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[Page 43]

The Way of Life

 

[Page 47 - Hebrew] [Page 49 - Yiddish]

A Town Where There Were No Rich People
But Also No Bankrupt People

by Yisrael Shtainman, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Esther Snyder

There were not many opportunities in the small town of Sarnaki. A life of luxury was far removed from the residents and they didn't enjoy a high standard of living. No one had a higher education since there were no such institutions in the town. It didn't have any great vision but also no criminal underworld. There were no rich men and prosperous businessmen abut also no crooks nor bankrupt persons.

However, I am proud of our little town, where life was dynamic and full of activities, according to the standards of those days. It was a life appropriate to working people, small craftsmen in all the common occupations who made their livelihood by hard work and the help of their families; grocers, sellers of textiles and iron, etc. who did most of their business with the residents of the area including Polish farmers who never particularly cared for the Jews. Everyone fulfilled the verse, “With the work of your hands shall you eat bread.” Each one according to his circumstances supported his family and was happy with his portion.

I admire the youth of the town during the different periods who, despite the limits and narrow horizons, knew how to diverge from the narrow framework.

What were the educational institutions then? Sarnaki had only a “heder” (schoolroom); the first level was teaching young children and then teaching Gemara (Talmud) and Poskim (Jewish law decisors) to the older youth, without, of course, any secular studies.

*

Life was lived in the traditional manner. Various groups of Hasidim had their own self-contained communities – Gur, Sokolov and their “shtiblech” – small one room synagogues – that directed their lives with devotion to the past. Around the old synagogue (“De Alte Shul”) mysterious legends developed.

The Bet HaMidrash (study hall) was an inseparable part of the daily existence. Each morning, before someone opened his store or before going to work, he went to pray in the Bet HaMidrash. Towards evening, the men again went to the synagogue – this time not in a rush. Now, there was time to talk with each other about the news of the world and discuss world politics. In addition, business conversations were held, since the synagogue was an integral part of daily life.

On the Sabbath, the day of rest, the town looked different. All the stores and workshops were closed. The sound of Sabbath melodies being sung in the Jewish homes could be heard from afar. The enjoyment of the day without work could be felt in every home. The Sabbath, with its “extra soul” (“neshama yetera”) that the Jew felt in all his body, gave inspiration for all the other days of the week and strengthened the Jews to carry the burden of work and earning a living, which was not at all easy.

*

However, the youth of the town did not sit idly. They had a great desire for education and they revealed an ambition to enlarge their horizons. Many possibilities found an outlet in organizing by themselves a drama club that would appear on the stage during school vacations. They even appeared in the surrounding towns whose populations were larger than in Sarnaki.

The first signs of public movements started in 1905, which was the year of the political revolutions in Czarist Russia, however, there was also violence against the Jews, who organized self-defense groups.

There was an even greater momentum, accompanied by the fervor of the youth, after the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Pioneer youth movements were established along with activities for the Zionist funds, that introduced new content and meaning in the life of the quiet town.

I remember, while I was still learning in the “heder,” I came across a book of memoirs, from one of the libraries, of the early guards in Eretz Yisrael, some of whom were killed in the violent acts of the Arabs while they were defending the lives and the possession of the Jews. This book left a deep impression on me and aroused in me an interest in anything concerning Eretz Yisrael.

Not only the youth were excited about the Zionist idea but also the established adults (“baalei batim”) were enthusiastic. Even the religious people and the simple craftsmen showed a great interest in the happenings of the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael and the national revival movements. They were joyous in the successes and achievements of the “Yishuv” – settlement – and were saddened by its failures and loss of life.

Sometimes, the Zionists in town were courageous enough to invite speakers and members of the movements, something that larger towns didn't do. However, it cannot be said that all the Jews of Sarnaki were Zionists. More than once, in a lecture or other activity, I felt the strong arm of the “Bund” or the “Reds' (Communists). On the other hand, it should be noted that we never were bothered by the people on the other side – Agudat Yisrael and its followers.

