When I was three years old, I was brought to the Heder to Rabbi Yitzhak Moshe. I was seated at a long oak table. The surface was smooth from the many little hands that had touched it. Two long benches on both sides of the table were filled with little children like myself and older children. What all of us were doing there, I did not know.
The man sat at the head of the table, a book open before him and a pointed white stick in his hand. The little ones sat close together, practically touching, rocking back and forth and murmuring words which made no sense: Kumutz aleph oo Kumutz bet boo . Most of them chanted aloud, repeating the same thing over and over. Under the table their hands moved, hitting and pinching. I was confused and didn't understand what was happening. What was I doing there anyway?
I found the chanting and the sitting hard to take and suddenly, not knowing how or why, I found myself outside in front of the heder. I wasn't the only one. An oversized chicken was busy scavenging for seeds, worms and whatever her beak could find. She was surrounded by tiny chickens covered with golden feathers, cackling madly. Everything moved, jumped, cackled, burrowed into the earth They pushed each other, fluttering their wings and running to and fro. The sun was warm and pieces of broken glass glittered. It was simply wonderful, and I, a part of this wonderful world, watched and enjoyed.
The roar of the river was distinctly heard there. All I had to do was go down between two houses on the lot, cross behind the prayer house and the mill, go down the slope, and I would be on the river bank. I didn't do it though. I never went to the river back alone.
I don't know how long I stood there. Finally, someone took me by my hand and brought me before the big man. Now, I was very close to him, practically beside him. A chicken wandered through the room, jumped onto the bench, leapt onto the table and back to the floor.
The rebbe drew me to him by taking my hand and pulling. I looked at him. He had a wide nose with a clump of hairs almost at its tip. The book was before him. He moved it toward me. I saw rows and rows of small, square pictures. The edge of the page was faded, dirty and yellowed, almost black. Say it already, child. Kamatz aleph al.
With one eye, I watched the chicken which had already leapt off the table, onto the bench and back to the floor. My other eye watched the hairs on the tip of the rebbe's nose which moved, as if saying yes' each time he repeated the sentence. He tried again and again: ..Say it already, child, kamatz aleph .
I wanted to repeat after him, but my vocal chords were paralyzed and I could not say a syllable. I looked at the rebbe but his eyes were not focused on me. The were downcast, concentrated on the white pointed stick between his thumb and his forefinger.
I stared for a long time, for too long, at the square picture which the rebbe called kamatz aleph . Again, I glanced at his face. His forehead was wrinkled and was covered with perspiration.
The rebbe apparently gave up on me. He muttered something to his mustache. I caught the words goyisher kop (a Gentile's head). Only later did I understand that the real meaning was a clogged head. So the rebbe decreed and decided my fate.
I was happy about the situation. He dismissed me and his statement didn't bother me in the least.
I don't remember how long the rebbe struggled with me. It was probably a long time because I was always stubborn. I don't know if he ever changed his mind about me. On the contrary, I remember he once said to my mother: I never yet saw such a clogged head in this family.
Rebbe Yitzhak Moshe's patience did not give out. I was not hurt or insulted by his judgment and I continued to attend the heder sometimes even very happily.
I particularly remember the days when he would lead all of us to the home of a woman who had just given birth, to say kriyath-shma. It was customary in those days for the pupils in the primary heder to visit the home of a new mother and to say shma Yisrael to ensure long life for the new baby/ Afterward, each of us would be given cake and candies.
Ultimately, I learned how to read. I still remember exactly how I began studying Chumash.
The Rebbe asked: what are you learning, my child?
I replied: I'm not a child anymore. I'm a handsome little boy.
The Rebbe: What are you learning, boy?
The Rebbe: What are you learning boy?
The rebbe: What does Chumash mean?
The Rebbe: Five what? Five cakes your mother bought at the market?
I: No. Five holy books in our Torah.
The Rebbe: What are the names of the books?
I: Bereshit one; Exodus two; Leviticus three; Deuteronomy four and Numbers- five.
The Rebbe: Which book are you studying?
I: The third.
The Rebbe: What is the name of the book?
The Rebbe: Leviticus.
The Rebbe: What does it mean?
I: He called. (The Hebrew name, Vayikrah means that).
The Rebbe: Who calls? Was the sexton calling the Jews to synagogue?
Why did Yitzhak Moshe keep in his heder until I learned Chumash even though he considered me a complete Goy. I didn't know then, and I still don't know. I think there may have been several reasons:
Rebbe Yitzhak Moshe, what I have written here was written in your honor. It is my attempt to thank you for teaching me to read. It is also an effort to pay back the debt of my stubbornness.
[Pages 221 to 227]
Yosha would come during the summer, sit on the edge of my mother's bed and take out a pouch of tobacco. He would open the pouch, take a pinch of tobacco between his thumb and forefinger and would bring it to his nostrils time and time again. Finally, he would sneeze loudly.
In the spring, he would bring me large coat buttons. I don't know where he got them. My friends would argue about the value of these buttons; some would claim they were made of ivory while others had their doubts and tried to test the value of the buttons by gnawing at them. In any case, I was glad to have them, whatever their value or lack of it.
Immediately, we would find ourselves a patch of sidewalk near the house and start playing. We would try to knock each other's buttons into a hole in the sidewalk. We would play these games primarily between Purim and Passover, when the snow had melted, the sun shone and tiny streams trickled near us.
