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[Page 615]

In Stories and in Song

 

[Page 617]

The Siyyum
(A page from “Old Mezritsh”)

by Avraham Gelman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When I found out from Reb Avraham–Yaakov the mashgiach[1] that I would be transferring to Reb Mordechai's cheder for the summer term, my joy was boundless. It was no small thing – to learn with Reb Mordechai.

Reb Mordechai the Melamed [teacher] was a 36–year–old young man. He dressed neatly, and one could never find the minutest spot on his coat. He was good natured, always with a smile on his lips. He never instilled fear in his students. The children, therefore, loved him, and strongly connected to him.

Reb Mordechai was loved greatly by all the Talmud Torah students. He had the reputation of being a nice rebbe, with whom it was a pleasure to learn. As Kleinwarg says – and there is no evidence to contradict this – their childlike sensibilities do not fool anybody.[2]

One could often hear the following words among the students in the younger cheders.

“Listen to me! What type of a relative are you to me? Wait? In a few months, I will already by studying with Reb Mordechai…”[3]

If you barged in to the Tailors' Shtibel where Reb Mordechai's cheder was housed, you would at first be very disappointed by the meager knowledge that I brought in with me from Reb Chaim–Motel's cheder, but I quickly got used to the new surroundings. My new friends were very good to me. Each one of them sought my friendship. Incidentally, everything there was nicer and more interesting; whether it was playing [with classmates] before the rebbe's arrival, or the learning itself.. Reb Mordechai's Bible lessons brought a sort of sweet melancholy to the soul. I became a veritable architect as a result of his chumash and Rashi classes – I wanted to build a mishkan [tabernacle] with posts, entranceways, ropes, and all the details. At the same time, we were enchanted by tractate Gittin with its wonderful stories about King Solomon, and the woodcocks, and Ashmodai[4] with hen's feet.

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Summer passed, and the winter term came with the long evenings, which we spent studying the last chapters of Gittin. Finally, we came to the chapter Hamegaresh. Even though it was difficult for our weak minds, it was the last chapter of the tractate, and we children heard discussions about a siyyum[5]. After hot debates, in the manner of cheder children, we decided unanimously to ask our rebbe to permit us to hold the siyyum at his home, so that the rebbe with his family could take part in our celebration.

The rebbe calmly listened to our request, let go of his smelly cigarette and smiled through his black beard, nodding his head as a sign that he approved of our suggestion.

We waited for the day of the siyyum with great impatience. We counted down, first the months, then the weeks, and finally the days that remained until our happy day.

The rebbe would often shout at us, asking why were so caught up with the siyyum while we are neglecting the main thing – the learning itself! However, his loving smile, which was always on the rebbe's lips beckoned to us.

“It is no question, it is no question, dear pranksters! Do what you want. Your rebbe is a good person, and will forgive you for such âsins'…”

Two dapper children were assigned the task of collecting money for the feast. Each of us paid an entire 50 groszy. Some voluntarily gave more.

From early morning on, we became involved with preparations for the great siyyum. In the evening we all gathered at the rebbe's home.

The small rooms in our rebbe's house were brightly illuminated. The Sabbath chandelier with the seven tubes that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the house twinkled and imparted a festive appearance to the entire house. Large lights hung from the length of the walls, among them one in the shape of a kite, around which various verses were written. The words “Siyyum of Tractate Gittin” were written in large, flowery words in the middle. Beneath that was the day, month, and year. All of the lettering was made from paper of various colors: red, brown, white, blue, etc.

[Page 619]

This was the work of a “local artists,” indeed from our own cheder.

A large, carved tableau, , which could be seen from outside, stood in the window; it was the finest decoration of the evening. On top of it was a large, gold crown, to one side a running deer with covered antlers, and on the other side a fearsome lion with an erect mane , its red, fiery tongue sticking out. In the middle there was a nine–branched menorah, symbolizing the nine chapters of tractate Gittin. Each branch bore the name of one of the chapters, and below, at the foot of the menorah in golden letters, were the words “Tractate Gittin.” This all created a beautiful scene…

That window was besieged by young and old alike. Everyone pushed their way in, and everyone expressed their delight at the beautiful work that the Talmud Torah children had produced…

Two tables were set up in the middle of the dining room. One long table for us children was brought in from the Beis Midrash. The second was a regular one for the rebbe, the mashgiach, and several other teachers from the Talmud Torah whom we invited to our siyyum.

We recited the Ma'ariv service with great devotion. Then the rebbe seated us at the long table and asked for quiet. He went to the glass bookcase in which stood a leather–bound Vilna edition of the Talmud with a gilded spine. He took out tractate Gittin and recited the last section of the tractate. When he finished, we all recited the Hadran[6] word for word after him.

