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Flowers and Tears

At the Mass Grave of Ustiluh
From her orphaned children around the world

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Explanation

The articles by the late brothers Yossel and Nachman Burlyant, as well as the one by Rabbi Aharon Wertheim(May he live long), are taken from the publication “In memorial of the Holocaust in Ustiluh”, published in New York in January 1948.

These articles have been reprinted in our book in the same old, but mixed layout. Other articles in Yiddish, published in an enhanced method, are printed in the original style of the authors.

Editorial Board

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Ustiluh – Its Rich Past

by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Wertheim, Brooklyn, New York

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Many names of Jewish shtetls in Ukraine and Poland have been perpetuated in the spiritual life of our people. They have entered, never to be forgotten, the world of Jewish literature. It is in part due to the Hassidic leaders and Rabbis who were identified with them. Such shtetls as Meziritch, Kotsk, Ger, Psishkhe, d.g., would never have become famous in the wider world. They would have been long forgotten if not for the Meziritch Maggid, the Kotsker Rebbe, the Psishkher, etc. They produced history in their time and they perpetuated the names of their shtetls.

Our beloved shtetl Ustiluh has been entered forever in the history of our people because of the important rabbis who resided there. Their names are tied to that of the shtetl.

I do not know if among our Ustiluh brethren there are many who can recall the names of their 6th great grandparents who are connected to our shtetl. If there are such people, they must be few in number. I am one of them. My father, the Great Rabbi, as well as my grandfather, Eliezer, were both rabbis in Ustiluh. Even my grandfather's great grandfather was also a rabbi in Ustiluh. He was well–known as the great righteous Yossele, the rabbi of Ustiluh. He was the son of the Neskhitzer Rabbi, Mordekhai.

The great wedding in Ustiluh, part of the history of the Hassidic movement, occurred when the elder rabbi of Ustiluh married his offspring to that of the Rabbi from Opler. There were, at the wedding, “70 white points”, i.e. 70 righteous men who followed the customs of those days of wearing white silk robes.

When the famous Yiddish writer and researcher Sh. Ansky passed through Ustiluh in 1913,

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he was pestered by these stories about the Great Wedding in Ustiluh. It was the old, 100–year–old Shimon Cohen who told him the story. He, himself, had attended the wedding and saw everything with his own eyes. Ansky recorded the stories and used some of them in his writings.

In later years, even in our generation, religious life in our shtetl Ustiluh was far from being monotonous. It was always colorful. Ustiluh had, in addition to the Town House of Learning, Danoch's House of Learning, the Old Rabbi's House of Learning, many small shtibels. These were the Trotsker, Vlodovker, Rizshiner, Stepaner, Rodziner and Belzer.

There were also minyans in the Vinehauser and “on the other side of the river”. There was also the small Tailors synagogue.

Every Hassidic shtiebel had its own specific customs with their own holidays and memorial days with special meals and tunes. Still, religious life was full and harmonious.

In all the Houses of Learning and shtiebels there were less people than in the big synagogues in Borough Park on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but how drab religious life seems in an American synagogue the rest of the year. During the week we are frightened by its emptiness. It even feels like that on Shabbat and Holidays. In our shtetl, religious life was definitely colorful.

In every House of Learning there were young people learning Torah. Even our enlightened Hebrew scholars never studied anywhere else. They did not graduate from other “universities “– only from our Houses of Learning.

Ustiluh stood out with its students and teachers. The son of the Trisker rabbi, the rabbi from Zshurik, Poland, hired, for his children, a teacher from Ustiluh , Abush, z”l. The Tshartkover rabbi sent a teacher to one of his followers, a wealthy man from Odessa, Reuven Grinberg. He was Reuven Zak, son of Hersh–David. He was later the Dayan, replacing his father. Also, my grandfather, the rabbi from Bendery, imported erudite teachers from Ustiluh to Bessarabia.

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There were teachers such as Liptche and Mendelee Fanik who educated their students as did the greatest pedagogues in the world. They earned the love and respect of their students.

Ustiluh was truly known as a fine Jewish community. The famous Belzer Rebbe chose it as the first rabbinical post for his son–in–law, the great, righteous scholar Pinele Twersky. Twersky stayed there until he was recruited by the big city of Pzemishil. My father , the Great Rabbi, after his time in Ustiluh, served in important rabbinic towns such as Ostrava, Hrubeshov and Bendery. However, the title of the Ustiluh Rabbi was always dear to him for the rest of his life. Very strong feelings of love kept him attached to Ustiluh and its inhabitants. He even left these feelings as an inheritance to his children.

I was only 12 years old when our family left Ustiluh, at the beginning of WWI. My mother, may she live a long life, made sure my memories are etched deep in my heart. The more I think of the town and its people, the more I feel the sorrow of the unspeakable Holocaust.

There were once generations that included important people and holy righteous ones, but that one small shtetl should have, in one generation, 4000 martyrs! Who can overcome this? Who can stand it?

It is so sad to think about those who are lost, but not forgotten.


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My Town – Ustiluh

by Dr. Aharon Rosmarin, New York

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The name Ustiluh is a combination of two Slavic words meaning shores and lawns. From a geographic point of view it is a tiny island. On the west side is the Bug river. Its source is in the Carpathian river and it leads into the Wiessel river. On the other side is the Staff which passes between green shores and

 

The southern side of the Bug

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flows with strength into the Bug. Its rushing current passes by flour mills. On the third side is the modest, barely moving little Vinehauser river. On the fourth side, near the village of Piatidin, runs the small river crowned by a water mill.