*

From the fourth Aliya, a proportionate number of Jews from Sarnaki went to Eretz Yisrael. In the years 1928-9, there was a lot of activity in the “Halutz.” The members planned to go on “hachshara” – training – without their parents' knowledge and in retrospect, the parents also consented.

Until the Israeli War of Independence, there were just a few of us who made aliya – 15 people - and each one of us underwent a difficult process of absorption as we tried various types of work in different parts of the country. The early pioneers accepted all the difficulties with love, without complaint, although there was a high percentage of “yordim” – those who went back to Europe. However, these were not from the people of Sarnaki who knew how to keep going despite the hardships.

After the War of Independence, suddenly our “colony” happily increased. Hundreds came, those who had succeeded in escaping in various ways the Nazi hell and went through the troubles in Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union. But, to our dismay, each one of the survivors felt orphaned. There is hardly a family that didn't suffer, hard to find a whole family whose members weren't victims of the Nazi Holocaust and it is difficult to be consoled.

* * *

[A section in Yiddish, that is translated above]


[Page 52 - Hebrew] [Page 55 - Yiddish]

The Days of My Childhood

by Pesach Perlman, Acco

Translated by Esther Snyder

At a very young age, I became ill with dysentery and because my two older brothers had died from that disease, my parents were very worried. I was taken to Warsaw and according to the stories of my father, Joseph, no one believed I would survive.

My father walked around the city looking for someone who could help, but in vain. He fell into a deep depression and was close to despair. However, just then he met David Yores. It is told about him that he was a pure righteous person who was well acquainted with modern science and also medicine. After my father poured out his sad story to this man, Yores didn't think long and said that I should be taken to the Rabbi from Sokolov.

My parents left Warsaw and went to see the Rabbi of Sokolov. He told us to stop all the medications that I had been taking and to feed me chocolate from the “Plutos” company. This was a strange piece of advice but the Rabbi's order could not be ignored. My father reported that I started slowly to recuperate as soon as I began eating that specific chocolate until that dangerous disease disappeared and I totally recovered. My parents reported this to the Rabbi whose face shone from happiness and ordered me to return to him to learn Torah when I grew older. This request was not fulfilled because when I was thirteen and a half, the Second World War broke out.

There wasn't a child in our town – boys and many girls – who didn't begin learning Torah while still very young. It can be said that as soon as I started to talk and walk I was taken to the Rebbe to learn. There were a number of teachers – “melamdim” – in Sarnaki. The melamed Shmuel Kalman (my grandfather) taught the older children and so did Moshe Itzel. However, the young children's teacher, Isikl, we called him Isikl Mont, taught the little ones.

I remember to this day – according to my father I was only three years old – that my father took me to the heder and on the way he bought me a leather wallet and promised that when I knew the alphabet, an angel would throw me a coin from heaven. I arrived at the heder and found noise and tumult. It was a room without a built floor, filled with children. The Rebbe Isikl came toward us, greeted my father, took me by the hand and sat me down near the table.

This Isikl had a goatee beard. I didn't like him from the first moment I saw him but didn't dare tell my father. Beside that, I very much wanted the five pennies that the angel would throw down to me. The Rebbe opened the sidur and started to teach me: Aleph, then Bet. Suddenly a five penny coin fell on the sidur. I caught the coin and asked: How did this reach me from the heavens? The Rebbe explained to me that the angels threw the coins from heaven and they fell through the narrow openings in the ceiling.

After this, I agreed that my father could leave the heder and I stayed there. There was no one as happy as I. I showed the other children the coin and they claimed that they also received a coin on their first day of study. However, I argued that I also received a wallet and therefore I received more.

Most of the children already had a familiarity with the letters and when Isikl pointed to the letters, I just repeated in unison with the others. I noticed that they all rocked when they sang out the letter so I did the same. Suddenly, something frightening happened. The bench we were sitting on in the room, which had no built floor, turned over and we all fell to the earth. I was very hurt by this fall. I stood up and ran home. There, I announced that I wouldn't go anymore to the heder. No amount of persuasion helped and I stayed home.