Then the rebbe winked at us, and we all ran into the kitchen to wash our hands.

The rebbetzin had put out rolls, fish, meat, fried rice, and even plum compote on the table, all paid for by the ten rubles we had collected. We all rejoiced during the meal. The rebbe told us a nice Midrashic story, or a joke based on wordplay from verses [of Torah], and Talmud. We children did what we could: we sang various songs and cantorial pieces that we had practiced over the previous few weeks. These were all sections from the services or songs about the greatness of G–d, the Torah, and our teacher.

After the feast, the rebbe took the goblet in his right hand and recited the Grace after Meals out loud with us. Following

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the Grace after Meals, a choir was organized again and we sang the following song:

Lechayim, lechayim, a good brother Moshe–Chaim, may he live!
Lechayim and LeShalom! [For life and for peace]
LeSason uLesimcha [for joy and for gladness]
LiYeshua ulenechama [for salvation and for comfort]
And let us say, and let us say, and let us say, A–a–amen!!!

We sung songs, inserting the name of each one of us [present in the room], and we did not forget even the rebbetzin herself and her children….

However, the greatest joy took place when the rebbe asked that we move the tables to the wall. We all stood in a circle in the middle of the room with the rebbe in the middle. It was quiet! The rebbe began with an enthusiastic melody, “We are running and they are running…” Then we all moved from the placed, and began to run in a circle around the rebbe, singing out loud, “We are running and they are running…”[7] We ran faster and faster, stomping with our feet, dancing and whistling so loudly that one could become deaf…

During those moments, our hearts tuned out the entire world with its shoemakers and tailors, who could be seen crowding around the window: What meaning could their lives have, we thought. We could not imagine that they could have such holy, happy moments during their gray days as we were having in that moment!

“I toil, and they toil!” thundered our choir enthusiastically – “I toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward… yah, yah!” Our eyes proudly twinkled; “they” were all those who did not know the taste of learning, who toiled and toiled like donkeys, and did not receive proper wages. “We”, on the other hand – even if one would search the courts of kings, where would one find such satisfaction as was experienced by a Jewish child at the siyyum of a nine chapter tractate? Would all the kings from east and west be able to pay wages equal to our current joy? No, no! Shout out, Jewish children, loud, enthusiastically, “I toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.”

Thus did we sing and dance on that bright day…


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Kleinwarg – Meaning “Small Fry” was the name of a children's book by Falik Katowski. For more information, see http://jba.cjh.org/volumes/5/HTML/files/assets/basic–html/page63.html and https://archive.org/details/nybc202683 return
  2. This seems to be an obscure expression among the children in the cheder – one saying to the other words meaning that even though another child might not be acting like a relative (ie in the best interests of the child), it didn't matter because soon he would be in Reb Mordechai. return
  3. The mashgiach in this context refers to a Yeshiva functionary in charge of the moral development of the students. return
  4. Ashmodai was a demonic figure who gave King Solomon the Shamir – a kind of worm or power that could cut through stone without tools – for the construction of the First Temple. According to legend, the Shamir was guarded by a woodcock. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asmodeus, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon's_shamir. See also BT Gittin 68a–b return
  5. A siyyum is a celebration upon completion of study of a Talmudic tractate. return
  6. A recitation on the completion of a Talmudic Tractate. For more information on the Hadran, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadran_(Talmud) return
  7. A quote from the Hadran prayer, “We are running and they are running, we are running to eternal life, and they are running to the pit of destruction… return


[Page 621]

I Yearn

by S. Palme

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I yearn for my shtetl,
Small room,
There where my cradle stands:
High in the attic;
Beneath the rafters,
There my cradle stands.

I yearn for the alleyway,
Narrow alleyway
The doves fly high above.
Dropping pebbles,
Breaking the windowpanes,
The doves fly high above.

One moves to the small synagogue
The small shamash
High atop the bima there,
He waits for friends,
Berele, Shloymele,
Atop the bima there.

I yearn for the river,
Woody banks,
Bathing, going in deep:
Jumping from the bridge,
Deep in the river,
Plunging, plunging, deep.

I wish I was in the forest,
Sabbath in the forest,
Cooling off in the shade there:
With my friends
Berele, Shloymele, Under the trees there.

I yearn for my girlfriend
Small Rajzele
Wading through the meadows with her:
Picking the flowers,
Twisting the garlands,
Sending the garlands to her…

[Page 622]

Those were the Days

Those were the days,
They are no more,
They live
With tears of joy.