Pottery a pitcher, plate, or pot marred by being dropped or being banted in the wrong place - Yosha could cure it. Carefully, his fingers would caress the pieces of pottery, join them together and finally present a finished product as good as new.
If the leg of a chair was broken, Yosha would carve a new piece of wood to the right length and width. He would paint it and present you with a new chair leg.
He never used a ruler or tape measure or any other measuring instrument. Everything was done with the naked eye.
At this time of year, Yosha would bring a willow branch and start making a whistle. We would surround hi watching his fingers and his knife in awe. With the knife's sharp blade, he would cut off a piece of the branch. Now, he worked on what would be the mouthpiece of the whistle.
With a sharp movement of his hand, his knife would go deep into the wood and remove its upper layer. This is what you would hold between your teeth when you used the whistle. Then, he would make the air hole. His blade stabbed deep into the bark and flesh and made a circle of bark and wood. Now it was the bark's turn. Carefully, he would try to separate it from its wooden body. He would soften the bark with his thumb and forefinger, kneading and rubbing it until the young branch was flexible and bent to his movements. Then, he removed the bark with one swift, sharp movement. He would put the bark aside carefully and get back to making the whistle. He shortened and closed the mouthpiece and made a slit from the tip of the mouthpiece to the air hole. Now he would take the piece of bark and replace it on the two parts of the whistle. We watched all this with pride and admiration.
The room was full of grown men, exposing their bodies to each other without shame, making jokes and feasting their eyes on each other. Some cover their private parts with their hands, while others seem proud to show off what they have. I cannot forget the way those Jews looked with flushed faces, going home slowly one by one or two by two. Their beards are washed, their sidelocks clinging to their cheeks, their faces happy and their eyes fresh and full of joy and confidence.
The person who introduced me to the bathhouse and mikveh was the same Yosha. He would take me by the hand and say: Come on, let's go to the bathhouse. It was usually in the wintertime. During the summer, I preferred to go to the river behind the bathhouse. There, together with my friends, I would play in the water and wade in the refuse thrown into the river by all who had hands with which to throw.
Yosha would take a towel and go with me to the bathhouse. Naked bodies of grown men shocked me at first. Yosha's long body and the Hernia special rod which his body possessed confused me. I simply didn't understand the purpose of that organ.
Yosha would take out two pails. He would give me one and tell me to fill it with cold water. He would fill his with hot water. The first time, I did not know what all this was for. Afterward, I became an expert. At Yosha's instructions, I would put a rag into the pail of cold water. With pails in hand, he took me into a room full of steam. At the end of the room, there were wooden steps to the ceiling. Opposite the steps was a large giant square of stones. Near the stones were barrels of boiling water. From time to time, someone would take a pail of water and pour it over the stones or so it looked to me as a child .. Then, my vision became clouded from the steam coming from the stone block. Yosha put his hand into the pail of cold water, took out the cold wet rag, and covered my mouth and nose. Life returned to me immediately. I could breathe again.
Yosha took me up one step and ordered me to lie down on it. I did as he wished. Suddenly, I felt as if my back was on fire. Yosha found and oak branch somewhere and tapped my back and legs lightly with it. From time to time, he pressed the wet rag against my mouth and the ability to breathe again rejuvenated me.
Later, I learned to go from one step to the next, and ultimately I reached the top step. Then I understood why two pails were needed one for cold water, the secret of the rag, and the other for hot water in which to dip the branches for slapping the back and the rest of the body. In the course of time, I learned not only to be taken care of by Yosha but also to take care of him. I would slap his body with the branches, soak them in hot water and slap Yosha's body again, repeating the process over and over. He enjoyed it immensely, but I wasn't happy until he cried out with pleasure: ah, ah .
Afterward, when we had perspired enough and all our bones melted, he would take me by the hand and lead me to the stone steps. We prepared to go down, as if to a secret cellar. Though we repeated this descent during every visit to the bath house, still I had the feeling each time that I was descending into a place of great mystery and adventure. We descended the steps hands in hand, and a smell of warmth and sourness filled my nose and made me slightly drowsy. Then, my feet waded in warm water. Yosha held my hand in his and the descent continued on slippery steps. The water reached my knees, reached my navel, kissed my chest. Yosha would say, You've gone far enough. Don't go any further. He would pull me close to the wall and say, Hold onto the mikveh wall and don't let go. It was now surely obvious that we were in a mikveh; I learned this from Yosha. Yosha would go down another step, and then another. The water already reached his beard. Suddenly, his head disappeared under water for an instant and then emerged. His head disappeared and reappeared a second and a third. Yosha fulfilled the mitzvah (religious obligation) of immersion in the mikveh to the letter.
When I would return home a long time later, I would find my mothers and sisters combing each others newly washed hair. I discovered only much later that our mothers and sisters immerse themselves in the mikveh (ritual bath).
It was no secret that a bride must go to the mikveh before her wedding. A special appointment was made for the purpose with the female bathhouse attendant. I overheard that special places were reserved for women at the mikveh. An appointment had to made in advance with the female bathhouse attendant and the matter was kept secret. It was whispered from one to another and women were careful not to discuss the matter in the presence of children. More than once, I felt that when I approached my mother while she was talking to a friend or a neighbor about the mikveh, the conversation suddenly stopped and the discussion moved to another topic. In my own mind, I tried to figure out the secret. I couldn't understand why all of this was so hidden. What do our mothers and aunts do there which requires them to sneak out of the house? Do they go down there in their dressing gowns, as they do at the river? Or do they go into the mikveh naked, as we men do, in front of everyone?
