by Meir Tzoref (Goldshmid), Tel Aviv
It was May 1945 the biggest event in the annals of the 20th century. What was thought to be impossible had actually occurred. Cruel Germany, victorious and full of power, having conquered and occupied all of Europe with its talons was finally defeated and crushed.
The bloody mighty men of yesterday, who perpetrated terrible atrocities on millions of people for five years, were scampering around like mice, searching for a hole in which to hide until the wrath and the desire for revenge of the victims would pass. The beasts of the S.S. and Gestapo dressed up in the clothes of concentration camp prisoners. The roads and paths were filled with refugees. Baby carriages were used as means of transport, and there were the same sacks over the shoulders almost the exact picture that was etched in our memory when we left Jonava in 1941 except this time those fleeing were the Germans and the children of the Germans. However, there was one difference: they were not awaiting concentration camps, crematoria, Auschwitz, Paneriai, Fort Nine, Girelka 
The German mothers, who with their milk sustained the bloody murderers, the most evil, depraved human beings that humanity has ever seen were returning to their homes along tortuous routes. If the bombed out house had been destroyed, it would be rebuilt without disturbance, for it was their house. We were indeed jealous of them. They had houses, grandmothers, grandfathers and children. But where were our houses, children, parents, and grandparents? We felt our terrible forlornness.
Despite this, we were attracted to our old houses with bonds of enchantment, not only to catch a glance of destroyed Jonava. We streamed on through the paths of Europe among the masses of liberated people home! How pleasant and warm was the word homeward
My house in Jonava was a wooden house next to the sidewalk on Breizer Street. When it was old, its structure bent to the point that the children were able to touch its roof. In the winter, we were able to take down icicles and lick them like ice cream. Its garden overlooked the cemetery with its pines and crows, whose cawing frightened us children. It was as if they were informing us of the bitter fate that awaited us. The cemetery was part of my childhood; it aroused thoughts of life and death. There, my friend Berka Aiker and his sister Chavale lived. Their father was a stone engraver. They
lived in the same lobby as the tahara room, into which we were not permitted to enter. In the summer, we would sleep there on the aromatic hay in the attic. We would tell stories of spirits and shades, which we had heard on Sabbaths during the time between Mincha and Maariv in the Synagogue of the Peddlers. Even though I was afraid in my heart, I maintained my stance that I did not believe these stories, so that I could present myself as brave to pretty Chavale. Later, my friend Berka became a captain in the Soviet Army, and perished in the battles near Uriol. He was decorated posthumously with highest excellence for his bravery and strength of heart. Chava was murdered along with her family by the murderer Lyubka Zachar.
We, a few youths, wandered through towns and villages, with each one thinking about his own home Jonava, Keidani, Vilkomir (Ukmerge). Would anyone find his dear ones? We were filled with the desire to rebuild Communism on the land of Lithuania that had absorbed our blood.
We left accursed Germany, with its cold castles, ornate villages and gothic churches, as bands of surviving brothers. With joy mixed with sorrow, we greeted the familiar landscape of forests, wheat fields, cottages with straw roofs, and wells. We arrived in Kovno. To my good fortune, I found my child and sister alive. My brother had arrived in the Land of Israel. I also found my aunt. I continued on to Jonava.
I was crowded among gentiles on the train to Jonava. I searched for Jewish faces in vain. However, I saw a familiar face, red from an abundance of pork fat, the face of Vansovitch. Did he recognize me or not? I was happy that he disappeared from my eyes. By coincidence he did not turn me in during his time, but how many Jews did he murder
We reached the train station. There, the Beitar members arranged a reception for Jabotinski when he passed through our town. There, the merchants of the town would load up apples to export to Germany, as we children would pilfer large Antonovka apples from trains and at times receive beatings. We would often sit on the rear hinge of the wagon of Itza the Bul who was able to eat a chicken and remain hungry. It was said that he once made a bet that he could eat 50 cakes, and they took him to the hospital after 30. These were the same wagons, but the drivers were different. When one of them offered me his services, I refused. I wanted to go on foot.
Here is the match factory, but where is the guard Avraham the mason? There were new houses on high foundations. From up close, I was able to make out the Hebrew letters on the monuments that were used for building. (I later stumbled upon these on the sidewalks, pavement, stairs, etc.) My heart ached from sorrow and anger. On second thought, what is the use of stone monuments when the people had been cut off, from young to old I also saw Torah parchments covering the walls of the farmers' houses on the way to Skaruliai.
The Dance of the Demons in the place of Sioniot
Here is the train crossing, under which is the road to Girelka. People would stroll there on Sabbaths, and the children would go for Lag Baomer excursions there with their bows and arrows, and hard-boiled eggs kept warm in onion rinds. The Maccabee Organization would arrange a group of riders dressed in blue and white. The road to Girelka, where the Sioniot (Gaguzionot) took place which was a dance celebration with the firefighters band. Couples would disappear among the trees during the dancing
Those same trees and bushes served as camoflauge for secret meetings of the youth, including the writer of these lines, who wished to change the world with social justice, equality and brotherhood Forgetting that these were not requested, and they themselves were indeed undesirable guests.
The Jews of Jonava were led to their frightful deaths along that same street.
Their teacher Henka Yudelevich, along with Roza Mar, the teacher in the Yiddish school, marched first in the row. They went without tears. The Red Army will avenge our blood, Long live Stalin these were their last words. This was related by one of the murderers, who hung himself on one of the trees next to the mass grave in 1943, at the time that the Germans were attempting to cover their trail of iniquity by burning the bodies.
I did not enter the forest. The army was there. I turned back with the feeling that I was the sole survivor from the valley of death and weeping.
As I was walking, the face of the tortured crucified one peered before me from the large cross.
For 200 years you have been staring at us, the son of our unfortunate Miriam. Today you have won, but the price was great and perhaps you are not guilty. Perhaps everything was done in your name without your agreement May our spilled blood be a stain upon your head and upon all those who perpetrated such in your name throughout the dark generations! Again, what could you do more than remain a silent witness. You too they crucified.
