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Evening

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In My Hometown

by A. Rejnwejn of Toronto

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Page footnote: From a visit to Mezritsh in 1927. The editor.}

My hometown of Mezritsh was a four-hour train ride from Warsaw. It was a town with a population of 18,000, of which 5,000 were Jews. At one time, before the world war, it was a large industrial center with an important Jewish labor movement. The brush-makers union existed there, which later served as the kernel for the Bund. The town was also a fortress of the Haskalah. Jews of means educated their children in the Jewish religious spirit and also gave them worldly education. A Jewish intelligentsia arose, many of whom later served in the labor movement organizations. The revolution years of 1904-1905 came, and the mass arrests started. Some were sent to Siberia, and others were saved by leaving the country.

My lot at that time in town was to be the founder of the Zionist-Socialist organization (S.S.). When the arrests began, my mother and father wept, but were unwilling to speak up. The saw me off with tears in their eyes, and my emigration years began. I had only seen my father cry once in my life - before my departure. I believed we would see each other again, but fate decreed otherwise. The Russo-Polish war broke out, and my father fell victim. Now I have come to visit his grave, and my hand is clutching the apparatus with which I will photograph the grave.

The train hurries along, and my nervousness increases. I find no place to sit down. I stand the entire time, glued to the window and looking out. There are new names on the stations. The stations pass by, but the surroundings are the same. It is the same melancholy Polish panorama that I had seen previously. In the distance, I finally see the inscription “Międzyrzec.”

A day earlier, I telegraphed from Warsaw that I would be arriving at a certain time, and would hope to meet several of my close relatives at the station. But [when I arrived] I found many more: almost all my friends, and almost all my relatives, as well as regular people who were curious.

What was my first impression?

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If there were such a thing as a visual illness that could cause a person to see everything in miniature, I suffered from just such an illness for the first three days of my visit to my town, which had received me with such great warmth.

Everything seemed so small and shrunken to me, much smaller than in reality. It seemed to me that the streets were smaller, and the people were also smaller. Three days later, when my eyes had adjusted a bit, I realized that my eyes had not completely fooled me. The houses and people, if they had not gotten smaller, certainly had become more bent over. I had never seen as many stooped, elderly people with free time as in my town.

The living conditions were difficult there. They were so difficult that people existed almost through miracles, as if they were living a Menachem-Mendel life in Mezritsh, earning their livelihoods from wind and smoke. Poland was cut off from Russia, and the Russians were not permitted to send pig hair or fleece into Poland, so the two main industries failed. Because of the crisis, other factories also closed and the city had only two things from which to make its living: from businesses that seemed to exist on nothing but thin air; and from help that was sent from America.

I went through the streets. I never remember them emptier. I had never seen so many people wandering through the streets with canes in their hands. Since there was nothing to do, they went out to walk a bit in the streets, where they exchanged the news of the day, met up with people, and sometimes succeeded in earning a few zloty.

Young and old strolled through the streets and dreamed. The young dreamed of traveling to America or Canada, and the old people dreamed about making a wedding for a daughter.

An old friend appeared before me. Things were going well for him. He lived well, but what to do about his daughter? He required a thousand dollars for her. This was not an issue for the wealthy or the workers. The wealthy had enough money to pay for a groom, and the brush-makers made their weddings without money. The middle class, however, had to purchase a groom, literally to purchase a groom for their daughters. The prices varied – from five hundred dollars and upward. No middle-class lad would want to get married without money. First, he himself possessed nothing, aside from maybe a stick. He hoped to make a some sort of ephemeral livelihood with the money from the bride's [family]. Then there arose the question of a [finding] a place to live; for everything, one required money.

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As it was before today, my town still does not have telephone lines or radio to disseminate news. Yet people often manage find things out as quickly than they occur. As I arrived, the town [gossips] had already issued various pronouncements regarding the purpose of my trip. During my visit, I began to receive greetings to be transmitted to all areas of America. Someone had a son in San Francisco, I must certainly know him, for since I am a person who travels around the entire world, how could I not know that person's son or daughter? The children of Mezritsh were spread throughout all corners of the United States and Canada. Mothers and fathers came thirsty for news from their wandering children. I heard them out with patience, for one there was a piece of sad news, and for another something entirely different. How many tragedies I learned of from those who came to me for greetings!

I also had a different sort of visitor: people who had chosen to travel to Canada. Some already had permits and others hoped to receive them. All of them wanted to know about the country, and how life was there.

How painful it was when I had to disappoint them, telling them that the Canadian regime looked upon immigrants differently, and that people thirsty for work who were not “Nordic” were not as important to them.

The [prospective immigrants] came not only from my town, but also from the surrounding area. People traveled all night by train to come to see me. Someone from Hrubieszów, who had found out that a Canadian editor [the author] was visiting Poland, begged me tearfully to help him search for his son-in-law who had been living in Hamilton but had not written home in two years. He himself was a father with children. [Must he still be responsible] for supporting the daughter he had married off, who now had a child?

Tragedy after tragedy – I saw and heard enough of them during my three weeks in Poland in general, and in Mezritsh in particular.


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In the Old Home
From a visit to Mezritsh in 1937

by Sh. Frajlach (Litman Geltman) of Buenos Aires

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1. As a Guest At My Parents' Home

Mezritsh. The train comes to a stop. It is a small station, submerged in darkness. I crawl out with my bit of luggage. I look around and asked myself: “Is this our station?”

It seems to me that our station was never as dark and cheerless as today…

There are very few people at the station. Several shadows are wandering about, staring at everyone.

A person approaches me, looks at me, and asks, “Whom are you waiting for?”

“Is there no porter at the station?”

The person moves over the platform with momentum and begins to shout: “Wladek!… Wladek!…”

A moment later, a half dozen people run around, all shouting: “Wladek!… Annoying!… Wladek…”

Wladek does not appear. I am impatient and begin to carry my luggage myself. Then an emaciated Pole with long arms comes out, grabs my luggage and takes it into the station.

Outside the station, carriage drivers approach me, and begin to pull at me from all sides. “Mister!…” “American!…” “Hello, bye!…”

A young carriage driver grabs my luggage from the Pole and tosses it into the cabin. “Sit down inside, Mister,” he says, as he grabs the whip.

Two Jews already sitting in the cabin begin to protest. “Hey Zawel, what is this?”

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“Do me a favor and get off! the wagon driver asks them.