I learned to respect the mystery and the secrets and I never revealed my thoughts on the subject to anyone else. Later, when I learned at religious school (heder) about purity and impurity and about menstrual period, the mystery was solved. I understood that the mikveh is associated with what is called purity both for men and women.
The chumash (Bible) lesson resumes, and his fingers return to their work on the wood.
Those fingers fill me with anxiety, because they know how to do something else, too. Those long fingers pinch your cheeks or your arm as if they were pincers. Sparks fly from your eyes, and from that time on you will be careful not to let him catch you at anything.
Even if you are far from where he is standing, you are not safe from his, pinching fingers. Suddenly, they are pinching your flesh; he snuck up behind you. Your eyes are on your chumash; your head is busy with barter; your hands are under the table
examining the proffered merchandise, and your arm is pressed between his fingers. If you were lucky, you got off with one pinch of thumb and forefinger not too hard and not too long- that is half bad. If you are less lucky, you are caught between his two fingers which grab, hold and press, over and over again, twice, three times - then you have a big problem. The fingers will have left black and blue marks on your arm which will not go away quickly and will be a painful warning and reminder for a long time to come.
I remember him always standing, his pupils seated to his right and left. He stands, and only his big head and black beard protrude above the table. His slight and bent body disappears under him. His eyes never leave his wood and his knife except to examine us, to discover what pranks we are playing and whether we are listening attentively to his lesson. I often thought to myself: "If he would sit on a regular chair, his head and the rest of him would be lost between the chairs". Be that as it may, our teacher always stood.
room table. The travels of the Children of Israel were not mere words to us. We were participants. Jacob's deeds were shown before our eyes.
Later, I learned that this job was created by the community and its leaders to provide most of the funds needed to run the community. A great deal of skill and experience was needed for the job. Rabbi Nehemiah had these.
happen before our eyes-. Blocks of lard, as they called the fat brought from the slaughterhouse, was delivered to Rabbi Nehemiah's courtyard. I imagine the lard was given free by the butchers since if was not kosher and could not be used by Jews for cooking. Christians had no need of it, since they had lard from their pigs.
I don't know who came up with the idea of making soap. My child's ears caught the story that Rabbi Nehemiah's eldest son Hirsch was secretly in possession of a sorcerer's manual containing the secrets and wonders of this world. From this book, it was said, Hirsch learned the art of soap making which he carried out with the help of his younger brother Yisrael. Rabbi Nehemiah was apparently in league with them and made a special stamp for labeling a name into each cake of soap.
The work was done in a back room in Rabbi Nehemiah's courtyard. Blocks of lard and blocks of soda were taken out of large sacks and thrown 'into a vat. The mixture was allowed to boil. Its steam filled the air, and so did its stink. The brew was then poured into a wooden mold in the shape of a cube. This carefully constructed mold was apparently the handiwork of our rebbe Nehemiah. When the mixture cooled, the mold was emptied and there before your eyes was a large cake of soap. The cake was moist and smooth. The brothers then inserted wire netting into the soap and cut it into pieces. Then it was time for drying. Moist soap could not be sold. Drying was a big problem because white and gray spots, a sort of "leprosy", covered the soap. The two soapmakers tried hard to understand the reason for the "leprosy". No housewife would buy soap with "leprosy". Apparently, the soapmakers did not know the secret of how much soda should be used in proportion to how much fat.
Hirsch and Yisrael were novices at soapmaking in those days. We the pupils, willingly or unwillingly, were partners in all the
problems with our teeth. They (the teeth) worked hard to cut the soap into equal pieces, but did not succeed.
The "heder" was a partner in all phases of production and in all the difficulties with which the inventors grappled. More than once, we were asked to help in packing and other work. Time passed . . . I went to study with another teacher. But I continued to follow the soap making saga. In time, the inventors solved the problems of the mold, the cutting and the drying. The "leprosy" disappeared. There was a market for the soap.
My respect for the teacher was destroyed almost as soon as I got to school, when I saw her saying Gentile prayers with the Polish and Ukrainian children in the class. She did this as if it were natural, as if it did not contradict and contravene Jewish norms of behavior. In "heder", they taught us that whenever we passed a cross, a church, an icon or a statue, we were to murmur: "may it be stung and shunned, for it is forbidden". aloud and spit on the cross, that was even better. And now, this Jewish teacher arouses our anger each morning. She herself makes the sign of the cross, clasps her hands, crosses her thumbs and prays in a loud, clear voice: "in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost. Our father who art in heaven and on earth, give us our daily bread". The Polish and Ukrainian children repeated the words after her with great fervor. And we, the Jewish children, stood in silence throughout the prayer. It was the "pater noster" prayer which was for Christian
children what "modeh ani" (the prayer said upon rising in the morning, thanking God for a new day of life) in our own religion. Perhaps it was like our "Shma Yisrael" (Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one)..
I personally pitied the teacher who behaved thus in public. I was sure heaven would punish her severely for it. I would look for ways to remedy the situation. At funerals, I would run after deceased and after the "rattlers" of charity boxes who would call out: "charity saves from death". I would try with all my strength to atone with a coin for the sin of my teacher, and for my own sin since I rose every morning with the other children, listened in silence to the prayer of the Jewish teacher and the Gentile children, and made no protest. I was sure something very awful would happen to me, to my teacher and to my friends.