Recognizable Images Flutter About
Behold I am inside you, Jonava. Here is the bus station that bustled with Jews, former wagon drivers. The horse market, the town hall, the post office. The street of the grain merchants, the craftsmen, and the lumber merchants wiped out without a trace, covered with grass.
I am looking for any recognizable house. Here are the barracks. Here is the skating rink, and there, the new Beis Midrash. Its holiness has fled. People live in it.
Here is the Vilia to which we children were so attracted. Elia the fisherman drew his livelihood from it. He caught fresh fish to supply the housewives in honor of Sabbaths and festivals. The barges of the boatmen Levit, Dabol and others floated through it. As children, we sneaked free passages without paying. That river took our sins from us during Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. Its waters continue to flow even without all this.
Here the church stands alone, as the wind of giants, with its steeples and crosses. As a victor, it looks over the destroyed Jewish town and the old synagogue and its competitor, the old synagogue, which stands whole, as if to irritate the gentiles a memorial to the destruction.
Here is the alley where Silman of blessed memory lived. The basketball player Berka Rikless also lived there. We would wait for him before games so that we could have the honor of carrying his gear. We would climb over the low roofs of stables and barns, playing hide and seek, and conducting battles. Here in the small store one could buy haberdashery, whereas we would by our main provisions from Bluma the Golden, whom Grandmother nicknamed Bluma the Thief, for she always erred in the calculations to her benefit. However Mother claimed that a shopkeeper must be a thief, for if not, she could not sell on credit. Mother would send us with full payment to purchase small items from Feiga, the second wife of Avraham the mason. His son from his first wife, Davidka Dezent, was an active Communist who immigrated to Birobidzhan. He was imprisoned there and exiled to Siberia for 20 years, where he is today. His second wife had two daughters, Reizka and Itka. The first was very pretty, and the second was a talented student. Feiga also had a son and daughter from her first husband.
The Bird that Flew From the Next
The son Yoske the Bird was a shoemaker. Like all shoemakers, he would lick the soles with his tongue. His wife was the daughter of Hirshe Minde, who had a wild head of hair. She was a quiet woman and dedicated mother, until one day a young gypsy woman appeared in the shoe workshop, and predicted Yoske's future with cards. Our Bird removed his apron and disappeared with the gypsy. The family spared no effort to track down the shoemaker under a spell, but it was in vain.
However our hero did not become a gypsy. One muddy autumn day, he returned to his wife and his work. Since he was a member of a large family of wagon drivers, he succeeded in escaping to Russia.
Here is the house of the Kopans family, relatives of Father. Hershel was a wood engraver. His talented hands produced artistic ornaments. Through his work, he endeared himself to G-d, man and nature. He loved art and literature. He was an avowed atheist. His wife Pesl was very friendly. She was burdened with the care of her two daughters and a son. The daughters studied with Balsher in school, and the son in Yavneh, so that he would be able to recite Kaddish.
An Event that Caused a Storm
The house in which we lived was owned by the widow Liba Bracanski and her only son Leibke. He was a hired carpenter. Even though he had completed the army, girls were not interested in him. However, we once saw him strolling with the daughter of Mottel the smith
in the civic garden. She was a solid girl. She did not excel in beauty or wisdom. One eye was squinty, but she was upright. After their first walk she became pregnant
The town was brewing. Her father and uncles were all puffed up. In their hands, it was like a crazy horse and a pure lamb. They threatened to break his bones as one breaks an old horseshoe if he does not marry the daughter whom he violated. He tried to deny it. After a Torah judgment with Rabbi Ginzberg, the couple got married, and Breizer Street breathed easily. They had two children. The widow swallowed the disgrace and was a good grandmother. She fattened ducks, fried fat for Passover, plucked feathers, and occupied herself with Jewish sources of livelihood until the bitter end.
Here is the house of an acquaintance, with green shutters. There, I would visit my older friend Motka Dudak. There were older girls in their house, and their friends would come to visit them all pretty and joyous. They were very nice, and sometimes one of them caressed my cheek with a white, perfumed hand and said: What a nice boy. It is too bad that you are so young, you were born so late. In my heart I agreed with her. It was good for me. Sara was prettier than all of them. She performed in plays better than all of them, and indeed, she got married before them all
The Dramatic Circle
Thanks to my friendship with the members of the Dudak family, I later found my way to the theater circle of the culture league. Shmuelke Dudak was the living spirit of this club. He participated in all areas of culture: library, night courses, the club, the Communist party and Meafar. He was a tailor by profession. For ten hours a day he worked with needle, thread, irons and scissors, and after that in communal work and the acquisition of knowledge. He knew how to play any acting role very well. Woe to anyone who stumbled over a sentence or a movement. He would find himself in the crooked lens of Shmuel at the first opportunity. He concerned himself with everything: He brought the carpenters who were fond of theater Chaim Katz, Chaim Praboznik, Berka Mar and Itzik Kalinski with their work tools and materials. They all stood in the cold hall of the firefighters, sawing, cutting and building scenery. The actors rehearsed the text, the teacher Balsher supervised over the differentiating of the pronunciation of Shin and Samech which was no small matter for a Lithuanian Jew, especially for older ones such as Hilka Epstein, Shmulke Milner, Abake Kotkas and others.
Tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, after a day of work, rehearsed their roles under the stage direction of the teacher Yosha Epstein. He was assisted by Pesach Kremenitzin the smith.
Then came the great day of the first performance. Eliahu Mar was near the entrance. Nobody could enter without a ticket, even his children. He arranged a full price ticket for his wife in the first row. Shmuelke Dudak sat at the cash, and Mosheke Odoskes, in his firefighter uniform, presided over order. Thus did everyone do his part voluntarily, for all income was for Meafar. The teacher Balsher was not kosher in the eyes of the authorities. Even most of his students tended to be active Communists, such as Tzalka and Mosheke Glazer. Moshe was lame he is now a judge in Vilna. Tzalka was a member of the N.K.V.D. He died in a mysterious manner in an auto accident in 1952 near Memel.
