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[Page 152]

Mates–Faivl der Kremer (the Storekeeper)

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Even the poorest young kheyder–yingl [school–boy] would now and then, get a penny to spend from his father and mother. We, kheyder–yinglakh [school–boys], as well as our parents knew just where that penny would end up–– with Mates–Fayvl, the storekeeper. It was at his place that we would buy the nash (snack). Every Friday evening, before sundown, the wealthier Jews would congregate at his store to buy some castor oil to smear on their boots. In the summer time you could refresh yourself with a cool drink of sour brine. That brine came from the barrels of pickling cucumbers that Mates–Fayvl kept. At the beginning of every month, the Bobes (the grandmothers) and the mothers would buy Mates–Fayvl's “worm–kraut” which was used as a purge to rid the bowels of worms.

Mates–Fayvl would greet all of his customers, whether they were grown–ups or children with a smile. He was a small man and was always decked out in a greasy apron. He always had a good word for one and all.

Hersh–Leyb, Shingle–Maker[1]

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

During wintertime the kheyder–kinder[2] were busy with constructing dreydls[3] for Khanukeh.[4] The pewter[5] they needed was found at the train station. The pewter was collected from the discarded metal seals of the uncoupled railroad cars. After the gathering came the more difficult job of melting the pewter and pouring it into molds. More than once did the hot pewter burn a hole in the boys' pants and sear their flesh. And if so it was with the dreydlakh[6] –then why not do the same with graggers[7] at Purim? Of course, they had to form these graggers themselves, so this also became a problem to solve. It just so happens that in the same house where Reb' Hershl–Melamed lived, there also was to be found Reb' Moishe[8], the “second rate”–tailor[9]. From him the boys collected the empty, used spools of tread, which they then used for the graggers. However, the most important part of the gragger was the klapper[10] and that piece of merchandise was found at Hersh–Leyb's, the shingle–maker. He lived on Koleyove Street[11] which was on the way to the train station. Hersh–Leyb was not a rich man but in the shtetl[12] he was looked upon as a kind of miracle man because in his seventies, with his second wife, he had a son… Hersh–Leyb was a tall, strong Jew, with a yellow tangled beard[13]. He didn't dislike or turn his nose, up at a glass of real 95% proof whiskey. His main business was to lay shingles on rooftops, but he also did lumbering in the woods around the shtetl. He chopped down pine trees[14] that grew around their shtetl …

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and also produced kindling wood from them. In addition, he made forms to insert in boots that the “bargain” shoemakers used.

The clappers or tongues of the graggers which we (the boys) formed at Hersh– Leyb's, made a great noise and din at each mention of (the name of) Homon–Haroshe[15], (when the (Purim)–Megileh[16] was read. When everyone got home from synagogue, we were rewarded with a delicious, fresh “three–sided homentash”[17]. filled with poppy seeds and slathered on the outside with fresh, pure honey, which were bought at Pinye–Mates' store.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Shingle–Maker– a person who cuts lumber, wood, in the forest; or, that shapes the wood in the form of shingles, or who covers the roofs with shingles. Hersh–Leyb, did it all. Return
  2. kheyder–kinder– the school–boys that studied at a “kheyder”. Kheyder (or Cheder) was the elementary Jewish religious school in which children were taught to read the Torah (Five Books of Moses), and some other Hebrew books. Return
  3. dreydls or dreydlak (plural in Yiddish, (singular, Dreydl) The translation of the word means “to turn around.” This device is a four–sided spinning top played during the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah which has a different Hebrew letter on each of its 4 sides The 4 letters stand for the saying: “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning: a Great Miracle Occurred There. Return
  4. Khanukeh–(in Yiddish); (Hanukkah or Chanukah, transliterated from Hebrew). This is the name of the Jewish Holiday of the “festival of lights” in reference to the miracle of the oil which, at the Second Temple, it had only enough to burn on a single day, but it burned for eight days. The Holiday commemorates the triumph of the Maccabees over the religious persecution of the Greeks around 165 B.C.E. Return
  5. pewter (cley in Yiddish– which is translated to cooper or rather to a metal like pewter). Return
  6. dreydlakh( (in pl. in Yiddish) same as dreydls (*see footnote 3) Return
  7. graggers– (word in pl. in Yiddish – In sing: gragger) Noise maker devices, typically, fitted with a handle that when turned around, they make a loud noise. They are used by children who, whenever the name of evil Persian minister Haman is mentioned, they turn them around so not to hear the hated name of someone who wanted to destroy the Jews. His name is mentioned several times during the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim. Return
  8. Reb'– is a term used by Jews when addressing somebody with respect, like SIR or Mr. like in the 2 cases here of calling the 2 personajes: Reb' Hershl–Melamed or Reb' Moishe (the tailor). Return
  9. The “second rate”–tailor– A tailor that produced cheap goods. Return
  10. klapper– clappers or tongues, or a metal tab with a gear that produces the noise of a gragger . a rattle that makes a loud noise when turn around. Return
  11. Koleyowe Street– The Jews in Wyszkow had the habit of converting many of the street names in Polish, uttered in a mixture of Yiddish and Polish like the ulica (street) Kolejowa, the Kolekhowa street, which they called ‘Koleyowe gas’, or street. Return
  12. shtetl– The Yiddish popular name for the Europe Villages, small or big. Return
  13. with a yellow tangled beard– refers to a readhead person. Return
  14. pine trees– The Wyszkow forests grew pine trees which in Yiddish were called “sosne beymer” of which many ‘Wyshkever’ wrote poems or stories. Return
  15. Homon–Haroshe – (In Yiddish.) The name of evil minister “Haman– the Bad One”, who wanted to destroy the Jews, is appointed during the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim and the children make noise when his name is uttered. Return
  16. Megileh– A story told in the Torah is called Megileh (“Megilah” in Hebrew), this citation refers to the reading of the story in Purim, of the Queen Esther when she was married (around 400 B.C.E.) to Ahasuerus, the Persian king, and she and her uncle Miordekhai were able to save the Jews from the bad intentions of Haman the ‘bad&38217; minister who wanted to convince the king to kill them. Return
  17. homentash– A special Purim bread called so in Yiddish, which is a filled–pocket cookie or pastry recognizable for its triangular shape, usually associated with Purim recalling the triangular shape of bad minister Hamman's hat, Homentashen(pl.) are made with many different fillings, mainly poppy seed (this is the oldest and most common and traditional, variety), or: prunes, dates, apricots, etc…, etc…. Return