When I would get to the cemetery with the funeral procession, I would stare at the special plot at the end of it with its three or four special headstones of marble, shaped as a pyramid, with a wire fence around them. I remembered stories and rumors that these were the headstones of Jewish women teachers killed in a plague or fire. For myself, I had a different answer; the disaster only happened because of the forbidden prayers. Somewhere deep in my soul I felt that the Jewish women teachers did this not of their own free will. They were forced to do it, but still disaster struck them. The rafter of the special headstones remained a mystery to me for a long time. Later, I learned that the plot was the property of the town's Jewish mayor and his family.
came shortly before Passover in 1929. After having finished school, I was supposedly my own master. I had graduated in June, 1929 and no longer had to study. I had finished "heder" even before that, at the end of the previous winter season. During the long winter nights, I would study with Anshel Miller in the Husiatim hasids' prayer house. My best friend in those days Aharon Weishouse went unwillingly - his family forced him to Shirnon Vunderlich as a tailors' apprentice. I, too, wanted to learn a trade. In those days, I would spend hours watching the carpenters in Mates Heller's family, do their work, and I very much wanted to learn that trade. A few apprentices were learning the trade there at that time, but my mother did not let me become one of them. She felt, as was common in those days, that manual labor was beneath our dignity. Because I loved and admired her so much, I did not dare go against her wishes and disappoint her. I didn't know what to do with myself.
Just at that time, I received Clarah Deutsch's invitation. I arrived at her house feeling awkward and unable to express myself. She received me simply and cordially, sat me down at the table, and said in Polish: "I invited you here because in a short time I will begin a refresher course for two pupils on the material needed for the high school entrance exams. From what I know of you, this short review will be enough to let you pass the exams. The two pupils already in the course are Busio Engel and Kamush Brumer. I would be very pleased if you would join us, after Passover, and take lessons here at my home".
Now, I looked straight at her. Until then, I had listened with my head bent and my eyes downcast. I hadn't dared look into her eyes, but now I did. What I saw there was kindness and her eyes laughed. The warmth flowing from her eyes drew me toward her thin face. It was not a beautiful face in the con- ventional sense, but to me at that moment it was radiant. Her openness toward me and her confidence in me flowed and flowed, in my mouth and throat, penetrated and expanded my lungs,
poured out and filled my heart, my inwards and my stomach. The warmth burst forth, surrounded me and encased me completely.
Still entranced, I continued to listen, though she had stopped talking. Only her eyes continued to look at me and smile. She apparently was waiting for my answer and when it was too long in coming she said: "Why don't you go home and think about what I said? You don't have to give me an answer now. After the holiday, come with the other two pupils I mentioned".
That's how I started studying. It was very simple, but it wasn't easy - in fact it was very hard. Every day, I went to the teacher's house with the other two boys who were slightly younger than me. They were in the class after mine. Miss Deutsch treated me exactly the same way as she treated the others. She would call on each of us in turn and when my turn would come I would answer the questions she asked. I didn't give her much pleasure with my awkward stammering, but she derived even less "pleasure" from my bad Polish pronunciation. The hard, heavy Polish sounds were hard for me to pronounce, and I unwillingly but stubbornly distorted them, turning them into soft, ridiculous sounds. The teacher never laughed at me. She followed my tireless efforts to solve my pronunciation problem. The same could not be said of my fellow student Kamush, who came from an assimilated family and spoke Polish as his mother tongue. He never laughed aloud for fear of antagonizing the teacher but I saw the way he looked at me and it embarrassed me. I worked hard on my voice and diction, but success was still far away. I would keep having the same problem, and the hard sounds were like ropes which tied my tongue. The fear that my tongue would fail me remained with me for a long time, long after I had passed the entrance exam and began attending the Jewish high school in Lvov. Like many poor town boys who came to Lvov to study, I was required to support myself. We all did this by giving private
[Page 236] lessons (Kuriptutor) as we called it. I was lucky, and shortly after starting my own high school studies I got my first pupil. He was a boy two or three years younger than me. His father, an engineer, wanted me to teach his son Hebrew. My joy getting the job was mixed with fear; starting out on my own as a teacher at age 14 or 15 was crazy. What I feared would happen did happen. After a lesson or two, my pupil discovered my speech problem. He saw immediately that my pronunciation was hard when it should have been soft, and vice versa. When I taught him the ordinal numbers (rishon, sheni, shhshi - first, second, third) he asked me, seemingly innocently, what "shhshi" (third) means in Polish. I was caught in the trap, which I hadn't even realized he was setting for me. "Chechi", I answered, and he burst out laughing. Instead of "chechi" I had said "tsi". After that fiasco, I sat in my room for hours torturing my tongue with all the different hard and soft sounds. I went over and over them tirelessly. I imagined Dimostenes the stammerer, running across the sand with gravel in his mouth, repeating sentences over and over in an effort to conquer his disability. I consoled myself that my situation was not quite that bad, and, with practice, my pronunciation improved markedly.
Getting back to the lessons with Clarah Deutsch, a big problem for me was the required material on plant and animal life. In the other subjects, such as mathematics, geometry, history and geography, I knew the material and had no difficulty. However, apparently because I was short-sighted since birth, I found it difficult to remember the details about the coloring and body structure of different birds. For me, it was far more a matter of memory than of eye contact. It was hard work, and the tension increased with each passing day. The exams were approaching fast, and my self-confidence was ebbing away.