A small house
With two beds,
In which Father and Mother,
Live.

And dream at night
And “earn” the days;
Mommy must not,
And Daddy may…

Father comes in from the street,
Carrying a hen;
He is not stingy regarding the Sabbath
With all that he possesses…

And Mommy calls out:
–– There is no more time
Friday is short
And the fish is still in the pan…

Father calls out – the shoes!
Mother points: Over there!
Father rasps – the shoes
Must be in their place!

Mother runs here,
Father runs there.
Father calls out – it is late,
Mother sheds a tear…

* * *

One hour follows the next
The Sabbath is arriving, with its rest.
Good Sabbath – he says,
Good Sabbath – she says…

* * *

Those were the days
They are no more today,
They awaken in the memory
A star that shines…


[Page 623]

The Shofar Blasts

by Lejb Lew

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Everything was very different in the old Beis Midrash during the month of Elul. The constant silent sleepiness and gloomy calm disappeared, and was replaced with movement and commotion. The young men of the Beis Midrash, and the fathers–in–law who provided support, began to practice shofar blowing. Each of them tried to demonstrate that he could blow a lengthy tekiah gedola, the gloomiest sounding shevarim and the most rippling terua. One [young man] would grab the shofar from the other's hands, not having the patience to listen to the other's blowing, and wishing to demonstrate that only he could blow the best.

The neighbors around the old Beis Midrash would complain about the strange sounds [made by students just learning to blow the shofar] that grated the ears, giving them no peace for the entire day. They sufficed themselves with muttering [under their breath], for frequenters of the Beis Midrash knew that “everything has its time” – there were times to learn, and times to – blow the shofar. The refined, well–mannered youth understood that this was the time to learn, and if they did not learn now – then when?

“Binyamin the Blower” blew more than all the others. The other young men called him by that name because of his red cheeks, which grew even redder when he blew the shofar. He was indeed a very good shofar blower. Nobody could equal his down–and–upward terua and the broad sound of his tekiah. The honorable householders[1] of the eastern wall placed great hopes in him, “When he will be older, he will have the merit of blowing the shofar in the old Beis Midrash. A pall will fall upon the people, and they will repent with a full heart.”

Only one person did not like Binyamin's shofar blowing – Reb Berish the shamash of the Beis Midrash. He was an old, tall Jew who was prone to anger. He would wave away the young generation with his hand. He had been the regular shofar blower in the old Beis Midrash for some twenty years, since the time he was first engaged as the shamash. He always boasted that there was no equal to him for shofar blowing within a hundred miles. Now he saw how Binyamin would be competing with him, and who knew what might come of that? Heaven forbid, the householders of the old Beis Midrash might reject him and take on that Binyamin!… Who knew? It appeared as if Satan the Accuser was doing his best to ensure that the Jews'

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shofar blast would not go up to the Throne of Glory. Could it be that Binyamin would blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Who knew what type of a year that would bring them…

*

On the morning of the eve of Rosh Hashanah, after the services and Hatarat Nedarim [ceremony for the release of vows], Binyamin did not go home to eat, as one is supposed to fast until midday because the day is so holy, and everyone's life is hanging in balance… He took the shofar and entered the women's gallery to blow a bit. He blew so beautifully that the people remaining in the Beis Midrash were astonished, and praised him to the seventh heaven.

Reb Berish the shamash became agitated. He entered the women's gallery, quickly wrested the shofar from Binyamin's hand, gave him a strong smack, and shouted:

“Indeed, is one permitted to blow on the eve of Rosh Hashanah?!”[2]

Binyamin became quite confused. He was frightened and did not answer, for the Gemara states, “When one is silent in the case of a travesty, G–d forgives one's sins,” and one is very much in need of having one's sins forgiven!…

*

The old Beis Midrash was filled with young and old alike. The women's gallery was filled with women. Everyone was waiting for the shofar blowing. Reb Berish stood on the bima dressed in white, bowed over the table. He quietly recited the Yehi Ratzon[3] before the shofar–blowing and sighed from time to time. The old rabbi stood near him with his tallis over his head, his machzor [festival prayer book] in his hand, ready to call out the shofar blasts.