The shtetl was surrounded by endless green fields, heavy with Ukrainian wheat, numerous forests sporting berries.

The air was always fresh. It was quieter than quiet and it calmed the nerves and cleared the moods.

The entire space touched the soul. Our hearts were proud that the world–famous, today the biggest composer, Igor Stravinsky, used to spend his summer vacations in Ustiluh. He wrote some of his great compositions there.

In the shtetl, a few hundred families led a Torah–centered life. One never heard the word Kosher. One could eat in the home of the water carrier, the store clerk, the artisan, as well as the one of the wealthy ones . There was never a sermon about keeping the Sabbath. No one ever desecrated the Sabbath. (except maybe the usual “pharmacist” in all towns).

What a concert could be heard from the students, singing on their way home from Heder, in the freezing winter evenings! What weekday nights in the world could compete with the summer Saturday night celebrations. Those walks through the corn and wheat fields to the Sosnow forest! One could study a chapter on the porch. What drinks could compete with a glass that had homemade jam. It was prepared “in case of need”. What fruit could compare with the traditional Sabbath evening roasted apples?

The east European shtetl is well described in Yiddish and Hebrew literature– poetry and prose. In general, all of these shtetls were painted with same brush: Houses of Learning, Heders (sometimes in one location), a ritual slaughterer or several, wealthy

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owners, shopkeepers, artisans, water carriers, a bath house with a Mikveh , a sanctuary and sometimes even a town fool.

In the main, Ustiluh was a shtetl like all others. Everyone loves his hometown with its mud and sunshine, its negative and positive sides. My shtetl Ustiluh is not an exception.

 

B.

It is now over forty years since I left the most serene and calm place on earth. I came to a noisy, excited city with a population of 8.5 million people and 4 million vehicles. It is the boiler room of the world. Still, one cannot forget certain peculiar types, even if one wanted to!

Shprintze the dealer. She was a small, skinny woman with a wrinkled body, a descendant of a Righteous person. She never left town, her whole life. Every Friday she spent the day going from house to house with a sack on her hunched shoulders. She collected challahs for the sanctuary. Her small, yellowed face shone with inner happiness. Her sunken, exhausted, fermented cheeks were suddenly refreshed. One could see how happy she was with the gift of freshly baked loaves. Poor people will celebrate the Sabbath with fresh challah. How wonderful!

Haim Volf: a teacher of young children. He had a large room with a kitchen in one corner. In another corner was the dining area. In the third corner was the bedroom and in the fourth– a Heder, a classroom. In the middle, on clay benches, sat young children– 3, 4, 5 years old with their slates. These were the infants of the school or, as our ancestors described them, Guardians of the Town. From 8 am until late at night, one could hear Aleph A, Aleph O… His face was drawn, darkened and worried. As well as his students repeated the lessons, the more he demanded. Torah has no limit. Another worry for him: it is already Wednesday afternoon and he did not yet receive the four guilden he needs for the Sabbath. His small, patched purse is empty like his stomach or vice versa!

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However, on Friday afternoon, free from the little ones, you see Haim going from house to house, carrying a sack on his shoulders. He collects challahs, pieces of challahs, for the poor. His face is smiling with contentment. Every portion of challah that he places in his sack makes him happy. Poor people will celebrate the Sabbath with fresh challah. The fuller his sack the happier he becomes. He spends 12 hours a day, every day of the week, week after week, summer and winter, even on Hol Hamoed, teaching old and new students. Poverty is everywhere. His only “vacation “ is the hours he spends on Friday afternoons collecting challahs for the poor.

Yehoshua Bok. This is what this plain, observant, poor and honest painter was called. I know 10 Hebrew words to describe poor and they all could be used to speak about him. In spite of this,he was an excellent host. I doubt if he knew the phrase: “Good hosts become holy”. If he did it as a Mitzvah or because he had pity on people, he was still noble.

He was poor and could really not afford to have guests for the Sabbath, but this nice man came up with a solution. In general, visiting poor people were invited for a meal only. He offered them a place to sleep and even a hot drink. He believed what Israel Salanter said– that instead of worrying about one's body and another's soul, it is better to think of one's soul and the other's body. This quiet, modest man, Yehoshua Bok, did not speak badly of others. He practiced, day in and day out, this worthy custom.

Yehoshua Bok was a God–fearing man among poor folks. Envy is one of the 3 sins that remove a person from this world. From childhood, I never saw even a touch of envy in him. He was called Yehoshua Bok and he was admired by all.

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Bentzi Dayan: he was often called the young Dayan (judge). The shtetl barely appreciated him.

On the Sabbath, in the Trisker shtibel, he could not sit still on the eastern or western wall. He walked back and forth. He seemed deep in thought, not a sound on his lips. Others whispered that the Dayan was not praying. On summer days, wearing a yarmulke, he would jump over heaps of scraps, walking from his house, deep in thought. What was the Dayan thinking about? No one knew what bothered him. No one could figure it out. If someone actually noticed something, it was not complimentary. When the Dayan tried to answer a complicated Rambam question, no one was surprised. They then knew what a brilliant, studious man existed in Ustiluh.