Summer vacation came, but there was no vacation for the three of us. We had to keep studying, memorizing, reciting, and studying some more. At that point, an unexpected difficulty
arose. Our teacher had visitors, her sister and niece. At first, we heard them from outside. When we approached the house, we saw our teacher with her sister and the sister's child. When they saw us, the guests quickly left. Their eagerness to get away from us was inexplicable-at the time. When we were seated at the table listening to the teacher's questions, something very strange happened. During a moment of silence, I heard strange syllables from the other side of the wall fragmented sounds which seemed to be coming from the bottom of a barrel. I had to listen to the teacher's questions, but my ears were drawn to the strange sounds from the other room.
Gradually, we understood the situation. The mother and child no longer tried to run away from us. The little girl was three or four years younger than me. Her head made strange involuntary movements, as if her neck were too tired to support the head. The head moved from left to right, up and down. It was unlike the head of any little girl I had ever seen before.
One day, the mother disappeared and our teacher remained with the child. When we arrived, the teacher was trying to give the child cocoa. The table and everything on it was soaked with it. The child had difficulty swallowing the drink. Now we understood what a tremendous effort it took for the child to produce the sounds we had heard. She was unable to say an entire word; individual syllables, separate and fragmented, came from her throat. Something very sad was reflected in the child's eyes, which were swollen, strained and frightened. Her mouth opened and closed at intervals and it seemed that the syllables which burst out of it were trying to escape the movements of a ceaselessly working head. We, too, were frightened. With great embarrassnent, I heard and saw how hard she was working in an effort to greet us. My teacher's eyes were sad, and my heart filled with sorrow and my eyes with tears. I turned my face away and tried to control my feelings and my tears. I succeeded. The tears didn't burst out of my eyes, but for a long time after-
ward I remembered the movement of that ceaselessly toiling head, the opening and closing mouth and the flexible neck which moved ceaselessly without rhyme or reason. I watched my teacher and her niece, and saw how patiently and kindly my teacher cared for the unfortunate girl. It taught me respect for life, love of my fellow human being and perseverance. Love of life flowed through me and became part of my soul. I learned to withstand physical suffering, misfortune and pain. The teacher's attitude toward us did not change: tenderness and firmness, love and strictness, never an outburst of anger or annoyance. She had no children of her own. Her love and her calm voice stayed with me all the time, despite sorrows and troubles.
Then, something very stupid happened. I don't know how such stupidity came over us and ruled us with an iron hand for several days. At the end of the lesson, we would say goodbye to the teacher with the two Polish words meaning "I kiss your hands", a standard farewell. One day, one of the three of us burst out laughing when the words were said. The other two could not stop themselves and began laughing hysterically, too. Ashamed, we stood at the door, heads bent and feet unable to move., The teacher looked at us for a long time and finally dismissed us, without anger, saying: "Go in peace. Goodbye".
If it had ended there, it would have been half bad but to my shame, and the same of all of us, the foolish incident repeated itself every day for a long time . . . I feared the moment of parting. I promised myself to do everything in my power to stop myself from joining in this foolishness anymore. I didn't succeed, and neither did my classmates. The ridiculous scene repeated itself again and again. The one person who remained strong and calm was our teacher. She looked for ways to release us from the foolish situation. The minute we would get up from our seats, she would hurry up and dismiss us. After that, the problem disappeared as if it had never been. Many years later, when I worked as a teacher in Givatayin (Israel) I was able to be very
tolerant toward the weaknesses of my pupils. If one of them should happen to read this, he will know . . . All the moments of happiness, mutual understanding warmth and spiritual uplift were all thanks to teacher Clarah Deutsch. She, and only she, is their source. She planted them very deep in my heart. In moments of pressure and difficulty in the teacher-pupil relationship, I remembered her example and followed it.
We passed the test - Kamush and Busio in Tarnopol at the government high school and I at the Jewish high school in Lvov. Why did I choose Lvov rather than Tarnopol which was a stone's throw" away from our town, someone might ask. The answer is simple. In Tarnopol, I would not have had any way to support myself and much money would have been required to pay my expenses. In Lvov, on the other hand, there were opportunities to give private lessons. Another reason was un- doubtedly my feeling at that time in religious matters. Attending a Polish high school meant going to school on Saturday and breaking the Sabbath. In those days, I observed religious laws and obligations strictly. I remember that during my first two years in Lvov, I would fast until the school day was over. On days when I failed to leave time to attend morning prayers before school, I would willingly require that fast of myself. I didn't cut my sidelocks and never sat in the classroom bareheaded.
Apparently, these things made me decide on Lvov. The high school was part of a large institution which belonged to the general federation of Jewish elementary and high schools in Lvov. This institution comprised a number of schools including a humanities high school for girls, a classical high school for boys, a humanities high school for boys, a Hebrew high school which was coeducational, a coeducational Hebrew teachers' college, an elementary school and a kindergarten. During recess, the school yard on Zigmuntovska Street would reverberate with the noise of hundreds of pupils of all ages and of both sexes. I graduated in 1934 and stayed in Lvov for an additional year
to get occupational training preparatory to aliya (immigration to Israel). I never learned a trade, though I tried both painting and electricity. This training was not institutionalized and we, the pupils, were left to the mercy of our employers. The employers wanted to exploit me for their advantage, not to teach me a trade. Nevertheless, I remained in Lvov. By continuing to tutor, I saved money to come on aliya to Israel as a student at the Hebrew University. My older sister Esther helped me with her savings. She was employed as a teacher.