After a few months, my grandfather Shmuel Kalman decided to accept in his heder a class of small children like myself and thus I started to learn with my grandfather. I was happy there. First, because our family lived in the same courtyard as my grandfather's heder. Second, here I met older children from whom I learned to do mischief like riding on a metal wheel, chasing thieves, extinguishing fires, etc. I also heard from the boys various sorts of heroic tales that entertained me and instilled in me the ambition to reach their level and their knowledge.

I made several friends in this heder, who I remember to this day. I will mention Shabtai Latzman (I'm still in touch with him to this day). This boy helped me fall asleep and would tell me stories of the exodus from Egypt, and about demons and ghosts. I was especially thankful to him for teaching me how to ride the wheel and help me make a torch in the winter. Later, he also taught me how to ice skate.

In the morning, we went to the heder which consisted of one room. The furniture included a long table surrounded by benches. The Rebbe, Shmuel Kalman, sat on a chair at the head of the table. The children were divided into classes. The younger ones learned the Hebrew alphabet and then the prayers; the older ones learned Bible and Gemara (Talmud). While one class studied around the table, the others played outside in the yard, during the summer. Some of the children spent the time memorizing the studies yet others played with buttons or matches. The youngest ones dug small ditches in the dirt and filled them with water. Sometimes, we organized into “gangs” and played war games.

The heder was like a second home. We ate there and from there went out together to various activities like saying “Kriyat Shma” (the Hear O Israel prayer) at the place of a woman giving birth, lighting Channuka candles in the Bet HaMidrash, going out in costumes on Purim, visiting sick children. The older children participated in funerals.

In the years I studied with my grandfather, I knew the following friends: Getzel Weisberg, Levi Zayerman, Avraham Bir, Itzik Hibovski, Ephraim Zilbernagel, Hershel Nortman, Naftali Akerman, Noska Zilberman, David Hersh Zilberman and many others whose names I no longer remember. Many of them survived and many others didn't.

At the age of seven, I started to go to the regular elementary school and when the classes ended, we went to the heder, where we studied until the late hours of the night. No one dared to leave the heder until after the evening “Kriyat Shma” prayer.

The Rebbe and the heder influenced me greatly. They instilled in us Jewish values and aroused in us a yearning for redemption. We often spoke of the redeeming messiah. We believed that we Jews had a soul and the Gentiles had a spirit but that spirit wouldn't make it into the afterlife.

We heard stories from the Rebbe about the paper bridge and the iron bridge. The Jews would go over the paper bridge safely but the Gentiles would fall into the water although they walked over the iron bridge. As proof of this, the Rebbe used the story of the exodus from Egypt, when the Jews walked through the sea, on dry land.

When I was ten, I learned in the third grade in the elementary school. Together with me also studied Levi Zayerman and Ephraim Zilbernagel and also the girls: Hannale Novak, Rosa Rodski, Sheindl Hobovski, and Raisl Nortman. Our teacher was Mrs. Grabtzukova. She was a very energetic teacher who had a deep voice that could be heard from afar. I remember that her shouts in the classroom could be heard in the center of town, a distance of about half a kilometer.

At this time, we started learning about events in the world. We heard about Germany, Hitler, anti-Semitism, pogroms and the evacuation of Jews from their homes. We also heard about Ms. Prister who demanded the prohibition of kosher animal slaughtering. Stormy debates raged in the Torah study halls about the problems of selling kosher meat. The butchers organized into cooperatives and we often heard the adults say that if Pilsodski were alive, things wouldn't have reached this situation.

We could understand only very little about the Jewish condition although we started to feel it ourselves. In the elementary school the Gentile children often mocked and ridiculed us; sometimes fights broke out between us. Usually, the gentiles beat us but we didn't lose our morale. In the town, fights broke out between the Jews and the Gentiles who got drunk on their holidays. As I remember, a Jewish defense group was formed. Businessmen like Moshe Birenboim, Feivel Zayerman and others as well as some youths like Yosef Akerman and his brother Gershon and others were not afraid. They stood with dignity and fought back.