During my school days in Berlin, I was translating Rashi into English and contributing to the Encyclopedia Judaica. I often visited the home of the famous genius, Haim Heller. He died in New York on the last eve of Passover. The second part of his “For the Study of Laws” was published and I sent it to the Dayan. The Dayan wrote a letter to Haim telling him he had an issue with an abandoned wife. He was in contact with many scholars in Poland and Lithuania. However, in “For the Study of Laws” he saw the work of a great scholar. He needed to be told what to do. The Dayan also added commentary to the book. When Haim saw the commentary, he declared:”your Dayan is a genius!” Ustiluh had a genius, but no one knew about it. These were the modest, righteous men and women who lived in the shtetl of Ustiluh.

 

C.

I, personally, did not experience our great national devastation. Understandably, I cannot describe these experiences. I will restrict myself to a few chronological comments.

Ustiluh was a Hassidic shtetl. In addition to the Great House of Learning, the Tailors' shtiebl and Danche's House of Learning , all the other shtiebls were Hassidic. These were: Trisker, Belzer, Stepaner.

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Rizshiner, Great Love ( Blodavker), Radziner. The shtetl was under the influence of Trisk.

The Radziner rebbe, Gershon Henikh, the Blue one, only came once to visit us. He stayed with my parents. However, the Radziner followers destroyed any evidence of the Trisker Magid found in our house ( as in other houses of Trisker followers). He was immediately asked to leave the shtetl.

I have something interesting to add, but it goes with a different topic. The Stepaner rebbe seldom came. When he did, he stayed in the Stepaner shtiebl. Food was brought to him. Also, a couch came from the house of Moshe Shmayes (Veidere).

The Trisker rebbe, Yaakov Leibeniu, used to come every year. He would arrive, after Shavuot, on a Friday. He was accompanied by his entourage. He had no difficulty staying in my parents' house. His companions slept in my uncle Yosef's house. He always left on the following Thursday. This is a story in itself, but for another occasion.

It could also be useful to speak of the Ludomir girl. Ludomir (Vladimir Volynsk) lies 10 viorsts from us. A girl lived there. Her name was Hannah Rachel and she was the daughter of Munisl Verbenmacher.

She was the daughter of a rabbi. Not only Hassidic, but other people used to come to her. She put on tfilin. She divorced her husband of 40 years and left for Eretz Israel. There, she tried to practice Rabbinics.

When the rabbi of Ustiluh, Yossel (the first), son of the Nikhizsher rabbi, heard that the Lubliner “seer” will be spending a few days in Ustiluh, he was eager to host him. He knew that when the “seer” sleeps in an unfamiliar bed, he sometimes yells:” it's bothering me!” Yossel invited an observant carpenter to build a new bed. He ordered him to first go to the Mikva and to build the bed with clear intentions. When the carpenter heard that he was to build a bed for a saintly person, he worked with great trepidation and holy intentions.

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The rabbi, put the bed in another room and placed new linens on it. When the “seer” arrived, the rabbi took him home. He showed him the room and the bed specially built for him by a God–fearing man. He asked him to lie down and rest after his long trip. As soon as he lay down, he began to yell “It's bothering me!”

When the rabbi heard this, he was frightened and invited the “seer” to go back to bed. He did so and immediately fell asleep. When the “seer” woke up, the rabbi reminded him that the bed was built by a God–fearing man. The “seer ” replied: “ the bed is kosher, but it thrives on black bile because it was built during the nine days!” Since the carpenter is a God–fearing man, he would make the bed mourn the destruction of the Temple.

The murderous German killers came and with brutal cruelty performed bestial atrocities and annihilated my shtetl Ustiluh. They burned homes and buried people alive. These were simple, honest, observant Jews, children and the elderly.

May God avenge their blood.

Among the martyrs were my brother, sister and their children and grandchildren, many friends and relatives.

I wrote the following with my bloody tears flowing:

In memory of the martyrs killed, slaughtered, burned, drowned and suffocated on the holy of holies, by the Germans, May their names and memories be erased.

God of Mercy, God of the Heavens, may they be remembered with other righteous people of the world.

May their spilled blood be avenged!


 

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The School System and Children's Education in Ustiluh
at the Beginning of the Current Century

by Baruch Goldberg (Buzie Haddasses), Buenos Aires

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

The following translations were commissioned by Avigail Frij,
whose maternal grandparents were from Ustilug (Kopp and Kultin Families)

 

When we bring up memories of the social life in our tragic, destroyed, beloved town, I believe that it will not be an exaggeration to look back 50 to 60 years from now, how the school system looked then, what and how children and youth studied. I think that everyone who remembers those times would agree that those at the top were the teachers of religious studies: the written or Oral Torah, and all their offshoots, which were being taught in dozens of chadarim, from [primary level to advanced Gmara and Tosfos [commentaries], as well as those who studied on their own in the Study Halls. But all would agree that although at that time there were no modern educational systems in the schools, the chadarim and Study Halls were not the only learning institutions. An entire line of self–taught teachers gave lessons in Hebrew, Russian, math, etc., to individuals or groups of students. Understandably, however, the “luxury” of having an instructor, aside from the teacher, was only possible for those who could afford it. The result was that the majority of children from poorer families remained illiterate even in Jewish subjects, let alone in Hebrew or Russian. In particular, the helplessness of the people became apparent when they had to write a Russian or Latin address. Every “knowledgeable person” (literate) often had to write an address to husbands in America or to sons in the military – and often even the actual letters themselves, although these were written in Yiddish. I would like to describe one of those people who performed such favors: the warm, dear, Baruch Feiga – who worked for the marquis and who perished in the Holocaust. May his memory be blessed.

