The Melamed was also called ‘Rabbi’ whether or not he was officially ordained. By saying that: ‘on leaving the Rebe (who used the pointer on his students), the boys would almost always be crying.’ Return
  5. Dodzhilover' Melamed–This religious elementary school–teacher of children was nicknamed so because he arrived from the Dodzian town which was about 6 or 8 hours away from Wyszków. Return
  6. Gerer– A person that follows the learning of the Hasidic Dynasty originating from of Ger, or Gur (or Gerer when used as an adjective), Ger, is the Yiddish name of the town of Gôra Kalwaria, a small town in Poland were the founder of this dynasty of Torah–students, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, lived, preached and taught. Return
  7. khumesh (khumash or Chumesh),the five books of theTorah. Return
  8. Melamed Mendl Traine's– Literally translated to “Mendl, Traine's husband” this was because in the shtetls, [the small towns in Europe], it became customary to use this inflexion of names as almost no surnames were used in daily life. For a man– the first name of his wife was used (or from the father). In order to identify a woman, – the first name of her father was the one most often used. Return
  9. Gerer Hassid a follower of the Hasidic dynasty, an orthodox and mystical religious interpretation based on the interpretations of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter. Return
  10. Gemara–Is the name given to a vast collection of Jewish laws and traditions of the Talmud which is infused with vigorous intellectual debate, humor and deep wisdom. Return
  11. Lodzer' Melamed– This religious school–teacher of children nicknamed so because he arrived from the city of Lodz (Lódz) 180 km (abt.111miles) away from Wyszków. Return
  12. Rashi– Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–1105 Troyes, France) known as Rashi was the outstanding Biblical commentator of the Middle Ages, He was a fantastic scholar and studied with the greatest Torah connoisseur Rabenu Gershom of Mainz. Return
  13. Melamdim– The plural for the noun Melamed– [religious school teacher or teachers of boys]. Return
  14. Sukkot (or Succot) – Literally “Feast of Booths”, is commonly translated to English as “Feast of Tabernacles”. Return
  15. ss'khakh (or ss'chach) – Name for the material used as a roof for a Sukkah, an organic material, such as leafy tree overgrowth, mats or palm fronds. Return
  16. sukke [in Yiddish], or sukkah [in Hebrew], is often translated as “booth”, a temporary hut constructed for use during the week–long Jewish festival of Sukkot It is topped with branches and often well decorated inside with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes and it is where the family eats their meals all week. Return
  17. shtetl– (plural=shtetls, the small towns in Europe so called in Yiddish. Return
  18. Reb'–In this case it is like the honorary pronoun noon Sir. or Mr., it does not refer to the pronoun Rabbi. Return

The Blind Rabbi

by H.Mushkat

Translated by Hershl Hartman (Los Angeles, CA)

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

This happened at the very beginning of the current (20th) century. I was already working in Warsaw, but I would return home to Wyszkow for the holidays. I was then a frequent visitor in the home of Motl, the kosher slaughterer, who lived in Aplboym's house. Across the way was Wenger's[1] house, in which lived an old Rabbi, known as the Blind Rabbi. It was difficult to determine whether he was completely blind or partially sighted. The Rabbi shared the dwelling with a son–in–law (or son), and the latter's wife and children. No one knew where the Rabbi had come from. But it was well known in the town that he was extremely poor and still more needy.

So the Jewish women in the shtetl[2] did not forget the hungry Rabbi. Especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when shopping for Shabes,[3] they would bring to the Rabbi's home: a home–baked khale[4]; a piece of meat; a fish; produce. No Hasidim[5] were to be seen coming to the Rabbi's–only women.

At a later time, rumors began to spread in the shtetl that the Rabbi helped sterile women to conceive and that he aided many women. Understandably, the number of his women supporters grew significantly–and with them, his income. It was no longer necessary to collect items for the Rabbi for Shabes. The rabbi's household members were now, better dressed.

It was told that the Rabbi put a separate price on the birth of a boy and another for a girl…His household kept elaborate books, because the Rabbi agreed to have his fees paid out in installments.

A middle–aged couple that lived in Aplboym's house had no children. He was a dyed–in–the–wool Litvak[6] who did not believe in (Hasidic) Rabbis and who laughed at the supposed wonders performed by the Blind Rabbi. The couple dearly wanted to have a child, but the husband …

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refused to believe in the rabbi's miracles. Suddenly, sensational news spread through town: the Litvak's wife had become pregnant. It was said that she had visited the Rabbi secretly and, as was usual, had signed up for installment payments for the fee. She probably told her husband about the fee agreement with the Rabbi–and he strictly forbade her to make any further payments.

When the woman's time came to give birth–the child was dead. The shtetl had grist for its conversational mill for many weeks thereafter. The authority of the Blind Rabbi grew still greater…

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Wenger– The surname in Polish begins with the letter “W,” but is pronounced as a “V” (Venger). Return
  2. shtetl– It is common to use this word in Yiddish when speaking or writing about a town in Europe. (shtetls, plural). Return
  3. Shabes– Sabbath, which begins Friday evening. Return
  4. khale– The typical braided bread (or loaf) used for Friday night dinner for when the Shabbath is welcomed and the food blessed. Return
  5. Hasidim– The term (in plural) refers to religious men. (Hasid or Hassid is the singular form). Return
  6. A dyed–in–the–wool Litvak– Here the phrase is used to mean ‘strong opponent’ of the behavior of the Hasidim. Return

Ayzikl, the Teacher

by M. Rabin

Translated by Hershl Hartman (Los Angeles, CA)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated in 2013 by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Ayzikl[1] Melamed[2] was known to all in Wyszkow, but only as much as could be seen visually. The real Ayzikl, the inner, invisible to human sight, was known to no one but his Creator. His appearance to others was as follows: A medium–height Jew, with a modest–sized beard, more grey than black, always clean and well–combed. Though poorly dressed, he was so meticulous that he always seemed to be wearing his Shabes[3] clothes. I would see him going by several times a day to, or from prayers, or also sometimes on business–to and from the marketplace–and was astounded that he never failed to say “good day.” He was an expert at saying “good day.” No sooner than someone looked him in the eyes than he responded with “good day,” adding “a good year” as a bonus…

When I knew him he was no longer a melamed. Whether he had ever been one–I cannot tell. One thing is certain: he was called Ayzikl Melamed.

He had a kreml (a small store) and lived next door to Christians. Among them he was known as “Panye[4] Isaac.” When I would come to his store to buy something, though he did not have much of a selection, I would always find him sitting over a holy book. Though he was not a great scholar, he did know his obligations to God. And as to his obligations between man and his fellowman–– these were dictated by his simple sense of justice. I never saw him angry. A loving smile always played on his lips. This was true, even when I would happen into his shop, while his wife was in the midst of one of her wild tirades. But he, Ayzikl, bore her no grudge. To the contrary, he would insist, that she was truly saintly with a heart of gold. That she doesn't shout at him as much as she should, because her life with him, pitifully, is very, very bad. Is she then not right? How can one earn something from customers, when the store is empty. So, she shouts: “You do get money–loans, so why must I stand in front of empty shelves?”

