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[Pages 206-211]

With My Own Hands

By Micha Baron

Translated by Mira Baron

I was born in 1915 on the Ninth of Av.

I was two years old when my mother, Hene Beile (nee Adelman), passed away. We remained: Yehuda-Efraim and Gitka (twins), Eliyahu (Elke), Mirka and myself.

My father remarried, to Esther (nee Chatzkel). Their children were Aharon-Gershon (Gershke) and Chaim-Yosef (Yosele).

Today, when I think about Esther, tears come to my eyes. I feel I must mention her. Esther was a good woman. She had understanding in child rearing, but she suffered from us. We, the children, were rascals and bothered her.

 

 
My father Alter-Hirshl-Yankel Baron in his childhood, between his parents Ben Zion-Ber Baron and Sheine-Chana nee Blacher. On the left is their daughter Feige-Rivka, who immigrated to the States with her parents, and lived a long life.

 

 
Baron Family
From right to left, standing: Gershke (Aharon Gershon), Micha, Gitka-Tova and her husband Elyukim-Eliyahu Pores, Yudke (Efraim-Yehuda)
Seated: Yosale (Chaim-Yosef), Alter Baron, Esther nee Chatzkel and Elke-Eliyahu (left)

 

 
Baron and Blacher Cousins
From right to left, back: Micha Baron, Rachel Blacher, Yehuda Baron
Second row: Gitka Baron, Hene-Bailke Blacher, Yosele Baron, Moshe-Ber Blacher, Mirka Baron
Bottom: Gershke Baron

 

We had a store where we sold candies, salt, herring, threads, buttons, and even kerosene. Mostly Gita and Mirka worked there. We also sold fish.

Dusiat was tiny - barely the size of a yawn! You could not make a living from selling fish, since everyone could fish in the lake or the river. We often had to go to Rakishok (Rokiskis) to sell fish. Most of our livelihood was from agriculture. We had cows and horses and we grew vegetables for the household and fodder for the cattle.

My grandparents, from my father's side, Bentze-Ber, and Sheine-Chana (nee Blacher) migrated to the United States before the First World War. My father, Alter, did not want to join them, claiming that the US was not kosher enough for him.

I remember my grandfather's handwriting - tiny, beautiful letters, in the size of “Tal and Matar” in the Sidur[1]. Grandfather was fluent in Hebrew. Since childhood, I corresponded with him. Though grandfather was an authorized Rabbi, he practiced the proverb “thou should earn your bread in the sweat of thou brow”. He purchased a horse and wagon and made a living as a wagon driver.

In the US grandfather ran a synagogue in Cleveland (Ohio) until his last day. While visiting Cleveland, I went to visit grandfather's synagogue…

Grandfather Faivush Chatzkel, Esther's father, died in Dusiat. It was in the wintertime. Dad asked me to go to Utian (Utena), and bring uncle Bertzik, who remained the only son among three daughters (another son, Yosef, was expelled to Russia). I was then fifteen. I went a distance of thirty-five kilometers with a winter cart. It took four hours of riding. I returned home with uncle Bertzik late at night, and I remember that we spoke about Palestine. He knew that I was a Zionist planning to make aliya. I told him that my father objected to my plans. Uncle encouraged me to carry out my dreams. I remember the conversation and the ride as a beautiful dream. Despite the late hour, I sat down to read a book, in Hebrew of course. I cannot forget Uncle saying, “Young lad, after the exhausting way, at night and cold weather, you are still sitting and reading instead of sleeping? A good sign.”

Father was a “Ba'al-Koreh[2]. He knew Hummash and Tehilim[3] by heart. I remember him standing in the store and always reading, a secular book as well. He went to the synagogue three times a day for Shaharith, Minha, and Ma'ariv[4], on weekdays, weekends and holidays. He kept practicing, becoming stricter toward his last years. Dad demanded that we go to the synagogue and kept saying that it is his duty to require it as long as we are youngsters: “Any sin that you are performing is on me as long as you are before bar mitzvah, and after that, baruch shepetaranie.[5] This saying brought him a lot of grief. I was approaching bar mitzvah and I claimed that no preparations were needed. My father was praying at home reciting the Parashoth[6] and I learned to pray. He examined me and agreed that I knew the Parasha by heart. I know it even today with TaAmei-HaMikra[7]. Shabbath-Nahamu arrived, the Sabbath of my bar mitzvah, and I did not want to go to the synagogue. “Why?” he asked. I responded, “Up to now I have obeyed you so that you will not be held responsible for my sins. From now on, I am responsible for my sins,” and I did not go. My father never spoke to me about it, but now I understand the blow I inflicted on him. At that time, I was already a member of Hashomer Hatzair, and like many others, had my reservations of religion. The bar mitzvah was my chance to revolt. Despite that, I continued to visit the synagogue on holidays and especially on Kol-Nidrey. I love the melodies and even today, I love Hazanuth[8]. I rejected the way my father raised us, but due to derech-eretz[9], I obeyed him. Though I did not give up, I looked for ways to appease him. I joined Hashomer Hatzair despite my father's objections. It required a great effort to be an active member and not to aggravate him. I loved to spend time with my friends. After a long week of traveling for the family business, I would come home, change my clothes, and go and meet my friends. My eyes would be closing from tiredness but just the same, I would go to meet them.