On market days, there were more serious problems. A large concentration of Gentiles was always a cause of worry. Some Jews installed strong shutters on their windows to prevent breaking windows, especially those who lived on the main street or near the market. On one Sunday, I think it was in 1936, some Polish farmers attacked Shaya the grinder in the center of the town and beat him badly. Jews who came to his aid also were beaten. The local police generally arrived after the attackers had left the scene. My father was once badly beaten in the village of Hivov, near our town; a gang of Gentiles threw rocks at him as he was leading a cow to town. Only after one of them recognized him and called out, “He's one of our Jews!”, did they stop beating him.

We grew up in this hostile environment. As youth, when we started joining various organization like Betar and HeHalutz, we heard for the first time that in Eretz Yisrael they had to fight the Arabs. Others claimed, that they must do quiet work and redeem the land. In my heart, thoughts arose that we shouldn't wait and do nothing until the redeeming messiah will come – we should do something.

I would listen to political talk in the synagogue and the study hall. Most of the Jews thought that the situation wouldn't continue. Some claimed that England and France wouldn't allow Nazi Germany to enslave others. Others said that Stalin would do something to save Europe. This was until the incidents came and they were more terrible than anyone could have imagined.


[Page 59]

I Secretly Went to Hakhshara (Agricultural Training)

by Esther Grunovitz (nee Muntzaz)

Translated by Esther Snyder

 

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At the initiative of a few young friends, both boys and girls, who were from well-established families, a branch of “HeHalutz HaZair” – The Young Pioneer – was organized in our town in 1926 headed by the coordinator – “Hamerakez.” The first activities were explanations of the workers' movement in general and especially the renewed workers' movement in Eretz Yisrael.

We had only a few members and in order to maintain our existence, we had to enlarge the membership of the branch. Some of us opposed allowing those of the lower class to join and some of the parents also opposed this. Nevertheless, we succeeded in overcoming the obstacles and the branch grew.

We began having broader and more varied activities and made our first attempt at agricultural training – we planted a vegetable garden on a plot of land that we received for this purpose from the Rogoz'ik family. The land was very neglected and we worked on the plot almost with no tools and turned it into a flourishing vegetable garden. We would bring water for the plants in buckets from a nearby well. Our work succeeded and we sold the produce to private homes. We designated the money to the Keren Kayemet. Our happiness was boundless.

We devoted a corner of the garden to planting flowers and bushes that were especially well-kept and which was surrounded by whitewashed stones. We built a table and benches from old planks of wood and used this area to hold activities, sort of an outdoor clubhouse.

It happened once on 20 Tammuz, we held an evening activity devoted to Herzl where we recited texts and sang songs when suddenly we heard a shout in Polish. We looked around and saw the angry face of the police commander. Our explanations were of no help and we had to disband. Two members were taken to the police station where they were interrogated until midnight and then released. The police suspected that illegal activities were being held. This event annoyed us greatly because an important activity had been stopped. However, the next morning we returned to work in the garden and in the evening, we continued our activities as usual.

Although we were quite young, the coordinator asked that we participate in a group training in order to prepare for aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Our hearts beat with excitement at the prospect, although we were a bit sad knowing our parents would strongly oppose it. Even though most of them were Zionists, they didn't want their children to be the first ones going to training far from home.

[Page 60]

Since we foresaw their opposition, we began planning a secret departure. I was among the first ones on the list and I knew my parents wouldn't allow me to go. My conscience bothered me and I decided to reveal the plan to my mother. I started talking to her about all sorts of things and slowly broached the subject – I felt like the words were stuck in my throat. With difficulty, while stuttering, I told her what I wanted to do. I saw her face become sad and she said, “But you won't come back home !” I cannot describe my feelings. I tried to defend myself and explain, but to no avail. My mother didn't want to hear any more about it. After that, the attitude toward me in the house changed and I walked around in a daze.

