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[English pages 48-52, Hebrew page 76-79, Yiddish page 452-456]

The Hidden Light of the People of the Little Town of Piesk

by Hannah Dichter

(Spoken at a Memorial Meeting)

The Memorial Day for the martyrs of our town is the 11 th Tevet. All of those who live in Israel gather together on this day to remember our beloved. I would like to relate the story of the hidden light that appeared to me in our town. I have carried the memory of it with me through all the hardships of my life, but from now on, you will share it with me.

How and where did this hidden light appear to me? I was studying at the Teachers' Training College in Grodno, far away from my home and from my town. I came home for Hanukah; and the J.N.F. in our town asked me to go with Mary Koiat [KWIAT] to collect J.N.F. donations. I agreed willingly. I liked Mary. She was a beautiful, tall and refined person, full of love for Israel. We started our visits and were very impressed by the enthusiasm of the people as they gave the contributions. When we came to my own street, Zarecs Street, we stopped in from of Etka SARAFIN's house and wondered what to do. Should we go in or should we miss it out? It was a nice and respectable house; and the people who lived there were pleasant people. But they were in pain and sorrow because their eldest son, Daniel, who had formerly been so lively and active in all the social doings of our town, had become mentally sick and was bedridden in a small dark room. We were frightened and decided to pass by the house quickly. We had only gone a few steps further when we heard Etka's voice. "Hannele, why have you missed out my house? I too have a contribution ready to give for the redemption of Israel. Please come in." We went inside. The smell of milk greeted us, as the SARAFIN family sold milk and dairy products. We sat down next to the table. Suddenly, we felt huge frightening eyes firing arrows of death at us. The blood froze in our veins.

The woman ran to the cupboard, rummaged among the linen and pulled out a little bag. Mary found courage and untied it and a hoarded fortune poured out on the table. Etka's face lit up and tears shone in her eyes. She said, "Every day, after I have finished selling the milk in the market, I put aside part of the money for the re-building of our land. I have been saving this money for a month and waiting for someone to come and take it." Mary counted the coins and said to Etka in her own gentle way, "It's too much. We want to give back some of it." Etka broke out, "No, No! Take it all, all of it! Perhaps by means of this good deed…" She choked with tears. We understood her prayer. She was hoping for her poor son to be cured. I collected a kept a spark from Etka's eyes.

We went on until we came to the house of Shlomke the cobbler. We found there his son Reuben, a cripple from birth. He was only as tall as a ten year-old child. He was hump- backed and pigeon-chested. Reuben was married and had three small children. He hurried towards us wearing an apron that covered his entire body and swept the floor. His face was as white as chalk but a pair of cheerful eyes shone forth. He ran to the wall on the east, took down the blue box and gave it to us. Mary opened the box and a miracle occurred. Coins poured out of it without end. I looked around me. On the threshold of the room stood Reuben's wife, thin and frail, with a yellowish face. She was holding a baby in her arms and two more were clinging to her skirts. The house was cold and damp. The entire family was sickly and very poor. Mary counted the money. It was too much. Reuben saw that we were hesitating and said, "Please excuse me that it's so little. If God wills, in the next weeks, I will earn more and give more." Mary replied, "No, Reuben, it's not too little. It's too much. We didn't collect anything like as much from any other house." The hunchback's eyes sparkled. He turned his eyes up to heaven and whispered, "god grant that I should have a part in the redemption." We went out but I took a bit of the sparkle in his eyes with me.

Thus, we went from house to house. The day passed. We went back taking with us a heavy bag full of sacrificial contributions of the poor, suffering families of our small town.

A year passed; and I came home again. This time, it was just before Yom Kippur. I was asked to stand at the entrance to the Ladies' Gallery of the synagogue because there the women gave their donations for the redemption of our homeland. I stood next to the door, in front of a small table with a bowl on it. The sun was setting in the west. An awesome redness covered the sky. From every corner of the town, people were converging on the synagogue. Next to me stood my friend, Zlata Proshbitzki. The two of us trembled from the holiness of the hour and the place. The righteous women passed by us one by one and dropped their offerings into the bowl murmuring, "For a perfect redemption." Suddenly, Heitche, the grocer, stopped in front of the bowl. Her beautiful face shone with majesty. She was a very charitable woman. She put her hand into a pocket concealed in her lovely dress and poured out a stream of coins, which filled the bowl. I accompanied her to her place on the eastern side of the synagogue. I saw her shining with light, the light of the redemption. A little of this light became a part of me. The sun sank down. The time for Kol Nidre arrived. We gathered up the money and turned towards MANDELOVICH's house, the headquarters of the J.N.F. in our town.

A number of years went by. I graduated from the College in Grodno. I went home to stay for a little while with my mother, who had just undergone a serious operation. She came out to meet me and stood leaning against the railing, tall and restrained. She did not express in words how proud she was of her daughter who had come home with a teacher's certificate in her hand but the expression on her face showed how deep her emotion was. We went into the house. Everything was decorated for me. I sat down next to my mother; and we did not say a word. I understood for her eyes were shining with tears. A little of their light penetrated into my heart and stayed there forever…I broke the silence and said, "I know that you went hungry so that you could send me food parcels. But now that I have my certificate, you can rest from your work. I shall get a teaching job and send you part of my salary every month.

Then our good neighbor, Yitzak PROSBITZKI was standing in the doorway. He wanted to be among the first to congratulate me. This modest and na´ve man did not know what a diploma was but he understood that Hannah the orphan, daughter of Rachel was to be a teacher. I shall never forget his eyes turned on me with the tenderness of a father, nor his benign smile. He shook my hand and murmured, in a strangles voice, that he hoped I would be happy and successful. Then he said, "I would like you to explain to me a passage from the Torah. Please come to my house later on."