We should note that the teacher Balsher also conducted classes in Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish history in a free spirited manner. Even for this little matter he had to stand on guard from the opponents of Hebrew, who saw this as a diversion from the straight path. We, the former students of Yavneh, where education was based upon maintaining the distance between teacher and student, were particularly influenced by the warm and friendly relations between the teacher and the principal Balsher.
The young engineer Yaakov (Yosha) Epstein, the son-in-law of the Pogirsky family, played a special role in the dramatic club. He was the spiritual father of the club. He was busy all day with his business in the iron store. He dedicated his evenings to study with those who desired to learn. He broadened the activities of the club and added classes about movement and choreography by Bunia Wolfovich, the daughter of Leib. (They were exiled to Siberia in 1941. The intervention of Yosha Epstein did not help. On the contrary, this hurt him, and he was dismissed from his job as mayor of the city.)
Yosha Epstein invited us into his house for lessons and rehearsals. We felt at home in the large rooms of his house. At first we were perplexed because of our small homes in which we slept in cramped quarters with an interlocking of arms and legs, and in the winter on the oven.
Pogirsky's house was a symbol of excess and wealth for the Breizer Street neighborhood. I remember that when I was still a child, the Leftist Group used to come to my grandfather's home: Shmuelke Dudak, Chaim Weichko, Shmuel Silber (the two latter ones married my aunts and became my uncles. Chaim Weichko perished in the Uriol Front, and Shmuel Silber in the Kovno Ghetto), Leizerke Shabses (the dark), Yoske Zelmanovich (the Swallow or the Bird), Davidka Dezent, Sarahke and Mina Shapira, and others. When I went to grandmother to get fresh bread, one of them took me on their knees and asked: Do you want to be a Communist? To my negative question: What is that?, they answered that we will live in the home of Pogirsky, and he in our house That of course enchanted me, and I waited for Communism
Now I am sitting in that same house, drawing knowledge from Pogirsky's son-in-law, Yosha Epstein, a teacher, friend and pal. We were also friendly with Yosha's wise wife Bluma, who apparently was not too thrilled with the proximity of the pretty prima donna Henka Yudelevich. We were also friendly with Dudia and his wife Maya, and I am embarrassed that during my childhood I dreamed of taken their home from them
Yoshe Epstein drew us near to professional theater. Rashel Berger, Sidi Tal, and Yaakov Sternberg were our constant guests. This enabled us to appear in Beit Haam, which Rashel Berger directed. On occasion we visited the Lithuanian theater. We translated plays and successfully performed them. The Zionist tribune with the Herzlian elder Ivenski presented to us world and Jewish history. The accountant of the popular bank, Yankel Opnitzky, was laid up in bed. We came to him to discuss literature and theater. His wife Tzvia had pity on him lest he not regain his strength, but he would say, let me enjoy the time that I still have left Indeed, he instilled optimism in us with his faith in the human spirit, as he would also do to those in distress who turned to him at the bank. He assisted everyone with a good word, with advice, with the goodness of his heart. Many accompanied him on his final journey.
On Breizer Street
Behold I am now standing on Breizer Street and attempting to review this portion of the town in my mind. Here was the alleyway of Yankel Leib, which coiled like a snake. Here lived the Frantic Kravitz, the speedy tailor. He made the rounds to the villages and sewed there. He loved to tipple. When a farmer came to him, he would take the measurements, and send him off to get a bottle of liquor. The garment was ready by the time he returned.
Yankel Leib indeed provided a livelihood to many families, but he was not well liked by people: both because he had changed from a simple worker to a big shot, and because his pretty daughter made her way among the gentiles.
His wayward daughter was a travesty to him. Were there too few Jewish boys that she had to spend her time with the Jew haters?!
Thus did the women of Breizer Street curse her when the pretty Itka Landman walked with Simon Dulgatz in the direction of Keidani Street Apparently, they had premonitions about the future executioner Even her former friend Lyubka Zachar was soaked with Jewish blood and pillaged Jewish property. That Simon Dulgatz presented himself as a Folksdeutsche during the German occupation and became an executioner of the Jewish community of Jonava, perhaps as well because of his knowledge of the Yiddish language. Thus was also the layer of snares, Jan Pinkovsky. He came from the same place, became a Sabbath Goy, laid snares, and learned to speak Yiddish. This made him valuable in the eyes of the Germans.
Here is the house in which Moshe Reiza-Leah's Josef the baker lived. I would go there at times to purchase fresh, aromatic, black bread. On the way back, I would devour approximately half the loaf. On account of this, I would get a curse rather than a blessing from Mother, such as, A cholera should not take you! This formula would arouse Father's anger: Do not open up an opening for the Satan! Better the belt than a harsh word. Indeed, that is how he acted.
We would bring our hot Sabbath dishes to the oven in the bakery. Women would say about Chaim's father Moshe that he would peer into the pots and equalize them that is he would transfer some food from a pot that had lots of meat into a poorer pot that had no meat at all or he would even switch pots. Today the oven is orphaned no hot dishes, no bread, no Jews
Here is a small house, as if it was stuck to a regular house. Here lived the shoemaker Taffer thin, short, and with many children. His wife was also thin. Even though they had older children, they continued to live as a couple in love. He sat by the shoe last and she peeled potatoes. Without stopping his work, he explained to her world events. After all of his explanations, it became clear to her that there was nothing to put in the cooking pot and nothing with which to pay the rent.
Her brother Leibel Shoub lived with them. He was thin, even though he wasn't tall and had long hair. Nobody was fond of him and nobody befriended him even though he belonged to the leftist circles. His external appearance was also repellant. He immigrated to Birobidzhan, and, as is related by those who returned from there, became an informer and provocateur of the N.K.V.D. He is responsible for the deaths of no small number of Jews. To this day we run into the name of L. Shoub of Birobidzhan who castigates the Israeli strongmen.
Here is Rashel's well, overflowing with cold, fresh water. Even though the well of the yellow Itel was closer, Mother would send us specifically to Rashel's well. Itel was a gossiper. If she saw a child with a torn shirt or a hole in his pants, all the neighbors would know that Sara, Chaim Shimon's wife does not look after her children properly. She did not lack free time. Her husband, a water man, would go with their eldest son to float barges, and would return only for Sabbaths.