“What is this?! Are we traveling for free?!”

“Get off, I tell you…”

“Zawel!…”

“I will, in truth, throw you off!…”

When the wagon driver jumps out of the cabin, Wladek the porter [finally appears and] runs toward him, coming up the steps. “Let the devil take me!” he says, “An entire year I guard the station like a dog, and when an American comes, I am not here…”

I give him [Wladek] a few groszy and he goes away happy, but the carriage driver is angry. “I want to give him a good illness! A Jew hater, he cannot [bear to] look at a Jew…”

The horse sets out in the darkness and the wagon driver waves the whip: “Woe, foolishness upon you.”

The carriage sets out on the local railway road. There is the main orchard, there is the bridge, the pasture, the mill, Kolya Street…

Many images swim in my mind: Here was the Borochov house, there was the largest library, Chaya lived in that house, Leibel lived in that house…

The carriage meanders through Lubliner Street, the main street of the town. There, on that street, on the same narrow sidewalk, the entire town once would stroll. There they would debate all the world's problems. There all romances were sealed. It was the “bourse” for all the youth of the town…[1]

I look at that street and see that it is still, above all else, the town's “bourse”. Different youth now stroll here, alongside different girls, but the language, the discussions, the dreams and fantasies are seemingly all the same. So many years have passed, and still they are vexed by the same problems…

“Where are you going?” [asks the carriage driver].

I give him the name, and he grasps his head. “So, this is who you are?!”

He goads the horse. “Giddy–up!”

The carriage rolls over the bridge and tosses about on all sides. The passers–by on both sidewalks stop and stare.

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“Who can this be?…”

It was hard to make out faces in the darkness, but I did recognize a few. There is Saneh Moris, the elderly Saneh Moris! There is the town fool, Chanale!”

The carriage travels through the market, which is filled with clusters of people. It turns onto the Talmud Torah alleyway and comes to a stop in front of our house. Outside, on a wooden bench, sits my mother. She jumps up. “My son!”

I feel her hot tears on my cheek in the darkness. “My eyes have been searching for you for a week already. Why did you not send a telegram?”

It is dark in the house. With trembling hands, my mother lights a match, kindles a kerosene lamp, and places it near my face. “Woe to me! Are you sick, Heaven forbid?”

“Why, what is wrong?”

“You look bad, very bad…”

My mother leaves to find my father, but all the neighbors are already outside in front of the house, blocking her way. “No, leave this mitzvah [of bringing the father] to us.”

The carriage driver, who remains outside, sticks his head through the open window: “So, Mister, give me the few dollars, and let me go home to eat dinner.”

I give him a zloty, but he tosses it back to me. “A zloty I can get from any coarse passenger!”

“How much do you want?”

“Two dollars.”

“I do not come from Dollar Land, and I have no dollars.”

“Then give me ten zloty.”

The neighbors mix in: “Come now, give him ten zlotys; are you short of zlotys?”

“I will not take less. I wait for an American an entire year,” [says the carriage driver].

“Treifnik [unkosher person]” shouts a Jewish woman, “Look at this well pedigreed person!”

“Why are you mixing in?” The carriage driver is already angry; the women begin to let my father through.

It seems as if a battle will ensue. I quickly come up with four zlotys and send the carriage driver away. He leaves with a sigh:

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“Oh G–d! Go wait for an American…”

My father comes running, panting and out of breath, and hugs me. In his great joy, he cannot utter a word, and it takes a long time until he regains his composure.

“Today is the Rebbe's yahrzeit,” he said. “I went to the shtibel, but I will worship at home. It has become hard for me to go…” He looks at me. Tears are flowing from his eyes. Tears of joy. “One must not lose hope. Did I believe then that I would see you again?”

I look at my father and my mother and see that they have aged greatly. I had left my father with a greyish beard, and now his beard is as white as snow, and he barely manages to drag himself upon his feet.

“We have become old, eh?” asks my father, as if he were reading my thoughts.

“Yes, so it seems…”

“Believe me, my son, that this [ageing] is more from tribulation than from years. Is it a trifle? We raised four sons and three daughters, and now that we have gotten older, when we need someone near us, we remain alone like a stone, without a child and without a cow…”

I look at him, thinking about their poverty. “The sofa is still here,” I say.

“Yes.”

“The wardrobe, where is the wardrobe?”

My father waved his hand: “Did you not hear from Grobskin? I was liable for taxes…”

“What?! Are you are still paying taxes?”

“A fine question.”

I was silent, thinking that this is perhaps the only country in the world where two old people, who do not work and are completely dependent upon their children overseas, must still pay taxes.

The kerosene lamp casts a shadow in the house. Dark shadows peer out from all corners, making me feel cold and uncomfortable.

“When you left, electricity lit our home. But today,

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for whom, and for what? There is light enough for us… Aside from this, electricity costs four zloty a month, and from where can we get such [money]?”

People gather in the house, greeting me all around. The heads of curious women and children can be seen from behind the window; they are standing on their tiptoes and looking at me from all sides: “From Argentina? From Palestine?…”

My mother smiles at everyone and asks: “Let him catch his breath. He has not slept for three nights.”

I was indeed thankful to her. My head was confused, and I did not understand the world in which I found myself. It had been three nights since I'd [last] closed my eyes.

 

2. A Town that Lives by Pig Hair

My home town of Mezritsh played a significant role in the Jewish workers movement. There, the first strikes took place, the first revolutionary battles. The eight–hour workday arrived [in Mezritsh] before anywhere else.

Mezritsh is known in the world for its pig hair industry. This is an industry that has remained in Jewish hands until today. For more than fifty years, Jews of Mezritsh would travel deep into Russia where they purchased raw pig hair. They brought the hair to the town, where they scraped it, washed it, treated it with sulfur, cleaned it, and combed it. Then they sent it in barrels to the Leipzig fair.

I still remember how Jews wearing Hassidic hats and long kapotes would appear in the streets on nice days in short jackets [2], white starched shirts and stiff caps.

“What is going on?”

“They are travelling to Leipzig.”

The Jews looked like Purim players running through the entire city looking for curiosities.[3]

“German thief!”

“He looks like he is on a journey!”