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The Fishermen

by Yankl Mitlsbakh

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Thanks to Pam Russ

On the little Koszcielna [Polish word for church; aka “Fisherman's”] Street that was on the other side of the wooden bridge that crossed over the River Bug, in a little house whose walls and roof were covered with green moss, the melamed [teacher] Yankev [Yakov]–Yisroel lived and taught little school boys [kheyder yinglekh] their kometz alef “O”.[a] With his long pointer he would point to the letters on a much erased board that was rubbed out from age and stains…

There in those small wooden houses, also lived a number of fisherman–families. Among them were two well–known fishermen: Zelik – a tall Jew with a trimmed black beard and a roundish stomach decorated with a thick silver chain attached to the silver watch which he had received as a gift when he became a bridegroom.

The second fisherman family with the name Rozenberg, was called by the name of the wife and mother of the family Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman. The Rozenbergs were blessed with many daughters and only one son [Khaim].

Before the Sabbath and before the days of the holidays, the small street would be crowded with benches upon which were placed many wooden tubs in which all kinds of lively fish were swimming. One could hear all kinds of curses and name calling, because it seemed that one fisherman was earning more than the next. The wealthy, religious Jews in their long black coats, wanting to obey the commandment of honoring the Sabbath, would come to the street on their way home to buy fish for the Sabbath, place the fish they bought in one of the folds of their coats, and so would also honor their wives in this manner of dress, by bringing fish into their home…

Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman, was the real type for this line of work. She came from many generations of fisher–folk. Her one and only son was called Khaim, who from infancy on, grew up on the River Bug.


Khaim and Feige Rozenberg


At the shores of the river were anchored all kinds of small boats and canoes, and it was there that he grew up.

Opposite Koszcielna Street, was another small street called Senatorska Street, where the Gerer stiebel [small, informal house of prayer] was situated, a little study house, where the two well–known deaf mutes prayed – the tailor and the baker [Mendl Brodakh was known as “der shtumer beker,” “the mute baker”]. Each night, between mincha [the late afternoon prayer] and maariv [the evening prayer], they would meet in the study house and “chat” with their special deaf–mute language and hand gestures [sign language].

