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[Page 195]

Jankiel Chaim-Icek's

by Leibush Lehrer

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

In cheerless, difficult days and in view of our many sins—and they certainly are not lacking—how good it is to become locked inside oneself and throw away the key. But, still, sometimes one becomes tired of tfile belakhesh [prayer under one's breath], and one becomes overly saturated with dark shadows surrounding one's thoughts. Then one thinks that soon today's guest will come and force a bit of a vague hope on us. And a telephone is also an instrument that can carry within it a lot of unexpected surprises.

And so it is; the telephone rings. “It's Jankiel Chaim-Icek's speaking.”[1] The self-confident voice, with the smile of mischievous familiarity, announces that Jacob David Berg is paying a visit by telephone. The words flow in a gushing stream. He weaves a constant conversation with all the nuances and innuendos of his typical humor. Berg has complaints; he is not happy. He has undertaken a sizeable project, but there is no one to carry it out with him. One is a lazybones,” the second a “do-nothing,” and a third is nothing but a “foot-dragger.” Jankiel Chaim-Icek's has his own spirit and his own way of expressing himself. It begins with a smile and advances to a force that bites into the problem facing him and ends with, “But we have the strength and the will to carry it out.”

The words flow in a rhythmic manner. Little by little, something catches on. It becomes brighter all around. We are reminded how much money was lost in dark moments. But now, it suddenly becomes clear. The lost money is seemingly lying on the lighted floor. We only have to bend down, pick it up, and right away, we feel we've become richer. That is how Berg goes among us with the light, from, “Don't give up hope!” to the never ceasing command, “Have Faith!” His friends bend down, find what is needed, and rise up.

Exactly as in private life, also in community life, in secular circles, Jacob David Berg, with his own hands, built for himself his respected position. Those who could not go along with him were pushed out by the considerable current that he stirred up around him. It carried him forward on the waves of his fantasy, and those who wanted to stop him with cold calculations fell apart like broken ships in a violent sea.

In every undertaking, he voices the message of unexpected hope, of great assurance, maybe never to be realized, but the strong drink of pleasure in the present is intoxicating and lulls to sleep any sober consideration of the future. He is quite often the central focus that attracts, stimulates, and puts wings on the slowest ones plodding ahead on foot. That is how Jacob David Berg became a person of renown—and probably not just among the followers of Sholem Aleichem, for whom he played such a leading role.

But when Jacob David Berg undergoes a small transformation and becomes Jankiel Chaim-Icek's, then the Divine presence of his shtetl Brzezin shines through in him. He then displays the most common traits of his people, both the discontentment and the charms with which God blessed the Ukrainian, Tevye the Milkman, in his modern Polish edition, Jankiel Chaim-Icek's.

He possesses the a'ave Isroel [love of Israel], a satirical humor that attacks with silken threads, and a friendship that caresses with a warm lekhaim [to long life]. What would infuriate Jacob David Berg, Jankiel Chaim-Icek's can lightly pardon with confidence. He is permeated with a traditional Jewish spirit, but he never worships the God of vengeance and jealousy, His closest theological reality draws spiritual nourishment from av-horakhamim [God of Mercy].


[Page 196]

Nahum (Nathan) Summer, the Brzeziner[2]

by Mordechai Dantsis

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

Neither I nor my forefathers nor their forefathers have ever been in the shtetl Brzezin. I only know that this town is located not far from Lodz. I say that it is not far from Lodz. More accurately, it was once there, before Hitler's curses destroyed it. Today, as with hundreds of other towns and cities, there is nothing more than mounds and graves left.

When they used to ask a Brzeziner Jew where he came from, the answer was, “From Brzezin, not far from Lodz.” Why they attached Brzezin to Lodz, I do not know. From what I have heard about Brzezin, I am sure that the shtetl could have stood on its own feet and that it had its own yikhes [distinguished heritage].

But that is how it was with the small shtetlekh in the old country. They always liked to warm themselves in the sunlight of the larger places. I know that from my own shtetl, where I was registered [had legal residence]. If you asked one of our residents what place he came from, he did not reveal the truth that he was a Zhvanetser, but his answer was, “I am from Odessa.” You should know that from Zhvanets [Zwianiec] to Odessa took several days by train.

Other Zhvanetsers used to refer to themselves as being from Kamenetz [Kamieniec]. Why Kamenetz? Because that was the biggest city neighboring my shtetl. For this reason, it is not so puzzling that Brzeziner Jews add that their shtetl is “not far from Lodz.”


As I said, neither I nor my forefathers nor their forefathers have ever been in Brzezin. And when I recall that shtetl here and do it in a manner as if I were a Brzeziner landsman [fellow townsman], two people are responsible for this—one is the well-known Jewish cultural leader Jacob Berg, the other, the young writer Nahum Summer. Jacob Berg and Nahum Summer are both Brzeziners. In a brief conversation that Berg had with me, he told me several curious facts about his shtetl. From the hodge-podge of details, a complete picture came into being for me.