A relatively small number of the town's youth studied in the Ludomir “Hebrew School.”

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That was a special government school in which Russian was the language of instruction. Among others, those who were enrolled there were Moshe Burlyant's children: Yossel, Bashe, Chaim, and Nachman (the younger two brothers, Shmulik and Aharon, already belonged to the post–war youth of 1918).

It is also worth mentioning that four children born to two Ustiluh families studied in high school and ended up marrying into the families of the so–called “free professionals.” These were the brothers Berl and Sholom Yokhenzon, and the brothers Yudel and Zalman Yevilevitch, grandsons of Frumet Sheva's, who ran the local tailor shop. All the Yokeanzons were murdered by the Nazis. The Yevilevitch brothers emigrated to Eretz Yisrael.

 

Evening courses in the years 1915–1917

 

Summing up my description of Ustiluh up to the end of World War I, I would like to mention an incident connected to me. It was when a group of the abovementioned “self–taught” teachers opened the first modern school under the name of “Beit Sefer”. This had a negative impact

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on the conservative fathers who considered this type of school to be a deviation from the traditional ways and inappropriate gender mixing.

Even though I was already 13 years old at the time, an age that could be considered too late to begin studying, I was very interested in the “Beit Sefer” with the modern facilities and the methods of instruction, including recesses. In particular, I liked the pedagogical style that emphasized teacher –student interaction. I decided to ask my father to enroll me in the “Beit Sefer.” He answered me, “As long as I live, you will not attend a school where they don't cover their heads ….” As you can imagine, my father was not the only one who opposed the aspirations of the younger generation in this manner.

Finally, I feel obliged to mention the names of the first teachers who wrote in a beautiful, descriptive page of history about the intellectual – educational efforts in our town. I remember the following people:

Simcha Schwalb, Shmerl Sokoler, Shlomo Kanat, Moishe Kornfeld, Montzia Brik, Avraham Tzigel, Moishe Shpirer, Yankel Grinberg, and two Bokser brothers who later left Ustiluh to become teachers in Ludomir.

Of all these mentioned, Moishe Kornfeld was the only one who survived the Holocaust. May the memory of all the others be blessed.


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The Teacher and His Circle

by Yaakov Zipper (Montreal, Canada)

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

This story is a chapter from Y. Zipper's book “On the Other Side of the Bug [River].” Anyone from Ustiluh will recognize that Berel Taub is the pseudonym for the beloved teacher Shmerl Sokoler, may his memory be blessed.

– The editors

On Shabbos afternoon, Shternberg and Leibel went to the teacher Berel Taub, who lived on the train street. His house was small, low–ceilinged, half caved in, that he inherited from his parents. The roof was overgrown with mold and strange wild growth, closed in with boards positioned at an angle on all four sides. It seemed that the roof would soon slide down to the nearby field that was filled with wild grass, and would leave the curved walls of the house exposed to the elements.

In bygone days, this house had a fence around it and a foot path that led from the small gate straight to the large, heavy front door, that had a massive, gnawed out window frame of oak wood. These days, the gate was broken. Only the rotten wooden posts remained, and from every angle you could reach the damaged door, that, without the frame, looked like a crown without a head. But once inside, you could not recognize any aging. The curved walls are hidden under large frames, from which older Jews looked out with their wide, wavy beards and hard caps on their heads, and also Jewish women with light headscarves and smoothly combed bonnets. Paned cupboards packed with religious books hid all the cracks in the corners. The house always exuded a festive calmness, featuring a long

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table in the middle of the room that was always covered with a flowered, holiday tablecloth.

“Berel is our gem,” Leibel said. “There are not many like him.”

The entire town called Berel by his first name and he was praised like a bottle of fine wine. You just had to remember that Berel said such and such, and it was already enough, so that everyone should listen to him. Even those religious ones had respect for his honesty and sincerity. They were not really very pleased with his manner of study, but they knew that he knew a lot, and meant everything for the sake of Heaven. He taught poor children at no charge, and in the freezing winter months when many of his students could not come to school because their boots were torn, he went to the various houses until late at night and learned with these children by candlelight, at the fathers' work table. He did this with such simplicity, that everyone in town already considered this to be totally natural behavior. It seemed normal that in the heavy frost, his few wealthier students knew not to wait for Berel in their homes, but to go find him in school before he strode through the back streets to the other, poorer students' homes.

“The poor do not have a choice,” he explained simply to those who could not stand it.

From his Hebrew–Yiddish school, which was founded during the war at the time of the Austrian occupation, not everyone supported him, but no one would openly dare say a bad word about him. They all knew that only Berel had the strength to maintain the school in those difficult times, and that his students were among the best in town. At a meeting of the American Aid Committee, when the issue of giving assistance to the school came up, some religious people tried to inject a word, that the American Jews were not interested in providing assistance to a school in which the students learned without a head covering. The aged religious judge (Dayan) silenced them by declaring, “People, do not touch Berel. Those like him are meritorious for a town.” The Dayan explained to the bewildered citizens: “People, what do you not understand?”

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“Maybe he really studies with his head uncovered, Heaven help us! and he will have to answer for that, may Hashem help him, but we cannot punish him. You know that his love for the Jewish people is limitless.”