On that same street lived the distinguished Holcman, a dyer, not a poor man, rewarded with talented daughters and sons. His oldest daughter [Feige], who was exceptional in her beauty and abilities, was betrothed to Khaim, the only son of Nekhtshe, the fisherwoman. And that's how they led their family lives for many years, until the onset of the Second World War. In an attempt to escape from the Germans, Khaim Rozenberg and his family crossed to the other side of the River Bug in one of the little ships, to the village of Brzoza [distance around 18.24 km, 9.86 miles], to a fellow they knew, a Christian. He greeted them in friendship but then murdered them like a fiendish enemy, such that to this day it is not known what has become of them.[1]

The figures discussed were like part of the landscape and in tune with Jewish Wyszkow. And all this went up in smoke, burned and destroyed by the Hitlerist murderers, with the active aid of the local Polish population, and particularly with the (skusewer zavuzhnyokes)? who were known as murderers and anti–Semites.


  1. Kometz = vowel “o”; alef = first letter of Hebrew alphabet = A. Basically, meaning he taught them their ABC's. The phonetic sound for kometz alef is “uh.” Return

N.B. Translation Coordinator:

  1. To find out what really happened to the Rozenberg family, read this book by the surviving Rozenberg child : A Daughter's Promise by Helen Rothstein, Montreal, Éditions du Marais, 2008 (ISBN 9782923721019). Return

“Der Sfas–Emes”[1]
(The one who speaks: The Language of Truth[2])

by M. Rabin

Translated by Moisés Mermelstein (Columbus, OH)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

You will agree that he earned in a kosher way[3], the nickname Sfas–Emes (the “Language of Truth” person), after you have listened to, at least some, of his extravagant stories.

I was traveling, at night, from Warsaw to Wyszkow on the last scheduled train. The railroad cars – unfilled, almost completely empty. With the business situation as it is nowadays, Jews travel very little.

And if you do have to travel, you look for a familiar face with whom to have a chat, to expel the sadness.

So I roam, from car to car, looking to find a well–known like you search for a light.

To my delight, after a short time, I ran unto the half asleep Wishkever “Sfas–Emes”, bundled up in a corner of one of the cars.

With quick steps I swiftly approached and I sat beside him and, as if by accident, I poked his ribs because, it seemed to me, that “Sfas–Emes”, was only pretending to be asleep.

He immediately let me know that my suspicions were justified, because he started

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to speak right away and suddenly asked me a question:

–“You were probably wondering, why I was so sleepy at such an early hour of the night” –and added, – “last night I did not sleep a wink.”

–“What was the reason?” –I half–played the fool.

–“Oh”,– he said,– “ only business, business and business. There is not even time to sleep. One night here, another night there! You have to be constantly on the move. For example, last night, a very important professor from the Music Conservatory in Warsaw, came to visit my son. He did not let go of my son, not even a minute, he wanted him –that is my son– to play for him, –that is for the professor. He is very much in awe–in admiration–of my son's violin playing. He said, he has never heard anybody playing in such a wonderful manner, and do not forget that the Professor is not an ordinary man and has heard many violinists playing in his life.”

–“Is that so?” –I go on pretending to be impressed, – “I didn't know that your son was such a virtuoso of the violin, and if he is, excuse my asking, why is your son a simple drum player in the Maccabi Orchestra of Wyszkow, instead of being a first rate violin player?”

–“It is strange that you should say that”,–and I sensed that “The Language of Truth person” was offended, – “What did you expect? That my son, the gifted violin player, who very soon will be known throughout the whole musical world, should play the violin for the people of Wyszkow? Can the people of Wyszkow even appreciate such a performance?… A drummer, on the other hand, is something else: a good drummer can be appreciated by everybody, even by an army horse….”

In order to keep the conversation going, I address the Sfas–Emes again:

–“So you traveled to accompany your guest, the professor?”

–“Yes and no. You guessed correctly, but you are not completely accurate. I traveled with the professor to Warsaw, but not for that reason alone. I also traveled to Warsaw because last week I received a wire from a bank there, advising me that they had received the sum of fifteen thousand pounds in my name. I am a very busy man, so I would not immediately rush, rush to Warsaw because of this… However, since I did accompany the Professor of the Conservatory in Warsaw, I took the opportunity to go to the bank to find out who had sent the money. It so happens that the fifteen thousand pounds were remitted to me by my cousin, an electrical engineer in Palestine. We have been at odds with each other for many years and this bothers him very much. He questions why we should be angry at one another and suddenly decides to send fifteen thousand pounds to me, and he wrote to me: –'Dear cousin: I am sending fifteen thousand pounds to you, and, please, stop being angry at me.”

–“So”,– I say, pretending to be surprised and giving my Sfas–Emes a brotherly pat on the back like you do to a good sibling “–So, my good friend you became a wealthy, rich man all at once. It is no small matter –fifteen thousand pounds cannot be found, nowadays, lying in the streets.”