My father did not want me to go there because her children were busy all day with doves. They would use all means and enticements to attract a male or a female. They would send forth a fine male, and he would attract a female with his enchantment. The opposing side would employ various tactics to disturb them they would whistle and throw stones until a battle would break out, with stones thrown from windows, curses, beatings and shrieks a literal war on account of a dove the symbol of peace. Finally they would make an agreement: two males for a female.
The primary competitor was Mota-Itzka, the son of Eliahu the fisherman, who lived on the alleyway of Shimon the teacher. Even though Shimon was already in the world of truth and all that is left from his room was Yenta with the goat, with whom she never parted day and night for she even brought her to her room to sleep the alleyway still bore the name of Shimon the teacher. This alleyway was always full of mud because of the water that lazy women poured out from their window. This served as an arena for the battle of the doves
The word Yonai rang in my father's ears like, for example, the word meshumad (apostate). Indeed, we had one such person
on our street, behind the Tarbut School: Fabian Kolbiansky Feivka the Apostate. He would go to church on Sundays, and work in his apiary during the week. I would sneak into his garden. I had a net with me, and he would give me little cups. I would help him raise smoke in order to chaise away the bees, and collect the honey. Of course, this was all without Father knowing. I was not able to withstand the temptation of studying the wonders of nature, for the bees lived like humans, with a queen, bridegrooms, loafers, guards, and regular masses of workers Above all, I enjoyed the sweet, aromatic honey.
Hautriner lived in my neighborhood. He was a medic who distributed pills for free. He was popular with the residents of the street. It was said that his son committed suicide because of his love for a Jewish girl, and the girl also committed suicide on that same day a Romeo and Juliet in Jonava.
Jews would greet him with good morning. When he died, many people accompanied him to his eternal rest. He was indeed worthy of this, for he related to the Jews with patience, and he was a true friend of the Jews. I was also among those who went to his funeral. My Lithuanian friend Ratni took my hands and led me to the church. Before I was able to think about it, he succeeded in removing my hat. I broke out in a cold sweat out of fear and trepidation. I was afraid of a punishment from Heaven, but nothing happened. The priest sang before the casket, lehavdil,  like our Kel Maleh Rachamim. My friend was standing beside me. I calmed down and continued to accompany the casket to the cemetery.
My Friend the Shiksa
There was one more well on our street, next to the third house from our house a well belonging to gentiles in a closed courtyard with a guard dog. I would go there to get water. I was friendly with their daughter from my childhood, and of course also with the dog. My father did not know about this. Mother pretended not to know: So what, if they are gentiles is their water not kosher? And the fact that he talks to the shiksa, 'nothing bad will happen to him'
I would take advantage of the absence of her father and the fact that her mother was always busy, and I would come to draw water. Their daughter would also come then to draw water. We were not short of anything to talk about. I was interested about what takes place in church, what foods they prepare for their holidays, and about the spruce tree. I would taste a cookie in order not to embarrass my hostess, feel bad that I sinned, and worry lest someone saw me in my disgrace and would tell my father. Whiplashes would fly atop my young body, and as they increased, the persistence increased to endeavor not to cry. Passover drew near, and my Christian friend waited for matzos. She also had lots of questions: Why do the Jews not believe in Jesus? Indeed he loves everyone. Is it correct that when one sees a rabbi, one must close one's mouth, otherwise one's teeth will fall out When I told her that we say the same thing about the priest, she was astonished: Why? He is so good
Thus did we come to the agreement that G-d is equivalent for everyone, and that it is people who are evil. It was divided up between the Jews and Christians, Lithuanians and Poles to conduct wars Our secret friendship continued until the outbreak of the war.
Today I am to her as an unexpected guest who came from the other world. Their house did not change. There was no addition of Jewish furniture and property not even Jewish candlesticks in front of the icons. I am sitting and hearing about the suffering of our dear ones. She tells me about our neighbors, that they were prepared to give everything for bread, flour, or grits. But nobody wanted to purchase from them, for they waited for the day when they could take everything without payment.
She told me with an open heart that she very much wanted to help with something, but she was afraid of her husband who was an anti-Semite perhaps because she loved Jews I leave her house with a broken heart.
And These Are My Neighbors on the Street
Here is the house of Recha the miller. Her husband Moshe worked in Izak's mill. She was always white from the flour dust. She enjoyed letting children smell tobacco, and she burst out laughing when they would begin to sneeze. Recha was
always angry. She cursed and castigated us and the chickens who wreaked havoc in her garden. During the summer, she would let me lead her cow out to pasture, under the supervision of the shepherd Jan with his bugle and puppy. This Janek learned how to read and write from me. He later became a Comsomolitz, the sole Lithuanian among Jews.
I could not find my house any more. The gentiles dismantled it. I was particularly distressed about the oven. On cold days we would spend time atop of it, reading books secretly and weaving childhood dreams about a bright future. Here, next to it, my uncle Shmuel Pogir, and later my uncle Eliahu, would twist ropes. I would assist them in turning the wheel, and in other tasks. My aunt Sarale, Eliahu's wife was not pleased with this. She complained to him that he liked us better than his own children. My uncle Eliahu did not lose his composure, and he returned part in seriousness and part in jest my nephews take after me, and my children take after you
Here is the new house of Yechiel the potter. This was a low, depressing house. However, he cheated the authorities. He replaced rotting beams one by one until he reached the roof. Itzik Milner the builder was an expert in such matters. The new beams were covered on the outside with connecting boards, and on the inside with tar and pitch. My father built the ovens. Noach covered the roof. Behold, he had a new house.
I especially enjoyed seeing Itzik the builder at his work. He drew the form of a beam and put some moss between the beams, as he sang Kol Nidre, Ele Dvarim, and other cantorial pieces. Father told me that he was once a musician, and he had a voice like a harp.
We were afraid of Noach the roofer. It was said of him that in his anger he put an end to the life of his first wife. He had his own style of prayer during services. When we came to the word shalom (peace), he would get hysterical and shout out loud: There is no peace, there will be a war, and one will bite the other in his throat and remove the bread from his mouth In the ghetto and the camp, I would remember the strength of his dark prophecy.