The assistant shamash gave a loud bang on the table. It became quiet. Everyone looked toward Reb Berish, who had not stopped shaking, as if he was struggling with Satan the Accuser. Finally, he took his place and began to recite the blessings, carefully pronouncing each word. The congregation answered Amen, and Reb Berish raised the shofar to his mouth. He tried to blow – but it did not work! He blew from the other side, placed it sideways, but nothing was heard! He tried harder. His face turned red. Strange sounds came

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from the shofar, but not the expected “shofar sounds.” His legs buckled, and his heart – woe, his heart!…

The congregation stirred. The elderly householders lowered their white heads, shook with their white beards, as if saying, “Woe, woe, who knows now what type of a year we will have?!” Bad! Satan the Accuser has won. What will be, what will be?! Who knows how many people and children will unfortunately depart from the world this year? We cannot confound the Accuser!”

Trembling sighs could be heard from the women's gallery, instilling a pall upon the Jews in the Beis Midrash. One householder from the eastern wall called out, “Nu, ah, eh, Binyamin, eh, ah!”

Hearing this, the old rabbi shrugged his shoulders, waved his hands to and fro, as if to say, “The time is serious, one must not wait, something [serious] has happened here and we must put a new shofar–blower in place…” Binyamin ascended the bima, put the shofar to his mouth – and resonating sounds spread through the Beis Midrash, comforting and calming the worried hearts, imparting encouragement and hopes for a new year…

Reb Berish remembered his previous travesty against Binyamin. He now regretted with a full heart his shaming of a Beis Midrash lad, a Torah student. He wept bitterly during Musaf.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Householders – these were the active members and financial supporters of the Beis Midrash. return
  2. It is the strong custom among Ashkenazi Jews to refrain from blowing the shofar on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. return
  3. A silent meditation recited by some people between the sets of shofar blasts, asking that the sounding of the shofar be accepted by G–d. return


[Page 626]

Grandfather's Death

by Meir Edelbaum

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A story

Grandfather was dangerously ill. The doctor wrote prescriptions and whispered quietly, “Only the Master of the Universe can grant him a cure.” The ill man, like the family members and relatives, knew that the end was approaching. Death did not frighten the ill man – what is death? One closes one door and enters another door, into a finer and brighter world of sheer truth. There, the Divine Presence shines, and the righteous fill buckets with the Eternal Light. Even though he did not worship the Blessed G–d out of a desire for remuneration, Grandfather knew that he was exiting the “anteroom” with Torah, commandments, and good deeds. He was not afraid, but his heart was still heavy, “Woe, woe, I must separate from my Rebbe! Woe, woe!…”

It had already been months since Grandfather had become ill, and his heart was pining for the Rebbe. He knew: when one travelled to the Rebbe, one would be cured. The doctor said, “Heaven forbid… he must not travel…” His sole comfort was that Mendel came to him straight from the Rebbe, and repeated the Rebbe's Torah thoughts word for word.

The joy in the shtibel had ceased. Psalms were recited every morning after services. A Misheberach[1] was recited for the sick man, Moshe Tzvi the son of Rachel, every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. At the prayer leader's podium, beneath the shiviti[2], hung a piece of paper with large letters stating “for a complete cure for Moshe Tzvi the son of Rachel.” The prayer leader would surely have uttered the Refaenu blessing[3] with intentionality. So as not to disturb the sick man, they spread straw in the street to muffle the noise of a passing wagon. Hasidim in the shtibel would ask, “Nu, what do you hear?” and would be frightened to hear the answer.

Mendel went about like a shadow. For many years Mendel had traveled every Sabbath and holiday–eve to the Rebbe in the nearby town, at grandfather's expense. He would return at the end of the Sabbath for the Melave Malka[4], which was held at the shtibel. There, he would give over the words of Torah he had heard from the Rebbe, word for word, not omitting even a sigh or a cough. Everything had intentions and mysteries. Mendel gave [the teachings] over, and waited for Grandfather's commentary. The Torah that had seemingly been pale in the past now shined with the eternal light, bedecked with mysteries in every word.

In the first weeks of his illness, the relatives would come to

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Grandfather, so that he could explain to them the Torah that Mendel had brought back from the Rebbe every Saturday night. When the illness became more severe, the doctor strongly discouraged people, other than those closest to him, to visit.

“Mendele,” said Reb Itzele, “Why do you go every Sabbath? G–d willing, when Moshe Hirsh will recover, you will again go, just like you used to.”

Grandfather found out about this, and called out to the relatives, “The Rebbe's Torah without my commentary is also Torah. He should go. The Hasidim should exert themselves to understand the Rebbe.”

Doctor Rosenblum, tall and corpulent, sat by Grandfather for a time, searching, investigating, laying his ear on his heart, on his breast, touching every bone, repeating the prescription.

“Nu, nu, doctor?” asked the relatives as he left the sick man.

“What do you want me to say? He is close to heaven. [It is up to you] – see what you can do. The Hasidim heard this and recited more Psalms, and added a name to the sick person[5].

