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Five years back when I was in Orheyev for several days and met Leyb Stolyar, I immediately realized that this is the same person who had at one time so modestly and passionately blessed the memory of solitary pogrom martyrs.
When I went from Russia to Bucharest, I immediately met with my old friends - Vladimir Tyomkin and Dr. Shvartsman - who had very recently traveled from London as the first match was struck for Keren Ha Yesod (ed. note: Foundation Fund of the Zionist Organization) and they urged me to join with them and leave, as skittish gangs were canvassing Bessarabians. In that region Orheyev was considered to be an old Zionist fortress and we had, on that score, selected it as our first objective.
Well, a fortress the Jews, who had not wanted to give any money, were quite resolute about the Zionist fortress, but we obviously did succeed. I do not want to distort history, which would, as you know, get only further and further from the truth. For the sake of Godly truth, I have to tell you the secret of the earthly truth: as for the success, we must not credit ourselves, but Leyb Stolyar.
In the former modest Kaddish reciter, suddenly, like a miracle, a community leader was awakened as if by God's grace. What do I call a community leader? A dictator who orders and commands, and is obeyed by everyone.
His dictator-career began when Orheyev started to receive a large influx of pogrom-refugees. Fleeing from death for being Jews, they crossed the Dniester River from their blessed land of Romania. Everyone knew that two ships always stood ready, the one on the right bound for Eretz-Yisroel, the one on the left bound for America, but until that time came, we had to find a place somewhere for the refugees with their wives, children, and the remnants of their possessions. Orheyev, though, is not prepared to take in such an unexpected immigration. The committee sits until 3 o'clock in the morning, we plan, we make speeches, we yell, we become hoarse. The refugees are scattered in the girls schools, in the streets, and we can not find any houses where they could rest their weary bones. Here Leyb Stolyar springs up with a declaration to the committee, tells us that he is not asking for anyone's opinion, and establishes a second committee which would work with him and him alone in order to solve this difficult issue immediately.
He does this in a simple way. He raps on the door of a proprietor:
- Mister Ghost, today I bring you four guests. Be so good as to prepare a good supper, turn the heat up on the stove, and put them to bed, and tomorrow I will come to see if you treated them well.In several short days, without an office, without money, without propaganda, without meetings, with only his visits, he solved the housing problem with a profound sense of duty to the refugees. The old committee allowed only patented community leaders who approached everything with a method, with facts, and with well-defined plans. The refugees saw that with a little audacity and a little levity, one could easily accomplish a lot more. Leyb Stolyar took on anarchist methods in order to provide the refugees with clothes and other emergency needs. The border area does not doze, always new guests arrive.
- Mr. Moyshe, you may lie down, begging your pardon, on the couch, and the bed, forgive me, you will give to the guests which I will soon bring you.
- What do you say, Mr. Happiness? You have our guests from across the Dniester? I will therefore deliver one small orphan, and in a pinch, you can put him to bed on your daughter's piano.
- Mr. Berl, the Kurilovitser Hasidic Rabbi once stayed with you. A rabbi must have facilities for at least ten people, and he was very comfortable with us. Today, since I bring you only six visitors - it is surely bearable what's wrong, Mr. Berl? When the Romanian officials stayed with you, you took pride, begging your pardon, now (I'm asking you) to take in the grandchildren of our Patriarch Abraham (Avrum Ovinu).
When we arrived in Orheyev he was in the very heat of his Zionist activity. He was very helpful to us in his customary dictatorial way. We decided to spend every evening in the Zionist office and there receive by special invitation the well-to-do Jews, one by one and according to a prepared list. But the well-to-do Jews did not come. If it weren't for the dictator, most of the Jews would have sent us packing without even a zay gezunt' (ed. note: stay well said on parting). The dictator came up with an idea and instituted repressive management. Over several days he became a Zionist enforcer of Torah prohibitions and began to deliver evasive Jews by raising a cry. Every half hour he would go out on his searches (for prohibition infractions) and would take captive a half dozen and once in a while an entire dozen for Keren Ha Yesod. Look here, I have brought you 'prisoners'. So good brother, atone! Pay the prisoner's ransom. If not, you will spend the night and your wife will think that they hanged you from a white goat. And the captives pay up They haggle a bit, a ducat lower, a ducat higher, we come to terms. The dictator stands during the negotiations and assumes a provocative part. A Jew, a kulak (ed. note: prosperous and stingy), asks us to reduce his ransom by 60%, because he has to pay for a wedding this year for his daughter, so the dictator immediately advises him to sell the bird in his stone house on the landowners' street. A second Jew wails like a woman that this year he would have to put up thousands of pots of wine and plums; the dictator acknowledges this, only at the same time he gives a distinct wink and reminds him of an important principle. But my dear Reb Moyshe, why do you not say how much you earned in lambskins? With one word, Leyb Stolyar gets such accurate information about every single person, that the tax-inspector would want to have it for the city - as the holy gospel says, big trouble, big headache.