Yechiel the potter was also called Chilka Tafus, for in addition to making pots, he was the undertaker along with his partner Alter the potter. During a funeral, in the midst of the weeping before taking leave of the dead, one would hear the voice of Alter: Women to the side, Chilka tafus (grab hold!). From this came his nickname.
Yechiel renovated his house with money that he received from America on account of his son who fell during the First World War. The house was designated for his daughter Chanake with golden teeth. Women would say that she does not remember which month it is, and therefore a wooden piece was placed under her bed each month. Since she was pregnant, a pile of wooden pieces piled up under her bed
Nisan Kapol the shoemaker lived a bit further on from there. Women nicknamed him Nisan with Hazeh, since he would add zeh to every thing. I took of zeh from you, from your child; zeh, means a measurement of this thing, i.e. shoes
His wife Perel was apparently pretty, but they did not have an easy life, for he devoted his whole life to the pair of shoes: he would purchase good and expensive leather, work for a week, and at the end the shoes were not appropriate He had to sell them at cost, and sew other ones in their place. On one occasion, he sewed two right boots When he succeeded in sewing shoes larger than the measure, and the purchaser was satisfied, for shoes that are too big are better than ones that are too small he would get half price, and he would receive the other half when the shoes wore out. However, the shoes of Nisan did not wear out so quickly. They are shoes of iron, Mother would say. Indeed they were as heavy as iron
You should use them in good health, Nissan would wish the purchaser, and would be happy when the child did not complain that the shoes were too tight What does a woman of valor do when her husband does not earn enough livelihood? She occupied herself in selling fruits and vegetables. My mother would buy cucumbers from her to pickle for the winter, apples, pears, and other vegetables, as she would incidentally hear her utter her complaints against the world and its Creator.
The Kloiz of the Peddlers
Here is the synagogue of the peddlers, the pride of our street, especially after Meir the bath attendant, nicknamed the consul,
plastered it from outside and in. Our relative Hershel Kopans engraved a new amud (prayer leader's podium) with two cherubs spreading their wings, who inspired awe with their extended tongues, and simultaneously protected the amud, as if they were vigilant against a hidden danger Hershel was a free-style artist, but he put a Divine spirit into the engraving of the amud.
Meir the bath attendant became a painter by decree of the new mayor of the city, who decreed that every homeowner must renovate his house and paint the walls, blinds, roof, chimney and fences everything! At first we sighed: Can you imagine? A decree such as this! From where will we get the money? But nothing helped. People waited until the last minute, and a panic ensued. They searched for tradesmen with candles. What did Meir the bath attendant do? He purchased a paintbrush and began to paint. He even demanded the fee of a true painter.
It was said of him that when he painted the synagogue, Rabbi Ginzberg, who replaced the late Rabbi Silman, came to inspect the quality of his work. He loved to inspect himself that which was done for communal affairs, and he would not be satisfied with nonsensical pictures in the synagogue, as there were lehavdil, in the church. Apparently he told Meir that this would not be pleasing to him. Meir retorted to him from the top of the ladder: Rabbi, one should not complain for nothing about half the work .
He did not forego his post as bath attendant. On Friday he would serve the householders in the bathhouse.
I do not understand why our synagogue was called the Kloiz of the Peddlers. There was not even one peddler there, but rather shoemakers, tailors, butchers, smiths, carpenters, builders, wagon drivers, and ordinary Jews Here, in the women's section, Chasia with her bundle would scream out at midnight and alert the neighbors that they wanted to steel her bundle. All that was in it were papers
In that Kloiz, Yankel the vinegar maker would grab a lad, place a roll into his hand, and command him to make the hamotzie blessing as he would get the benefit of reciting Amen. It was said of him that he was one of the 36 tzadikim in whose merit the world exists, whereas he himself would claim that the world exists in the merit of the Jews who study Torah. If Heaven forbid they would interrupt their studies, the world would be destroyed
In that Kloiz, we would study the Talmudic discussions of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai with Reb Mendel Deitz.
In that place, the extra soul of the Sabbath would envelop us after the Sabbath meal of tzimmes (carrot stew), gefilte fish, and challas, as we were all dressed in our Sabbath finery. We would listen to words of moral lessons from a local scholar or a preacher from outside the city about the Garden of Eden for the righteous people, the preserved wine, the wild ox and leviathan, and about Gehinnom (hell) for the evildoers, with Lilith and Ashmadai  We would constantly recite our chapters of Psalms in order to protect ourselves from the beautiful Lilith, who in my mind was impersonated by my Christian neighbor
We would supplicate for a good year on the High Holy Days. There, we would collect money for the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund), blot out Haman, praise the Creator for the wonders and miracles that were done through the Hasmonaeans, and weep over the destruction of the Temple as if it took pace yesterday before our eyes. My father later started worshipping in Tiferet Barchurim, especially on the festivals, when the prayer leader was Shmuel Cohen.
The synagogue of the peddlers my second home during my youth is shamed, abandoned, and orphaned. There is no Yankel the vinegar maker, no Jewish children to study Torah and the world continues on the sun shines according its custom and sets in the distance behind Spinan without the Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv of the Jews.
The Shul and the Poorhouse
With a heavy heart, I continue my steps along the wild grass that grows on the street. The old shul (synagogue) stands before me as a naked stump whose branches have been cut off, as if it is immersed in slumber, as a monument shouting Heavenward. The shul faces the church steeple with its shiny crosses, as if asking endlessly, Where are my Jews? Even though it had been turned into a storehouse and there was junk surrounding it, it seemed to me as if I heard the echo of prayers bursting forth from inside. I remember the Kel Maleh Rachamim of the cantor Shlomo Margolis. His powerful voice echoed from the dome and was carried on high. Next to it stands the old Beis Midrash, bereft of its holiness, embarrassed, as if asking, Why and for what reason did I remain standing?