The Jews would return from Germany full of new things. They never tired of telling of the wonders of Prussia and of Leipzig, and of the local Jews. They noted that with every trip, the beards of those Jews [in Leipzig] became smaller and their kapotes became shorter. Slowly, they [the merchants of Mezritsh who travelled to the fairs] cut off their peyos and dispensed with their Hassidic hats. They dressed with

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a type of hat on their heads that was tall and looked like a pot of kugel.

The Mezritshers looked upon those hats with a great deal of humor, and quickly gave them a name. “This is not a hat,” they said, “but rather a night vessel” [4].

“It is a trough…” “A cholent pot…”

The Jews of this misnagdish [5] city absorbed a bit of German culture, and Mezritsh indeed gained a reputation as an apikorser [6] city in the region.

Mezritsh was destined to play a completely different role. There were many hundreds of brush workers who used to stay at the combs from dawn until late at night, absorbing dust and sulfur into their lungs. When they [finally] opened their eyes, they realized that they were becoming thinner and more shrunken from day to day, whereas the well–to–do people were getting fatter and healthier from day to day.

The workers began to rebel and demanded a shorter work day. “It is sufficient,” they said, “to work from sunrise until sunset.”

The brush workers' first strike was a sensation not only in Mezritsh, but also throughout the entire region. Jews learned how to stand up proudly, and did not understand what was coming.

“What does this mean?! Should workers express their opinions to the owners about how long to work?!” The merchants indeed became angry and claimed that this was an unheard–of brazenness, however they were forced to give in. The Leipzig fair was approaching, and they had to have [pig] hair ready [for market]. In this way, the brush makers of Mezritsh took a half–hour or an hour [off the regular work day] from the owners, until they had taken an entire free morning, all [because of] the Leipzig fair. They demanded a work day of no more than eight hours. The reason given by many of the strikers was very curious. They claimed that they did not have time to recite the Mincha [afternoon] service. “When we leave work, and go to the Beis Midrash, they are already at Maariv [evening service].”

The strike greatly irritated the owners, but they had to give in that time as well. “Leipzig is waiting for merchandise.”

Brush making is complicated work, and it seemed to be a trade that

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only Mezritshers were capable of performing. In those times, when brush making was underway, hundreds of young people from the surrounding cities and towns came to Mezritsh to study the trade, but they all failed. After a week or two, they would abandon the combs with swollen hands, and refused to become brush makers. This situation indeed helped the Mezritsh brush makers in their [labor] battles. They could be certain that the owners would not bring in any strikebreakers. “This is not a shoe making enterprise, and not a tailoring enterprise,” they said.

People said that when the brush makers left the factory at 5:00 p.m. for the first time [in history], the entire city ran about as if it were [amazing] news. “It is still the middle of the day, and the brush makers are already leaving work!”

I remember that my rebbe, who had a son who was a brush maker, left the cheder and went out to the street. When he saw his son coming home from work, he spat three times. “Pthew! He is already home from work!”

My rebbe had an entirely different complaint against his son: “Tell me,” he complained to him, “What are you going to do until Mincha? You will go crazy from laziness.”

The brush makers however had what to do until Mincha, and even until after Maariv. Young people went about in strange caps [7] and discussed secrets.

“Conspiracy… Exploitation… Organization…”

These were the first years of the Bund [8][8a], and the Mezritsh brush makers were destined to play a very important role in that movement. There in the workshops, near the iron combs, in the dust and the sulfur fumes, the seeds of the first activism fell upon fertile soil, and bore fruit. To this day, Mezritsh is considered as the cradle of the Bund. There, in the dusty workshops, the foundation of one of the first Bund strongholds was laid.

When the war [World War I] ended, and the iron grip of the German occupation cleared out, Poalei Zion [8b] became a force over all the Jewish cities and towns, and many [political party] strongholds were broken, including the Bundist stronghold. For the first time in the history of the region, Mezritsh brush makers, [and other] young people appeared, who talked about Zion, about Palestine, about emigration, about stychic processes [9], etc.

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The Bundists were greatly surprised. They looked upon those youths as exotic personalities, and shrugged their shoulders: “We simply cannot understand them…”

I remember that when the town hosted the first Poalei Zion orators, the Bund's leaders came to take part in the discussion. Each time, they raised the palms of their hands and said: “When hair grows here [on the palms of our hands], the Mezritsher brush makers will become Poalei Zionists.”

Several Bundists entered into the fray. They said, “You talk about Zionism, about Palestine. This has no meaning for me, but if you speak about Socialism, you will interest me. What connection do you have with Socialism? Socialism – this is our thing…”

Poalei Zionism did not accomplish any major things at first, and it only attracted the wealthy intelligentsia. Therefore, two other forces came from the right and from the left, that shook up the [Poalei Zion] party from inside, and barely left anything standing.

The new forces were Folkism [8c] and Marxism [8d]. Folkism attracted the small tradesmen and handworkers who felt uncomfortable in the Bund. Marxism drew in the more temperamental youth who were unable to sit so motionlessly in the Bundist armchair.

Now that I have returned to the town, I have discovered that the old Bundist stronghold has been completely destroyed. Today in the brush makers union, there are not only Marxists, Folkists, and Poalei Zionists, but even regular Zionists. The Bundists do not get overly agitated when they hear speeches of other [parties]. One can even calmly discuss Zionism and Palestine with them.

*

Above all, Mezritsh is [still] the center of brush making, to the extent that the Poles have not succeeded in wringing this business from Jewish hands. They have not succeeded, and they grit their teeth at every failure. “It is annoying! What kind of a secret lies in that specific business?…” [the Poles ask themselves.]

In recent years, the brush makers have gone through many crises. They have left the raw materials market and abandoned the residual market in Germany. Jewish merchants have struggled greatly to find new sources for raw materials, as well as new markets to distribute their finished merchandise.

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Above all, brush making is [still] the best trade in the region, and the surrounding towns are jealous of Mezritsh.

A brush maker indeed earns more than any other worker, but by [the age of] forty he already has a persistent cough, and by age fifty is already an old man with a wrinkled face. There is a saying: “ The good fortune of the brush makers is in the cemetery.”

One must also consider the workers who pass away early, in the prime of their lives, leaving behind widows and orphans.

When I arrived in Mezritsh the brush makers were on strike, and the entire city was in an uproar and a fury. Everyone was sighing.

“It is bad. The brush makers are not working.”

In Mezritsh, if the brush workers do not work, the life of the entire town comes to a standstill. The shop keepers do not sell anything; the tailor, the shoemaker, the tinsmith do not earn anything; and the entire city [stands still] with folded arms.

