by Meyshe Nobelman (Toronto)
Translated by Tina Lunson
Our little town Pulin in the Volyn Province, which the Bolshiviks renamed Krasnoy Armaysk, had a population of about one thousand souls. There were all kinds of Jews among them, scholars and merchants, artisans and idlers. Now I will only mention some of the few that I knew well, and who are etched into my memory as a memorial.
One, Kahyim Ber, I remember. His family name was Yafe, may the name be a blessing, was a tall handsome Jew with a stately appearance, and a red beard that always smelled of saffron. He had a shop selling flour. All the wives of the town bought flour from him to bake khale for shabes. The peasants bought flour from him too, to make baked goods for their holidays.
Khayim Ber was an honest Jew, a Makarev hasid who traveled every rosh-hashone and yonkiper to Makarev to Rebi Yeshaye'le of blessed memory; he always made a good living. He was a very friendly person who got along with everyone, beloved by both Jews and goyim, l'havdl. He was not a great scholar but he could study a chapter of mishnayos or Khok l'yisroel [collection of readings for each day]. He loved to sit in the study-house until the last minyon and chat about Hasidism and tell about marvels from the old Makarev saint Rebi Yankev Yitsik of blessed memory, and by the way gave the shames Avrem'ele a few coins to buy a bottle of whisky and snacks, and the Jews drank a l'khayim and wished salvation and comfort to all yisroel.
His wife Nekhame or as we called her, Nekhe helped him in all his undertakings. She was a true helpmate.
Whenever someone celebrated a simkhe in town she was the first to give
her contribution, and especially when the Makarev Rebi came to town. She used to give the Rebi her house, which stood on the main street, and served him with great respect, in order to receive his blessing to be blessed with a child Yet the Almighty creator did not make her happy with any progeny. When the mishnayos study-group celebrated the end of a section, she invited them to make the celebration in her house. And when the Hasidim were slightly tipsy and put their hands on one another's shoulders to dance, then she would join in too, holding her husband's hand and taking part in the dancing.
Khayim Ber and his wife gave a lot to charity. They lent flour to all the poor people to make khale for shabes without taking pledges and lost a lot of money from it. It is interesting to relate that they promised to lay the record of this debt in their graves. Khayim Ber used to say because it is all part of my labors under the sun.
The second Jew that I will describe certainly earned being mentioned, so that such a type should not be forgotten to future generations because he was a rare sort whom today one would seek out with a [Diogenes'] lantern.
His name was Hershl. People called him Hershl Itsi's, from his father-in-law's name. His second name was Horodetski, he was a cousin of the famous Hebrew writer Shmuel Abo Horodetski. He was descended from Berditshev, was a poor orphan, a yeshive-boy. His father-in-law, Itsi Tsvet, was a rich Jew who had a single daughter named Basye, who was no great beauty. And she was very small, a dwarf, the opposite of her husband, who was tall and handsome with two big, black, dreamy eyes and a long black beard like that of Dr. Hertsl of blessed memory. You might ask: Who thought up such a match? I will answer: Money is always the answer. He had an iron shop and his little wife bore him a child every year, their boy was named Alter Shmuel, after his Berditshev grandfather who was a great scholar with an admirable heritage, a third generation from the Bal-shem-tov of blessed memory.
Reb Hersh, as he was called in town out of respect, knew mathematics well. Many students who came to town to teach and had hard problems with mathematics came to him and he answered them quickly and with ease. He was also an expert grammarian; he read Torah precisely which was a surprise for us in a small town. He was also a master at chess; he beat the best player in town.
He had an amazing memory. He knew all of RaMBaM and the Guide for the Perplexed by heart. He was also well-versed in the Kuzri by Yehude Haleyvi and also in the poems of Shleyme ben Gavirul, Meyshe ben Ezra and Yehude Haleyvi. He loved to study khumesh with Ibn ben Ezra and to dissect it with the
fellows of the lovers of the study-house; and the riddles of Avrom Ibn-Ezra. There was a Talmud study group in town, and he used to teach a lesson to the members with great acuity. He was extremely modest, he never made much of his scholarship, he considered himself a simple person and loved to chat with the shames and the regulars at the study-house.
Like all towns our town had a meshugener, called Yosl. His father was a well-to-do Jew. A tragedy befell him. He went out of his mind because of an unsuccessful love. He used to stay at the study-house and sleep beside the oven, and the study-house boys would pour water into his boots or hold a tallow lamp under his nose so he would feel the burning.
Reb Hersh scolded the boys severely about that, saying that we must be merciful in all we do, as is written in the psalm all the songs of Yisroel are pleasant.
I remember one of his jokes that is worthwhile repeating. Once a friend, a clever Jew, Reb Berish who had a manufacturing business and a pious and generous wife, asked him, Reb Hersh, why do you, a wise Jew, have such a small wife? He answered immediately, on the spot, with a joke: The Talmud says, everyone runs after a woman full of excitement nu, I have a small amount of excitement and chose her for her warmth and excitement so everything works out fine!
He passed away in shevet 1909, still a young man, leaving behind five young orphans.
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