Here is the guesthouse and the poorhouse. Half of it has been taken over by the local poor. Among them
was Menucha who served in the wealthy homes. As she walked, she talked to herself. Her corner was clean, and there was a flower on her window. In the second half, poor from near and far found shelter for the night. They struggled for a good place, as if they were archetypes from Mendele Mocher Sefarim when he wrote Pishke Hachiger
Shneur Matei also lived there. This was apparently a corruption of Metatei, for his work was cleaning out latrines. We kept our distance from him, because a bad odor emanated from him.
Here is the Yavneh School. There, the teacher Sheina Grodski zealously guarded the language of Bialik from the Sephardic pronunciation, which was used in the Tarbut schools. Sara Silman was there. She was a relative of Rabbi Silman. She enchanted us with her enthusiastic smile as she instilled in us grammar, with its rules and exceptions. There, the teacher Levinski influenced us with his noble appearance, and by playing basketball and handball with us during recess. There, the teacher Feldberg taught us Bible and Gemara in a way that was equivalent to everyone. There we would laugh about the calculations of the teacher Shoub. First, because he was short and looked like one of us. Second, since he was not licensed, whenever the government inspector came, he had to flee. At times, he even jumped out of the window at the last moment. We found this hilarious.
Here is the bathhouse. It has almost collapsed. There is nobody to tend to it. The person who took care of city hall matters, Valchokowski, is no more. Here, every Friday Jews ascended the tall steps, and thrust off their weekday concerns along with their sweat and dirt.
The streets of the gentiles were not damaged, such as a portion of the Fishermen's Street and Keidani Street, with its gardens, trees, flowers, whose pleasantness spread also to the adjacent streets.
Here is a house to which I often went. Here lived Bronius Walinchius. He worked as an assistant for my father. He learned how to make ovens, and became Father's partner. He loved to teach me to drink liquor. He did not succeed, for he would quickly get drunk himself. Or then his wife, a lovely village girl, would teach me from the tree of knowledge.
I did not want to go to visit them. Why should I pour salt on my wounds? I was told that even before the Germans came, he went to my father to take his work tools. He already knew from the outset that Father would no longer need them
Here lived the Yellow midwife. It was said that she occupied herself with forbidden matters, and assisted girls who transgressed and who got a little pregnant. Her sons, Tzalka and Moshe Glazer, were under police surveillance. They would be arrested before May 1. Their house would be searched, and they would find nothing. They would be freed after a few days. Nevertheless, it was always possible to obtain a forbidden book from them, a booklet or pamphlet about the Garden of Eden in the Soviet Union, and about the liberty, equality and brotherhood that had already been achieved in the happy Soviet Union, where everyone worked according to his ability and received according to his needs as well as other sharp reasons such as these, which were crafted against those who claimed that this was a foreign seedling, and that we must plant within ourselves a longing for our old, desolate homeland, lest we miss the opportunity
Our Meeting Place
We gathered in the house of Tevka Graber, on the oven, on long winter nights. The kerosene lamp spread a cloudy, mysterious light. A yellow spot appeared on the ceiling like a full moon in a cloudy sky. Tevka's father, along with his friends and neighbors, were around the table immersed in games of cards. They were involved in passing time, discussing news, and deliberations, without paying attention to our presence. At times, the posterior of a young neighbor would appear as she came to Judith, Tevka's mother, to borrow something or to purchase sunflowers seeds, as she would tarry for a little while
Judith did not sit idly. In addition to her housework, she would make ice cream in the summer to sell to children. In the winter, she would roast sunflower seeds, and prepare ginger candies or honey pastries. She would make delicacies for Passover or weddings and everything was made with finesse. She would earn well on the eve of Passover by working in the matzo factory of Sonia Gans, the wife of the butcher. She would knead the dough. I would pour the flour and my sister Osnat would pour the water. My father also worked there next to the oven. Judith
was a refined woman, quiet as a dove. When she was sure that the supervisor was not there, she would give us some rest or do our work: So that the children can breathe easier a bit. She would also at times place an ice cream into our hands, saying, Your mother already paid.
As we have said, we would gather there when we were still children: Berka Aiker, the son of Yossi the son of Moshechik; and Mosheke Sharshab, the son of Alta the seamstress, who was orphaned from his father. Even though his mother was considered to be the best seamstress for women, and the women of Jonava required her sewing, her livelihood was meager. Why? She had three children. Her brother Avraham, the perpetual womanizer worked with her as well. He would pursue each girl that came to work with them. However, he did not get far. First, he stuttered slightly, and second, how could he leave his sister, a widow with three sons, alone
Mosheke Sharshab had a rich imagination. He would tell drawn out stories, like a novel in the newspaper, and with a happy ending as in the movies in Tevchik Yaffa's movie theater. When did he compile them? When he prepared wooden skates for the group of friends, to be used on the railway tracks (he excelled at this), or by molding dreidels for Chanukah, as he helped his mother cook, bake and do the laundry all this without missing attending the Beis Midrash three times a day to recite Kaddish He continued thus until the general destruction. The future author of children's stories, drawn from the experiences of his living brothers, went to his eternal world. He had a Jewish joy of life for the home, and was suffused with justice and hope.
We also had our own artist, Gershke the Bas. His father was Reuven the Bas. They lived in the guesthouse. His mother served in wealthy homes. Accompanied by her husband she claimed that a day before she had dreamed that she was sitting in the cellar and grating horseradish in the grater. He interpreted her dream: Itke, it will be bad and bitter for you
This Gershke did not study at all and knew everything. He went to work only when he needed money to purchase a book about drawing, engraving or reproduction. He drew everything, including landscapes and portraits. He particularly enjoyed engraving on wood and molding clay. Even the handle of a toothbrush served as an image of a woman He would engrave Moses with the tablets, and lehavdil,  Ashmadai . He would also draw sets for our performances. He was ready to travel to Moscow to study in an art school, but he remained put, apparently, because of his mother. Thus did another one of our talented people perish at the outset of his blossoming.
An Exceptional Family
Keidani Street, as it was, had its flowers, trees, and benches for lovers legal or forbidden, who hid in the shadows of the foliage and enjoyed the environment that fostered growth, along with the sweet aroma of spring love
Here is the house of the old photographer Soloviov, with his white Tolstoy beard. During picture taking, it was like a drawn out religious service, with the echoes of his final warning: Sani-ma-yo. Later, you would look at the photography without recognizing your face. It was said that in 1906 he was a representative in the Duma.