Ayzikl the teacher did really often require an ‘interest–free loan’[5] –and did obtain it. When borrowing he would specify the date on which he would repay with the aid of the Blessed G–d. He would chose the specific day according to the Torah portion of the week: Monday of the tenth or Tuesday of the eleventh, and he would repay on time. However, he did not use the interest–free loans to buy merchandise, but–to lend to others.

At times, the ways of the Creator of the Universe seemed perverse to Ayzikl: “the evil prosper – while the saintly suffer?!” But it would not pay to pose questions. His daughters, for instance, who were called “enlightened,” did actually attempt to show how much injustice there was in the world. And it was rumored that they even had ideas about how justice could be made to blossom on all the earth. But it was difficult to convince Ayzikl of this. He would listen to them pleasantly and agree that perhaps more justice was needed in the world, but as to their solutions, he would say:

“–Children, that is not the way! Believe me, the Master of the Universe knew those plans before you did. If HE doesn't institute yours, he probably has other and better plans.”

I once tried carefully to determine to which Hasidic[6] sect he belonged: –to the Gerer[7], the Radzyminer[8] or maybe to the follower of another Rabbi. He cut me off and quickly replied that he was a follower of the Master of the Universe, just a Hasid. Once, in a conversation he almost let fall that the mitzve[9] of charity might remain even if there were fewer poor people and perhaps, who knows, no poor people at all. That another, a profound mitzve might be created “in place of” charity. He quickly caught himself, knowing he had gone too far in his thoughts and that one dare not offer advice to the Creator of the Universe.

Ayzikl Melamed was soft–hearted by nature. He was unable to bear someone's pain. And not only the pain of a person, but of any living thing. When he would notice that a Christian neighbor had a hen that limped, he would cry out:

“–Oh what a pitiful thing! After all, as it is written, –the pain of living creatures!”…

To say nothing of when he would see a neighbor throwing a stone at a cow to drive her away from the garden. He would certainly be beside himself and cry out to himself: “–cut–throat hearts”. In summer, when he would sit over a holy book and a fly would annoy him, he would not drive it off in anger, but with a barely–noticeable move of his gentle hand.

This is how Ayzikl the teacher spent his life until the murderous Nazis entered Wyszkow. Then Ayzikl became an entirely different person. He no longer smiled. He ran about earnestly and lost in thought, murmuring something to himself. From time to time he would wave his hand, as though he were arguing with the Master of the Universe

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for permitting the Nazi bestialities. He felt his own helplessness to do anything. What could he do with empty hands against a loaded Nazi gun?

Once, standing near his house frozen in thought, he saw a German pointing his rifle at a small Jewish boy who was darting from one tree to another, seeking protection from the Nazi murderer. The cries and terrible sobbing of the boy carried to the heart of the heavens. Nevertheless, the German carelessly followed the boy with the snout of his rifle. Any moment, one thought, he would squeeze the trigger. Ayzikl understood that he dare not lose any time. He bent down, picked up a heavy stone and sprang upon the German, splitting his skull. The German fell like a split oak, holding the gun and its unfired bullet. Arriving Germans carried off the dead Nazi and took Ayzikl, in manacles, and threw him into a dark prison cellar.

He lay there, captured, and reviewed his life:

“–A life lived and never raised a hand to anyone–and now I've killed a person. Ha? A person? Can such killers be called by the name people?”

He recalled that Moishe Rabeinu (Moses, Our Teacher and patriarch), had also killed an Egyptian. But he was Moses, after all, God's messenger–something he could not say of himself. Because if he were doing God's work, he would not have killed only one. He would have had to smash thousands and thousands of Nazi heads in that way. That means that he did it of his own free will and that he will therefore have to answer for it before the Master of the Universe?

At dawn, when one could not yet distinguish between night and day, the door of the cell opened and several armed hangmen entered. They threw themselves upon him like wild animals and dragged him out to a wide plaza. Here there awaited a detachment of German soldiers. Two of them ran up to Ayzikl, dragged him to a post, placed his hands behind him and bound them tightly with a solid rope. An officer issued a command and the murderers came to attention. Another command and…they raised their rifles, aiming at him.

Ayzikl Melamed kept moving his lips and quietly murmured, “in Your hands is my spirit.” His entire life flashed before his eyes, from the first moment he had begun to understand the world up to the moment when he had raised the stone and killed the German–and the doubts that so tortured his mind: “Was he justified or not in having killed a human being?”

The officer raised his sword and opened his mouth to issue the third and final order. Ayzikl saw before him a line of rifles. He heard a shout, then a fire and smoke with fluttering letters in the air that flamed like bloody suns:

“It is well to have crushed the brain of the snakes!”

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. AIZIKL Melamed– AIZIKL is the diminutive of the name ISAAC or, as in this case, it is a loving, kind way to call a person. Return
  2. Melamed is a term for a teacher in a religious school. Return
  3. Shabes– Sabbath Return
  4. Panye–is the Polish word for Mister (Mr.) Return
  5. The Interest free loan association in Wyszków and in other shtetls was known as “Gmilas–Khesed.” Return
  6. Hasidic Judaism (meaning “piety” (or “loving kindness) is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality through the popularization and internalization of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspect of the faith, and was founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe. In Wyszków there were many houses of Hasidic–worship, that were called shtibelakh [small houses] like the Radzyminer, Otwotzker, Aleksander, Amshinover and foremost, the Gerer. Each group of Hasidim (plural of Hasid) belonged to different dynasties of influential spiritual leaders, known as Rebbes, (Rabbis), and usually each group was named after a key town in Eastern Europe where the founder may have been born or lived, or where the group began. Return
  7. Gerer is the name of a Hasidic dynasty based on the learning's and interpretations of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter and his followers. Return
  8. Radzyminer refers to followers of the Radzyminer Rebbe. Return
  9. mitzve–(in Yiddish; mitzvah in Hebrew) a good deed, but literally, it means “commandment”. Return

Itche–Metch der Klezmer (the Musician)

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated in 2013 by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

One of the most popular people in Wyszków, known to all–– young and old, recognized by his round, shorn brownish beard and half–round belly–– was Itche Metch, der klezmer.[1] He was there playing at all the weddings and at all other happy occasions. He was always there with his band of musicians.

Both of his vest pockets were connected by the silver chain of his pocket watch from which hung a little key. Itche used that key to wind the watch and he always made sure that the watch was fully wound so that the hands never stopped. The dangling key also served another purpose for his group of wedding–musicians, namely–– they kept their beat by the bouncing movement of that key.