I decided to leave secretly. In the beginning of the summer of 1928, I began preparing for it with my friend, Itke Graizer (today she lives in the United States). I started taking clothes from the house without anyone noticing. Once, my sister Perl noticed that I was looking through the clothes closet and began asking me questions - I barely was able to get away from her. I continued taking out the clothes I would need and hid them in the home of Yehoshua Naboz'ni, an enthusiastic Zionist and progressive person, who we knew would never reveal our secret to our parents. My friend Itke did the same thing.

 

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Members of “HeHalutz HaZair”

The longed for day was approaching. We pondered what to do, as we didn't have the money for expenses. Part of the expenses were financed by the movement, but we had no other sources to make up the difference. I asked my cousin Yaakov Akerman to loan me 5 gold coins that I would need that day. He started to interrogate me and my answers didn't satisfy him because he felt I was hiding something. I went to our neighbor Hershel Zilberstein and asked him for the money as a loan for my father just for two days.

[Page 61]

Of course, he didn't refuse. Later, while on the road, I wrote a letter to my parents and asked for their forgiveness that I dared do such a thing; I apologized by saying that I didn't want to steal money from the house.

The preparations were over. That night I stayed home so as not to arouse their suspicion because I had been running around all day making final arrangements. Apparently, our secret was known by others. That evening Yaakov Shulshtein (one of whose sons was in “HeHalutz) came to our home and said to my father, “You should know that your daughter Esther took 50 gold coins out of the drawer in your store and she's leaving tonight to a place called a “kvutza” – commune !”

I remember it as if it were happening now. My father's answer was, “ I am not so rich that I wouldnt notice that 50 gold coins were missing!”

After Shulshtein left, the family inundated me with questions whether what he said was true. The questions were about the commune; it was clear to them that I would not have taken any money. Understandably, I denied everything but I felt like my blood was rushing to my head.

After a family consultation, it was decided that my sister Perl would sleep with me in my bed to be sure I didn't leave. In the remaining hours I couldn't sleep because I was so excited and also feared that I might miss the time that had been set for the waggoner to come and take us to the train station in Platrova.

My mother still had not gone to sleep because she was planning to travel to Warsaw early in the morning, a short time after I was supposed to leave. This caused me more concern. The time came to rise up from bed. My sister was sound asleep. I put on a summer jacket and stepped toward the door. My mother asked me, “Where are you going in this rainstorm?” I answered her that I would quickly return. She believed what I said and then I went out.

That night, heavy clouds filled the sky and torrents of rain fell accompanied by thunder and lightening. The weather added to the storm and confusion in my heart and I felt terrible that I was leaving the house and my family in this way. But, it wasn't enough to stop me.

Together with my friend, we arrived in Platrova soaking wet and had to change our clothes. We arrived in Shedletz in the morning and traveled to a friend to leave our bundles with her because we had to wait several hours for the train that was bound for Lulin and from there to the place of the training in Travniki. We didn't dare even to talk with each other about what was happening in our homes after our escape. However, each one of us felt that we had committed a serious transgression against our parents, despite our lofty goal.

The morning sky spread out like a blue canopy above the city of Shedletz and we walked amazed along the streets. It was the first time we had ever been in a bigger city. Suddenly we saw someone, very familiar, coming towards us. It was Itke's sister, Tzippa, who had come there the day before for business. She asked what we were doing there and why we hadn't we told the family yesterday that we were travelling to Shedletz.

Luckily, we didn't have our baggage with us and we could answer that we came for a conference of “HeHalutz” and would return home the next day. She believed us and went about her business. We breathed a sigh of relief.

The cars of the train were completely full and we squeezed into a corner. We were not in high-spirits, because our thoughts were about what was happening at home. We managed to get away from two Polish ruffians who sat across from us and spoke rudely. We asked for help from another man who appeared to be cultured. He advised us not to continue on to Travniki because we would arrive there very late; it would be better to get off in Lublin

[Page 62]

and spend the night there since this area was full of people who harassed young girls and we needed to be careful.