Hanukah Candles

During Hanukah, we used to raise money for the Keren Kayemet[10] by selling candles. We tried to get the candles inexpensively, so that the proceeds would be high. Before the holiday, we divided the shtetl into zones, and the members went among the houses.

Hanukah was approaching. On Sunday, we had to light the first candle, but on Friday, we still did not have candles. What could we do? I volunteered to go to Rakishok on Sunday early morning and bring candles. Warmly dressed, I left Dusiat with a light-footed horse while it was still dark (I promised my father payment from the “scouts”).

I reached Rakishok before dawn. I went directly to Reinka Levin's uncle. We had commercial ties with him. I knew he was a Zionist. I told him our problem. By law, the stores were closed on Sunday, and anyone opening a store could be fined. The good uncle opened the store and gave me candles. When he heard that the proceeds of the sale were for Keren Kayemet, he awarded me a reduction.

By eight o'clock, I was back in Dusiat. I woke Yoelke Zeif and gave him the candles. We divided into couples, and went to our task. By twelve o'clock, every house in Dusiat had candles, and the blue boxes were filled with coins.

Rasya Tal: Some boxes were half empty. Some people refused to contribute to Keren Kayemet. These were the anti-Zionists.

Yosef Yavnai: In my time, the candles were handmade. “A goyishe chale.”[11]

Kibbutz Chaim in Ponevezh

I was sixteen and a half. I wanted to leave home and make aliya. I decided to leave for a town where I could work and save money. I did not say anything at home, since I knew they would make it difficult for me. I did not pay Baruch Krut (the bus driver) for the tickets. I said, “I don't have money.” And Baruch gave in. He probably remembered when I rescued his father from a loaded cart that had rolled into a ditch. I reached Kovno (Kaunas); in the street, I met (my relative) Rachel Blacher who worked as a seamstress. She was older than me. When she heard my objectives, she persuaded me to go back home immediately. I returned home, but soon regretted it. I returned to Kovno, but this time avoided Rachel.

I approached the leadership of Hashomer Hatzair, and asked to join hachshara (training). I looked older than my age. I was tall and muscular, liked by my friends. Thanks to my friends, I was sent to Ponivezh (Panavesyz). At home, they did not know where I was. In order to receive a certificate, you had to undergo hachshara, and get used to the hard labor we anticipated. At home, I was used hard work. From the age of twelve, I went to Rakishok to sell fish. This was not the case in all the homes. Some of the children were spoilt - “Tates Mames Kinderlach”, mommy and daddy's kids.

On the train, I met two other comrades, and the head of the ken[12] was waiting for us at the train station. We were a group of four or five boys and one girl. I was sent to work in a sawmill. The Lithuanians and Russians laughed, “A Jew working?” The owner, Opnizki, was a Jew who had made aliya, and then came back, but had remained a Zionist. The work was very difficult, but I was not deterred. I proved to the gentiles that I could do the work as well as they could. The Russian manager noticed my abilities and encouraged me. I was an example to others. I managed to add a friend to the team. I received the work on a contractual basis. We continued throughout the summer. In the winter the work stopped. The manager proposed that I go to the forest and cut wood. We (another friend and myself) preferred working in a salt mill. We carried bags of up to 100 kilograms each. We had to carry them from the cellar, and climb stairs. It was avodat parech[13]. Others could not stand it.

The hachshara had a rented apartment. And food? Too often, we ate “krenk[14].

When I left hachshara, there were thirty-five members. We often made a commotion. We argued and shouted, sang and danced, and the neighbors could not stand us. We had to change flats. During my time we changed twice, and after I left, they moved again.

In the evenings, we had conversations, we sang and danced. Sometimes we went to the movies or to the theater. Artists came from Eretz Yisrael. I remember the visit of the “Ohel Theater” in Ponivezh. There for the first time I saw the actors Meir Margalit and Leah Deganit. I remember the plays “Jeremiah, The Prophet” and “Bashefel”. I also remember the singer Osnat Halevi. In her performance, we served as ushers, and received discounted tickets. I also remember a lecture given by Meir Ya'ari (from the leaders of Hashomer Hatzair). I asked him: “ The kibbutz is our way, but there are also towns and moshavot. I would like to hear about the 'working class'.” After hesitating, he responded, “There are workers, but we are interested in life on kibbutz.” I was not ashamed, and after the meeting, I approached him and claimed that the response was insufficient.

 

Footnotes

  1. A term used to describe tiny letters, like the letters in the prayer book. Return
  2. Reader of the scriptures in the synagogue. Return
  3. First five Books of the Bible, and Book of Psalms. Return
  4. Morning, afternoon and evening prayers. Return
  5. Good riddance! Return
  6. Portions of the first five Books read in the synagogue on Saturday. Return
  7. Biblical intonation. Return
  8. Cantorial songs. Return
  9. Good manners due to respect. Return
  10. Jewish National Fund. Return
  11. Braided white bread reminiscent of those made by the gentiles. Return
  12. “Cell” – local branch of the youth movement. Return
  13. As if sentenced to “hard labor”. Return
  14. Disease, literally “we ate nothing”.Return

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