He spoke with the accent of a Litvak,[2] but the most notable thing about him was the fact that he knew many trades and had various kinds of knowledge. However, his specialty was –– music. A separate weakness (if one can call it that) was that he raised and was involved with–– goats! Another talent of his was that of barbering. But he would never shave a person's beard because of his religious beliefs.

Itche Metch was not simply a musician, he ran his own music school in town. His highly developed musical ear could immediately identify a false note one of his students made and poor playing would really cause him misery.

Itche took great pride in his talented sons. And the most talented of them was the eldest–

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Khaim–Henekh who was a true artist and badkhn.[3] Khaim was a tall young man with a full round face. He wore a black skullcap with a wide brim from which dangled two silk buttons. It was said that he wasn't always able to do well with the liturgical poems. However, the experts in these matters said that he could always bring the women to tears when he performed.

The second son, Nisele, had his specialty–– the cornet. His playing, the tones of his cornet, it was said, could be heard echoing way off in the distance. In addition, the last three sons were also musicians. And so this entire family was celebrated in Wyszków and the surrounding towns.

Understandably, besides his five sons, Itche was blessed with a few daughters. But who even remembers their names today?

However, it isn't difficult to understand that with such a large family, Itche would have to find other means of earning money besides just his music. Is it such a wonder that he would turn to–– veterinary medicine? He would tend to heal all the sick goats in Wyszków, using his own concoctions and herbs. And if he couldn't cure a little bearded goat with his ministrations, well–– the matter was in God's hands.

When the beloved spring season arrived, our musician brought into play his agricultural skills. He would sit himself down in the market place and sell all sorts of seeds. He would share his knowledge and experience and deliver advice to the peasants.

His living quarters consisted of one room. The kitchen was found in one corner of the room where there was a big flue or chimney to draw off the cooking smoke. However, there wasn't enough wood in the town for such a stove so, in the summer the cooking was done on a three– footed small stove.

As a rule, the dwelling was white washed before Peysakh (Passover), which was the custom in Jewish households at that time. And so the chimney would become caulked over and the smoke and soot settled over everything for the entire year. The darkness in the room, caused by the smoke and soot, permeated everything.

And as it was in most of the towns and hamlets in those days, so it was at Itche's–– he kept some hens. Needless to say it was more frugal to keep a few hens because they could be fed the table scraps which otherwise would have been thrown out. He would go straight from his table as he was saying the blessing, tossing the crumbs to his hens.

Now here we must describe another of Itche's special skills–– that of an eye doctor! He would say, “I can wash my eyes out with a newly laid egg–– and I will see better and more clearly.”

As for his orchestra–– he invited the renowned violin–cellist, Khaim Palyukh, to join the group. Palyukh's instrument was twice the size of this musician. Khaim was a little Jew with a beard. His every day trade was as a porter. He would wait all day with his heavy rope (used for tying the loads on his back) for a job–– but at night if there were a celebration and the band was needed–– he would be off with Itche and the players.

To add to the earnings of Khaim (Palyukh)'s family–– his wife would hire herself out as…. She could do this because she was frequently pregnant and after her deliveries, she was able to peddle[4] her milk.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. klezmer– in Yiddish, “klezmer” refers to a professional Jewish instrumentalist, a musician. Return
  2. Litvak– The word translates to: a Lithuanian Jew or a man from Lithuania. The Litvaks are well known for the different dialect that was spoken by Jews in Lithuania.
    (See http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/GivenNames/yiddial.htm)
    The Litvishe Jews, in contrast to the Polish Jews, opposed Hasidism and were more like the Misnagdim, the more studious and scholarly. Return
  3. badkhn– entertainer at weddings, specializing in poetic improvisations. Return
  4. to peddle– to sell (her milk). Return

Reyzele – Di Zogerin[1]

by Yakov Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

The town of Wyszków lay in the midst of tall, slender pine woodlands[2] that had for hundreds of years provided shade and coolness for the town. These woodlands were witnesses to the comings and goings of generations – some of whom lived in happiness and satisfaction and others that lived in sorrow and suffering. Nearby was also the small hill called the Tuczyner Hill[3] where the town (old) cemetery was located, it was there that the town's dead were interred in their graves, together with their secrets for their journey to the world after death…

The living ones were also drawn to the Tuczyner Hill. There were those who went simply to go for a stroll with a friend or others, for a more intimate encounter with a lady friend. Others went to weep at a grey gravestone at the time of a yortsayt[4]. And still others went to invite a dead relative to a family celebration or to have the relative intervene in behalf of a female relative having a difficult delivery.

Today, this holy Wyszków site sits shamed and silent. The cold stones that had absorbed so many hot tears over centuries have been ripped out by the hands of vandals. These stones have been used to pave sidewalks. The small sand hills have been leveled and the holy tombs of the Rabbis destroyed.

One has memories now of all those holy graves on the Tuczyner Hill where our Rabbis, pious people and important men were buried. Many notes had been placed on those graves– notes that were soaked with tears and that held requests for– health, a good living, a decent marriage for a daughter, healing for a sick child– and more and more…

The German murderers also had a hand in not leaving a trace of those holy bones, which had been placed there for their eternal rest. Those bones have been plowed up and mixed with earth and fruit trees were then planted. Now those trees are producing fruit


At the Wyszków cemetery: an “Askore” (a memorial service)


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for the very people who perpetrated these crimes and even for those who simply looked on and did nothing.

At the entrance of the cemetery, which was at the beginning of the small hill, one had first to enter through an “ante”–house[5] that was opened by two tall half–doors. These doors had been cobbled together with discarded boards and odd pieces of wood. This particular door most certainly was hundreds of years old. On its Eastern–wall hung two large black frames with letters of gold written on parchment that had various appropriate prayers and psalms for honoring the departed. The “professional women criers” would instruct the others when and how they should “chant” these prayers and psalms and at the appropriate times…

Amongst these “professional women–moaners,” the most well known was – Reyzl, di zogerin. She was a small, wizened little vaybele[6] with a lined, shrunken face, who seemed to be able to absorb all the sorrows and laments of those who came to mourn on the Tuczyner Hill. This Reyzl couldn't read or write, and even the alphabet was unknown to her, – but, she knew just where every departed soul was interred for its eternal rest.

A soon as a relative of a departed one appeared at the cemetery, Reyzl with her skinny arm, would hit a few times on the door. This rapping of hers would create a pall of fear upon all those at the cemetery. It was as if with her rapping she was causing the dead to come back to life. However, it was her words – that impressed more than her rapping. Her words caused all of the seekers of comfort to start unburdening themselves of talking about what was in their hearts. When Reyzl, di zogerin, began to talk one could trust her instincts. Each person was drawn into her words and prayers. One felt that one's soul was calmed and comforted

Reyzele had her “tomb–inspired language” all down by heart. She knew every verse from the holy books by heart and she knew which to use for the proper occasion and when to use it. She had a verse for every situation: be it the illness of a child or the son who had to present himself for the draft of the Czar's army or for example, –earning a decent living.