–“So”,– he says with contempt, “–you seem to think that I cashed that money. You know what? Who wants that money? Who? As soon as I found out, that the money was sent to me by my angry cousin, I immediately ordered to the bank to send it back”.

Sensing that everything is going exactly as I had planned, I take my “Sfas–Emes” to task:

–“I understand”– I said–“that you have close relatives in Russia?”

–“Anything can be called close relatives”,–he stimulated answers “– I certainly have a dear brother in Russia; and he is there, listen carefully, he is the chief engineer of all the trains in the whole of Russia”.

–“If so”, –I say, – “if your brother is in such an important position in Russia, he must be showering you with gold”.

–“The problem, hear it, is that you cannot send money from Russia. Otherwise, he would have sent me, at least, a couple of million rubles. But go and send if it is prohibited”.

–“Truth, yes I know it is not allowed”, –say I, trying to corner the Wyszkower Baron von Munchausen[4] –“but since your brother is such an important person in Russia, he could surely find a way to do it”.

–“Yes, –the “Sfas–Emes” tries to extricate himself from this one – “as a matter of fact he did try it once. Not long ago, …

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I received a parcel from him in which I found a used overcoat with a fur collar. He writes to me that as soon as I will receive the overcoat, I should, carefully rip open the collar, where I will find, some very expensive diamonds hidden inside”.

–“Nu,”[5] I say rather indifferently, “–a collar with priceless expensive diamonds should bring in a quite high sum.”

He becomes enraged and starts yelling in loud tones. “–What diamonds, which diamonds! Panie Ganev[6] got suspicious and in the post office he took out all the diamonds–till every last one.”

–“That was still okay”–, I said trying to console him. “–That at least you got a winter overcoat. Nowadays, a warm winter overcoat, even a used one, is also useful.”

With my reasonable, but careless remark, I hit the center of his pride. My interlocutor the “Sfas–Emes” became immediately indignant and upset because I had not taken him seriously and forced him straight from his high illusions down into the grim reality of life. That is why he locked up his truth–language lips and would not utter another word.

During the remaining way to Wyszkow, already, I sat by myself immersed in my own thoughts. Such thoughts that pierced holes in my weary, poor soul.

Images upon images, one worse than the other, floated in front of my half closed eyes in the dimly lit wagon. “He is, ultimately, right”,– I was thinking, “–our “Sfas–Emes” from Wyszkow, with his extravagant and exaggerated lies he interprets, without realizing it, this actual dejected life we have in Wyszkow, where helpless shadows stroll around instead of people. Shapes of businessmen from the past and successful artisans walk around aimlessly, preoccupied, upset, resentful and humiliated, thrown out of their livelihood, without any security and without hope for a better future; they can only dream, fantasize, build up mirages in their dark thoughts: that their son, the drummer in the ‘Maccabi’–Band Orchestra in Wyszkow, should, by a miracle, become the next day, a violin virtuoso, famous all over the world. Another one fantasizes that if he could send his son to Palestine, he would surely become, with his talents, the most important engineer in the Rutenberg Electrical Station.[7] The third one imagines how wonderful it would be if his brother in Russia would become a very important person in the railroad organization…?”

…So people console themselves with such false hopes, wavering and clutching to spider webs in order to stay afloat. And to such false hopes clings the majority of the actual population of Wyszkow.

––“W Y S Z K O W S T A T I O N!”– the loud scream of the train conductor, interrupted my thoughts …

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Sfas Emes–in Yiddish, (Sfat Emet–in Hebrew)–This was a nickname given by the Jewish town–people to that someone who “spoke the truth.” But many times this nickname was ironically used to describe a “person” who does not exactly have the quality of being truthful or who does not speak with honesty]. Return
  2. Language of Truth– The language of honesty. Return
  3. in a kosher way– The author, by using the word kosher (meaning proper according to the Jewish dietary laws), intended that such a nickname be given to his interlocutor (a correct, honorable, proper person), with irony to emphasize how big of a liar he could be. Return
  4. Baron Von Münchhausen (1720–1797) was a German baron who supposedly told a number of outrageous tall tales about his military adventures. German writer Rudolf Raspe, in his 1785 book,“Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia,” mythologized the baron as the world's greatest liar. The author (M. Rabin) uses the adjective Wyszkower to describe the local “Baron,” taunting him while he compared him with the famous liar. Return
  5. –“Nu…” a very popular well known used Yiddish word to start a phrase alike to –“Well…” – in English. Return
  6. Panie Ganev– Master thief (Panie –in Polish, is master; Ganev– in YIddish or Hebrew, is thief). Return
  7. Rutenberg Electrical Station – The author might refer here to a similar Electricity Factory “Elektrowna Miejska” that existed on Pultusk Street in Wyszkow, a reference to what was known there, as the best electrical power station. Return