In Lublin, we didn't know where to go and decided to look for the cheapest hotel, because we had only a small amount of money. As we were walking around the train station, we saw two youths wearing Zionist movement uniforms. Our faces lit up. They told us where to find the “HeHalutz” club and we went there by carriage. We were so careful that we took a quick look at the license number of the wagon driver, which was written on his hat.

We arrived at the yard and we heard Hebrew singing coming from one of the houses. When we entered, we started crying. After the efforts of the members to calm us, we told them all we had been through. They brought us dinner and one of the girls invited us to spend the night at her home. In the morning, the group accompanied us to the train station and also bought us tickets. We travelled to Travniki.

 

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Members of a “HeHalutz” group

[Page 63]

We were very well received in the kibbutz (commune) and the next day we went with the othesr to work in the field. We liked the work even though often it was very difficult. We worked with Poles and sometimes we were more industrious than they were. We won a compliment from them, one word, “Z'hid” (Jew).

After a short while, Itke returned home after being influenced by her aunt who came to get her. After the work was done, we had to move on to another kibbutz where there was work the whole year. Unfortunately, I couldn't join the other “haverim” (friends) as I had a no winter clothes. I decided to travel home although our relationship had been terminated.

I received letters only from the friends at the clubhouse and my brother Gershon. I learned from them about the reactions to my leaving. We were the early birds. We paved the way and after us, other haverim went to training with almost no interference by the parents. They reconciled to the idea and knew that their opposition would be useless. Also, the changing times in Poland and the condition of the Jews had an important influence on the parents' consent that their children would make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.

One day, towards evening, I returned to the town and went to the clubhouse that now belonged to the “HeHalutz” movement. I didn't dare go home. The news that I had returned spread very quickly and my parents heard about it. By chance, I met a key member of the group and he accompanied me home. My greeting, “Good evening” was met with silence but after a while my family calmed down.

I hinted that I wanted to return to the kibbutz and had come only to get warm clothes. I started to gather up my clothes and this time not secretly but openly but the family interfered. I asked my sister Perl to tell my mother that my decision was final.

I was notified by the central office of “HeHalutz” that I should go to the kibbutz in Ivatzevitz near Baranovitz. Two friends from the movement where already there – Yaakov Akerman and Shimon Sonshein. The cost of the journey was very high due to the great distance. Shabtai Tennenbaum also joined me. The treasurer of the movement told us that he could subsidize only part of the cost and that we must pay the rest ourselves. By chance, I found out that Haya Kaplan, daughter of Moshe-Aharon, was looking for two women to gather potatoes. I wasn't deterred by this work although I had never done such work before. In Travniki, the digging was done by machines and we collected the potatoes when they were already on the ground. One autumn day, when the clouds were floating in the sky, I went out to dig with a hoe. I worked together with a friend, Rivka Stern and we tried to keep up with two Christian women who were working with us.

When I came home after a day's work, I didn't find my clothes – the uniform of the Hehalutz. It seems that my parents were embarrassed by my work and that was a warning for me. After some negotiation through my sister, my clothes were returned. I continued the work for a few more days and earned enough for the journey.

When the time came, Shabtai and I left for the trip. Things at home were very tense. My sister Perl hinted to me that there was a package of food for the trip. I knew that my mother had prepared it. When I thanked her she barely answered.

We reached our destination safely. There were about eighty young men and women. Many of them couldn't work because their toes were frozen. It was an especially cold winter. The temperature reached 29° below zero. Within a few days, I adjusted to the work in the sawmill. I stayed there about six months and returned home to prepare for aliya.

[Page 64]

The problems at home stopped and my parents accepted the idea of my leaving. It had already become a common problem in many homes since other friends had done training and were preparing for aliya. At home, they bought me more clothes and shoes than I really needed. But, more importantly, my parents' attitude had improved.

The day after Rosh Hashana, 1929, I left home. This was also at night but with a completely different mood. Everyone was excited, including my grandfather on my mother's side, Moshe Akerman, who was then over the age of 90. When he made his farewell, he said – “Estherke, we will never see each other again!” I saw two tears shining in his eyes.