She would intercede for all her “customers” so that they should have enough to live on and yet, she herself, lived a very impoverished life.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. zogerin is a woman who is usually more educated in prayers than the other women in the community and she, therefore, says the prayers for other women or leads them in prayer in the women's segregated area of the synagogue. Some were also professional women criers at burials. Return
  2. slender pine woodland– those slender high pine trees were called in Yiddish in Wyszkow: “Sosne beymer;” in this case, the forests were called Sosne velder. Aaron Pacht, in the book “Tzvey Shtiber,” mentions the pines several times. Also, in articles and poems written by Jewish citizens of Wyszkow, this definition of the pine forests is often used. Return
  3. Tuczyner Hill– The correct Polish spelling is Tuczyn but in the shtetls Jews used to name streets or places with words that sounded more familiar to them, therefor in this case, they added the ending letters ‘er’. Return
  4. yortsayt– the yearly anniversary of a person's death. Return
  5. ante–house– in Yiddish ‘a for–haizl’ – A small room before the house, also called antechamber; it is a smaller room or vestibule serving as an entryway into a larger one. The word is formed of the Latin ‘ante camera’ meaning: “room before“ Return
  6. vaybele– a thin little woman or, also used as: wifey, a lovable way of referring to a condescending or lovable man's wife or girl friend. Return

Hershl Melamed

by Yankl (Yakov) Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated in 2013 by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Hershl Melamed[1],[2] was better known by his nickname, “the Black Hershl.” He was a short fellow, somewhat nervous –– but, always neat and clean. Apparently, this neatness was one of the main principles he lived by. His black beard was always neatly combed and his rubber summer shoes as well as his winter boots never failed to be neatly polished.

He lived in a large room, which was divided into two areas. One half served as a bedroom and the other half as his school, his kheyder[3] where he taught about fifteen students. In this particular half of the dwelling could also be found a small bakery. The bakery was run by his wife, Esther–– a tall, thin worn out woman–– exhausted from much hard work and raising a batch of children. In a large oven she baked loaves of black bread. Her baking was done to help her husband with expenses. However, neither the bakery nor the kheyder brought in enough income, so Reb' Hershl sold whiskey for the Sabbath table and Esther also dealt in cereal grains. Twice a year Esther did very well with her cereal grains: once in the summer during the “nine days” observance when the people ate a lot of cereal with milk; and then again in the winter during Khanukeh[4] when the women baked “gritshkelekh” (a delicacy for which they needed a grits–like flour[5]).

The business that had to do with the “bitter drop” (the whiskey enterprise) was conducted in a corner of the room. There stood a cabinet with various flasks of whiskey and utensils for measuring–– half and quarter cup measures. After all, a Wishkover[6] Jew whether rich or poor, really enjoyed raising a glass after eating his Sabbath fish. These tasty Wishkover fish were harvested from the nearby river, River Bug, where they were very plentiful.

Clearly, the kheyder (the school), the bakery, the grain–cereal enterprise and the liquor “dispensary” were carried on without the proper authorization and so Reb'[7] Hershl was constantly under stress. He was always in fear of a visit from some “unwelcome” guests.

When our melamed went to eat a meal, we, his students had to leave the house. He couldn't stand being observed by his students as he ate. He couldn't bear it if a drop of anything should stain or wet his thick, white tablecloth. We, his students, really hoped that our melamed would keep stuffing himself at his table so that we could continue to enjoy ourselves outdoors. Opposite our melamed's house was a courtyard that belonged to a fellow called Joseph Pakht/Pacht who owned a small “food processing plant.” Even in those days he had adopted somewhat modern procedures with which he could mill various grains and press oil. For this purpose he had a machine, which was run by (real) ‘horse–power’. A horse was harnessed to a span and had blinders on so that he wouldn't get dizzy going round and round as he powered the milling machine. Our pleasure was, when our studies were interrupted, to hop rides on the “arm” of his horse driven “contraption” if Joseph Pakht would allow it. We considered this great fun. We'd go round and round under horsepower as long as Reb' Pakht didn't get rid of us. But usually our fun was interrupted by R' Hershele in person who'd call to us to return to the kheyder. It was then that we'd become very heavy hearted because we had to get back to our studies. It was a particularly bad time if it were Thursday, because on Thursday, R' Hershele would proceed to question us about the Torah portion of the week and the commentaries concerning that portion of Rashi[8]. Woe to that fellow who couldn't give his answers quickly and correctly. A flood of curses would come pouring out of our Rebbe's[9] mouth. But luckily, this torrent stopped flowing when his liquor–buying customers would come on Thursdays to buy their whiskey for the Sabbath. However, our Rebbe felt justified with his punishments of cursing and even blows because of our transgressions.

R' Hershele also had an important reason to be uneasy. It was necessary to obtain a permit to operate a school. Clearly, our Rebbe did not have such a permit. Actually, it wasn't so necessary to own a permit, as it was necessary to …

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also teach “worldly” subjects in the government approved schools. And our religious, orthodox parents did not approve of this. They wanted their children exposed only to a religious curriculum and not a worldly one. The government appointed observers would come frequently but R' Hershl would be tipped off about their visits – and we boys would be allowed to run off and play until the visits were over.

And another situation kept R' Hershele in constant upset and agitation: he had a batch of daughters! And daughters had to be provided with dowries and bridegrooms and then, there would be weddings. It was because of this that he was involved in so many “businesses.” And because of these problems he would direct… his anger at us, his students.

And we boys were delighted to get out of the kheyder whenever our Rebbe gave us the opportunity. We were happy to escape his whims. When the government officials came to observe – we boys would “escape” even before R' Hershele gave the signal. During these off times, we had games we would play such as a hide and seek sort of game and a button game. We would get these metallic buttons that had a satisfying metal sound when bounced against a surface. The game consisted of slamming these metal buttons against a wall and seeing how far they bounced. Then we measured to see whose button had bounced the farthest. These were our summer games. In the wintertime we went sledding on the small Striga River[10] that flowed from the upper far fields past the Rebbe's courtyard. With home made gliders and sleds we “flew” down that little frozen river. Or we would hike up to the church with the green copper roof, whose gilded cross could be seen from way off in the distance – and from up there we would go downhill so fast that the snow would spray from our runners. These good times would last as long as the government observers were conducting their official business at the melamed's dwelling. Then it was back to our studies.