The Melave Malkas were gloomy. The hymns did not help: The mouths did not open to sing, and the feet could not be impelled to dance.

Chona–Yosel, one of the most important confidantes of the Rebbe, asked, “Mendel – Why is the Rebbe silent?

The Hasidim opened their eyes and looked at Mendele.

“Why is he silent? Why?… Mendel, tell us,” The Hasidim begged.

Mendel slowly licked the glass of liquor as if he wanted to draw some strength. After a while, he said:

“This Sabbath after services, a few rabbis came to the Rebbe, including Reb Fishele. I entered. Reb Fishele mentioned the sick man, Moshe Tzvi the son of Rachel, for a speedy recovery.”

“Nu?” Moshe Morder asked, not having the patience to wait a moment longer. Mendel thought again and said, “The Rebbe's face was covered with a cloud, and his Sabbath light was extinguished. He thought and finally said, ‘The Torah gives testimony regarding Moses: “Not so with My servant Moses, for he is trusted throughout my household” [Numbers 12:7]. A question is asked, what type of house does the Master of the World have in heaven? Gold and diamonds, pearls and precious stones that Moses could, Heaven forbid,

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take away? The answer is: In the treasury of the Master of the World there are all types of keys, a key to help barren women have children, a key for wealth, [keys] for health, and for livelihood. When Moses descended from heaven, he knew that some people would require children, and others a speedy recovery. All the treasuries were open before Moses, and he was able to utilize them. The Torah tells us that Moses did not use them without the permission of G–d, may He be blessed.’ The Rebbe did not say more. We all understood that nothing could be done without the permission of G–d, Blessed be He… After Havdalah, the Rebbe summoned me and said as follows, ‘I have something to do in Warsaw. G–d willing, on the way back, I will visit Moshe Hirsch[6], the sick man. Mendel, tell him this𔃅 – and then he bade me farewell.”

The Hasidim sat and tried to understand the Rebbe's words. Chona–Yosel offered an idea:

“The Rebbe asked that Moshe Hirsch be told that he is traveling to Warsaw. Here is a novel idea: why would he not stop in to visit Moshe Hirsch on the way to Warsaw? This must mean that the Rebbe is travelling to pray at the grave of the Ostrower. The Ostrower, was very close to Moshe Hirsch, and used to take him along when he went to visit the great Tzadikim. Let us pray that the Rebbe will be able to work for a complete recovery for Moshe Hirsch the son of Rachel.”

Noteh the shamash fetched a flask of ninety proof and poured a glass: “Lechaim, Jews, to a complete cure for Moshe Tzvi the son of Rachel.” “Amen,” everyone responded. The Hasidim all drank a bit and everyone wished a complete recovery for Moshe Tzvi the son of Rachel. Mendel closed his eyes and began to give over the Torah that he had heard from the Rebbe, which he had not yet given over. Tears were caught in his throat. Mendel mentioned what the sick man had told him when he came to repeat the Rebbe's words. Mendel noticed the change in the sick person. His face, which had been yellow as wax, suddenly lit up and took on color. Mendel repeated the words of Torah for him. “Mendel, Mendel, the Rebbe heard these words of Torah from Elijah the Prophet himself,” Grandfather said. “You are very great, and how great is the Rebbe?” Moshe Hirsch gestured weakly with his hands and whispered, “Mendel, I am dust, an empty vessel. Is it brazen to understand the Rebbe?” Mendel trembled. Now he recalled these powerful emotions, and shed a tear.

A telegram arrived from Warsaw on Monday. “The Rebbe will arrive on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m.” It was signed – Yitzchak Lejb.

The sick man prepared to greet his Rebbe. With his own

[Page 629]

strength, he arose from the sickbed. He cleaned himself and washed up. He asked for his undergarments, and put on a clean shirt and the housecoat that was on the bed. He waited for his expected guest. The Rebbe arrived at 2:30 sharp. The many Hasidim who accompanied the Rebbe remained standing on the street. The Rebbe and Grandfather secluded themselves in a room. He only opened the door a bit as he was taking leave. The Hasidim heard the Rebbe bidding farewell. “Moshe Hirsch,” he said, “But they who trust in G–d will have their strength renewed.” [Isaiah 40:31.]. With those words, the Rebbe left the sick man and went to the railway station.

The family and relatives were happy. The Rebbe bid farewell with the words “They who trust in G–d have their strength renewed.”

After a short time, Grandfather said, “Call Aharon Melamed.” Aharon and Grandfather used to travel to Ostrowa together. Both of them had been sharp youths.