When I went to a barber shop, the barber greeted me with joy.

“It is especially good when a person comes from America sometimes,” he said.

The barber swore to me that it had been six weeks since he had soaped a chin.

“Why is this?”

“The brush makers are on strike. They shave themselves.”

How much worse can it be? Even the mailman complains that he goes around with empty pockets.

“If the brush makers work, “he said, “I also earn a few groszy.” Now he too is in trouble.

 

3. How Are My Children Doing?

It was already my third day at home, and I was anxious to get out of the house a bit to take a look at the town, to see the streets and alleyways that I knew from way back, the market, the highway, the paths and lanes, the area behind the city. However, I found no opportunity to leave the house; for from the moment I arrived, I was captive to the tens and tens of guests and visitors who came [to see me] from early morning until late at night.

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The visitors are all talking at once, and I feel as if I am at a fair. People approach me from all sides and issue their verdict:

“The same Litman…”

“A different Litman…”

“He looks good…”

“He looks bad…”

“He got taller…”

“He got shorter…”

Mother and father sit to one side, sighing and shaking their heads sadly. “What is it?” [I ask them].

“Earlier on, it was better for us. We hoped and waited for your arrival, counted the weeks, the days, the minutes…”

“Why is it more difficult for you now?” [I ask].

“Now the joy is gone, because we know that soon you will leave again…”

Most of the visitors came for greetings [to receive any news of their family and friends]. Aside from greetings from Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, I also brought many greetings from Palestine. Every mother and father quizzed me [as though I were] a student taking a test.

“How is my daughter doing?”

“Good,” I said, “Very good.”

“What does good mean?” one Jew asked me.

“Good is not bad.” [I answered.]

The Jew was not happy with the answer. He wanted me to take paint and a paintbrush, and paint an accurate portrait of his daughter, so he could see whether she was faring better or worse than when she was at home.

With the fathers, it was bearable. I dealt with them, and they left. It was worse with the mothers. I had to endure an examination for the better part of an hour. They asked about every detail. They wanted me to tell them exact details about their son, their son–in–law, the grandchildren, where they live, what they eat, where they spend time, and even what type of clothing they wear.

I had to be very exacting with greetings, [making sure to give the correct news to the correct family]. A wealthy son and daughter [who had moved abroad] had instructed me: “For heaven's sake, do not make me out to be a great wealthy person…” The poor children, on the other hand, requested: “For heaven's sake, do not make me out to be too poverty stricken…”

The fathers and mothers wanted to learn these secrets and asked, “Is my son–in–law really so poor?” the fathers of the wealthy children

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were also not very happy: “So what do I get out of it that my son is so wealthy over there?”

“Why do you not get anything out of it? He sends you no money?” [I said]. How should I know?! “Perhaps he sends you a few zloty for the festival… Yankel's son is not rich. So, he does not send more?…”

Every father and mother described a full set of tribulations to me and asked that I should ensure that their son or daughter would help them. “He seemed to be such a wonderful child, but in the end – he has forgotten his father and mother. When one leaves for those [faraway] lands, it is like a stone in water,” said one Jewess.

Those Jews who had children in Argentina, who themselves toiled hard and bitterly for a morsel of bread, came to me with complaints: “Why do they forget their poor father and mother? They should send a few zloty on occasion.”

As I analyzed comments from these Jews, it seemed that the poorer proletariat [abroad] sent money more often than the tycoons, but the parents were not happy in either case. It was too little. I persevered with courage. I called those parents to one side and told them the full truth about their children. I showed them what a proletariat house looked like in Buenos Aires, and how hard and bitterly one worked for a penny. Do you think they believed me? Of course not.

“Go already, go!” they said, “You want to defend them.”

“This is the plain truth,” I said.

“Why are you telling me stories here? Is my son not as big a bigshot as Leibel Mordechai's darling? He can work well, but my son cannot?”

A teacher who had a son who worked as a purse maker in Buenos Aires came to me hastily, angry and agitated.

“Do you know my darling [son]?”

“Yes, I know him.”

“Tell me the truth, what is he doing there?”

I told him the entire truth about his son – that he was living an impoverished, exhausting life. I told him that his son is a very fine and respectable man, but the father would not let me speak.

“In which way is he a fine man there? He does not pray, he works on the Sabbath, I am highly doubtful whether he eats kosher food, so how can he be a fine man?” [asked the father.]

He became agitated and began spouting out verses [of scripture], saying, “If he would

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only observe the commandment to honor his father, remember his father on occasion, and send him a few zloty on occasion, that commandment would atone for all his sins. However, since he does not honor his father, he is a sinner and a troubler of Israel….”[10]

He began banging the table with his cane and shouting. At that moment, it seemed as if he was talking directly to his son, making an uproar: “In the holy Torah, it is written…”

“Reb Chaim,” my father interrupted him, “Why are you shouting so much? Is [my son] guilty here too?!”

He went outside, and I heard him talking to himself on the street, “You were once a good boy. But …”

There was no end to the greetings. There were ten stages to each one: first the mother came, then the father came, then the sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, etc. all came. We discussed and investigated.

“Indeed! My Lozer – indeed, does he not have his own car?” The woman called me aside and began to cry in front of me. “Tell him there, my son, that he should purchase the car. I cannot sleep at night. I tremble and shake… Is it a trifle, how much trouble comes along with a car!

In–laws were a different story. If [both] the husband's and wife's parents [of the couple residing abroad] lived in town, they would quarrel for the most part, and then come separately for their greetings. The husband's parents would call me into a different room, and query me about whether their son was sending any [money] to his wife's parents. “If our enemies must live in the world, do they need the money which our son toils for?!….”

The wife's parents would come a half hour later. They would call me into a second room and begin to query me. “Our son–in–law probably sends a fortune to his father.” I swear by all the oaths – “I do not know.” I see their son–in–law once in three years, but they do not believe me. Perhaps he already knows… The wife's mother waves the lace over her mouth and says:

“It is not our concern, but believe me, this is thrown away money. If we would have half of what they have in savings, we would be very rich…”

A Jew who lived in a town 30 kilometers from Mezritsh,

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went out of his way to come to me with a request – that I should find his brother in Buenos Aires. If I did him this favor, he assured me that I would indeed prolong his life.

“Why is that?”