During the winter the daylight hours were short and we learned till well after dark. When we were dismissed from class we walked home in groups of boys. Each boy had a lantern made of colored paper which he decorated himself with cutout decorations and designs. The candle burning inside the lantern made patterns in the dark… (We bought the colored paper at Bertshe Oldak's[11] who lived on Ostrower Boulevard)

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Hershl Melamed– Hershl the teacher. A teacher from a religious school for small boys called “kheyder”. Melamed is used to describe his occupation, teacher. Return
  2. Hershl Melamed– Hershl the teacher. A teacher from a religious school for small boys called “kheyder”. Melamed is used to describe his occupation, teacher. Return
  3. kheyder – Traditional Jewish religious school, where younger boys, at about the age of 5, 6 used to come to learn “Khumash” [the beginning of the five books of Moses]. Kheyders were widely found in Europe before the end of the 18th century. Lessons took place in the house of the teacher, known as the Melamed. Return
  4. Khanukeh (Hanukkah or Chanukah) refers to the Jewish “festival of lights.” The holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil in the Holy Temple that burned for eight days although there was only enough to burn on a single day. This holiday represents the triumph of the Maccabeans over the religious persecution of the Greeks around 165 B.C. E. Return
  5. grits–like flour– was needed to bake “gritshkelekh”. Grits are small broken grains of corn. Return
  6. Wishkover– term used to denote those born in Wyszkow. Return
  7. Reb' or R'– is a term used by Jews when addressing somebody with respect like SIR or Mr., for example:: R' Hershl, here Reb' does refer to a Rabbi either to Mr. Hershl. Return
  8. Rashi– Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–1105 Troyes, France) better known as Rashi, was the outstanding Biblical and Talmudic commentator of the Middle Ages. Return
  9. Rebbe–The Melamed was also called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Rebbe’ whether or not he was officially ordained so. Return
  10. Striga River (?)– There is no river called Striga near Wyszkow. However, there is the small Rega River, which, could be the one mentioned here. The Jewish citizens of Wyszkow often changed the Polish names of streets and avenues into Yiddish– sounding names, so probably this was the case with this river. Return
  11. Bertshe Oldak's who lived on Ostrower Boulevard” (In Wyszkow the Jews gave “Yiddish names” to many streets, probably this was Ogrodowa Street ….) *Note –>As per the Business Directory from 1929, we know that Oldak Bercze had a Bookstore on Bialostocka Street (where she could probably sell paper products) and she is registered also with a Leather Shop on Dluga Street. Return

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Mates–Faivl der Kremer (the Storekeeper)

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Even the poorest young kheyder–yingl [school–boy] would now and then, get a penny to spend from his father and mother. We, kheyder–yinglakh [school–boys], as well as our parents knew just where that penny would end up–– with Mates–Fayvl, the storekeeper. It was at his place that we would buy the nash (snack). Every Friday evening, before sundown, the wealthier Jews would congregate at his store to buy some castor oil to smear on their boots. In the summer time you could refresh yourself with a cool drink of sour brine. That brine came from the barrels of pickling cucumbers that Mates–Fayvl kept. At the beginning of every month, the Bobes (the grandmothers) and the mothers would buy Mates–Fayvl's “worm–kraut” which was used as a purge to rid the bowels of worms.

Mates–Fayvl would greet all of his customers, whether they were grown–ups or children with a smile. He was a small man and was always decked out in a greasy apron. He always had a good word for one and all.

Hersh–Leyb, Shingle–Maker[1]

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

During wintertime the kheyder–kinder[2] were busy with constructing dreydls[3] for Khanukeh.[4] The pewter[5] they needed was found at the train station. The pewter was collected from the discarded metal seals of the uncoupled railroad cars. After the gathering came the more difficult job of melting the pewter and pouring it into molds. More than once did the hot pewter burn a hole in the boys' pants and sear their flesh. And if so it was with the dreydlakh[6] –then why not do the same with graggers[7] at Purim? Of course, they had to form these graggers themselves, so this also became a problem to solve. It just so happens that in the same house where Reb' Hershl–Melamed lived, there also was to be found Reb' Moishe[8], the “second rate”–tailor[9]. From him the boys collected the empty, used spools of tread, which they then used for the graggers. However, the most important part of the gragger was the klapper[10] and that piece of merchandise was found at Hersh–Leyb's, the shingle–maker. He lived on Koleyove Street[11] which was on the way to the train station. Hersh–Leyb was not a rich man but in the shtetl[12] he was looked upon as a kind of miracle man because in his seventies, with his second wife, he had a son… Hersh–Leyb was a tall, strong Jew, with a yellow tangled beard[13]. He didn't dislike or turn his nose, up at a glass of real 95% proof whiskey. His main business was to lay shingles on rooftops, but he also did lumbering in the woods around the shtetl. He chopped down pine trees[14] that grew around their shtetl …

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and also produced kindling wood from them. In addition, he made forms to insert in boots that the “bargain” shoemakers used.

The clappers or tongues of the graggers which we (the boys) formed at Hersh– Leyb's, made a great noise and din at each mention of (the name of) Homon–Haroshe[15], (when the (Purim)–Megileh[16] was read. When everyone got home from synagogue, we were rewarded with a delicious, fresh “three–sided homentash”[17]. filled with poppy seeds and slathered on the outside with fresh, pure honey, which were bought at Pinye–Mates' store.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Shingle–Maker– a person who cuts lumber, wood, in the forest; or, that shapes the wood in the form of shingles, or who covers the roofs with shingles. Hersh–Leyb, did it all. Return
  2. kheyder–kinder– the school–boys that studied at a “kheyder”. Kheyder (or Cheder) was the elementary Jewish religious school in which children were taught to read the Torah (Five Books of Moses), and some other Hebrew books. Return
  3. dreydls or dreydlak (plural in Yiddish, (singular, Dreydl) The translation of the word means “to turn around.” This device is a four–sided spinning top played during the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah which has a different Hebrew letter on each of its 4 sides The 4 letters stand for the saying: “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning: a Great Miracle Occurred There. Return
  4. Khanukeh–(in Yiddish); (Hanukkah or Chanukah, transliterated from Hebrew). This is the name of the Jewish Holiday of the “festival of lights” in reference to the miracle of the oil which, at the Second Temple, it had only enough to burn on a single day, but it burned for eight days. The Holiday commemorates the triumph of the Maccabees over the religious persecution of the Greeks around 165 B.C.E. Return
  5. pewter (cley in Yiddish– which is translated to cooper or rather to a metal like pewter). Return
  6. dreydlakh( (in pl. in Yiddish) same as dreydls (*see footnote 3) Return
  7. graggers– (word in pl. in Yiddish – In sing: gragger) Noise maker devices, typically, fitted with a handle that when turned around, they make a loud noise. They are used by children who, whenever the name of evil Persian minister Haman is mentioned, they turn them around so not to hear the hated name of someone who wanted to destroy the Jews. His name is mentioned several times during the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim. Return
  8. Reb'– is a term used by Jews when addressing somebody with respect, like SIR or Mr. like in the 2 cases here of calling the 2 personajes: Reb' Hershl–Melamed or Reb' Moishe (the tailor). Return
  9. The “second rate”–tailor– A tailor that produced cheap goods. Return
  10. klapper– clappers or tongues, or a metal tab with a gear that produces the noise of a gragger . a rattle that makes a loud noise when turn around. Return
  11. Koleyowe Street– The Jews in Wyszkow had the habit of converting many of the street names in Polish, uttered in a mixture of Yiddish and Polish like the ulica (street) Kolejowa, the Kolekhowa street, which they called ‘Koleyowe gas’, or street. Return
  12. shtetl– The Yiddish popular name for the Europe Villages, small or big. Return
  13. with a yellow tangled beard– refers to a readhead person. Return
  14. pine trees– The Wyszkow forests grew pine trees which in Yiddish were called “sosne beymer” of which many ‘Wyshkever’ wrote poems or stories. Return
  15. Homon–Haroshe – (In Yiddish.) The name of evil minister “Haman– the Bad One”, who wanted to destroy the Jews, is appointed during the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim and the children make noise when his name is uttered. Return
  16. Megileh– A story told in the Torah is called Megileh (“Megilah” in Hebrew), this citation refers to the reading of the story in Purim, of the Queen Esther when she was married (around 400 B.C.E.) to Ahasuerus, the Persian king, and she and her uncle Miordekhai were able to save the Jews from the bad intentions of Haman the ‘bad&38217; minister who wanted to convince the king to kill them. Return
  17. homentash– A special Purim bread called so in Yiddish, which is a filled–pocket cookie or pastry recognizable for its triangular shape, usually associated with Purim recalling the triangular shape of bad minister Hamman's hat, Homentashen(pl.) are made with many different fillings, mainly poppy seed (this is the oldest and most common and traditional, variety), or: prunes, dates, apricots, etc…, etc…. Return