Across from him lived the only Jew on the gentile street, Keidanski, the teacher in the Tarbut School. In his home, he spoke with his wife and children only in Hebrew. Their names were also different and unusual: Shaul, Imanuel, Tziona, and Reuven (rather than Reuvke). In general, we never called a person named Ben-Zion by his full name, for example. He would be nicknamed Bentzka, such as the son of Shimon Elia the butcher. He was still nicknamed Bentzka the butcher even when he was the father of grown children. It was said that it was dangerous for a young woman to enter his butcher shop He would be called by his full name only when he was called up for an aliya to the Torah.
The behavior of the teacher Keidanski was different than what was usual. He did not go on summer vacations. He worked in his garden along with his children. Even his means of combing his hair was unusual a part in the middle of his curls that were black as tar. They called this: the Zionist hairdo of Elia Keidanski. He, like the teacher Balsher, educated a generation, but in the opposite spirit: in the spirit of the love of Zion, the nation and the language.
I Was Swept into the Vortex
The students went about on the streets and in the halls, immersed in fiery debates: Socialist Zionism, Revisionism, Grossminst, principles a and b each one according to his ideas, and all together arraigned against the Communists, Folkists, Deists. The battles were conducted with zeal, as one even used one's fist to try to convince one's disputant about the correctness of the program how to actualize the return to Zion, how to straighten the back and liberate it from the yoke of exile. Many of the townsfolk would escort the fortunate chalutz (Zionist pioneer) who received a certificate, and was going to build a home for his family and his nation. Thus would they also escort those who were immigrating to Birobidzhan in order to live there as a citizen with equal rights in the great family of nations and to benefit from the pride of the father of the deprived
Thus was the vortex formed in Jonava some to the right and some to the left, some partially, and some with all their might. Thus was I also swept into the vortex to assist the redemption of the nation from its long exile. Since this path was very slow, I quickly found with the help of secret books the path in the opposite direction, with full and holy faith in humanity and the brotherhood of nations. We placed our hope in the redeemer with the red star
A drastic change in my political orientation took place after the failure of my first love. The matter began with the reformation in the school, when boys and girls were seated together on one bench. The pure heart of a twelve year old boy was filled with pride and glee when a pretty and refined girl, with aromatic silken hair flowing in braids over her beautiful shoulders, sat next to him. Blue eyes peered bashfully through the hair as she attempted to gather it again into braids. Of course, she was my partner during school celebration, not without the jealousy of the rest of the children.
The teacher Balsher is on the right
Who could be compared to me when she came to visit my house so that I could explain to her something in arithmetic or history?! She recommended that I assist her younger brother in his studies, for already then he was more of a butcher than a student. It did not matter to me. The important thing was this was a good excuse to go to their home. My student was content that he did not have to sit and study, and he would leave us alone. I would sit and enjoy the beautiful form of the goddess sitting next to me, and I would feel the lovely heat of temptation. I would read to her constantly, and with feeling, in order to chase away the desire for wrongdoing.
I had a desire to at least touch the princess of my heart, her developed form, her straight neck that was inviting caresses and kisses, as well as her partly opened lips, from which her teeth appeared as pearls However, the fear that she might be hurt and I would lose the opportunity to gaze upon her beauty and sit next to her, kept me back. As if to vex me, as if the evil inclination itself was rubbing salt on the wounds, her father would state in the language of butchers, seriously or in jest:
Why are you satisfying her with stories? Do not be a fool, grab her lest someone else preempts you In my heart I thought that he was right. But does a father speak thus about his daughter!
Not without pleasure did I hear mother tell grandmother that Bentzke the butcher gave her a piece of good meat for cheap, and hinted to her that she is his future in-law. My father was not happy with this: first, I had already studied in Yeshiva and he wanted his son to be a rabbi. Second, the butcher would also be concerned
I was taken by longing also during the time of the study of Gemara. No Rashi and Tosafot (Talmudic commentaries) were able to remove her image from before my eyes. At night, I would wander around her house, stand beneath her window and listen to her breathing, even though the shutters were closed. I had nobody with whom to share my feelings. I was embarrassed before my friends. My Christian friend, to whom I revealed everything, was studying in Kovno. Thus my secret remained inside of me.
One spring night, as I passed by her window, I suddenly saw her in a nightgown with a sheet over her shoulders. Her beauty was as if it was engraved in marble literal, but alive The town was asleep. The moonlight was hidden behind the roofs of the barns and left the alley in which we were standing shrouded in darkness, as if deliberately. I stood astonished, not sure if this was a dream or reality At that moment, I felt a kiss come forth from my lips, and disappear, like her mouth, with quiet and suddenness, as she appeared, leaving behind her aroma sweet as fresh honey. In vain did I attempt to utter her name and call her again. This was as if it was our goodbye kiss. From that time, she was embarrassed, avoided me, and refused to talk to me, even when I came to their house. My young mind was not able to grasp the sudden change that took place in her relations to me
Because You Drowned Them They Drowned You
I left the Yeshiva. I was now already among the wage earners. I worked with Benkkutzer the tailor. There the atmosphere was of the common folk. I would read the Folksblatt every day. Di Yiddishe Shtime was in the house. We received it all crumpled up from the partners, along with the leftovers of the chulent and kugel. Hershel Benkkutzer was active in the library, in the dramatic club and in the evening classes of the culture league. Shmuel Dudak would visit him sometimes, and alongside the needle, iron and scissors, the problems of the repertoire, roles, tickets and books would be solved. I read a great deal. I was not short of time. I was affiliated with all my heroes, with young Verter who contemplated suicide after his failed love with Gretchen. Like him, I found comfort with my Lithuanian neighbor, the gymnasium student, who came to visit from Kovno from time to time.
My disappointment with my own Gretchen pushed me to search for an outlet for my anger and anguish. I quickly found the path of the truth seekers without thinking about the dangers involved in this. I imbued my entire enthusiasm and youthful temperament into the struggle for a different Jonava, more just without Jew and gentile only free citizens, proud and content.