He said, “I have a daughter to marry off. She has already been going out for six years with a young man, and if I do not make them a wedding, nothing will come of the match.”

I asked the Jew for his address, and he shrugged his shoulders. “Do I have an address?…”

“What does your brother do in Buenos Aires?”, I asked.

“I do not know,” [he responded].

The Jew then confided in me that he actually did not know whether his brother was [actually] in Buenos Aires, or even in Argentina. He had left home fourteen years earlier in anger and was never heard from again. However, people said that he had gone to Argentina. “Of course,” he said, “if my older brother was not such a pig, he would give me Berl's address [in Argentina].”

“Who is your older brother? Do you correspond with him?” I asked.

He said, “I have another brother. I correspond with him and even get a bit of money from him, but he will not give me Berl's address.”

Two days later, that older brother came to me and asked me to search for the same Berl in Argentina. He said, “I have a younger brother here. He has the address, but even if he were to die, he would not give me the address. When I ask him, he shouts that he does not know where he is.”

Stories regarding addresses in Argentina, the United States, and Palestine were often acted out in Poland. People from the same family did not want to give each other the address of some relative who sent a few dollars once every fifty years. A Jew said to me, “To us, an address is a treasure. One protects an American address like a mezuzah…”

There are indeed those who live off addresses: addresses of distant relatives, addresses of friends, of acquaintances, and even of neighbors.

In a small town, I met a teacher who was already very old. He told me that he was still alive in this world thanks to his students in America.

“How is that?”, [I asked].

“Every Rosh Hashanah and Passover, I send them a greeting card. They send me a few dollars and this sustains me for an entire year.”

There are Jews in Poland who live with the hope that an acquaintance from America will send them something, or that

[Page 659]

a visitor will come to town from afar and give them a few dollars. They go around asking one question:

“When is Mr. Yankel coming?”

“It seems that Lozer Gedalia's son may be coming?”

 

4. I Did Not Recognize My Town

I had already been home for four days, and I could not extricate myself from the greetings. People would come to me from morning till night to inquire, and I was already as hoarse as the walls. I had never spoken so much or explained so much in my entire life.

There were women who came to me three times a day. Each time, they had something different to ask, but each time they would start from the very beginning. “You say that my daughter looks good?…”

A woman would then begin to tell the entire biography of her daughter, how she went through the childhood illnesses, suffered from sore teeth, where she went, and on and on – until she got married.

Others came to ask directly for advice. A mother who wanted to send her daughter to Argentina asked me to tell her if the daughter might get a good match there.

“I know,” I told her, “that they say there is a dearth of girls there…”

I was already tired of answering everyone, and wanted to get out of the house a bit, to clear my head a bit, but there was always a new guest to see me, which seemed to me just like the previous guest: “You must tell me…”

A young grain merchant came to me from a nearby town on a bicycle, and started to query me. That young man tormented me for four hours, and there were moments where I felt I could not bear it. I was ready to hit him over the head.

That young man began by asking things of me in an organized fashion. First he asked about a male cousin, then about a female cousin, then about their children. When he was finished with the family, he asked about South America in general, and then about Argentina. He asked me, “What is the population of the country? How big is it?” etc.

“Uncle,” I told him, “These types of things you should not ask me. One should get an encyclopedia and look them up.

[Page 660]

“Why do I need an encyclopedia,” he said, “If I have a person from there…”

The Jew directed the conversation to Argentinian politics and economy, and then slowly came to commerce.

“What do you think, is grain a [good] business in Argentina?”

“I believe so.”

“What types of goods are current in Argentina?”

“I do not understand…”

He said, “I mean, what types of things are imported to Argentina?”

“I don't know,” I said, “I am not a merchant.”

But the Jew did not hear me.

“Tell me, are mushrooms currently in demand?”

“Perhaps…”

“And what about down?”

I began to walk around the room nervously, but the young man continued to go on.

“Tell me, can one make a business in buttons?”

“Maybe..”

Finally, the Jew left in anger.

“This is the first time in my life,” he said, “that I meet a man who does not even want to give a greeting…”

After that pest left me, a Jew with a thin beard came to me.

“I have a request from you.”

“What is the request?”

“Beat up my son–in–law.”

“Are my enemies crazy?! He is three times my size…”

“If you do not want to hit him, then curse him on my behalf.”

“Why? What is it?”

“He is a snark, a nothing. He cheated me out of a few hundred dollars and acts like he doesn't know.” He said, “I am willing to forgive the money, but a card, a card for twenty groszy, can he not send me on occasion?!…”

My former rebbe also came to see me. He was already grey as a dove, and appeared very weak. He looked at me for a long time before he recognized me. My rebbe was not interested in livelihood or politics. He asked me about G–d's matters.

[Page 661]

“Is there a synagogue where you are?”

“Certainly, there are many synagogues.”

“And rabbis? And shochtim [ritual slaughterers]?”

“They are not lacking where we are.”

My rebbe expressed surprise.

“So it is! In that case, it is one world everywhere, just as you have said.”

I had other problems with the greetings: I often mixed things up. A woman came to me to receive a greeting from her husband, but I made a mistake and gave her a greeting from her brother.

“Ha!” I said, “Lozer? Yes, I know him, I know his wife, and I know his children.”

The woman jumped up.

“What wife! What children!”

“Lozer's wife…”

“So!” she said, “I did not know that my husband has already gotten himself a wife and children there!…”

I realized that I had made a mistake and apologized, but it took a great deal of effort to calm the woman down. I had mixed up the greetings. When she left, she asked me: “Perhaps this is indeed true? Who knows in today's times…”

There were other substitutions: I mixed up a son with a daughter, a daughter–in–law with a son–in–law. If someone had a brother in Palestine, I might have placed him in Argentina. In any case, I caused problems.

*

I set out to look at the town. My old friend, who accompanied me, assured me that I would not recognize the town.

“Why?” [I asked].

“It has grown greatly during the last thirteen years… “ He explained to me that new, fine houses had appeared during those years, as well as many paved streets and sidewalks. “Do you remember the park in the market? It is no longer a little park, but a big one.

I went through the streets and alleyways that I had known previously. I was disappointed – “Was this the town?”, I asked myself, for it seemed as if they were fooling me. I had imagined that Mezritsh would be a city with wide streets, and large, fine houses. What I see now is a small town with small, crowded streets, and crooked, shrunken houses.