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The Fishermen

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Thanks to Pam Russ

On the little Koszcielna [Polish word for church; aka “Fisherman's”] Street that was on the other side of the wooden bridge that crossed over the River Bug, in a little house whose walls and roof were covered with green moss, the melamed [teacher] Yankev [Yakov]–Yisroel lived and taught little school boys [kheyder yinglekh] their kometz alef “O”.[a] With his long pointer he would point to the letters on a much erased board that was rubbed out from age and stains…

There in those small wooden houses, also lived a number of fisherman–families. Among them were two well–known fishermen: Zelik – a tall Jew with a trimmed black beard and a roundish stomach decorated with a thick silver chain attached to the silver watch which he had received as a gift when he became a bridegroom.

The second fisherman family with the name Rozenberg, was called by the name of the wife and mother of the family Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman. The Rozenbergs were blessed with many daughters and only one son [Khaim].

Before the Sabbath and before the days of the holidays, the small street would be crowded with benches upon which were placed many wooden tubs in which all kinds of lively fish were swimming. One could hear all kinds of curses and name calling, because it seemed that one fisherman was earning more than the next. The wealthy, religious Jews in their long black coats, wanting to obey the commandment of honoring the Sabbath, would come to the street on their way home to buy fish for the Sabbath, place the fish they bought in one of the folds of their coats, and so would also honor their wives in this manner of dress, by bringing fish into their home…

Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman, was the real type for this line of work. She came from many generations of fisher–folk. Her one and only son was called Khaim, who from infancy on, grew up on the River Bug.


Khaim and Feige Rozenberg


At the shores of the river were anchored all kinds of small boats and canoes, and it was there that he grew up.

Opposite Koszcielna Street, was another small street called Senatorska Street, where the Gerer stiebel [small, informal house of prayer] was situated, a little study house, where the two well–known deaf mutes prayed – the tailor and the baker [Mendl Brodakh was known as “der shtumer beker,” “the mute baker”]. Each night, between mincha [the late afternoon prayer] and maariv [the evening prayer], they would meet in the study house and “chat” with their special deaf–mute language and hand gestures [sign language].

On that same street lived the distinguished Holcman, a dyer, not a poor man, rewarded with talented daughters and sons. His oldest daughter [Feige], who was exceptional in her beauty and abilities, was betrothed to Khaim, the only son of Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman. And that's how they led their family lives for many years, until the onset of the Second World War. In an attempt to escape from the Germans, Khaim Rozenberg and his family crossed to the other side of the River Bug in one of the little ships, to the village of Brzoza [distance around 18.24 km, 9.86 miles], to a fellow they knew, a Christian. He greeted them in friendship but then murdered them like a fiendish enemy, such that to this day it is not known what has become of them.[1]

The figures discussed were like part of the landscape and in tune with Jewish Wyszkow. And all this went up in smoke, burned and destroyed by the Hitlerist murderers, with the active aid of the local Polish population, and particularly with the (skusewer zavuzhnyokes)? who were known as murderers and anti–Semites.


  1. Kometz = vowel “o”; alef = first letter of Hebrew alphabet = A. Basically, meaning he taught them their ABC's. The phonetic sound for kometz alef is “uh.” Return

N.B. Translation Coordinator:

  1. To find out what really happened to the Rozenberg family, read this book by the surviving Rozenberg child : A Daughter's Promise by Helen Rothstein, Montreal, Éditions du Marais, 2008 (ISBN 9782923721019). Return

“Der Sfas–Emes”[1]
(The one who speaks: The Language of Truth[2])

by M. Rabin

Translated by Moisés Mermelstein (Columbus, OH)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

You will agree that he earned in a kosher way[3], the nickname Sfas–Emes (the “Language of Truth” person), after you have listened to, at least some, of his extravagant stories.

I was traveling, at night, from Warsaw to Wyszkow on the last scheduled train. The railroad cars – unfilled, almost completely empty. With the business situation as it is nowadays, Jews travel very little.

And if you do have to travel, you look for a familiar face with whom to have a chat, to expel the sadness.

So I roam, from car to car, looking to find a well–known like you search for a light.

To my delight, after a short time, I ran unto the half asleep Wishkever “Sfas–Emes”, bundled up in a corner of one of the cars.

With quick steps I swiftly approached and I sat beside him and, as if by accident, I poked his ribs because, it seemed to me, that “Sfas–Emes”, was only pretending to be asleep.

He immediately let me know that my suspicions were justified, because he started

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to speak right away and suddenly asked me a question:

–“You were probably wondering, why I was so sleepy at such an early hour of the night” –and added, – “last night I did not sleep a wink.”

–“What was the reason?” –I half–played the fool.

–“Oh”,– he said,– “ only business, business and business. There is not even time to sleep. One night here, another night there! You have to be constantly on the move. For example, last night, a very important professor from the Music Conservatory in Warsaw, came to visit my son. He did not let go of my son, not even a minute, he wanted him –that is my son– to play for him, –that is for the professor. He is very much in awe–in admiration–of my son's violin playing. He said, he has never heard anybody playing in such a wonderful manner, and do not forget that the Professor is not an ordinary man and has heard many violinists playing in his life.”

