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[Page 185]

Legends

On a stick

by M. Timoner

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes - in square brackets]

The Russian mythology is full of “skazes” (tales) about the “baba yaga” who arrives on a stick by a short cut. It seems that those legends left an imprint on the Jewish fantasy and little by little they infiltrated Jewish life and many Jewish folk-legends adopted the magic stick in tales of legendary persons who were travelling.

This “riding on a stick” found its way into the treasure of Jewish proverbs. When one Jew asks another Jew: “How will you arrive?” the second Jew answers: “On a stick”.

The tale that I am about to tell has in it, too, the “stick” element but the stick has been given a Jewish character, almost unnoticeable but intelligible.

And how does a stick-legend reach Horodets? Who was the happy or unhappy person who arrived on a stick? And who was the miracle-worker who performed the magic? And who benefitted from that?

I see her in front of my eyes: a big fat woman with a small kerchief on her head and a big shawl on her shoulders. She had several under-skirts, each showing from under the other, which made her look like a barrel. Her eyes were full of grief and her mouth did not stop cursing.

She scared us, children, to death. Once we teased her, which made her curse us for several minutes and therefore we called her all kind of names. In shtetl they called her “Fat Hannah”. When children cried, refusing to go to bed, they were threatened with “Fat Hannah”.

When I grew up I asked my grandmother out of curiosity: “Who is Hannah and why is she wicked”. She told me this legend:

Hannah was a member of the very aristocratic family Mazursky. She was a very fine girl and was married very young to a young man from Pinsk. She gave birth to a son and lived happy like most of the families in Horodets. Her husband left for some business and disappeared into the wild blue yonder. They looked for him in all the surrounding towns, turned to the Rabbis of the neighboring communities to look for this person - but all in vain.

Several years passed and Hannah remained an abandoned wife [cannot re-marry without getting a divorce]. It so happened that the Karliner Rabbi R' Aharon (the grandfather) came to Horodets to visit his Hassidim for the High Holidays. Hannah's Hassidic relatives convinced Hannah to appeal to the Rabbi. Hannah dropped by the Rabbi to ask him to help her. The Rabbi listened to her, thought it over and said: “He will soon come and you must divorce him without questioning him or complaining to him”.

A few months later, on a wintery Friday, Hannah's husband appeared all of a sudden in shtetl. The news of the miracle circulated around and everybody came to see Hannah's husband who arrived “on a stick”. Some said that they saw with their own eyes how he went into Moshe's shop to buy a package of tobacco and others said that they even saw his shrouds under his coat.

Meanwhile, Hannah's relatives gathered and decided that it was better to reach domestic peace and get together for that purpose. In the house there was much noise and clamor, arguments and quarrels. Suddenly, they looked around and the bird had flown. The person vanished into thin air. The young men and also the police officer rode on horseback in all directions to trace the runaway and detain him. However they did not succeed. He disappeared and sank from view…

Hannah and her relatives travelled to the Karliner Rabbi for advice and for mercy. The Rabbi felt compassion for Hannah but could not do a thing and said: “A miracle occurs only once”.

So Hannah remained abandoned all her life, mournful, depressed and angry and the whole world, and for many years people kept telling how Fat Hannah's husband arrived on a stick”

 


[Page 186]

Motl the Jew

by Itshke

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes - in square brackets]

 

When I say Motl the Jew you may think, probably, that there was also a gentile Motl in Horodets. Otherwise, why do I have to call Motl “The Jew”? Nonsense, there was no gentile by the name of Motl in Horodets. The name “The Jew” simply stuck to Motl and it really suited him. He was a tall handsome man with a long white beard, two sad and clever eyes and a sad smile. Actually, motl was not really a Horodetser. I don't know where he came from. This is how it happened: when Shmuel Kaliker [the crippled], the sage of Horodets died, his widow, Gutl, was left with a fine house, a nice sum of money and a flour-store. The community brought this Motl “the Jew” from somewhere to marry the widow. This is how Motl became a Horodetser balebos. [ pl: balebatim; proprietor, house-owner, landlord. It has the connotation of a man of means].

I don't know whether Motl could study. Probably not, because if one can study - one studies. I never saw Motl sit down with a book.