I must admit that not everything was clear and understood to me as it was to my comrades in this idea, Balsher's students. Particularly because we formerly believed with blind faith in the unique, omnipotent G-d, we were unable to believe with blind faith in the sole leader of the downtrodden who was always right. There was no shortage of reasons for this, such as my court case of 1937. Overnight, the heroes of the revolution became traitors and enemies and even the judges of yesterday were declared as agents and subject to judgment themselves, as it is written: Since you drowned others you were drowned, and at the end those who drowned you will be drowned
The newspapers wrote a great deal about this. The young mind struggled to understand what was transpiring but in vain Sworn Communists such as Tzalka Glazer, Yankele Magin, Marka Lon and others, explained this
simply as: The Capitalist smoke, Yellow journalism, etc. Balsher, Yosha Epstein and others like them filled their mouths with water and were silent. This made our doubts greater.
A special emissary appeared, the teacher Ziman from the Sholom Aleichem gymnasium in Kovno, today the editor of the official Lithuanian newspaper Tiesa and attempted to explain this with banal statements such as: the petit bourgeois philosophy, Talmudic didactics. The strongest reason was the threat of being excommunicated and pushed out by the progressive circles. This method, taken from the middle ages, used by the church and the rabbinate against apostates had influence more than anything else.
Love that Began with a Slap
And lest I was attracted there because of Henka Yudelevich This or something else, and I was already, like other youths, smoking Sapfu, wearing a suit, a silk coat, and lacquered shoes; performing in the theater, studying at evening courses, and a member of the leadership of the library. Girls were going around in scouting shirts, snug against their body so it seemed that they would shortly split open from the pressure and they would appear in their full maturity before the eyes, like hot rolls from the oven The hand stretches out to touch, to grab hold that the shirt does not split and then you get a slap on the face . As mother would slap on the hand when one grabs a roll from the dough trough:
Don't grab them when they are hot. We are taking them out to sell. Let them cool down and make the Hamotzie blessing. Do not be a glutton! And other similar chastisements that accompany us throughout out lives.
The slap did not interfere with our friendship. We began to spend time together. On one of our walks, we talked about the injustice in the world, the national problem, anti-Semitism and how to fight it, materialism and all sorts of other isms about which one could read in the Agura Library; We continued to talk about literature and theater, mentioning terms such as realism, futurism, cubism as we got father from the town. She was under the influence of the words of the young professor who completed six grades with an excellent report, who knew how to explain everything well. The hot pride pushed him, as if he was afraid of losing her
The pine trees wave silently as if they are keeping a secret. A bird chirps on a branch. Others chirp back, as if they are singing Harei At. The skies serve as a chupa (wedding canopy). The lips join together, and the young couple becomes united with the scenery The cool spring water flows gleefully, as if it sings a song of praise to the Creator. The large wooden wheel of the water mill marks the rhythm like the musician's drum. This is so heartwarming that there is a desire to join in the song.
The soft and delicate creation beside me looks at me with pure, gleeful, smiling and misty eyes Her reddish-brown curls catch the last rays of sun that penetrate through the trees and roll over her muscular but delicate shoulders. How much understanding and tact does that girl have! She has no feelings of regret. On the contrary, it is clear to me that she was designated for me already when she was a student, and I was a scouting counselor. I was then in the clutches of the pretty Henka, and how can I measure up to her...
I found out how much she suffered with her domineering aunt Gittel and her uncle the shoemaker, who was coarse, although he was a good man and a warm Jew. She was born in Vilna. When she was still a child, she was taken from her mother, father, brothers and sister to spend a year as a guest with her aunt. Later the border closed, and family reunions in the Lingomiani Cemetery stopped. Thus, five or six years passed with Henka longing for her home, while in our Jonava, where the gentiles are here in exile, and they require the Jews for their livelihood.
There were indeed experiences with disturbances, especially during the times of the army draft or the days of the Bulbars, when they would get very drunk and shout, Beat the Jews. The shopkeepers had barely had a chance to lock the doors of their stores when the automobile owners, headed by the sons of Shmerl Dragachki, and the wagon drivers from Breizer Street appeared stormily. The butchers with Uncle Leibe, Leibke the Bastard would come and the pillagers would flee for their lives. Later the policeman Labas would come to file a report, but he would find no witnesses. This would conclude with the drinking of a glass of liquor in the shoe store with that Leibke the bastard, the uncle of my girl. He came from Vilna, and in Jonava they called all of the people from Vilna bastards or thieves,
just as they nicknamed people from Kovno, Zhulikes, that is scoundrels; people from Keidani thieves and hunchbacks, and people from Vilkomir schnorrers; people from Siauliai empty paramours; people from Seta little challas; and people from Anyksciai prideful. This was because they used to pick their teeth after a meal of fish and not fish (potato soup with fried onion) as if they ate roasted duck Even the people of Jonava were not without their nicknames. They were called Burliaks, apparently because there were Russian villages around the town.
My future wife ended up without choice in the town of Jonava, as opposed to the cultured Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania
The Gnawing Worm
I was her protector and comforter. I studied drama in Kovno, and she studied in the conservatory. We came to Jonava on Sabbaths.
The Red Army entered Lithuania. Vilna united us. She returned to her home, which also became my home. The streets were filled with people. There were gatherings, speeches, concerts, pastimes, etc., for justice was victorious. There was a new life, and we were part of it. Farmers received land. However, deep in the consciousness, the worm gnawed away: perhaps not everything is as rosy as it seems How come those celebrating the joy are only Jews Perhaps the non-Jews see what we do not see, they sense the footsteps of the angel of death who is hiding behind the sea of red flags and waiting for his day to come. Perhaps they are already preparing the recompense for the assistance in nationalizing the private and government property. The expulsion of those who were called enemies of the people left a particularly difficult impression. These were Lithuanian nationalists, wealthy Jews and Zionists. They were sent off on sealed wagons. Even the fascist police of Smetona were not so brazen as to do this.
The heart was pained over the cries of the innocent children, and you lacked the means of assisting.
And the punishment was not long in coming
From Yiddish: Shimon Noy
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