Before my aliya, I came to Mikulince to say goodbye. I went to visit my teacher Clarah Deutsch. I came to thank her for what she had done for me a few years earlier at her own initiative and without any remuneration. It was she who had opened the door of study for me and pushed me forward, with wisdom and kindness, to march on with confidence. My teacher Clarah Deutsch was glad to see me. Her kind eyes smiled at me. Her face lighted up with pleasure that her efforts had borne fruit. Out of concern for me, she did not settle for what she had already done to help me. She gave me two letters to her friends and relatives in Israel: one to Margot Gut in Jerusalem who was at that time owner or part owner of the Zion Cinema, and the other to a relative of hers who lived on Frug Street in Tel Aviv. The letters did not help me. There was a serious economic depression in Israel at that time. Desperate unemployed people received me at the immigrants' house in Tel Aviv with the words, "Here's a new victim". My teacher Clarah Deutsch could not have known all this. She did what her wisdom and her heart dictated. I never notified her of the results of her references. I was swallowed up by a sea of small and large misfortunes.
[Pages 242 to 251]
(In memory of Dr. Yisrael Zilberman)
One day, I was called to the office of Dr. Yisrael Zilberman. His was a special house, hidden by the garden which surrounded it, a little way from the center of town across the river and over the bridge, beyond the courthouse, a house shrouded in mystery. If you looked at it from the town side, you saw to its right the ruins of a medieval castle (perhaps from Hmielnizky's time). To its left were countless stone steps, which led to the palace on the mountaintop, hidden by a thick forest of trees. As children, we would go there from time to time, to look for treasure in the ruined castle or to play. We would surpass each other in stories of the past and we would act them out in our games. I won't continue this train of thought, since I had intended to talk about something else entirely
I also won't go into detail about the contests we used to have to see who could climb all the steps at once, without stopping to rest, or which of us could gather the most acorns or chestnuts. I will leave all the enchantment of those far off memories and return to Dr. Zilberman's house.
When I was asked to come and see him, I had no idea why. I was a little scared and a little shy, a thin, small child. I don't remember exactly how old I was then, but I must have been about 12. I was introverted, shy, and more religious than the rest of my friends. When I got there, I found a few adults still in the waiting room, Jews and Gentiles alike. I heard the doctor moving in his office and I wished that I were somewhere else. However, I lacked the courage to get up and leave. The door opened, and there stood the doctor. He looked at me and I felt as if I were shaking from head to foot. In a quiet voice, he called me into his office and I went as if hypnotized. He sat down in his chair and ordered me to come closer. I approached, and his quiet, friendly voice claimed me. He pulled down my lower eyelids and looked at my pupils. He prodded here and there, looking for my glands. He ordered me to open my mouth, and pressed my tongue with some sort of wooden spring. He told me to make sounds and he looked down my throat. He left me then and wrote something on a piece of paper. I felt a little damp between my legs.
Next he told me to take off my shirt. He examined my chest, back and my stomach, both with his fingers and his instruments. He weighed me, measured me, again wrote notes on a piece of paper and told me to get dressed. As he wrote, he talked: You need a vacation urgently. Don't worry, you're not sick, but if you don't get away you may get sick. This summer, we'll send you to a camp in Evonitsh. He handed me a slip of paper containing instructions which he also gave me orally as to what I was supposed to prepare for the trip. He had me repeat the instructions and dismissed me.
I don't remember all the details, but what I do remember to this day would fill many pages. Among them are things I have never before told anyone. I will relate a little of what I remember here, in the hope that someone will find it of interest.
The trip to camp is imbedded deep in my memory. My mother called the wagoner to drive me to the train which would take me to Tarnopol. The negotiations with the wagoner took place a few days before the trip, and he promised my mother faithfully that he would help me onto the train and would help me get my sack on board. Why a sack? For the simple reason that I didn't have a valise. In those days, I didn't even know what a valise was.
When the wagoner came to take me, I felt completely lost, and when we got underway, I felt as if the wagon was swallowing me up. Though it was a warm summer night, I felt chilled and was shivering. I felt as if I was being uprooted from my home and torn away from my sisters and mother. It would never be the same again.
My town is no longer my town, and what about my friends? This wagon is taking me to a strange, far off, unknown world, a frightening and hostile world.
We drove past the last houses in town and were riding on the highway which I knew well because I had walked there many times. I knew well the immense forests on both sides of the road. Yet, there was a tremendous difference between my many walks in the area and the way I felt now in the wagon .
At those other times, I was with other children, like myself, and many grownups, and we had all walked, if not ran, to receive the Rebbe of Chortkov, who was traveling home by train and stopped at our station. The train stayed in our station for some time, and we ran to take advantage of the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand.
I was very eager to perform this mitzvah. The first time the miracle happened, I was only eight, and I feared the holy Rebbe would not put his hand to a baby like me. But things worked out differently than I expected. When I arrived at the railway carriage, a large crowd was gathered at the open window through which could be seen the upper half of the Rebbe's body and his face was as majestic as a king's. I was pushed aside by the crowd and knew that in another second I would lose my chance to look into his eyes or to see his bearded face. Suddenly, one of the adults lifted me up and brought me close to the Rebbe. He took my hand and I looked not only into his eyes but also at his majestic face and got a brief glance of the opulent carriage. It was the first train I ever saw. After that, I always ran to the receptions every time the Rebbe passed through.
But how different was this night from all those times. I wasn't afraid of the bad animals in the forest, though at that time there were still wild animals. This was a different kind of fear an innocent fear which pinched, beat and squeezed all of me a fear of the big, unknown, strange world out there.