After the Austrians left, the teachers, mainly from Galicia, disappeared from town in a hurry. In the chaos, no one thought of the school. Even the teachers who remained had preferred worrying about other matters. Only Berel Taub, even in those days when it was dangerous to go out into the streets, continued going to the school.

“Just because the Austrians left, does that mean we should stop learning with Jewish children?” he argued with his Leiba who begged him to stay home. “Have the religious Jews stopped praying and studying a page of Gmara? Do you mean to say that my portion of Chumash is worth less, or that since the Austrians have left and the Poles have not yet set themselves up, I can pause and not learn with Jewish children a chapter of Yitzchak Leibish Peretz, or a verse by Chaim Nachman Bialik? Do you think that our grandfather Reb Mendele would do differently? She had nothing to say in response. And Leiba, a fine, petite woman, always a worrier, coming from great poverty with which it was difficult for her to deal, already knew that if Reb Berel would take Reb Mendele as a witness, you were stuck. True, every writer holds the title of “rebbe,” but he could not manage to utter the name in its simple form. He only rarely mentioned the name Reb Mendele. He was satisfied with the title “zeide” [“grandfather”], and only in exceptional situations did he use the title “the zeide Reb Mendele.” He uttered it with such great piety that it would have been pointless to question it – Reb Mendele himself wanted it that way.

She no longer tried to stop him. She knew she could not change him. So, she quietly told him that if he was going out, that for Heaven's sake, remember to give a few classes to the children from the wealthier households as well. This way, he'd earn some money for their family. The poorer children he taught for free.

“You are right, Leiba, very right,” he promised her, as he positioned his short–sighted eyes on the cupboard. “It's good you reminded me.”

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“I am looking for Motel of Pessie [novel by Sholom Aleichem], that's who I am looking for. I want to turn today into something of a holiday. The children are, so frightened, and they have no one to play with. I am the only one.” He sighed as he quietly left the house.

Although the school was not far from his house, Berl did not go there directly, but headed to Garbarnia Street, near the river. From there, up the hill to the distilleries, where the tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths and carpenters lived, along with the yarn spinners, wagon repairers. He walked slowly, and looked at the squat houses with the half–rotten straw roofs. He knew the houses well, and they were easy to recognize by their signs that were flapping on the broken fences, and by the broken tools that were scattered in front of the houses

He looked around without saying a word. It seemed that he was looking at a rusty barrel at the wagon maker's house, and at the broken wheel in front of the yarn spinner's door, but everyone understood well what he was doing there.

“Teacher Berel just passed by!” one said with excitement to the other.

“Our leader and teacher,” the older students called after him, and by the time he came to the school, the hallway was already filled with children who welcomed him with sincere affection.

“Why are you all so quiet, you pranksters?” He took them all into the largest classroom. “Today we will read something beautiful. Sit down and we will hear how Motel of Pessie, the cantor's son became a very big name in America.”

“Oh,” the group clapped their small hands and Berl's eyes moistened with his heart filled with delight.

As they watched him, the other teachers also returned, which was how they kept the school running during those difficult times.

Shternberg became acquainted with Berel at a meeting in the library. It seemed to be a regular staff meeting. In the darkened library room, there were dozens of young boys and girls, most of whom were standing, quietly listening to the secretary's report.

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On the table lay the official report book along with permission to hold the meeting and was signed by the director himself. From that meeting, it seemed that the number of members was increasing and it became necessary to buy books. Someone would have to travel to Warsaw to buy them because in the nearby city center you could not get anything. They would also need to arrange a literary evening to raise money for purchasing the books. During the discussion, a middle–aged young man with a winding, black beard circling his pale face, almost fell into the room.

“Why are you sitting in the dark?” He closed the door adding, “You know, we will soon be having guests from Ludomir. Some have suggested that this summer we send a few young people as pioneers to Eretz Yisrael, so we have to prepare. Oh, are you in the middle of something?” He quickly caught himself and replied, “I am running without catching my breath. I have a plan for building a kibbutz, but I have to get a plot of land.” He uncommonly bowed his head, and with the short–sighted eyes looked into the puzzled faces.

“Come closer, our dear teacher,” the chairman respectfully invited him to the table, and he asked him, “Perhaps the students did not have to come here. The permit is really for conducting the library meeting. We are not allowed to interfere.”

“And not everyone is interested,” someone from those standing interjected.

“So, not interested,” Berel caught the interferer. “What's the matter, Chaim? Do you think you always have to live in fear of tomorrow, wait for the Messiah as we wallow in the mud?”

“God forbid,” the other person argued back. “You have to dry off the mud, and really do it here and now. We are preparing to build here.”

“Forgive me,” the chairman pleaded. “This is not the place for this [discussion].”

“What do you mean, not the place for this?” The teacher removed his glasses, looking at everyone present with his soft eyes. “Everywhere that Jews are gathered is the right place. You mean that getting the piece of paper from the director was to alert the books in the bookcases? I say, that this is the place to discuss everything, and they,” he said pointing to the bookcase,

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“and they teach us that way too. If they waited until the right time and place, nothing would be left of us.”

Those present threw glances at each other and could not understand why the teacher, who was always so careful with his words not to offend anyone, was suddenly now so agitated that he was barely looking into their eyes. His pale face was strangely mottled red and he was continuously twitching.

“You need to understand that you are among the first who merit preparing your own redemption.” The teacher did not notice how the others were looking at one another.

“Not everyone wants to leave here.” Chaim once again could not contain himself. “We want to create our own liberation here, and that time is not so far off as you might think.”