The Two Mutes[1]

by Yekhiel Bzhoza (Brzoza)

Translated by Khavele Ash & Chana T (San Jose, CA)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

If a stranger would have stopped a Jew from Wyszkow and asked him “where does Mendel Brodach live?” – the citizen of that town would have looked at the stranger with a surprised look and with raised shoulders answered: ”Never have I heard such a name.” However, if the person asking would have added, “I believe that people call him here “The Mute Baker,” – then the homey Jew would smile and good naturedly say:” Come, dear man, I'll take you gladly to the mute baker's house.”

You must know that the mute baker was very famous in the town of Wyszkow. Young and old knew him. Everyone, even the gentiles, loved him.

He was of average size, not heavy, straight as a musical string, and as strong as an ox. He used to stand up the whole night kneading dough and snoozing only when the bread or rolls were in the oven… Before sunrise, he would run to the small Beis–Hamedresh[2], for the first Minyan[3] together with the coachmen and the workmen. He didn't know how to pray (because he was born deaf and dumb), still he used to put on the prayer shawl and tephilin[4] rocking in prayer and with fervor concluding the “Shmoneh Esrei[5]” prayer together with everyone.

He also used to sit together with the group of friends between Minkheh (the afternoon prayers) and Maariv (the evening prayers) when the Rabbi was explaining a chapter from the Mishneh[6] or the Torah[7] portion of the week.

He belonged to the group studying the Tehilim (Book of Psalms), and to the Burial …

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Society.[8] And at each funeral he used to run around and shake the big box with the inscription on it: “Charity Saves us from Death.”

Every morning he used to meet the mute tailor at the small Beis–Hamedresh and after praying they used to “talk” in sign–language about the news and events in shtetl.[9]

Just when they found out about a poor cobbler whose wife was sick and that there was no money for the Sabbath, they agreed where to meet later. The mute baker brings a couple of Khallehs[10] and the mute tailor brings wine for the Kiddush[11] blessing. But first, they go to the fisherman–alley to Nakhum, the fisher. His wife, Nekhe the fisherke[12] mumbles something under her nose as soon as she sees the two mutes – but they don't hear her, of course. The mute baker pulls up a sleeve, and from the tub, pulls out a shaky fish. (The last time, they took a carp from Zelig the fisher). Nakhum, the fisher, scratches under his short and thin beard and uses both of his hands as if talking in sign language: ”Go, in good health”.

From there they go to the market, into several richer food stores. Freyde, Sholem–Mehkhel's[13] tries to protest; with all her might she tries to pull them out the door, trying to convince them that there are other food stores in the market. But the two mutes have their own calculations, as according to their calculations, it is now her turn to help a needy family.

After some bargaining, they finally receive the necessary food. Then they turn to the butcher's street to Yoneh, the butcher. He receives them with a very kind–male reception: “–Look who has shown up!” But he softens and offers them a nice piece of meat.

They check once more to see if they have everything needed for the Sabbath – and they head to the poor cobbler who lives in a basement, where his sick wife is bedridden. The cobbler is repairing an old pair of peasant's boots.

Seeing the two mutes with the food, he looses his composure, wants to thank them, but he gets choked in his throat with tears.

The (now temporarily) mute cobbler makes strange sounds, he tries to say something…The mute baker points with his finger towards the sick woman, as if to say: –”You, brother, better take care of your wife, so that she should get healthy soon!” And before the cobbler is able to compose himself, the two mutes leave the poor basement.

Sometimes it happens that an old, overtired horse belonging to a poor coachman, dies away, and there isn't any money to buy another horse. So what is there to do?

Then our two mutes take a red handkerchief and head to the homes to collect a little money. They haggle with every one, if they don't receive enough money. After counting the collected sum of money, if it turns out that it is still not enough to purchase a horse, and then the two businessmen make an effort, and go to the charity treasury[14], where they meet a few owners sipping hot tea. The mute baker has brought his son Avreml as an “interpreter.” He tells them really how much money they had collected and that they want to borrow from the treasury the rest of the money in order to buy a horse.

The treasurer, a well to do gentleman, with a beautifully groomed beard, explains to Avreml: –”Tell them that we will consider the matter at the next board meeting and that the coachman needs to find a guarantor”.

The two mutes can't understand this, and don't want to know this…they need to have the money right now, so that the coachman can earn money for bread, for his wife and children.