We got to the station, which was almost deserted. The train hadn't yet arrived and when it did arrive the driver fulfilled all his promises to my mother. He took me to the carriage and brought my sack on board. But how different this train was from the ones I had seen on the Rebbe's visits. There was no elegance, no glamour, no Hassids filling the train with joy. There were just a few ordinary people, dozing in the dim light.
The horn blows, the wheels click, the train moves and suddenly I realize that this train is going in the opposite direction from the Rebbe's trains. For a moment, I feared that the wagoner had made a mistake, but then I calmed down. My destination was indeed in the other direction, Evonitsh, while the Rebbe was on his way to Chortkov.
A few more boys joined me in the course of my journey. The first got on at Zlochov, and he was even younger than me. I began to relax; I was no longer alone in the big, new world.
When we reached Evonitsh, we moved into a house which had been prepared in advance for the purpose. I don't remember how many boys we were altogether. In any event, they put together a nice group of about a hundred boys from all over Eastern Galicia and from all of its towns. It was easy to distinguish three age groups: children of about my age (who were the majority), older children and younger children. The vast majority wore hats but a sizable group went with their heads bare. This was the first time I had even seen a large group of Jewish boys without covered heads and I found it hard to understand. I became friendly principally with the hatwearers among the boys my own age. I watched the others with some suspicion.
I was, and remained, introverted, but my eyes drank everything in thirstily. In the mornings, we would go to the health springs of Evonitsh, walking in pairs in a long line from our house at the edge of the forest to the center of the health resort. On those morning walks, I first came in contact with tennis players, rackets in hand, running after a ball. They were happy young boys and girls, showing no signs of worry on their faces. I was jealous of them.
I saw a new kind of Hassid, dressed beautifully, hurrying to morning prayers. I soon learned that these were the Doukla Hassids, who spent the summer there together with their Rebbe. Their faces testified that they were not worried about making a living, as were the Hassids that I knew from home. I saw relaxed mothers moving slowly and talking pleasantly with their children. The whole world seemed sparkling clean and the dewdrops glistened in the morning sun. I saw the young, healthy looking girls happily serving us milk mixed with the mineral water that ran from faucets as if made from silver. I drew the light and joy and freedom into my heart and soul, and my heart overflowed with gratitude to Dr. Zilberman who sent me there.
It is amazing to me what the Karpat Mountains made in me. Suddenly, I was free, uplifted and happy at peace with people, with the world and with its creator.
From the first day of camp, I enjoyed touring the environs of our mountain house. I found the trees which provided the forest seeds from which my mother made wishniak, a remedy for stomach pains, always with the fervent wish that it would not be needed. There, behind the house, I also met the lady of the house, who now lived with her family in a temporary structure in the courtyard. I saw her scratching a jaw whose size and character were unlike anything I had ever seen, and when she took off her scarf, I saw that she was all yellow.
I was having a wonderful time, but suddenly all the joy disappeared at once. The whole enchanted world exploded in one burst . Until that point, I had avoided touring the house out of shyness, but ultimately, my curiosity got the better of my shyness and I began exploring the whole house. As the Yiddish proverb says, I grew in a place where I had not been planted. I visited the storerooms, the pantry, the kitchen and more.
I discovered that all the workers were Gentile women and that there was nobody to supervise the observance of the dietary laws. There was no distinction between dairy and meat products and nobody koshered the meat which was brought from wherever and whomever it was bought (my mother koshered our meat by salting and washing). I was shocked and I was afraid that if I kept quiet a terrible disaster would befall the house and its occupants. Some kind of plague would destroy us, I was sure. I knew that I had to do something, but I didn't know what. I could prevent disaster, but I didn't know how.
My thoughts chase each other but I found no answers and only became more and more confused and concerned. I decided first of all to confide the secret that was weighing so heavily upon me to some of my friends among the hat wearers. I don't remember anymore to whom or to how many I told my tale. Together, we decided what to do. We would reveal the terrible sin to the Rebbe of Doukla.
A few of us sneaked out of the house and we told the Rebbe what was happening at our camp. The next morning, when we returned from our morning drink of mineral water, we found three Hassids from Doukla arguing with the housemother. It took only one day until, in the morning, the Gentile kitchen workers put wooden planks on the floor, covered them with wooden netting, and salted the meat on them. In truth, I wasn't entirely satisfied with their work, since my mother performed this mitzvah in an entirely different way, but I decided that if it satisfied adult Hassids, who was I to complain.
There was a sequel to this sad story. From the time the meat salting began, they stopped cooking on Saturday and for the Sabbath meal they served only cold or warmed over food.
The one exception was baking on the Sabbath. These were summer days and at the end of the Sabbath meal it was customary to enjoy a dessert of pastries filled with cherries or forest seeds. Everyone in the house waited eagerly for this treat. Everyone liked it served hot and steaming, its mouthwatering smell stirring the appetite. Its brown flaky crust attracted every eye. Despite the new regime of Sabbath observance, the baking of these desserts continued as before.
My partners in bringing about the changes turned a blind eye to this exception. In this battle against sin, I remained isolated and alone. My innate stubbornness helped me in my battle against temptation. I continued to resist the eye catching, appetite arousing desserts and I felt a certain pride in my ability to avoid the sin that was staring me in the face and tempting me so blatantly. I never gave in to temptation and remained steadfast through the camp session.