–“Is that so?” –I go on pretending to be impressed, – “I didn't know that your son was such a virtuoso of the violin, and if he is, excuse my asking, why is your son a simple drum player in the Maccabi Orchestra of Wyszkow, instead of being a first rate violin player?”

–“It is strange that you should say that”,–and I sensed that “The Language of Truth person” was offended, – “What did you expect? That my son, the gifted violin player, who very soon will be known throughout the whole musical world, should play the violin for the people of Wyszkow? Can the people of Wyszkow even appreciate such a performance?… A drummer, on the other hand, is something else: a good drummer can be appreciated by everybody, even by an army horse….”

In order to keep the conversation going, I address the Sfas–Emes again:

–“So you traveled to accompany your guest, the professor?”

–“Yes and no. You guessed correctly, but you are not completely accurate. I traveled with the professor to Warsaw, but not for that reason alone. I also traveled to Warsaw because last week I received a wire from a bank there, advising me that they had received the sum of fifteen thousand pounds in my name. I am a very busy man, so I would not immediately rush, rush to Warsaw because of this… However, since I did accompany the Professor of the Conservatory in Warsaw, I took the opportunity to go to the bank to find out who had sent the money. It so happens that the fifteen thousand pounds were remitted to me by my cousin, an electrical engineer in Palestine. We have been at odds with each other for many years and this bothers him very much. He questions why we should be angry at one another and suddenly decides to send fifteen thousand pounds to me, and he wrote to me: –'Dear cousin: I am sending fifteen thousand pounds to you, and, please, stop being angry at me.”

–“So”,– I say, pretending to be surprised and giving my Sfas–Emes a brotherly pat on the back like you do to a good sibling “–So, my good friend you became a wealthy, rich man all at once. It is no small matter –fifteen thousand pounds cannot be found, nowadays, lying in the streets.”

–“So”,– he says with contempt, “–you seem to think that I cashed that money. You know what? Who wants that money? Who? As soon as I found out, that the money was sent to me by my angry cousin, I immediately ordered to the bank to send it back”.

Sensing that everything is going exactly as I had planned, I take my “Sfas–Emes” to task:

–“I understand”– I said–“that you have close relatives in Russia?”

–“Anything can be called close relatives”,–he stimulated answers “– I certainly have a dear brother in Russia; and he is there, listen carefully, he is the chief engineer of all the trains in the whole of Russia”.

–“If so”, –I say, – “if your brother is in such an important position in Russia, he must be showering you with gold”.

–“The problem, hear it, is that you cannot send money from Russia. Otherwise, he would have sent me, at least, a couple of million rubles. But go and send if it is prohibited”.

–“Truth, yes I know it is not allowed”, –say I, trying to corner the Wyszkower Baron von Munchausen[4] –“but since your brother is such an important person in Russia, he could surely find a way to do it”.

–“Yes, –the “Sfas–Emes” tries to extricate himself from this one – “as a matter of fact he did try it once. Not long ago, …

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I received a parcel from him in which I found a used overcoat with a fur collar. He writes to me that as soon as I will receive the overcoat, I should, carefully rip open the collar, where I will find, some very expensive diamonds hidden inside”.

–“Nu,”[5] I say rather indifferently, “–a collar with priceless expensive diamonds should bring in a quite high sum.”

He becomes enraged and starts yelling in loud tones. “–What diamonds, which diamonds! Panie Ganev[6] got suspicious and in the post office he took out all the diamonds–till every last one.”

–“That was still okay”–, I said trying to console him. “–That at least you got a winter overcoat. Nowadays, a warm winter overcoat, even a used one, is also useful.”

With my reasonable, but careless remark, I hit the center of his pride. My interlocutor the “Sfas–Emes” became immediately indignant and upset because I had not taken him seriously and forced him straight from his high illusions down into the grim reality of life. That is why he locked up his truth–language lips and would not utter another word.

During the remaining way to Wyszkow, already, I sat by myself immersed in my own thoughts. Such thoughts that pierced holes in my weary, poor soul.

Images upon images, one worse than the other, floated in front of my half closed eyes in the dimly lit wagon. “He is, ultimately, right”,– I was thinking, “–our “Sfas–Emes” from Wyszkow, with his extravagant and exaggerated lies he interprets, without realizing it, this actual dejected life we have in Wyszkow, where helpless shadows stroll around instead of people. Shapes of businessmen from the past and successful artisans walk around aimlessly, preoccupied, upset, resentful and humiliated, thrown out of their livelihood, without any security and without hope for a better future; they can only dream, fantasize, build up mirages in their dark thoughts: that their son, the drummer in the ‘Maccabi’–Band Orchestra in Wyszkow, should, by a miracle, become the next day, a violin virtuoso, famous all over the world. Another one fantasizes that if he could send his son to Palestine, he would surely become, with his talents, the most important engineer in the Rutenberg Electrical Station.[7] The third one imagines how wonderful it would be if his brother in Russia would become a very important person in the railroad organization…?”

…So people console themselves with such false hopes, wavering and clutching to spider webs in order to stay afloat. And to such false hopes clings the majority of the actual population of Wyszkow.

––“W Y S Z K O W S T A T I O N!”– the loud scream of the train conductor, interrupted my thoughts …

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Sfas Emes–in Yiddish, (Sfat Emet–in Hebrew)–This was a nickname given by the Jewish town–people to that someone who “spoke the truth.” But many times this nickname was ironically used to describe a “person” who does not exactly have the quality of being truthful or who does not speak with honesty]. Return
  2. Language of Truth– The language of honesty. Return
  3. in a kosher way– The author, by using the word kosher (meaning proper according to the Jewish dietary laws), intended that such a nickname be given to his interlocutor (a correct, honorable, proper person), with irony to emphasize how big of a liar he could be. Return
  4. Baron Von Münchhausen (1720–1797) was a German baron who supposedly told a number of outrageous tall tales about his military adventures. German writer Rudolf Raspe, in his 1785 book,“Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia,” mythologized the baron as the world's greatest liar. The author (M. Rabin) uses the adjective Wyszkower to describe the local “Baron,” taunting him while he compared him with the famous liar. Return
  5. –“Nu…” a very popular well known used Yiddish word to start a phrase alike to –“Well…” – in English. Return
  6. Panie Ganev– Master thief (Panie –in Polish, is master; Ganev– in YIddish or Hebrew, is thief). Return
  7. Rutenberg Electrical Station – The author might refer here to a similar Electricity Factory “Elektrowna Miejska” that existed on Pultusk Street in Wyszkow, a reference to what was known there, as the best electrical power station. Return

The Two Mutes[1]

by Yekhiel Bzhoza (Brzoza)

Translated by Khavele Ash & Chana T (San Jose, CA)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

If a stranger would have stopped a Jew from Wyszkow and asked him “where does Mendel Brodach live?” – the citizen of that town would have looked at the stranger with a surprised look and with raised shoulders answered: ”Never have I heard such a name.” However, if the person asking would have added, “I believe that people call him here “The Mute Baker,” – then the homey Jew would smile and good naturedly say:” Come, dear man, I'll take you gladly to the mute baker's house.”