“Certainly not,” Berel interjected into the other's words. “Who is saying that? We need pioneers here too. You forget that the same kibbutz will be ready for anything, for work and for self–defense,” he finally confessed, counting his words. “So, I say, who then, if not you? You have to prepare. Everything you do,” he said, lowering his tone, “is also prepared for you. How do we know what will happen to us.? So, I say: Children, prepare yourselves for all possibilities.”

The room became uncomfortably quiet. The darkness thickened as if the group of boys and girls were completely swallowed up. The teacher put his glasses back on and smiled in good humor.

“Do not be upset with me. I did not, God forbid, mean to frighten you. I think that you yourselves know well where things are with us. So, I will not disturb you anymore. We will speak about this again,” he moved away from the table, “tomorrow at my house.”

Not knowing what to do next, the chairman closed the meeting with the suggestion that everyone should leave as quickly as possible, because it was already quite late and the permit allowed them to be out of their homes only until ten at night.

On the way out, Berel went over to Shternberg extending his hand as if he knew him for a long time.

[Page 186]

“I've heard about you.”

“I'm very happy,” Shternberg replied. “A good group, your students.”

“Don't tell them. They'll become arrogant.”

“That's not so bad. You ought to be proud of them.”

“Why me?” Berel did not release Shternberg's hand. “There is good earth here and a decent cemetery … You can visit there sometime, and you will see how many prestigious names this community has produced. In the 15th century, this community was already called “a city and mother of Israel.” Poland and Volyn collaborated and built the town right on banks of the Bug River. It did not just fall from heaven by itself, my friend,” he explained with a smile, not without some pride. “The old ancestors in this cemetery have a large share in this room here.”

“But they know only you,” Shternberg persisted.

“As a teacher, you know that we are only mediators. By the way, do you plan to stay here?” He took Shternberg's arm and veered him outside. “Come to me on Shabbos and we'll talk a little. It might be that I could help you with getting lectures.”

“I do not know yet. I would prefer to get a position in a village for the summer,” Shternberg said and immediately felt that he had made this decision just that very moment, not knowing exactly why. “I've never been in a village over the summer.”

“Are you preparing to study agriculture?”

“I dream of going to Eretz Yisrael.”

“Very good, so then I am not the only so–called crazy person among the teachers,” he added and began to walk quickly, pulling Shternberg along with him. “You know it pains me very much in my heart for these little streets that will be empty when we all leave here. They will not need new houses. The fertile earth will not raise a new generation. It simply will not be. And the old earth will remain infertile. Only in the old cemetery will the great ancestors' roots embrace the old earth with the bittersweet dream, that wherever Jews live is holy land.”

“What did you mean before when you said that we need pioneers here too?” Shternberg asked cautiously.

[Page 187]

“You know,” Berel suddenly stopped, “do you think that you can let something huge turn to nothing without feeling anything? But there is no choice. I feel that with each moment our strength for living here is weakening, as if we were standing at a crossroad and feel that we are at the edge. From this point on, this is how it is: Either we go on a new route, or we will drown here without a trace. You understand that every time I look into their eyes, I feel like saying: Children, you see the situation. Prepare yourselves for the journey. And I am just looking for a little food for the journey for them.”

“Do you intend to stay here?” The question slid off Shternberg's tongue.

“What should I tell you,” Berel replied with an unusual sadness as if to himself. “I do not have the strength to start all over, and people will still be needed here. You know maybe I am already too old and can just hold onto an old dream. I think I completely belong here.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” Shternberg had a feeling that Berel wanted to hear this, “is that why you were so agitated when you were talking about preparing to go to Eretz Yisrael?”

“Probably,” Berel's voice rang with a fearful sadness and gruesomeness. “What will they protect here? And what can they expect here? These last few years have broken us. Only possessing our own homes will be able to straighten that out.” He suddenly put out his hand to say goodbye. “What do you say, Shternberg, will you come on Shabbos? It might be that I will have a place for you in a village. I will ask my friend the village Jew about it. Actually, it is not far from here. Good night!”

“Berel, don't rush off!” the town's “lunatic” appeared from nowhere. “You won't be able to catch Mashiach anyway.” He placed himself in the middle of the road, threw his head back, and screamed in an uncanny voice, and with the melody of a selichos song [from the High Holidays]: “Who is the greatest Tzaddik [righteous person] of the generation? Berel Taub! Who will be led to the Akeida [“binding” of Isaac by his father Abraham; also refers to concept of “slaughter”]? Berel Taub!”

The lunatic's voice carried gruesomely into the surrounding moonlit silence.

[Page 188]

It was white everywhere. On the roofs and the small staircases lay slabs of cool moonlight that seemed to lament along with him. “Who will they drag by their ear locks to watch all this? Moshe Motel the madman and the Messiah himself…”

Silently, Shternberg and Berel rushed home, with the madman's laments trailing after them, along with a hateful questioning from the city's night guard and an alarm sounding from the police posts in the middle of the market.

Finally, when Motel the hunchback told everyone that the teacher had a new magazine, many of Berel's former students gathered together on Shabbos afternoon, students from the club “Hador Hatzair” [“the young generation”], spending time in discussion and readings. Often, they stayed over until late at night, and in many houses in town they already knew that on Berel's table there now was a large urn, seething with boiling water. Leiba “the Rebbetzin,” as the group called her, stood by the dish cabinet, speaking in Hebrew with great passion, and spreading thin slices of bread with American marmalade, which Motel the Hunchback brought as a gift for Shabbos.