When I came, his mother was lying on her deathbed. My friend Zlata had already left home; and their eldest son was serving in the Polish army. Yitzhak took out a bible, kissed it, and looked for the difficult passage. I explained to him in colloquial Yiddish; and he listened, his eyes shining with a special light. A sparkle of this light attached itself to me and became part of me.

The next day, I went to visit a relation of mine, Abraham BORER, who lived in the center of the town. On the way, Yehuda LEIB, the father of Chava and Naomi, stopped me. He looked frail and old and invited me to sit next to him on the bench near the wall. I remembered how he used to wait for the beginning of the school year. He would look through out schoolbooks, especially the books on Jewish history; and sometimes, he would ask us to lend him a book to read. Now, he said, "You are a teacher; and you are not carrying any books. It looks as though you have read them all." Then, he asked me to tell him the newest things I had learned at the training college about the history of our people. I told him of the renaissance of our land and our nation. The old man came to life; and the flame of youth burned in his eyes. I parted from him and took with me a little of this flame.

I had only gone a little way when I met Sara, the mother of my brother-in-law, Yehuda. She was radiant with joy and asked me to come to her house. I followed her. She picked for me the biggest and most beautiful apples from her garden. Then, I went in. Usually her house was full of people but that day, it was quiet, clean, and festive. She picked up her prayer book and took out of it an envelope. "The last letter from my Yehudaleh," she said. My beloved son doesn't write to me very often, but he doesn't forget me. Here is a picture of my darling grandchild, Yehuda's daughter." She could not pronounce her name, Zafrira. It was too modern and strange for her. "I kiss her picture every night before I go to sleep," she went on, "and also in the morning when I get up. She's the most beautiful child in the world, isn't she?" I agreed with her. Then, she asked me to read her the letter. I read very slowly, as I wanted her to enjoy every word. "I ask someone to read me the latest letter every day," she explained, "And then it seems to me that I get a letter from him every day. I don't get annoyed with him. He is busy and has worries. I wait. I know that he will come and take me to his home so that I can bring up his children." Her eyes were lit up with a sparkle of longing and hope. I took a little of the light with me.

It was already late in the morning, but I had not yet reached the center of the town. I crossed the bridge and went toward the Tarbut School. From far off, I saw Israel KAPLAN coming towards me. He shook my hand and said, "I congratulate you and wish you every success in your career as a teacher to our Jewish children." I was touched for I did not remember that we had ever spoken to each other; and in addition, I spent the last eight years away from home studying, only coming back for the holidays. But I instantly understood that he was hoping that as a teacher I would not only pass on the traditions of our fathers, but would also point to the new path.

When I left him, I saw Henia KWIAT, the wife of Reb Shimon Hahasid, carrying two buckets. As they had no children of my age, I did not know them very well but she always aroused interest. She was tall and sure of herself, but she was very quiet; and her face was sad. She stopped and called out, "Congratulations, Hanneleh, God give you strength to do justice to your position." I looked at her in wonder; and for the first time, I saw her eyes lit up with a smile. I took a little piece of this light with me.

I finally reached the large fine house of Aharon BORER. I had to stay there quite some time as I had to tell them all about myself.

On the way back, too, people continued to smile at me and to wish me good luck, for they knew what I had gone through all those years in order to achieve my aim. If they were all here with us today, they would know that I did my best to fulfil the hopes they placed in me. But, they are not all here; and I can only tell you about the sparks of light I took from them.

Another few years passed; and in 1937, I again came to visit my hometown, but this time with my husband. Our house was sold; and my sister Heshke was the only one of all my sisters who had not gone to Israel. The townspeople came to my sister's little house to greet me.

I went to visit Baruch BOROWSKI and his wife. Their daughter, Babza Shoshana, used to be my best friend. They were in mourning for their son Meir but they gave me a warm welcome. My friends, Haim LEV, Shlomke LEV, and Zeidel ITZKOVICH, welcomed my husband like a brother, went out for trips with him and swam with him in the cold waters of the Zelbianka. As he was enjoying himself with them, I could help my sister prepare the Sabbath. I shall never forget that week. How we cooked and we baked; and people never stopped coming. They all came with gifts, some with drinks. The WARSHAWSKIs sent a basket full of drinks. On the Sabbath, Aharon BORER came to take my husband to the synagogue. My husband said he would like to have the same seat as my father had had in the "Moyar." And so, twenty-two years after my father's death, a member of the family prayed in his place. They called my husband up to the Torah; and my sister Heshke watched him from the Ladies' Gallery and cried from happiness and joy.

Moshe WARSHAWSKI, who had been our father's friend, could not come to the synagogue as both his legs had been amputated; and he was confined to a wheelchair. We visited him one day that week. His eyes lit up. I sat on one side of him and Yitzak, my husband, on the other. He asked his children to bring up some drink from the cellar and to lay the table. We drank a toast. He told us how he had been operated on thirty years before. He had come home just before Rosh Hashanah; and he longed to pray together with the congregation. Suddenly, the door opened; and my father walked in. "I came to tell you that we are turning your house into a synagogue," he said. "We are bringing a Sefer Torah; and I and some neighbors are coming to pray here." Warshawski stretched out both his hands toward us and said, "I am so happy to see here in my house Hannaleh grown-up and married, just as I used to be so happy to see her father. May God grant you success in life until the end of your days."

And I am convinced that the blessing of the old man has protected my husband and myself in times of danger; and that it is his doing that we have now reached peace and security.

END: page 52 in English

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