“Our shtetl, you should know, was a very interesting shtetl,” Berg told me, “and Nahum Summer is our landsman, who is very important to us.…Brzezin clothed half of Russia with ready-made garments. When you went into its small streets, the sound of irons and scissors could be heard, the sound of the Singer sewing machines mixed with the singing of the tailoring apprentices.” Jacob Berg ended his story about his and Nahum Summer's shtetl with, “We have here several hundred Brzeziner landslayt. [fellow townsmen].”


How does Nahum Summer enter into this? And why have I suddenly written so much about Brzezin? That's a story in itself.

Nahum Summer is, as we said, a young writer. He wrote a very fine biography of the unforgettable Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the only biography of Jabotinsky in Yiddish. He also published biographies of the founders of the Zionist movement—Max Nordau and Ahad Ha'am. Recently Nahum Summer published a collection of his essays, Man and Word.

All this was no small intellectual accomplishment for a young writer like Nahum Summer. Nahum Summer, incidentally, is not one of those writers who pushes himself forward. He does not beat a path to the doorways of editorial offices. He does not hound any editors. He writes for himself. He publishes his books using his own money—and his reward for writing is the satisfaction that those who read his works enjoy them. Those who are meyvinim [connoisseurs] can judge his fine style, his solid approach to the questions that he addresses in his essays, and his intimate acquaintance with the life and the fate of the people about whom he writes.

Nahum Summer upholds the Brzeziner tradition. He is a craftsman. He works at the Singer sewing machine. In his free time, he withdraws into his own secluded, spiritual world.

I and the young Nahum Summer were especially close. I remember him from the time when I was active in the Zionist-Revisionist movement. I see before me the red-headed Summer as he sits in a corner, patiently paying attention to the often tedious speeches and negotiations, seldom saying a word—sitting, listening, quiet and modest, then silently slipping out …

It was Berg who acquainted me with his shtetl and, at the same time, also told me about Summer's work among the local Brzeziner landslayt.


[Page 197]

A Letter From a Landsman

brz197.jpg -  Aszer Grossman

by Aszer Grossman

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

Dear Brzeziner Landslayt [Fellow Townsmen]:

When you read the Yizkor Book, you will be reminded of many moments from your past life.

It will raise the question among many landslayt how our shtetl is different from other shtetlekh [small towns] in prewar Poland. And in what area—economic, social, or cultural-communal?

When Jewish life in Poland became more and more difficult everywhere, we emigrated and settled in various yishuvim [settlements] throughout the world, maintaining constant contact with the former Jewish leaders of Poland. Each of them informed us of the great accomplishments that were being made by them and what still remained to be done in the future.

I personally have made an effort at every opportunity to indicate that I am a descendent of Brzezin, the town of tailors and craftsmen. I point out how Brzezin stood out even from other great towns. First, our town was entirely a worker's town. Jews from distant provinces, from all sorts of backgrounds, who had a desire to work, found it easy to settle in Brzezin. Each of us, even those who lived only a short time in our town, thought of himself as a Brzeziner.

Everyone had great confidence in Brzezin, and this was because our town created a different type of person, a working person. By way of illustration, in the years 1900, 1902, and 1908 in Brzezin, there was a strong revolutionary movement. Many participants in this movement were persecuted by the Polish regime and were forced to leave town and emigrate. This was actually the beginning of the emigration before the First World War.

Our landslayt were simple people, but they possessed a communal sense, and in foreign lands, they organized right away into landsmanshaftn [societies of fellow townsmen], so that immediately after the First World War, representatives from our landslayt were already coming to see us in the shtetl and helping a great deal with the needy.

Through the years our landsmanshaftn, in various lands throughout the entire world, developed and increased considerably, thanks to the fact that many from our shtetl emigrated. Especially our young people strove to go forth into the broader world, and indeed they brought new life to our landsmanshaftn. I must, however, add and stress that in every case and at every opportunity, we displayed our bond to our hometown and were proud of Brzezin and of its past.

On every ocasion, whenever we meet, we talk about our shtetl. We recall the very familiar friends from our past and maintain the spirit of Brzezin.

After the destruction in Poland, in which our Jewish Brzezin was erased, we, the landslayt throughout the entire world, immediately contacted the survivors, the small number of brothers and sisters from our shtetl who remained alive, and we assisted them with everything possible.

On this occasion, I express my best wishes and thanks to all those who helped and still help at every opportunity to enhance the name of our town and our people. May their work be blessed! And may they again forge a link to our destroyed town Brzezin.

 

brz198a.jpg -   A class of children and the teacher, Mrs. Wasserman, who was practically an institution in Brzezin
A class of children and the teacher, Mrs. Wasserman,
who was practically an institution in Brzezin

(The picture was taken after the First World War)

 

brz198b.jpg -   A group of children at a Brzeziner children's camp
A group of children at a Brzeziner children's camp

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. It was customary in Brzezin to call a person informally by his given name plus the name of his father or mother. Jankiel Chaim-Icek's, meant Jankiel (Jakob), son of Chaim-Icek. Return
  2. The writer Mordechai Dantsis, e”h, published this as “Lekoved Shabos” [To honor the Sabbath], about N. Summer, in the New York Der Tog [The Day] on April 15, 1950 [Author's note]. Return

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