Leiba would not allow anyone else to do her work. This is her mitzvah and her nachas [pride] – that Berel raised such dear, Jewish children. She did not have any children of her own, so Berel filled her house with large groups of children. “Master of the World,” she prayed from the depths of her heart. “May there be no Evil Eye on them, the younger generation.

“No, no,” she chases them away when they offer to help her. “This is my responsibility as the woman of the house.”

“What are we, guests?” the group argues, knowing from the start that they could not win. They did it because they enjoyed arguing with her and giving her the opportunity to speak Hebrew, counting each word as if it were a gold coin.

“True, you are not guests, but one also serves one's own children…. It's as if you really are coming home, but in a respectable home, expressing her deep dissatisfaction with the constant poverty, “you give Shabbos fruit to good children, and here what? A little water, no more….”

[Page 189]

The group did not allow her to continue because they knew that soon she would ask them why each one of them had brought along something decent. One brought a little water, another brought tea. Motel the Huntchback, who was circulating among the group, felt quite at home, since here he was like all the others, having brought some American marmalade.

“Let it be like that, but we are allowed to bring a few things.” They wanted to win this argument. “You don't have to serve us even with the food at the table.”

“Foolish children,” she finally laughed, and her pale face began to flush. “What else should I do, learn with you? Go in good health to the Rabbi's table.”

The group understood this look and they left the kitchen. They knew that Berel was unhappy if anyone sneaked out from under the table in the middle of a reading.

The afternoon passed quickly in Berel's house. Shternberg could not read enough of the new magazine that he found there. He was too wrapped up in his readings to notice what was going on around him. He did not hear the discussions, and missed hearing the new story that was read from the new issue of “Zukunft” [“Future”] that arrived that week. He did not see how the group actually inhaled a piece of America with the new story, and did not feel their shudder with the story's tragic ending. He was preoccupied with himself and forgot everything else. Only when it was time for tea and a bite to eat did the hostess manage to draw him away from the magazine.

“He was so attracted, sadly, like a thirsty person is to water,” she politely said. “Do something for the sinning body, for the throat, I mean, Mr. Shternberg. Your palate must be dry by now. I shouldn't have to beg you.”

“Take something in your mouth,” Berel said, now cheerful as always when his students were around him, supporting the homemaker, so to speak, and he pushed an article from the newspaper in front of Shternberg. “You see, here you have a story by Bergelson, describing a town that is emptying itself.

[Page 190]

“He clearly saw the doom, but failed to hear the sadness of the destruction that remained. It even gave him some strength.”

“Bergelson's town leaves for America,” one of the students interjected. “They leave one at a time, and don't have the vision of building something new. They are simply running away from poverty.”

“So, what can be learned from this, Yehuda?” Berel stared with his soft eyes at a young boy with strong shoulders and a stubborn, pointy chin.

“I think,” Yehuda shook his ear locks and nervously moved in his chair, “I think they are running away and the town is completely falling apart. Those who remain are simply lazy.”

“I still do not understand.” Berel was still looking at him, and the student was becoming even more nervous under Berel's gaze, and could not sit calmly on the chair.

“It's hard for me to explain. But I feel that when we will leave with the group to Eretz Yisrael we will empty out the town here. But those who will remain here will continue living with our hope.”

“Do you think that the loneliness will be easy here?”

“Is there any other way?” said Chayale, the Dayan's daughter, her face changing with excitement. “Lately, I don't understand you, our Teacher,” she struggled to hold back her words. “Why should we care about the ruins that will remain? The faster they fall apart, the better. They should not be left as witnesses to our departure. Every little street and mountain of trash is filled with the fear and dejection of all of us.”

“You are still young, Chayale.” Berel stood up from his chair and began to race around the dark room, and his long, dark shadow followed him around the curved walls. “And precisely because of that, the fear and dejection are here with us in every corner. But there is also in every corner, our dream and truth, body and life. If you tear it up, then blood runs.”

“But do we have a choice here? Where?” Chayale followed him angrily.

“A choice?” A hoarse shout came from behind them,

[Page 191]

and everyone went right back to the corner, where the very large Boruch'ke was sitting– a quiet young man whose eyes spoke more than his dulled lips. Generally, he sat among the group for hours and did not open his mouth, but sometimes it happened that he woke up and words poured out from him, hot and furious, as if he was on fire. His black eyes sparkled with an eerie sheen and his closely shorn head of hair spiked up like a porcupine. You had to hear him out completely and not interrupt. Everyone heard his words, his pale lips became sharp, and you could have thought that not he was speaking, but all of his limbs were expressing themselves.

“Of all the options, you chose to leave everything behind, and you want to convince yourself that this is right by polishing it with nice words and beautiful figures of speech,” as if spewing lightning all around with his black eyes. “I also think that we have to organize ourselves, but not only to leave. We have to chase away the black devils from here, and who should do this, if not us?”

“How do you think this should be done, Boruch'ke?” Berel tried to calm him down.

“We have to organize ourselves and not be frightened,” Boruch'ke remarked to his teacher, “and give back beating for beating. You hear? Strike back. Do not allow ourselves to be trampled upon like worms. They are beating only us. They are choking the farmer and punishing him.” He grew short of breath and started choking on his words. “There will be a big change this summer. Things will not stay the way they are now.”