“Aharon, I am preparing for my journey. Yesterday, I saw the Ostrower in a dream. He arrived, and his bright face shone like the sun at midday. He spread out his hands to me [in welcome blessing], as he had done so many times when he was healthy… Do you understand? Now recite the confession with me.”[7]

Aharon Melamed calmed down, and, with a smile took the Ma'avar Yabbok[8], which was lying on a shelf near the bed. “Reciting the confession is a portent for a long life,” he said.

“Aharon, I have no devious ideas when I give you orders [My requests of you are straightforward – I am not saying one thing while meaning another]. Call my Yechiel to enter [the room].” Aharon went to the dining room, and said, “Yechiel, your father needs you.” Aharon wept. The relatives were terrified. “Aharon, what happened?” Aharon did not answer. Yechiel entered with a pale face. Yechiel was Grandfather's darling and his successor. “Grandfather has summoned Mother and the children.” The youngest, Mashele, fainted. When she regained her strength, she went to her father and wept. Grandfather, as if he still had the strength he'd always had, summoned the children. He asked forgiveness from Grandmother. “Yechiel, summon my friends.” He bade farewell to all of them. Mendel cried out, “Moshe Hirsch, the Rebbe said that those who believe in G–d will have their strength renewed.” “Oy Mendel, for how long will you not understand the Rebbe?” [replied Moshe Hirsch], “The Rebbe, may he be well, interprets the verse as follows: Those who believe in G–d will have their strength renewed. They exchange their strength. I give Him my physical strength, and the Blessed G–d gives me his spiritual strength.”

[Page 626]

Hirshele Cohen pushed himself into the sick man's room.

“Hirshele, you are a Cohen. You have no business being here.”[9] The family members wept quietly. “Moshe Hirsch,” Mendel called out, “The Rebbe's Torah. How do you explain it? Moshe Hirsch!”

Grandfather no longer heard him. His lips moved. His eyes were closed. A few minutes later, he opened his eyes and said, “Yechiel, wash my hands.”

Yechiel brought in a pan and a quart of water, and wet the hands of the dying man. With a smile, Grandfather looked at Grandmother, the children, and his friends. Then he looked away from those gathered, closed his eyes, and his lips began to murmur again. Mendel heard him say, “Into Your hands I place my soul.”[10] Grandfather took hold of his large tallis kattan[11] and covered his face. He trembled gently, and then he was no more…

When the Rebbe arrived in Biala, a telegram was waiting for him. He rent his garments and said, “I have no more reason to live.” The Rebbe passed away five months later. They were not parted long.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Prayer for the sick, generally recited after the Torah reading. The person for whom the prayer is said is referred to as “son of” or “daughter of”, followed by the mother's name. return
  2. The shiviti is a sign often found in the synagogue. It is sometimes beautifully decorated with the verse “I have set G–d before me at all times,” Psalms 16:8. return
  3. A blessing for the healing of the sick recited in the thrice daily, during the weekday Shmone Esrei (Amidah) prayer. return
  4. The meal Jews customarily have at the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evening. return
  5. Adding an additional name to the existing name of a sick person's is believed by some to be a way to avert harsh decrees, such as death. return
  6. The grandfather's name is listed a Moshe Hirsch in some places and Moshe Tzvi in others. The two names are completely interchangeable – Tzvi is the Hebrew version of Hirsch. return
  7. The confession – known in Hebrew as the Vidui. It is recited by some as part of the daily liturgy, and by some couples before marriage; it is also recited liturgically at Yom Kippur, and before death. It is customary to wash one's hands before reciting the Vidui before death. The Vidui before death ends with a recitation of the Shema. return
  8. Ma'avar Yabbok, written in 1626 by Aharon Berachia ben Moshe of Mantua, Italy, is a book about the laws and customs relating to death, burial and mourning. It contains, among other material, the deathbed confession (Vidui) and other prayers to be recited by bystanders at the time of the departing of the soul. return
  9. A Cohen is not allowed to be in the same building as a corpse, other than the bodies of his closest relatives (father, mother, brother, unmarried sister, and his wife), so when a death is imminent, a Cohen should not be present. return
  10. These are the final words of the ancient liturgical poem Adon Olam – Into His hand I place my soul,
    When I sleep and when I awake,
    And with my spirit, my body too;
    G–d is with me, I shall not fear return
  11. Ritual fringed undergarment worn daily by pious Jews. return


[Page 631]

To a Deceitful Girl

by Lajzer Kloc

Translated by Jerrold Landau

You will die.
Death lurks from under the brow
Your eye is half clouded, half glancing like a passing bullet
Or like a solitary flame at night against a dark background; ––
A tentative redness flutters presently on your cheeks –
–– And I love you presently, like I have never loved before!