[Page 662]

My friend did not stop talking about progress in the city. He pointed out one house after another: “That building was not here in your time.”

I looked at the building, and it seemed to me that it must have been standing there since the sixth day of creation. It seemed quite pathetic to me.

My friend filled me in with news: “Do you see that sidewalk? It has not been there for long…”

I looked at the town, at the streets, and it seemed to me that the entire town along with the streets, the covered wagons, even the people – all looked like they had escaped from a museum somewhere. In my eyes, they appeared as miniatures – like characters taken from Chagall's paintings.

We came to the small market park, that was no longer even a small park. I counted a dozen small nut trees with a few blades of grass. The park is located across from the former Russian church and the magistrate building. It is surrounded by a wooden fence.

At one time, that park was open. There were a few benches, and elderly Jews, mothers with babies, children, and ill people would gather there in the evening to get a bit of fresh air. Today, there are no benches, and Jews do not even lean against the railings.

“Why?” [I ask].

“Because the mayor, who lives opposite the park in the magistrate, cannot tolerate Jews.”

Mezritsh was 95% Jewish, but the magistrate was more than 3/4 Polish with an anti–Semitic mayor at its head. The first thing he did was to drive the Jews out of the market park.

“I cannot bear it,” he [the mayor] said, “They sit here and chatter in their language, hawk and spit, spit and make noise.”

So that they would not chatter, he commanded that the benches in the park be removed, thereby removing the only bit of pleasure from the Jews.

The Jews, however, did not have anywhere else to go. They gathered in the small park and stood for hours [leaning] against the fence, where they chatted, spent time, and took in fresh air. The mayor could not tolerate this either, so he posted notices on the fence stating that it is forbidden to lean against the fence.

[Page 663]

Today, Jews walk through the small park and make bitter jokes.

“Do not touch the fence. It is holy…”

“Do not look at them…”

“It is forbidden to breathe the air…”

Jews said that they would not be surprised if a notice were to appear stating that it is absolutely forbidden to look at the park. “After all, it is his park, his trees, his fences…”

When the mayor wished to have a radio receiver, they forced the Jews to provide it. They went around through the stores and the shops, and forced everyone that had business with the magistrate to contribute. Why? The mayor must have a radio!

The radio belonged to the city and was set up with speakers, but it only played when the mayor was in a good mood. People said that days or weeks might pass with the radio silent. In one case, the mayor disagreed with everyone, in another case, the mayor's office was not amenable…

The sole use of that the radio was to let the Jews know when the mayor was in a good mood. If a Jew had to do business [with the mayor] in the magistrate, he waited for the [sound of the] radio. If the radio played, it was a sign that the mayor would be forthcoming. If the radio was silent, he [the Jew] would not dare to cross the threshold of the magistrate…

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. bourse – Though in modern parlance this refers to a stock exchange, it can also refer to a market place in general. In this context it seems to refer to a kind of market place for ‘shidduchim’, or match–making. return
  2. The great market fairs of Europe, such as the Lepzig fair, were held during the good–weather months of late spring, and early fall. Local Eastern European Jews regularly wore long coats known as “kapotes”; the Jews who traveled to the fairs wore more modern clothing, like the Jews of Prussia who wore short jackets. Dressing in this different way made people traveling to the fairs visibly “modern” and “Westernized” in the eyes of the locals. Leipzig was known as a big market city – and businessmen would vie to go to the Leipzig fair. Someone appearing in a more modern outfit in Mezritsh itself might look out of place (like one wearing a Purim costume), although in Leipzig they would fit right in. return
  3. “Looking for curiosities” – seems to be a reference to looking for ‘finds’ or unusual items to purchase. This is seemingly another reference to the Leipzig fair. return
  4. A “night vessel” – probably refers to a basin kept near the bed for urinating in the middle of the night. return
  5. misnagdish is an adjective meaning “opposed to Hassidism.” return
  6. Apikoser – is the term for apostacy, although here it is not meant literally. The adjective form here means something more like “religiously unobservant”. return
  7. There seem to have been different caps for different political parties and ideologies. return
  8. There were many political parties and ideologies among the Jews of Poland. For an overview, see http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Parties_and_Ideologies#id0exdae
    A short primer on the various parties mentioned in this article:
    1. The Bund was a decidedly anti–Zionist and leftist party. For more information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Jewish_Labour_Bund_in_Lithuania,_Poland_and_Russia return
    2. Poalei Zion was a Zionist organization, which fractured into left leaning and centrist factions. For more information, please see http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Poale_Tsiyon return
    3. Folkism – Sought autonomy for Jews within the context of the diaspora. It was anti–Zionist, not as left–wing as the Bund or the Marxists, and catered more to the middle class. For more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folkspartei return
    4. Marxism – there were several Marxist (aka Communist) parties operating in Jewish Poland. For more information on Marxism, see http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Parties_and_Ideologies#id0exdae return
    return
  9. A “stychic” process refers to a process that happens with elemental spontaneity. See the reference to “stychic process” under https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ber_Borochov return
  10. A “troubler of Israel” – This is what Ahab calls Elijah (1Kings 18:17) return


[Page 664]

Sabbath in Mezritsh

by Eliahu Giladi (Perlsztejn) of Nahariya

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The fact that Mezritsh was a Jewish town was strongly evident on the Sabbath day. After six days of toiling, hustling, and doing business, the holy Sabbath arrived. The town took on a different appearance. The market emptied, the shops in the “circle” were locked, the streets and alleyways were clean and tidy. The people were dressed up in their Sabbath clothes. Above all else, everybody was enveloped in the Sabbath calm.

In the morning, one could see Jews with tallis bags under their arms. Young mothers would stroll with their children in the small park by the market, under the chestnut trees, between the benches.

“If one does not prepare oneself on the eve of the Sabbath, one will have nothing for the Sabbath” – this was an adage always remembered by the Jews. Preparations for the Sabbath began a few days earlier. Already on Thursday, the market was bustling like a beehive. The pushing among the women was very great around the fish stalls, the shops, the butcher shops, not far from “behind the bathhouse.”[1]
On Thursday, gentiles from the villages came to the market with wagons full of produce: potatoes, hens, eggs, butter. Women besieged the carts and pushed at the tables with produce, where the merchant women would sit in the winter warmed by fire pots, dressed in woolen cloaks and shawls. The most important thing was that they should be able to prepare for the Sabbath in the best and finest way possible.