After each member of the existing management committee was able to explain his expertise in matters of loans, and after long discussions, they assure the mute baker that when he guarantees the loan – then the mutes will receive the demanded sum of money.

The mute baker was also an exceptional swimmer. He used to stay under the water longer than anyone of us. His bakery was located near the wooden bridge. If someone drowned in the river, then they would run immediately to call the mute baker – and he really saved scores of people from death.

Yekhiel Bzhoza

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Two Mutes in Wyszkow, were known by the names of their occupations not by their own names. Return
  2. small Beis–Ha'medresh= synagogue of prayer Return
  3. Minyan= In Judaism, a minyan is the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations, mainly to start the religious recitation of certain prayers. Return
  4. tephilin=phylacteries, black boxes with scriptures in them, that Jews wear on their heads and left arms during weekday morning prayer. Return
  5. Shemoneh Esrei (eighteen) is perhaps the most important prayer of the synagogue. This prayer is recited while standing and facing the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Shemoneh Esrei consists of eighteen blessings, but an additional “blessing” was added later, so now there are nineteen. Return
  6. Mishne–(Mishnah–in Hebrew) are commentaries on the Torah written in the 12th Century, by Rabbi Moses Maimonides whose real name was Mosheh ben Maimon (born 1135, Csrdoba, Spain–died 1204, in Egypt). Among the Jews, he was called Rambam, and Maimsnides by the Latin world. He was a Jewish philosopher, scholar, jurist and physician, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. Maimonides's major contribution to Jewish life remains the Mishneh Torah, his code of Jewish law. Return
  7. Torah= The Bible, the Jewish Written Law, which consists of the five books known by the Jews as the Torah (and to non–Jews, as the Old Testament). Return
  8. Burial Society= in Yiddish: Khevreh–Kadisheh. Return
  9. shtetl= little town Return
  10. Khallehs. Yiddish word for the Shabes–bread, khalleh (khallehs plural). In the Jewish tradition the Sabbath meal (on Friday night), starts after the blessing of wine followed by the meal itself, which begins with the blessing of a braided bread (Khalleh). Return
  11. Kiddush blessing= It is customary that the Sabbath meals start with the blessing of a small glass of wine. Return
  12. the fisherke or fisherin, the Fisher–woman. Return
  13. Freydl, Sholem–Mehkhl's Frida, the daughter of Sholem–Mekhl: –The common way to address the daughters in Shtetln was done by adding to her own name, her father's name. This custom persisted even after women were already married. Return
  14. charity treasury, in Yiddish: “Gmilas–khesed–kaseh”. Return

The rural doctor Malowanczyk[1]
[Der Feldsher[2] Malovanchik[3]]

by Yosl Popowski

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

The feldsher Malovanchik/Malowanczyk never completed his medical studies at the university– in spite of that he healed the sick and was much loved by his patients. Wondrous tales were told about him. Even when other doctors had given up on a (person's) life – Malowanczyk would take over, he would prescribe a remedy and the illness was removed as if with the wave of a hand…

Malowanczyk knew how much his patients were devoted to him even though he didn't enjoy working in this manner. What he really enjoyed was the pursuit of medicine as a science, as knowledge– not as a profession, not as a way of earning a living. That is why he set up a hairdressing establishment (a barber shop). To help in the business he brought a Mr. Marcus Schwartz from Warsaw.

A good friend of Malowanczyk's once entrusted him with his idea of taking the “feldsher–exam.” Malowanczyk warned him that this was a foolish thing to do– that he would be sorry for the rest of his life (if he pursued this). He himself had fought with all–the–energy he could muster for the interests of the feldsher even though in his private life he was an enemy of the feldsher occupation. “Doctors without the proper certification of a medical doctor, should not exist,” he stated… “(People) required from us (the feldshers) as from a doctor– perhaps, even much more–––However, the attitude toward the …

[Page 157]

feldsher was pretty dismal. We are not given a free hand with our patients. Even though we may have a good understanding of the illness– we're not permitted to be independent (make our own decisions). The doctors hate us because we present them with competition.”

Malowanczyk was considered to be on the highest rung in his field. He used to enjoy testing himself with the Jewish Dr. Lajcher[4], who used to tell him that doctors couldn't abide intelligent feldshers…

Malowanczyk was also a good barber–hairdresser and an outstanding “tooth extractor.” He would often tell funny stories about his peasants patients and also describe how he pulled their teeth.

