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[Page 159]

Marianska Street Number Ten

by Mikhal Burshteyn

Translated by Janie Respitz

Not far from Gzhibov, which leads to the Jewish neighbourhood, lies, squeezed between two main streets of that quarter, Marianksa alley. Noisy and swarming with people, Gzhibov reaches around and swallows up the surrounding streets and alleys, filling them with sounds and melodies, historic voices and nervous gesticulations and movements. Beside the large iron stores stand youth with large sauce pans on their heads calling out the goods they have to sell. Dark haired charming girls carry glass pitchers with a light red drink to quench the thirst of the hundreds of brokers, lottery – Jews, money changers, porters, teamsters and young petty bourgeois looking for business on the noisy Gzhibov. Older Jewish women sit beside the gates with gloomy eyes, their heads wrapped in scarves, and measure out for the school boys, beans, and nuts from the Land of Israel. A hot steam emanates from the beans and blends with the oil and kerosene odours from the surrounding soap shops. Provincial Jews with frightened eyes and flaming faces, wearing high leather boots and coats down to their ankles, run through the sidewalks clearing the way with their hands. Slowly getting off the train in groups, loaded with parcels, one runs into a neighbour or friend from their hometown in this sea of people and the joy is so great, as if they hadn't seen one another in years, as if “Train #8” from which they all disembarked took forever to arrive.

Slightly embarrassed, not audacious enough to hire a carriage, these new businessmen know where to buy cheap merchandise on Gzhibov, and later, at home, nationalize…they mull around impatiently,

* * *

Mikhal Burshtyen – story teller, novelist. A high school teacher by profession; born in Bloyne near Warsaw in 1897. From 1912 lived in Warsaw and was the author of four books. In 1939 he left for the east. He was in the Kovno ghetto. He died in Dachau in 1945. - - - all his works are elegies about the decline of Polish Jewry in the years between the two World Wars. One ray of hope – The Land of Israel. This fragment describes a popular Warsaw institution – the “Palestine Department”.

[Page 160]

as if the ground was burning their feet, sneaking into warehouses, packing up goods and returning irrelevantly to the train.

The “All Holy” church towered over the walls of Gzhibov, ruling over a strange kingdom. Its porticos and columns from the late renaissance create a contrast to the one or two story small yellow houses with pasted on signs and covered with mushy roofs.

Under the church, in the cavern, we find a vaulted hall. After the “pacem requiem eternam” those praying go down to hear the passionate sermons of the priest Kalevsky. The priest throws pitch and sulfur on the enemies of the church and ignites a flame of faith in the hearts of the believers. The fire burns and burns and then is extinguished, it smolders…until the time. The time will come. This is what these believers know.

Sometimes it happens – a young man with a rich father in the Gzhibov neighbourhood, converts on Krakow suburb, in the “new world”, or in the alleys – then he comes years later as if he misses the familiar, enters the “All Holy” church and the priest Galevsky (Translator's note: previously spelled Kalevsky), sprays him with holy water and changes his name. Such a person was named Khaim Shloimeh, receives the name Francischek Salezi, his name on his birth certificate is Hersh, and now he is Henryk. Only his surname remains unchanged. Levental remains Levental and Nusboym remains Nusboym. This is how the attitude toward the church remains familiar, almost like family. Why go to strange churches when everything here is so close and familiar from our youth.

Over on the side is the Marianska alley. The noisy sounds of Gzhibov barely reach there. The residents have always lived there quietly and modestly. Until, until the times changed and the name “Marianska” began to ring in all corners of the Polish republic. The Marianska alley became more popular than Nalevkes, more popular than the minister Grabsky, and the name “Marianska” was awakening new hopes…

In those years, hundreds of people, day in and day out would stream through Gzhibov to Marianska alley. House number 10, from the earliest morning hours until late in the evening was besieged. The Palestine Division presented itself as a small empire. Various departments were squeezed together on a few floors. It gave the impression of an external ministry, a ship business, and a consulate and immigration bureau all together. At the doors, instead of police stood “impressive people” who fought with the “emigrants” who no longer had patience to sit and wait for certificates and permits. They pushed and shoved into the “departments”. In each “department” there was the director and problem solver

[Page 161]

listening to the men and women. Indifferently they answered “yes” or “no”. In a separate cold room they undressed the elderly Jews, measured their strength and looked for spots on their wrinkled skin and sagging breasts. In another “hall” they squeezed in mothers and children who were travelling to their fathers, brides to their grooms, girls with cut hair and short dresses – everyone's heart pounded and their lips whispered: how do we get through this…the English control were the main concern and the greatest hardship of every emigrant.

Levy stood confused. The first thing he saw in this great crowd that pleased his soul was Hebrew writing. It was like a gust of air from the Land of Israel, and a deep shiver went through his body. Still, here in the diaspora he was getting closer to his ideal. His dream was becoming reality. Suddenly, his good mood was clouded over. Levy saw something he would never be able to forgive: the Hebrew notices were not grammatically correct. That meant, that here in this holy place (Levy always claimed the holiest act is to settle in the Land of Israel, and every place connected to this good deed is holy), people are sitting who do not know the holy tongue properly. This was a hard knock fro him. However, soon everything became clear to him and gripped his heart. Beside the dividers near the window sat girls and boys with and without whiskers. Laughter could be heard all around. They were speaking a foreign language. Their faces seemed satisfied and happy, calm eyes looked with indifference and disdain at the “emigrants”. The phones rang continuously. Levy heard chopped words about dollars, pounds, zlotys. It appeared all the clerks were only interested in one thing: the exchange rate of the currency.