Mothers would bring the Sabbath atmosphere into the homes already on Thursday. Many of them baked sweet challahs for the Sabbath. The aroma of fish wafted through the courtyards on Thursday night. Throughout the week, [household] slop would be poured into the drainage ditches [at the side of the road]; on Friday, the children were given the duty of cleaning these bridges [which spanned the drainage ditches] leading to entranceways to the houses.

One of the tasks of the Jewish housewives on the eve of the Sabbath was to prepare the cholent and bring it to the baker in the alleyway, where he would keep it until the next morning. It would often happen that the cholent pots would get mixed up, and people would eat each other's cholent.

On Friday at noon, the shamash of the large Beis Midrash went around to the shopkeepers in the circle, announcing the time for candle lighting.

The Jews of the town would not forget

[Page 665]

to purchase the Jewish newspapers, Mezritsher Wachenblatt or Mezritsher Trybuna, after they left work on Friday, so that they would have what to read on the Sabbath and be able to enjoy the gossip about others, and [read about] how one association or party behaved toward the others.

Candle lighting was a solemn time for Mother on Friday evening. The silver candlesticks were placed on a table set with a silk tablecloth; Mother placed her hands over her eyes, and recited the blessing with devotion. We, the children, surrounded her. It was even more solemn when we arrived home with Father from the Beis Midrash and brought home a guest. Then, Father recited Kiddush over a silver cup overflowing with red wine. Friday night at the Sabbath table was unforgettable.

Once Cantor Sirota or Koussevitzky came to Mezritsh for a Sabbath when Rosh Chodesh was being blessed. The Jewish newspapers of Mezritsh announced this [event] a week earlier. Tickets were prepared. The synagogue was packed. The son of the cantor singing the blessing of Rosh Chodesh [still] resonates in my ears: “A life of livelihood, a life of peace, a life…”[2].

On winter Sabbaths, when there was a great frost and the wind was biting, Father made sure to summon the Sabbath Goy[3], who went from one Jewish house to the next lighting the oven and later shutting it off, so that the oven would be warm for the entire day.

On Sabbaths in the summer heat, we children made sure to have cold water in the house. There were no Jewish wells in the city, so we would go to the priest's yard to draw water from the well. We would bring the cold water home in a pitcher or a kettle.

The Jews did not quickly bid farewell to the Sabbath day. After the Sabbath nap, in the afternoon at Mincha time, a preacher would speak in the large Beis Midrash, using the words of our sages and verses from the weekly Torah portion. At the same time, the Hassidim from the Kotzker Shtibel, not far from the Great Synagogue, gathered for the Third Sabbath Meal. Between one shot glass and another, they would sing a tune, using the Rebbe's melody. When they were suffused with devotion, they would tuck in their silk kapotes and start dancing until the stars came out. After the New Moon, the Jews from the Batei Midrash would go outside after Maariv to recite the blessing over the new moon[4]. If someone had given birth to a baby boy, a Shalom Zachar would be celebrated on Friday night[5]. On such Friday nights, one could

[Page 666]

hear the joyous hymns coming forth from the houses as the celebrants drank beer and partook of satisfying chickpeas and beans.

The Sabbath was not only the holy day for the religious and traditional Jews of Mezritsh, but also for those who were secular. Everyone rested and did not work. The Jewish youth of Mezritsh would fill the meeting place on that day, and would go on excursions to surrounding villages, such as Jelnica, etc., where our parents spent time in the countryside. There were no Jewish fruit orchards in Mezritsh, so Jews leased orchards from Count Potocki, and we, the youth, would go with our friends to the orchards to spend time and enjoy ourselves.

After the Sabbath meal, football matches would take place. We, the youth, would go out to the sandy area on the Radzyner highway, which was the location of the football field.

What would the Sabbath be without lectures from the best speakers from all the parties in Mezritsh – including the Zionists, Folkists, and Bund? Many people came to literary evenings, where well-known actors, speakers, writers, and poets appeared.

The movie halls of Mezritsh were packed on Saturday nights. One could already notice, in the early evening on Lubliner Street, that the Sabbath was slipping away. Young and old strolled along the street, saying to each other, “Tomorrow, Sunday, the toil of the week begins again.”

[Page 667]

mie667a.jpg The market next to the magistrate
The market next to the magistrate

 

mie667b.jpg With the pails to the well on Brisker Street
With the pails to the well on Brisker Street

 

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes
  1. “Behind the bathhouse” – indicating a location. This was type of location “nickname” was not uncommon in Yiddish. return
  2. Rosh Chodesh – is the beginning of the new Jewish month, which, in the luni-solar Jewish calendar, always coincides with the New Moon. On the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh, also known as Shabbat Mevarchim, the coming month is “announced”, and a blessing is offered. The Introduction to the Blessing for the New Moon (Birkat haChodesh) is taken from the Talmud: “May it be Your will, the Eternal our God, to grant us long life, a life of peace, a life of good, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of vigor of the bones, a life in which there is fear of sin, a life free from shame and embarrassment, a life of riches and honor, a life in which we may be filled with love of Torah and awe of Heaven, a life in which You will fulfill all of our hearts' desires for good.” (BT Berakhot 16b). For more information, see http://ravkooktorah.org/ROSH-CHODESH-76.htm, See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Shabbat#Shabbat_Mevorchim return
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabbos_goy return
  4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiddush_levana return
  5. It is customary at this celebratory meal to eat round foods, including chickpeas. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom_Zachar return


[Page 668]

From my Young Days

by Simcha Birstejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Like all the Jewish children at that time, my education began with a melamed[1]. The cheder was located in the same house where we had once lived, near the Blajwajs home opposite the tannery by the small stream. The melamed taught us the alef beit and how to recite the prayers. We children used to whisper to each other about the frightening shadows outside the window in the evenings. We said that these must be demons and evil pranksters. I shuddered in terror when I went home from cheder in the evenings. I was afraid to turn around and look behind me.

Later, I studied in the Public School near the “Koze,” and then in Slodki's and Fiszer's upper level Hebrew school. The teacher Fiszer was very strict with the students. Our beloved teacher was Slodki. He always honored us with recitals, especially of the songs and poems of Ch. N. Bialik.