“By the time we resolve this, our souls will have left us,” Chaya said standing opposite him. “And even our good friends do not want us here any longer. There comes a time when a Jewish settlement has to uproot itself regardless if “they” want to or not. Now it's our turn, Boruch'ke,” she burst out at once. “And the great fortunes of the ‘other side' we've also seen.” She laughed bitterly, intimating at Boruch'ke's connection to the more radical “leftist movements.”

“A little calmer, children.” Berel realized that the discussion had gone too far and he approached Boruch'ke.

“Chaya, I think,” Boruch'ke did not allow himself to be put off; “I think that we are standing along with everyone else. Not everyone is able to flee.”

[Page 192]

“And I believe in building your own home. You are just dragging yourself after others,” Chaya shouted over Berel who was standing between them.

“Of course, you believe, and meanwhile you are seeing the ruins and running away from them.”

“And you don't see that it could be possible that everyone should stay, but we will all be eventually destroyed…”

“Both of you mean well, children,” Leiba mixed in. “One could think that you are lifelong enemies, the way you jump on each other.”

“It seems that you have forgotten that nowadays walls have ears,” someone tossed out to both sides.

“They believe both sides.” Berel gave a bitter smile and spoke as if to himself and then he sat down. “That's how it is with all discussions. You start from one point but you wander off to unknown realms. What do you have to say, Shternberg?” He was lost and turned to Shternberg as if saying to him: “Do you see what is going on here?”

“Is it like this only today?” Shternberg wanted to shift the discussion to another subject. “I am sure that when it will be necessary, both sides will do what they have to.”

“Which means…? Berel was curious.

“Fight here when you can, and flee when you have to.”

“But we want to build!”

“There is no building without a fight!” The discussion heated up once again, but this time Leiba mixed in without any niceties:

“And meanwhile none of you has tasted anything. And have not even sung a song. Our guest might think that it is always so heated here, always jumping at each other. You should be ashamed of yourselves, children.”

“That's fair, Leiba, we will yet see nachas from all of them.” Berel recovered his equilibrium, and with a smile, looked into everyone's eyes. “Have a bite everyone, and stop looking like angry chickens. Somewhere I read about two important people who fought each other all their lives and could not even look into each other's eyes. Only when they got older and met at some

[Page 193]

festive occasion, one stretched out his hand to the other and they kissed. So, someone later told this story about them

“In their younger years, they both went out to dig a tunnel that would connect their nation to the world, but each one dug from another side. So, they did not see one another's work, and thus became each other's enemy. Only now, at the end of their lives, they met in the middle of the tunnel and saw each other in their true light…”

“Listen here, children,” an excited Leiba began again in elegant Hebrew, “and learn from this example here. When the tunnel will be ready you will meet and stretch out your hands, like they did.”

“They can stretch out their hands even now.” Motel the Huntchback felt that the time had come to put in a good joke. So, he lifted up his humps and danced over to Boruch'ke and jerked him out of his corner: “Go over, you animal, and ask for forgiveness of the future mother of your children,” he said loudly that which everyone already knew, that the two were not indifferent to each other. The group roared with laughter and the heavy mood suddenly lightened up. Someone began singing a happy melody, and slowly the dark room filled with quiet song, and the now happy, youthful gathering made them forget everything around them.

“So, what do you say? Will we ever be proud of them?” Berel Taub asked Shternberg almost secretly as they were about to part for the evening.

“You mean that you are already proud of them.”

“You are making a mistake, my friend. My heart trembles with fear for what awaits them.”

“But they have what it takes to survive in the world.”

“If only that were true,” Berel, thought to himself, squeezing Shternberg's hand. “And did you really decide to take on a position in the village? You could also set yourself up here.”

“But I already promised.”

“That's too bad. We could really have used you here.”

“It's not far from here. I can come to the city often. I enjoy walking.”

[Page 194]

“Fine, so be it. Don't forget us when you get to the city.”

“Thank you so much. It's a pleasure.” Shternberg squeezed his hand with sincere gratitude.

He did not leave right away, but rather stood there a while watching the teacher with his last few students in a quiet conversation, leaning on one of the house's support columns. An unusual feeling of sadness overcame him. He was nearly certain that he was seeing them for the last time, which evoked painful longings.

“Come, friend Shternberg.” Leibel pulled him over. “Our Berel has created a fine group. I `am so jealous of him for that. We will yet hear about them in the future.”

“Certainly.” Shternberg was still preoccupied with the nagging feeling of sadness. “A fine youth was raised, sadly, a really fine youth.”

“What do you mean ‘sadly,’ friend Shternberg?” Leibel shivered.

“I don't know myself. It just came out [of my mouth]. Don't take it to heart. I am always the one to be gloomy. I'm sure it will all turn out well.”

“And I think the exact opposite.” Leibel thought he knew what was bothering Shternberg. “You have to be proud of this kind of youth. They will accomplish great things. Right?”

“That depends on them. The problem with us is that we think it depends on us and we act as if we could be in charge of that thing.”

“Does that mean that we are being pulled with the tide?”

“And we think that we swim alone…” Shternberg just blurted out those words.

“But it could be that our generation will succeed in gaining control over our lives…” Leibel explained himself.

“Let us hope, my friend, that we are still bosses over ourselves.” Shternberg began to take leave. “Thank you for everything, Leibel.”

“Go safely, and let's hear from you!” They embraced like brothers.

 

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