You must know that the mute baker was very famous in the town of Wyszkow. Young and old knew him. Everyone, even the gentiles, loved him.

He was of average size, not heavy, straight as a musical string, and as strong as an ox. He used to stand up the whole night kneading dough and snoozing only when the bread or rolls were in the oven… Before sunrise, he would run to the small Beis–Hamedresh[2], for the first Minyan[3] together with the coachmen and the workmen. He didn't know how to pray (because he was born deaf and dumb), still he used to put on the prayer shawl and tephilin[4] rocking in prayer and with fervor concluding the “Shmoneh Esrei[5]” prayer together with everyone.

He also used to sit together with the group of friends between Minkheh (the afternoon prayers) and Maariv (the evening prayers) when the Rabbi was explaining a chapter from the Mishneh[6] or the Torah[7] portion of the week.

He belonged to the group studying the Tehilim (Book of Psalms), and to the Burial …

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Society.[8] And at each funeral he used to run around and shake the big box with the inscription on it: “Charity Saves us from Death.”

Every morning he used to meet the mute tailor at the small Beis–Hamedresh and after praying they used to “talk” in sign–language about the news and events in shtetl.[9]

Just when they found out about a poor cobbler whose wife was sick and that there was no money for the Sabbath, they agreed where to meet later. The mute baker brings a couple of Khallehs[10] and the mute tailor brings wine for the Kiddush[11] blessing. But first, they go to the fisherman–alley to Nakhum, the fisher. His wife, Nekhe the fisherke[12] mumbles something under her nose as soon as she sees the two mutes – but they don't hear her, of course. The mute baker pulls up a sleeve, and from the tub, pulls out a shaky fish. (The last time, they took a carp from Zelig the fisher). Nakhum, the fisher, scratches under his short and thin beard and uses both of his hands as if talking in sign language: ”Go, in good health”.

From there they go to the market, into several richer food stores. Freyde, Sholem–Mehkhel's[13] tries to protest; with all her might she tries to pull them out the door, trying to convince them that there are other food stores in the market. But the two mutes have their own calculations, as according to their calculations, it is now her turn to help a needy family.

After some bargaining, they finally receive the necessary food. Then they turn to the butcher's street to Yoneh, the butcher. He receives them with a very kind–male reception: “–Look who has shown up!” But he softens and offers them a nice piece of meat.

They check once more to see if they have everything needed for the Sabbath – and they head to the poor cobbler who lives in a basement, where his sick wife is bedridden. The cobbler is repairing an old pair of peasant's boots.

Seeing the two mutes with the food, he looses his composure, wants to thank them, but he gets choked in his throat with tears.

The (now temporarily) mute cobbler makes strange sounds, he tries to say something…The mute baker points with his finger towards the sick woman, as if to say: –”You, brother, better take care of your wife, so that she should get healthy soon!” And before the cobbler is able to compose himself, the two mutes leave the poor basement.

Sometimes it happens that an old, overtired horse belonging to a poor coachman, dies away, and there isn't any money to buy another horse. So what is there to do?

Then our two mutes take a red handkerchief and head to the homes to collect a little money. They haggle with every one, if they don't receive enough money. After counting the collected sum of money, if it turns out that it is still not enough to purchase a horse, and then the two businessmen make an effort, and go to the charity treasury[14], where they meet a few owners sipping hot tea. The mute baker has brought his son Avreml as an “interpreter.” He tells them really how much money they had collected and that they want to borrow from the treasury the rest of the money in order to buy a horse.

The treasurer, a well to do gentleman, with a beautifully groomed beard, explains to Avreml: –”Tell them that we will consider the matter at the next board meeting and that the coachman needs to find a guarantor”.

The two mutes can't understand this, and don't want to know this…they need to have the money right now, so that the coachman can earn money for bread, for his wife and children.

After each member of the existing management committee was able to explain his expertise in matters of loans, and after long discussions, they assure the mute baker that when he guarantees the loan – then the mutes will receive the demanded sum of money.

The mute baker was also an exceptional swimmer. He used to stay under the water longer than anyone of us. His bakery was located near the wooden bridge. If someone drowned in the river, then they would run immediately to call the mute baker – and he really saved scores of people from death.

Yekhiel Bzhoza

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Two Mutes in Wyszkow, were known by the names of their occupations not by their own names. Return
  2. small Beis–Ha'medresh= synagogue of prayer Return
  3. Minyan= In Judaism, a minyan is the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations, mainly to start the religious recitation of certain prayers. Return
  4. tephilin=phylacteries, black boxes with scriptures in them, that Jews wear on their heads and left arms during weekday morning prayer. Return
  5. Shemoneh Esrei (eighteen) is perhaps the most important prayer of the synagogue. This prayer is recited while standing and facing the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Shemoneh Esrei consists of eighteen blessings, but an additional “blessing” was added later, so now there are nineteen. Return
  6. Mishne–(Mishnah–in Hebrew) are commentaries on the Torah written in the 12th Century, by Rabbi Moses Maimonides whose real name was Mosheh ben Maimon (born 1135, Csrdoba, Spain–died 1204, in Egypt). Among the Jews, he was called Rambam, and Maimsnides by the Latin world. He was a Jewish philosopher, scholar, jurist and physician, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. Maimonides's major contribution to Jewish life remains the Mishneh Torah, his code of Jewish law. Return
  7. Torah= The Bible, the Jewish Written Law, which consists of the five books known by the Jews as the Torah (and to non–Jews, as the Old Testament). Return
  8. Burial Society= in Yiddish: Khevreh–Kadisheh. Return
  9. shtetl= little town Return
  10. Khallehs. Yiddish word for the Shabes–bread, khalleh (khallehs plural). In the Jewish tradition the Sabbath meal (on Friday night), starts after the blessing of wine followed by the meal itself, which begins with the blessing of a braided bread (Khalleh). Return
  11. Kiddush blessing= It is customary that the Sabbath meals start with the blessing of a small glass of wine. Return
  12. the fisherke or fisherin, the Fisher–woman. Return
  13. Freydl, Sholem–Mehkhl's Frida, the daughter of Sholem–Mekhl: –The common way to address the daughters in Shtetln was done by adding to her own name, her father's name. This custom persisted even after women were already married. Return
  14. charity treasury, in Yiddish: “Gmilas–khesed–kaseh”. Return


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