A middle aged woman stood at the cash. Crying she spoke into the little window:

“Have God in your heart, I payed a half a year ago for a ship ticket. You calculate according to today's exchange rate of dollars! You are taking a third of all I possess!”
The crowd standing in line had no patience. The woman, without getting an answer from the cashier, was pushed to the side. They comforted her:
“Your efforts are futile lady, nothing will help. You are not the only one. They claim ostensibly, that they have been holding the zlotys the whole time”.
[Page 162]

Young people stood at the “Work Department” and waited for their exams. Meanwhile they chatted:

“Remember Shmuel, if they ask you who is the leader of the Poalei Zion (The Labour Zionist Organization), answer which Poalei Zion, the right or left?
A girl with a kerchief on her heard, visibly from a village, went over to Levy: his appearance roused in her trust.
“Perhaps you can tell me sir, what is the difference between a Moshav and a Kibbutz?”
And a while later, as if she wanted to show off:
“I'm going to my brother in Ein Harod”.
At that moment a Jew with a grey beard ran out of a room shouting and waving his fists:
“Remember! This won't pass so smoothly. They will write about it and create a commission. Everything will have to be investigated. You will have to account for every groschen and every pound.
The door slammed. One of the organizers took the enraged Jew to the side.
“If you will create scandals, we'll throw you down the stairs.”
Levy made his way through the crowd.

He thought:

Everything in thought looks different in reality. He's been dreaming of this for years. It is in his heart. He has been waiting a quarter of a century for this moment. He had imagined this time through rose coloured glasses. And here it arrived – like the coming of the Messiah. But it was not the sunset he awaited. There was no passion to enrapture everyone, the entire nation. Something was missing. Was it the people, the leaders? Someone is guilty. Perhaps life is to blame, the everyday life that weighs and measures, counts and calculates, and who knows, if there, in the holy land, Jews will not remain in exile one beside the other. Perhaps Yidl the teacher was right, that everything is material, or as they refer to it: materialism. Is everything just about the stomach?...what about the heart and soul longing for Zion? Why is everything squirming in him? Why is he longing for Zion? That narrow strip of land on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea about which Yehuda Halevy sang: “Zion will you not ask about the welfare of your prisoners”. What will become of this land? A “spiritual centre” as Ahad Ha'am wanted, a state with police and soldiers as Jabotinsky believes, or just stores in Tel Aviv asking: “who exchanges dollars”, like on Gzhibov? Will Zion, the Zion of our dreams become a second Nalevke Street, the entire “negation of the diaspora”? No, not that. He will open everyone's blinded eyes, he will fight for the purity of the pioneers, he will – and Levy felt a strong push in his side.

[Page 163]

Beside him stood one of the “important guys” a young guy with a crazy face who looked at him with murderous eyes.

“Why are you getting in the way? Why don't you just leave. The stairs are here.
Levy was torn away from his thoughts. Blood raced to his face. He wanted to teach this guy a few words about Zionism, but he disappeared.

Levy continued to wait in line.

(From the book: “ Across the Ruins of Poland” Buenos Aires, 1949)


[Page 164]

A Letter to Yakov Dinezon After the Passing of Peretz

by Khaim Nakhman Bialik

Translated by Janie Respitz

Kh. N. Bialik, Odessa
May 3, 1915

My dearest friend Reb Yakov Dinezon,

Peretz' death left a huge impact on me, as if he “went up in a storm”. His writings were also like that: “fiery chariots and fiery horses”. Like a storm he flew through on a fiery chariot as flashes of lightning flew in front and behind. It seems to be he will reappear more than once, in nothing less than a good disposition, exactly as the other old grandfather…he is however, like that Zealot son of Zealot, not dead.

I cannot attend the gathering, especially because Ravnitsky is not well and I have to mind the store. I myself am also unwell. I must therefore be satisfied with offering advice from a distance. I already actually sent advice verbally through Droyanov on what is going on in Warsaw. Now I have the opportunity to reiterate: if you want to produce, in Peretz' memory a work that will last forever, do not do too much at once. Do not take the entire task upon yourself. Nothing will result from this.

* * *

Khaim Nakhman Bialik – the genius of Hebrew Literature from its renaissance period was born in 1873 in the village of Rady, Volhinya, and after a stormy, creative life, died in Vienna in 1934. He was buried in Tel Aviv. He was 12 years younger than the genius of the golden age of Yiddish literature, Yitzkhak Leybush Peretz. They created a friendship which stood above friendly literary common interests. This was a friendship of geniuses, an eternal friendship. Bialik lived in Warsaw during the year 1903-1904. For many reasons, including the closeness to Peretz, this year in Warsaw left deep vestiges in his soul. You can read more about this in a contribution by Nakhman Meizel in this anthology. We are offering here an extract from Bialik's letter with a few immortal words about Peretz, written to Yakov Dinezon right after Peretz' passing.
[Page 165]

In my opinion, what would be most appropriate for Peretz' soul, would be the creation of a fund for children's literature, both in Hebrew and Yiddish. To that end, you do not need to raise a lot of money. This can be achieved with modest means. Five thousand rubles should suffice. And as already mentioned – this would clearly be in both languages. Do not allow Peretz to be dragged into a crowded clique. He would not have been able to tolerate that. In short, this is my advice and it would be great if you would follow it.

Ravnitsky already wrote you about Peretz' first Hebrew volume “From the Mouth of the Nation”. We would have loved to come to Warsaw to put it on order, but we cannot. Perhaps among Peretz' manuscripts there are more folk stories in Hebrew. If so, please send them to us. Then we can add, to “From the Mouth of the Nation” some of Peretz' Hebrew Hasidic stories. Then the “From the Mouth of the Nation” will be a respectable volume. Write your opinion.

Your devoted,
Kh. N. Bialik

From: Literarishe Bleter, Warsaw, vol. 17, 1931

 

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