As I recall the incident now, I don't remember ever thinking that perhaps my behaviour would cause my benefactor, Dr. Zilberman, discomfiture. I was at peace with myself and nothing else concerned me. I enjoyed every day of camp to its limit.
This would be a good place to end my story, except that one almost tragicomic episode is worthy of telling here. This episode sheds light on the community's willingness to come unhesitatingly to the aid of the weak, the small and the defenseless in those days.
It came time to go home. I was among the campers returning home via Lvov. An adult counselor was in charge of getting us home safely. As the train approached Lvov, he came to me with a boy about two years younger than myself and said: At the main (Viennese) railway station, I will bring you to the right platform. You are a big boy; take the tickets and be careful with them. When your train comes, both of you get on it and you are responsible for seeing that all your things get on with you. Your young friend here has to get off at Zlochov. Help him get off on time and make sure he takes his things. When he finished, he didn't give me our tickets.
When we got to Lvov, he came for us and we followed him through the tunnels in the Viennese station. Our packages were heavy for us and we had a hard time keeping up with him but we never fell too far behind him. The tiring race was finally over and we were on the right platform. The counselor found us places on the platform and gave me two tickets. He ordered me to repeat what he had told me previously, and was apparently satisfied with my recitation of his instructions. He said goodbye and rushed off to take care of the other children.
We stood alone on the platform, my young friend with his package and I with my sack. I guarded the two tickets carefully. Our train was supposed to come an hour later and the time crawled slowly. Other passengers began to arrive, mostly Jews, and when they saw us they asked where we were going. They apparently saw how excited we were and wanted to make our wait more pleasant.
Suddenly, I heard something about an express train and it aroused my interest. Despite my hesitancy, I got up the nerve to ask the adults what express train they were talking about. Very simple, they told me; the express train which will take us to Tarnopol. Our counselor had not given the slightest hint about an express train. What will happen to us?
I was frightened and I shared my fears with my young friend, who immediately burst into tears. I didn't cry but tears were in my eyes. The Jews who surrounded us saw our unhappiness and calmed us. As soon as we got on the train, they said, they would take care of everything. There was indeed a difference in price between a regular train and an express train but they would work it out with the conductor.
Now we had guardians. When the train arrived, the other passengers seated us and began collecting the money to cover the difference in the price of the tickets. The collection was stopped almost as soon as it started because my grown up uncle, Yaakov Meltzer, came into the carriage where we were sitting. In those days, he was a traveling salesman for several large commercial farms. He traveled frequently throughout Eastern Galicia on business. When he sat down and heard that money was being collected for a child from his family, he immediately went to see the child. He asked to see my ticket. I handed him both tickets and he burst out laughing. Jews, why didn't you ask the boy to show you the tickets? These are express train tickets.
I looked at the miracle which had happened before our eyes. There was a white line along the width of the tickets and discovered, for the first time in my life, what an express train was. I was ashamed of my ignorance and helplessness.
The rest of the trip passed pleasantly. He took the two of us to his car, stuffed us with chocolate covered candies and made sure that my young friend got off at the right station.
When we got to Tarnopol, I had a two hour wait for the train which went south toward Mikulince. My uncle took me to his house by wagon, gave me a good meal, got me back to the station at the right time and put me on the train.
I was tired from the day's adventures and a short tie after I sat down on the train I fell asleep. As if in a dream, I heard the announcement, Mikulince Strusov. In panic, I threw my sack out the open window and fled through the door. By the time my feet landed on the platform, the train wheels were already clicking.
Two years later, with the help of the teacher Clara Deutsch, I got to high school where I met many of my friends from camp. I was amazed; shortly after my arrival at school I met Dr. Bickels, the school physician. After a routine examination, he sent me for dental treatment at nominal cost. On the form which he gave me to give the dentist, Dr. Zonersiv, there was a heading Health Protection Association. Dr. Bickels was among the founders of this association and was its president for many years. From my friends at school, I learned that the camp we had attended had been sponsored by the same association.
For many years, I didn't make connections between these things. Now, as I work on this book, I see clearly that the Jewish professionals in our town were organized, without advertising or public relations. They initiated, organized and carried out activities in the areas of education, culture, health and social service.
I have no proof of this, but I believe it to be true for when I connect up the different things that happened to me personally, I reach the conclusion that it wasn't coincidence or a miracle. I t wasn't be chance that I was examined by Dr. Zilberman and sent to camp, nor was it by chance that the teacher Clara Deutsch tutored me for the high school exams without any pay. There was a guiding hand at work here which planned, organized and carried out the plan.
Like the doctor in Lvov, there were perhaps hundreds of doctors, teachers and lawyers and everyday Jewish men and women. It was all done voluntarily, in keeping with the best Jewish tradition, the tradition of doing good deeds in secret without public acclaim.
Now, in working on this book, I am paying back a debt by bringing these good deeds to the public in print. Dr. Yisrael Zilberman, the teacher Clara Deutsch, Dr. Bickels, Dr. Zonersin, my religious teachers in town and my high school teachers at the Jewish high school in Lvov all planted the seed of volunteerism within me.
The seed took root but they did not live to see it flower. The Holocaust snuffed out the flame of life for most of them.
I can say in summary that their deeds planted the obligation of volunteering deep in my personality and it has become a natural tendency with me since I have reached intellectual maturity. From that day to this, I devote a good part of my strength, effort and time to activities on behalf of the public on a fully voluntary basis. This spirit inspires my work on this book.
This monument is to our town Mikulince.
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