To balance, Motl was a talkative man. He talked and talked with no end and with no stop. Not only we, children, but even older balebatim could not comprehend where Motle got so many things to talk about. Here, consider this: Let us take a winter day. Evening falls quite early. People finish praying Mayrev [evening prayer] and eat dinner. What do they do then? There was no theatre in Horodets, or a movie house. Motl the Jew would not sit down to play cards. There is no sense in sitting idly and wasting kerosene. So, one goes to sleep early. How long can a person such as Motl sleep? Six hours. All right, seven hours or full eight hours. So you reach two or three o'clock a.m. And indeed, Motl arrived in the besmedresh [the study house, where people used to pray as well] around 3 a.m. He did not put on the light. What does he need light for if he knows everything by heart? He walks back and forth by the eastern wall, waving his fists and praying on and on without stopping. It is already morning. Balebatim are arriving in the besmedresh and pray with the first minyen [ten men for the prayer] and go back home. Motl, however, is still moving back and forth next to the eastern wall and keeps reciting and waving his fists. This goes on until the horrible “incident” about which I am going to tell you.

Yudl the melamed [teacher in Kheyder] had at that time a kheyder [traditional Jewish religious school] full of boys: crème de la crème. Each pupil - studious, quiet and fine. They used to say in the shtetl that those kids wish to cut above the local population. It cannot be claimed that they did not fulfill this wish. One of those kids is now the highly respected Rabbi of Brooklyn – Dr. Y Bosniak…

The greatest ambition of the boys was to grow up and catch up with the Yeshiva students. Someone told them that Yeshiva students sit meshamrim so they started to sit meshamrim as well. If you do not know what a meshamer is, I will explain what it means. A meshamer means that once a week you sit and study the whole night. Don't ask me: “why young children should sit and study the whole night? Is the whole day and evening not enough?” Don't ask me such difficult questions. Different times, different songs and different ideas. In short, Thursday night they used to study the whole night. As a matter of fact, that was not so terrible. The schedule at night was as follows: until 8 or 9 they went home to eat something, got bags full of potatoes and returned to the besmedresh. The oven was lit, it was warm and they used to sit around the oven. They studied a bit and afterwards they used do tell each other all kinds of tales. Then they baked the potatoes in the oven, ate the roast potatoes, study a bit, then lay on the bench to nap for a while. That nap was important in itself. Lying on the hard bench and propping up the head with a fist was behaving almost like a real Yeshiva student. They could not sleep like that for long. It was hard and cold. One boy would then wake up the others and they would study a bit more till after the praying of the first minyen. Then they would go home and arrive usually around the time when their mother was baking the khale [twisted white bread]. Also usually the toygakhtz=teygekhtz [in my family it was ground potatoes browned in oil in a pan] was also ready by the early Friday morning. The meshamer boy naturally got the largest part of the toygakhtz and the other children did not even dare protest. It is not a trifle – he has just arrived from the mishmer [literally: night of non sleep]! Altogether, not a bad deal.

And now to the bitter event.

I remember the event as though it occurred yesterday. It was between Purim and Passover. People had already baked the matzo in the tailor's shops [probably because of the tool that perforates…]. The snow had melted in part and the wind was already a pre-spring wind. That particular Thursday night we sat for the mishmer and as usual at 2 or 3 o'clock we were already sound asleep on the bench.

Motl the Jew, as usual, arrived in the besmedresh without lighting the lamp and started “reciting”. As usual he marched back and forth near the eastern wall. However, something was not as usual in the besmedresh. There was a feeling of unrest around him. Was it a creak of a bench or did a stand fall down. He kept on looking around but did not notice anything. He continued his reciting. Then he saw suddenly a figure advancing towards him. If he were a Horodetser he would have recognized the boy in the dark. Being a stranger and in the dark, he was convinced that it must be a ghost. Motl had the right cure again a ghost. He started immediately reciting “shma Israel”. [“Hear o' Israel, our God is the only God”.] The small “ghost” did not disappear. On the contrary, from all corners of the besmedresh figures of “ghosts” moved forward. Motl could not stand it and started running out of the besmedresh along the street shouting “shma Israel, help! People, save me!” People crowded immediately and when Motl saw people, he fainted. A few strong people lifted him on their shoulders and carried him home. They attempted to revive him but he fainted again and again. What can I tell you? Motl was never again the same as before. He shriveled, did not come any more at dawn to the besmedresh, his smile became sad and his beard whiter. He believed till his death that he had a terrible encounter with real ghosts.

 


[Page 187]

Ghosts

by A. Elman

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes - in square brackets]

 

a. The river

[This is a legend]

The river of Horodets could not be dug [in order to divert it]. The folks promised the river that every year they would offer it [offer a "sacrifice"] a man. It was really so. It is said that every year a gentile drowned in the "nine days". [This is a name given to the days in between the first of the month of Av and 9th of Av]

When the gentiles noticed it, they stopped bathing [in the river] during the nine days.

b. The dead read the Torah.

Once a Jew passed by the synagogue, after midnight. He heard people reading the Torah, and they called him to read too. He went in, said the blessings for reading the Torah. After he finished reading he walked home but he did not look back. If he did, he would not have come out alive…

 

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