In 1918, a group of wealthy Jews, including the Finkelsztejns, opened up a Jewish gymnazjum[2] which was also certified as a government gymnazjum. All of the courses were taught in the Polish language. We also learned Hebrew. In the beginning, the gymnazjum was housed in the large house belonging to the Porgozelec family. All the students of Slodki's school, including Reuven Cederbaum, Itshe and Nathan Finkelsztejn, and I, were seated by two walls. One wall was designated for the third class, while the older children, in the first class, sat by the second wall.

One of the first principals of the gymnazjum was Winkler. He taught us Hebrew. The school then moved to Piszczanka, whose residents were mainly Christian, and where one could see trees, gardens and fields from afar. Madame Winkler was an elegant lady. They were both refined, warm and easygoing people.

Among the fine undertakings that Mrs. Winkler had organized for the students included the winter ice festivals on the river under the bridges. The ice was already well frozen, as were the shallows in the middle of the river, which we would call “The Oder of the Wisla.”[3] The students of the gymnazjum, both boys and girls, would gather together for this. They would run over the ice with gleaming steel sleds, and skate in pairs. The good skaters in long pants and short

[Page 669]

dresses danced to the rhythm of a waltz and the foxtrot. One had to be careful not to fall into the open “Polanka,” heaven forbid, from where the water carrier would draw the water.

I did not have the money to purchase a pair of skates, so I made a skate from a piece of wood with a wire underneath, and thereby was able to follow the crowd. The fresh wind caressed our faces with the sharp, cold air, and it was good and pleasant.

I studied in the gymnazjum for four years. The secretary [of the school] Goldberg, the baker's son, would often summon me to his office. He would warn me that I was once again behind with my tuition payments. I was embarrassed, and was unable to look at him from shame. Finally my mother decided that we could no longer go on like this. My school education came to an end after the third class. When I was still a lad of 14 years, I went out into the strange, cold world, alone, without a trade, with adult problems.

I registered in Hashomer Hatzair. The years in Hashomer were fine and good. We took the “Ten Commandments” of Hashomer very seriously: 1) A Shomer is a person of truth – to this day, it is hard for me to tell a lie; 2) A Shomer does not smoke – I never smoked, and do not do so to this day.

We once published a journal in Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish, containing various articles, poems and prose. To this day, I have the photograph of the editorial committee: Reuven Cederbaum, Nachum Zuta, Feivel Farbman, Pejske Hoflat, Sztejn, and I.

In that time, the “Mima'amakim” [From the Depths] publication of Hashomer Hatzair was published in Warsaw. We Shomrim deliberated over the Hebrew and Yiddish articles. Later on, first in Warsaw, and then in the outlying areas, a schism took place within Hashomer. Szlifke, along with others and myself left Hashomer to serve other gods.

At that time, the economic situation in Poland was very difficult. The Jew was always the scapegoat during severe crises. Placards appeared in town with the Polish motto: “Swaj da Swiego!” “Buy only from Poles!” Anti–Semitism increased from day to day. We read in the press that people were afraid to stroll in the parks of Warsaw. Polish hooligans attacked and beat Jews.

They began to persecute the left more harshly, especially the

[Page 670]

Jewish left. Our finest comrades were sent to jail. In exchange for money, provocateurs turned in many of the active comrades.

Already at that time, the leftist youth [of Poland] were singing songs about beating the Nazi storm–troopers, who were marching in Germany in noisy parades with their high footsteps, wearing gleaming boots, uniforms, and swastikas.

The youth in Poland searched for any way to escape. People would travel wherever they could. They would journey illegally to the Land of Israel, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, etc. – so long as they could save themselves from anti–Semitic Poland.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Melamed – A teacher of young children in a cheder. return
  2. gymnazjum – a school with an emphasis on academic learning. In Poland these are traditionally middle schools. return
  3. The Wisla (Polish) river is known as the Vistula in English. return


[Page 671]

My Mother's Merit

by Chaim Lebenholc of Melbourne

Translated by Jerrold Landau

To the memory of my parents, sisters, and brothers murdered in the Holocaust.

No Jew of Mezritsh was destined to have as much merit as my mother. It was more than 55 years ago. One early morning at Purim time, my mother of blessed memory set out to the market to purchase a bit of food for the house. When she arrived at the “circle” of shops, where there was a long bench for the wagon drivers, she noticed a Christian sitting there whom she did not know, dressed in a long, brown cape. He stuck his hands into an open sack that he held near to himself and took something out. Mother noticed that he had a wrapped oilcloth, which he certainly intended to sell.

My impoverished mother, dreamed of an oilcloth on the table in honor of Passover, but did not have anything to trade with the gentile. How amazed she was when she returned home to our house and saw that the gentile [had placed] his sack in the garbage opposite the wooden fence of Chana Mirke's Gertendel (our beloved Kossel Horn's mother, of blessed memory). She pushed aside the hedge with all her might and saw that in it was nothing more or less than… a Torah scroll.

She was speechless from joy and excitement. She was unable to push aside the fence again, so she waited with the Torah scroll in her hands until Father came home from services. He took the Torah scroll from her and helped her crawl back through the hedge. Father brought the Torah to Reb Sender's Beis Midrash, and began to search for the gentile, for he might have other holy objects in his sack. He looked for him in all the taverns but could not find him.

The entire issue was quickly given over to the Mezritsh Beis Din [Jewish court of justice], which passed the information on to cities and towns throughout Poland. Jews [began] arriving from other towns, from which Torah scrolls and other holy objects had been stolen; however, none of the Jews who arrived recognized it as their Torah scroll. From what could be determined from the script, the Torah

[Page 672]

was very old and originated from deep within Russia. The Beis Din decided to give the Torah over to our family.

The Torah scroll had no adornments and was torn in a few places. My father of blessed memory worked for Hirsch Jankel at the time, who knew about my father's difficult [financial] situation; he paid all the necessary expenses to restore the Torah. He also put a few additional zlotys into [my father's] pocket so that they could own the Torah in partnership, for owning such a Torah scroll was of greater merit than writing one, he claimed.

My mother of blessed memory would not hear of this, and instead of making a dress for [herself for] the holiday, she dressed up the Torah with a silk mantle adorned with silver letters and a raised, gold star of David. Every Simchas Torah, we children would go to hakafos [Simchas Torah processions] and rejoice with our own Torah scroll. Of course, the Torah resided in the Holy Ark of Reb Sender's Beis Midrash, until the sad day of the destruction of our Jews arrived – along with the destruction of all Jewish holy objects.

 

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