Once, from the house on Rynek (market, in Polish) where Malowanczyk lived, cries could be heard. A woman, Khaye–Surkele's[5], was walking by and asked, – “What's' all this crying about?” They said to her, “Malowanczyk is terribly sick.” “Oy vey! He makes everybody well but cannot help himself! What kind of a feldsher is he?”

But, he did get well in a short time – and once again went about healing the sick in the town and in the surrounding rural country.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The rural doctor Malowanczyk– This is the translation in English done to the original title from Sefer Wyszkow, edited in 1946. The original title in Yiddish reads: Der Feldsher Malovanchik Return
  2. Feldsher – (literally: a fake), a rural practitioner of medicine without a doctor's degree: an old–time barber–surgeon that was seen as some kind of doctor, like this one in Wyszkow or in any other shtetl. Return
  3. Malovanchik– This was the Yiddish pronunciation for the surname, which, in Polish was Malowanczyk. Return
  4. Doctor Lajcher– The Jewish doctor Berek Lajcher (pronounced Laykher) graduated from the University of Warsaw, and spoke perfect Polish and Yiddish. He served in the Polish Army during WW I. He was born in Chestokhowa, emigrated as a newlywed to the Jewish community of Wyszkow that had requested a real doctor. Dr. Laycher was well liked and respected in Wyszkow, where he became fully integrated. His only son, Yosef, was born there. After the Nazi destruction of Wyszkow, he was called to the hospital in the neighboring town of Wegrów to help cure patients of the typhoid plague that developed in Wegrów's Ghetto. From there, he was taken by bus transport, to the Treblinka Murder Camp. In Treblinka, he was selected to work again as a doctor and he participated in the underground organization involved in an escape at Treblinka. He died as a hero protecting the camp's youngsters so that they could invade the weapons–room in their escape. Return
  5. Khayeh–Surkele's– In the Shtetlakh (pl. for Shtetl), it was common to refer to a daughter using a parent's name, either from the father or the mother, e.g., Khayeh the daughter of Surkele (i.e., Sarah, in the diminutive form). Return

Reb Sholom Refoelkes

by M. Federgreen

Translated by Pamela Russ

From the novel “The Mill on the Mountain,” by M. Federgreen (whose real name is M. Greenfeder). The book was published in the original “Kokhos” [“Strengths”], in Warsaw 1939 – and was sent to us by our friend Byalus of Los Angeles. In this book, the story carries the name “Dawn” and is based on a real occurrence in Wyszkow with Reb Sholom Mikhalkes.

Through the closed shutters, a thin string of light shone in.

Old Sholom Refoelkes stirred in his bed. He pulled out a thin, steamy hand from under the feather cover, yawned loudly, and began to rub his eyes, still half–shut from sleep.

He wanted to turn toward the wall, and allow himself to continue weaving through his dawn's sweet half sleep, half dream, but he suddenly remembered the same as yesterday, the same as the day before yesterday, as every day for the past fifty years: that Leizer Avraham's had certainly already opened the faucet and he was definitely already standing and “stuffing” his pockets with money for bran and wheat [which he collected] from the peasants who came.

Quickly, energetically, he stood himself up on the floor. The cat on the chimney got quite a scare and quickly hid himself under the bed.

Sholom Refoelkes quickly washed his hands with negel vasser [“nail water,” washing hands in predefined religious manner upon awakening], pulled on the white, rubbed–out pants and the floured coat, and quietly began “swallowing” [quickly reciting] a few words from the “front”[of the prayer book] …

It was very peaceful in the house. Daylight, with all its strength, cut through the closed shutters in the pre–dawn darkness that was settled in all corners of the house. Sholom's wife, Kaila, was still sleeping soundly, and rhythmically, leisurely breathing. Across her face, there was a tranquil calmness, as if nothing bothered her, as if she had completely forgotten that they had to open the store, that they have to earn a few groshen [pennies].

A fly hummed on the window and tore around in the pale outside on a bright gold spot on the window pane.

Swiftly, Sholom grabbed his long, dried–out pipe from the night table, packed the tobacco box into his pocket, and quietly, with small steps, he went out into the street.

A fragrant, early morning breeze, mixed with smells from the nearby river and the green meadows all around, greeted him.

In the large, four–cornered marketplace, it was quiet and empty. The small wooden houses were still dreaming and cuddled up to the large, two–floor house of Moshe'l the baker. Only the local he–goat was already awake, and quietly and proudly, he strolled across the marketplace, shaking his long beard.

Sholom went to his store, took out his keys, and turned the lock. The clang of a pole that had fallen rang through the empty marketplace. The local goat raised his head and looked around confused, as if he was surprised.

Sholom opened both store doors and sat down on the staircase.