The house was overflowing with people who came to say goodbye to me - family and friends. I remember that when I went out the door, Shimon Sonshein said to me, “Esther, take a good look at the town because you will probably never see it again!”

 

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Members of “HeHalutz” on an outing

My mother accompanied me until Warsaw where she bought me more things for the future. In the train station, she gave me a few dollars – for expenses on the trip.

I didn't imagine then that I would never again see the town where I was born, that was so precious to me nor my large family, who will never leave my eyes and my heart.

After the war, some of my cousins came to Eretz Yisrael. One of them told me that the last time she saw my mother in Sarnaki, when the Nazis were already acting violently, she heard her say, “If only more of my children had caused me “shame” like Esther and Isaac, then I would be better off now!”

My poor mother, her love for her children knew no bounds.


[Page 66]

The Well We Drank From

by Esther Grunovitz (nee Montchaz')

Translated by Esther Snyder

A few meters from our home there was a well (the plump). It was covered with unfinished boards. At one end stood a pump – a piece of metal, on top of which was a sharp cap, like a hat, that was on an axle. This pump had an arm that ended with a sphere the size of a baby's head, which drew the water up from the bottom of the well.

Most of the Jewish population used this well that was located in the center of town where most of the Jews lived.

More than once there were rumors that the Gentiles dropped bread into the wells just before Passover, so to be sure that the water was kosher, the Jews used this well because it was covered.

In the summer, puddles of water accumulated near the well and since the streets weren't paved, the ground nearby became muddy. We, the children, would play here, building houses and towers, making sand cakes using all sorts of utensils that we took out of the house. We would also play barefoot in the mud.

 

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The Family of Volpke Montchaz'

[Page 67]

When the sun set, the metal would turn a purple color. On clear nights, when the moon floated calmly in the sky, its color was gray and it could be seen from afar. But it was different on dark nights; then we had to feel our way in the darkness. I remember that often when we heard someone making noise near the well, we would open our door to let the light shine outside and thus help the person drawing the water.

When the dawn began to lighten the sky, the men came to the well to bring water to help their wives. These were G-d fearing people who hurried to prayers and then to work. Some came with one bucket and others brought two that hung on the ends of a pole. The two carriers Berele and Beinish would carry water to the homes of the well-to-do.

The situation was different in the winter. The town was covered with a blanket of snow, the pump of the well was wrapped in a white scarf, and above it the top looked like a wig. In the frozen nights, when the residents were curled up in their blankets, the pump froze and in the morning it wouldn't bring forth water. However, the people knew the secret. One of the neighbors boiled water that was poured on the “hat” and melted the ice. The pump warmed up and the water streamed up.

In these winter days, the water around the well would freeze and the people, whipped by the wind, walked along the path like on a tight-rope, because any incautious step would cause them to lose their balance. However, when they passed this area, they walked as if on a soft rug in the snow. Nevertheless, there were cases when people slipped on the ice, fell flat and the water in the buckets splashed on them. Some even broke an arm or a leg. When we were children, these accidents seemed funny to us. However, as we grew up we felt differently and we were sorry to see these mishaps.

When spring came, the snow melted and the pump had drops of water on it that shone in the sun; around the well there was mud.

In the evenings, when we returned home after a walk, we always stopped by the well – both to take a drink and to continue our conversations. Especially, when the boys and girls began to walk together, we liked this place very much. There we imagined childhood dreams. Thus, the well kept out darkest secrets and never revealed them.

Much water has flowed since then. The well is still in the same place; however, the Jews no longer drink its water. Jewish children don't play nearby. A young Jew doesn't slip on the ice. A hand of a Jew doesn't hold the pump that was frozen in winter and hot in summer. Now, I feel even more than then the natural beauty of the place.

The well remains engraved in our memory even though we now live here in Israel. The first time I walked along the beach of Tel-Aviv, I saw children playing in the sand the same games that we played near the well in our town. Pictures of my childhood returned and passed before my eyes and reminded me of the experiences of those long gone days.

 

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