You will die!
And, how terrible, your breath will not be –
Kiss me!
And poisonous water will not rest in your arms –
So embrace me.
You never had it in life,
Presently, death sent you this –
–– What can feel more than a deceitful heart?…
Now you feel me!
Therefore, I have never lived like now!
–– Kiss me,
Like the setting sun kisses the earth as it goes,
Kiss me, your evening is coming!…
Kiss me!
You know how much I love the evening –
Evening, when everything is filled with variegated uncertainty, like the colors of the sky –
And then can you tell the difference between red and black?…
Just like the moment when the day dies and the night is born? –
Hug me!
Your evening has come!
I will be embraced by the dying and from that which lives until now – together!…

Mezritsh – 1919.


[Page 632]

Over Stone Streets

by Meir Segal of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1

The setting sun burns with melancholy beauty
Over the evening trees.
Birds flutter very close to the earth
In the darkness between Mincha and Maariv.

Soldiers hasten through the town
With wagons and bound oxen, –
Humid vapor comes from boiling kettles
From cooking and burnt coffee.
Knives shudder on wagons
Lances shine strongly, melancholy in the setting sun.

Jews, bent over, go to Mincha, go to Maariv.
Soldiers spring from wagons. –
Whips whistles, bloody knives in the hands.
Knives with sun cut beards; bloodying pale faces.
Jews in the houses of the city fall into darkness
Between Mincha and Maariv – holy to G–d.

2

Atop the stone streets bound oxen lie.
Sharp hacks fall bloodily over necks.
Oxen howl and bellow with streaming blood.
Soldiers with bloody hands
Toss pieces of flesh into boiling kettles.
The night is windy, deep
In the bellowing of animals with smells of blood.

Riders harness the horses
Tying them at the city pumps and wooden posts.
Tossing pieces of blue cloth onto the horses' backs.
Horses with horseshoes kick the stones
And they ignite in fire.

[Page 633]

3

Soldiers go wild over the city orchards:
Their eyes green behind shiny visors,
Nimble hands wave with sharp swords in the air, ––
Cutting pieces of bark from young trees,
Unripe apples fall to the earth.

The day is sparing with its light
Through thick trees, to the ground.
Soldiers' boots are moist with grassy dew.
With nimble feet they climb trees,
And learn how to shoot at people,
Who are passing through a distant meadow
Laden with fruit for a far–off city market.

Evening,
When the leaves of the trees become thicker, greener, –
They escape to the trains behind the city,
And sing military songs
Away to a strange, far–away city…

This poem portrays the town during the time of the First World War
The editor.


[Page 634]

Our River

by Fajwel Fiterman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1

Our river spreads out
Between houses in the middle;
The river, my town
Surrounds and cuts.

It is not like the Bug, or the Wiszla,
Or the Narew, or the Neiman:
Among rivers – it is only a stream,
But it has nothing to be ashamed of.

The fishermen lived from the river,
They laid their catch down there.
The water carriers traveled through it
In the frost as well as the heat.

2

Though pig bristles from my town were washed in it,
And the pails from the tanneries were washed out there,
Its water was still tasty and clear
And like crystal above all – it was clear and bright.

At the beginning of the summer, like a garden it was renewed
It grew green, and blossomed with white flowers.
Then, the river's fragrance wafted, from far away,
As earlier did the flowers of the gardens.

The river nestled by the hills
And lapped the edges;
Just like a little sheep, who licks with his little tongue
A shepherd's warm and good hand.

[Page 635]

In the summer, people bathed in the river;
Good swimmers swam to the bridge.
In the meadows, the hills were dressed up
Like colorful bundles of flowers…

And if the skies clouded over,
Its skin became rippled
Its appearance turned grey, full of grief:
It forgot what G–d had promised after the flood…

And the skies cleared later,
And a rainbow appeared,
The river would take on a different appearance –
A bad dream – a dark bird passing by…

In the summer, when the night twinkled with stars,
The river also twinkled and glowed.
In the autumn, when the winds turn over worlds
The river too turned malicious.

In the winter, the river lies in its bed,
Its bed–cloth is the white cover;
In the winter, the river sleeps, as in a stupor,
And does not wake up for months.

But then the river awakens –
It begins to act wildly and angrily –
Our town recalls with terror:
The river lies down like a lamb and gets up like a lion…


[Page 636]

Szmulowizna Street

by Fajwel Fiterman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Szmulowizna with shtibels, that sink into narrow alleyways,
Szmulowizna, where need pervades always
And the curse of tuberculosis lies in ambush…

Szmulowizna,
Where the dust from the chimneys – is the daily bread;
When fathers die young
Where mothers grey early.