“Oy vey,” he thought to himself. “I've made such a mistake. I thought it was already the middle of the day outside and it's really only just begun. The street itself is still sleeping. Ha, ha, to make such a mistake! … The first time in my life.”

He lazily pulled out of his pocket the smokey, dried out pipe that was greased with tobacco fluid, and his tobacco box, and began to smoke.

From his pipe, there came balls of thick smoke clouds. He tried to see far, far over the bridge, from where the farmers always came into town in their wagons, but there was nothing to see. The entire long road behind the bridge that stretched like a long, silvery ribbon deep into the forest, was empty. There was no shadow of a person or a wagon.

Sholom laughed to himself. His grey, half–yellowed whiskers lifted themselves nervously. This is the first time in his life that this sort of mistake happened. To get up so early! He never looks at a clock. Just like that – for all the fifty years. He wakes up himself, and always – at the right time. His sense is the best clock. Fifty years! This is no small thing… And now suddenly something like this … So, yes, he's not a young boy any longer. A little bit more than seventy,

[Page 158]

he already passed it with just a little bit. There was almost no time ever to think about this… Always occupied with the store. Two small people – two alone. She and he, he and she. Struggling for a little livelihood. As the donkeys. The children, spread out across the seas… There was no time to think about tomorrow… To have gotten up so early. What a mistake he made…

Suddenly, he heard something, from a distance, on the opposite side, he heard steps. He took a strong puff of his pipe and turned his head to see who was there.

It was YItzkhok–Yakov the shamash [sexton]. He was walking slowly and softly, with a quiet gait, supported by his thick cane that had an ivory handle. He was going, as he went every day, to open the synagogue.

Sholom was happy. At least he was finally seeing another person before his eyes. But why did YItzkhok–Yakov suddenly stop? He was standing still, looking at Sholom with a curious gaze, with disturbed eyes, and did not budge from his place. Maybe he wasn't feeling well? He was an elderly Jew, this Yitzkhok–Yakov the shamash, a lot older than Sholom, and a frail man too. He remembered exactly the year when… But why was Yitzkhok–Yakov going back? Didn't even say a “good morning,” and was actually going back? So who would open the Beis Hamedrash? A strange Jew, this old man.

No, he reconsidered. He was once again going toward him [Sholom]. What kind of tricks was he doing here? Why was he looking at him so frighteningly? Why was he not saying a “good morning”? …

Suddenly, Sholom stood up from the staircase. He did not believe his own eyes. The elderly Yitzkhok–Yakov was not coming towards him, he was running towards him. And running quickly, with all his strength and energy, wringing his hands, as if something terrible had happened…

What does this mean? … Now, another Jew appeared on the other side of the marketplace. And another two Jews. All of them were running towards him… They were gesturing something with their hands. What was going on? Yitzkhok–Yakov was gasping, he could hardly catch his breath … He was shouting … What was going on here? …

Nervously, Sholom took a puff on his pipe, and frightened, he looked at the shamash. What was going on with him? … It's not possible! … It is not p–o–s–s–i–b–l–e!…

Yitzkhok–Yakov was running with his last energies. He was wringing his hands.

“Reb Sholom!” he shouted. “G–d is with you! … What happened here? A tragedy. Terrible. Reb Sholom!! It is Shabbos today! … Woe!! Why are you in the store today? A pipe? .. Jews, scream! Look at what happened here!” …

A cold sweat poured down Sholom.

Jews were running in all directions. Where did they all come from? What? Today on Shabbath? They were all running to him. What? Today is Shabbos? ––– Terrible! Such a dark tragedy on his head, in his older years. What a mistake! … So why was he still smoking his pipe? [Smoking is prohibited on Shabbos]… Why was he not throwing it away? …

Now, all the people surrounded him. Jews in their Shabbath frocks. They looked at him strangely. They were speaking and gesturing with their hands. What should he do? Scream? Cry? Excuse himself? Whaaaat?…

The smoke covered his eyes. He could hardly see anyone. As if on purpose, the pipe billowed with smoke… clouds of smoke … He did want to say something, but he did not see anyone. Where were all the people?

With all his strength, Sholom jumped out of his seat, lifted his hand, but somehow his teeth stubbornly locked, so that he could not open his mouth.

Suddenly, he staggered, and lost his balance. He clutched his heart and fell down in his entire length.

In his unconsciousness, he still heard a deaf screaming as if from many throats, and then everything became terribly still.

When the astonished Jews came over to the collapsed Reb Sholom Refoelkes, the peacefulness of death already rested on his face.


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