Szmulowizna –
There, over the roofs of the ruins
The moon shines – a wheat bread.

Around the wheat bread
Extend out
The small hands of children,
As if for the finest gift.

On Szmulowizna
The wistful children chew the moon…


[Page 637]

The Song of the Shtetl

by Avraham Meir Ganz of Homel[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

  “Never say that you are
Going on your final journey”…
Hirsch Glick[2]
 
On the ground between the Bug and the Wiszla
Lies the shtetl of my far–off youth.
Fields and forests, and the amazing, muddy river
The banks of the left side rise up.

But the right is overgrown with moss,
That right side sleeps day and night.
A sunbeam shining through the blue sky
Brings me a greeting from the other side:

–– It is the shtetl, today the shtetl is no more –
Old houses yearn fiercely and silently
For the living to trod upon them,
For the youth, who are no more.

Old houses, alleyways and streets
Silent forever in the great night
The pale moon moves along
The heavens are preoccupied with gloom

[Page 638]

And in countries over all the earth
The refugees in their final hours, pine
For the houses, alleyways and shadows
For the shtetl that is no more.

Far and wide across the earth
There are countless graves
From the Siberian taigas they spread out
Until the west, the cities are “sinners”…

Only by the blue sea, by the shores
Do the children hide of late.
They do not want to ask about the shtetl, ––
They have renewed themselves upon wide streets!

The streets do not lead to the shtetl,
They steer toward the skies;
Toward the moon, that moves along palely,
And toward the stars they extend a fist.

From the people that they cannot forget
From the country that they guard day and night,
So that regarding the destroyed alleyways
They will no longer be amazed – lonesome and preoccupied.

The fist is stronger than it was yesterday,
Tomorrow it will be even stronger, my friend!
The time will come – solemnly, appropriately –
That yesterday will meet up with today.

My shtetl will awaken in a youthful state
Crooked alleyways will stand up high
From the fields, streams and plains
To the hills where a power sprouts up.

[Page 639]

From the people, about whom we must think forever
Towns, deserted from the left side;
From the people, who will never send
The march of generations past.

*

Before my face, a world bows down
And fresh winds blow from the far distance.
A light thread moves like a sunbeam,
Binding my heart with the right side,

Where blood flows from blue children,
From grey old people, it trickles and leaks.
Do not reawaken the gnawing sorrow,
Grab it and drag it away quickly.

Here, where the hearts of the comforting brothers pound,
Which are scratched on account of the shtetl;
Here, where we continue on and move forward
The bright stars, which sprinkle anew.

With blood, my people fall in bravery
With spirited glances, they set out on their way again.
They come, they go, they move toward the assault
For the young country – forever liberated.

1967, Following the Six Day War


Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in text here, as follows: A. M. Ganz was born in Mezritsh. At the beginning of the 1920s, at the age of 17 or 18, he went to the Soviet Union. He settled in Minsk and graduated from teachers' seminary. At that time, he drew close with the local Jewish writers' circle, and was published from time to time. As a respected mathematician, he was later accepted to the faculty of mathematics in the University of Moscow. After graduating university, when he had to work in one of the far–off locations of the Soviet Union, he chose Birobidzhan as his workplace. He left Birobidzhan after two years and settled in Homel, where he was a lecturer at the local university. A. M. Ganz died in Homel a few years ago. The editor. return
  2. Zog Nisht Kein Mol. – the opening line of the Song of the Partisans return


[Page 640]

Memorial

by Binem Heller

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Shimon Bar Giora[1] on the walls of the ghetto wall
A thousand years, and a thousand – have passed!

Over all times, over all horrors,
It remains in memory – Poland.

On the gray field, on the far paths,
Someone will ask about it.

Rivers will flow, winds will blow –
Nobody can disillusion you there.

New generations will settle deserted cities,
But nobody will ever forget it. – ––
Our love–and–life, is plowed over into the earth.
Our blood that blazed in battle.

Our journey eastward, over evening lands
And the fanaticism – has not changed!

Shimon Bar Giora on the ghetto walls,
A thousand years, and a thousand – have passed!

Without weapons, as always, furiously insulted –
The ghetto walls will be defended through him!

All beautiful songs, all belong to him –
Nobody will destroy his memory.

1944


Translator's Footnote

  1. Shimon bar Giora – A rebel leader during the First Jewish–Roman War. For further information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_bar_Giora return

 

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