No one could turn away from the dictator. One time, weak himself, he carried a wealthy Jew into the Zionist office. (Where did he get such strength?) Here - I have brought you a deserter. The deserter was a bit indignant - We are haunted by Cossacks! Even if it's for Eretz-Yisroel, one still should not carry out pogroms against Jews. Only the end result was that they extracted from him the maximum that they could milk from someone so obstinate that he would fight over a penny. In such a manner the Orheyever landlords and proprietors sweated it out for one week, and they probably were as thankful (for no longer being responsible) as a father at his son's bar mitzvah, when the dictator sent word that our automobile was already far, far away on the other side of the bridge
Yes, I want you to decide the question of ritual purity. Our friends are very good people, but I see that on the fine points - in Jewish matters, I mean - you expect more from them. I am ashamed to go to our rabbi, you will have to make the effort now and tell me the religious law. Just tell me: according to religious law, must a Jew pray? I am anxious. The dictator, I think, has discovered that not one of the three Zionist Nationalists davens or puts on tefillin (ed. note: frontlets worn on the head and left hand by Orthodox Jews when praying), and now he wants to edify us somewhat. I try to dodge this and give him to understand that a devout Jew must pray, but for a freethinker (I almost never spoke heresy) it is enough that he fulfills the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah.
The dictator starts (to pray) but - no. A shopkeeper he knows appears and - good-bye praying! We are excused from afternoon prayers, and we only have to observe the Maariv (evening prayer). So do you want to hear something? It happens on occasion that I don't sleep the whole night, and I have visions of tefillin. But sometimes I think - what foolishness! The Almighty is not a bandit, and he loves you no less than he loves Leyb Stolyar We will soon enough be called to account on the day of reckoning what do you think! Just yesterday I thought to myself that God himself guides me down the path, he himself leads me to the guests, to the pioneers, to the Jews ignorant of Jewish tradition.
When the first group of pioneers had already decided to go down to Kinneret (ed. note: Lake Kinneret on the Sea of Galilee) the dictator did quite a job, for which, his wife believed, death and destruction would come to him. In those years he was not a great breadwinner. Who had time to work, as you had to provide, with any luck, for so many guests, driving them over the bridge and finding work for pioneers from obstinate employers. In the evening just to sit in Bet Hakholutz (the Pioneer House), with a tin teapot of hot water, which everyone had started to call tea, and sing with friends happily but not entirely intelligibly, the strangely passionate words of God Will Build the Galilee. The dictator took a break in his unrelenting hard work and spent barely one and a half hours a day in order to keep body and soul together, his as well as those of his household. Quite often there were days when there was no bread in the house, not even some coal to put up the samovar (ed. note: a metal urn for heating water). When the missus would sometimes throw open the cupboards of her poorhouse and demand what anyone could see was obviously needed, the dictator would not, God forbid, lose heart. In reply, he would sometimes begin to sing the Chabadish Basyanke song, which he had learned from several Lithuanian pioneers.
The poorer the man - the more revelingAnd at that he would snap his big fingers and do a jig - so, for the small gang, it was a clever maneuver: the father goes dancing, let us go to his aid. And all at once the hungry bunch would dance in a circle. His wife would scold and scold - a house full of madmen, like the father, like the children - only the scolding turned eventually to laughter, and she was then angry only with herself and informed the dancing audience, that they had just made her crazy too, and - she went on laughing.
The richer the man - the more pompous
Oh, what do I hear you
Oh, what do I need you.
The dictator was soon totally out of the hole, and on a better day, when the pioneers had already started to pack their things, he was overjoyed and went to the photographer and paid what he had as a deposit for fourteen individual photographs of each of the pioneers, who were already standing ready to leave for Kinneret. His wife found out and tore her hair out - he is possessed by a pioneer dybbuk (ed. note: a sinful soul that has taken 'possession' of another living body) - and this was his one reproach: I will obviously not be in Eretz-Yisroel, you will not let me go there, at least let my picture stand in Kinneret, a remnant of Leyb Stolyar
You have to wonder what he embraced as managing dictator of Keren Ha Yesod. When we arrived in Orheyev, he was fervent in his Kineret-patriotism. In the several days that we spent there, he displayed so much energy and so much power, that it seemed he himself started to wonder and ask what kind of demon had lodged inside him. The hardest question in the entire campaign was: how to get hold of the people? With assemblies, you can't get money from the crowd. The dear brothers and dear sisters evade the appeal. He knows that Eretz-Yisroel consists of two parts: Jerusalem and Kinneret (in the sea of Galilee). To Jerusalem, old Jews travel to die. To Kinneret, young pioneers travel to work. Both have a hold on him, but the young pioneers have a special place in his heart. Why, he does not know. He knows only that he himself would have liked to leave with the pioneers to Kinneret, but his wife won't hear of it. She knows that either the tsadiks (pious Jews) or the pioneers go to Jerusalem. And since she is sure that her husband is no tsadik, he would remain a libertine there - it makes more sense for him to stay here, where people know him. The dictator provided the pioneers with work. And he posed a question: do you want to present yourselves as brutes? It won't succeed. The town won't believe you. These days there are no brutes here. And he did not know why, only he himself started to believe that his cruelty was nothing more than a performance. He took into his house two speaking Jewish women, who had with them a mute simpleton whom they had adopted along the way.
As from a sealed well the refugees uncovered in Leyb Stolyar a talent that everyone had to recognize, and there was no one who could not understand in what these talents lay and why they had to obey. During that time his talent embraced even the Tatar-ish hearts of the Romanian gendarmes. Then the refugees had to travel to Kishinev, where it was nearer to America. But the Almighty had created a wooden bridge on the way to Kishinev. On the bridge stood overfed Romanian gendarmes, whose duty it was to stop the refugees from passing through to the capital, and when someone tried to sneak through, they were allowed to shoot in place and after the shots - to give warning three times that they would shoot him, if he did not turn back Leyb Stolyar made a suggestion to the gendarmes and won them over. So how? With the same persistence he practiced to win over the Jews: with a light touch. He took a Beshenets (ed. note: probably residents of Beshen') by the hand and led him right onto the bridge. The gendarme demanded their papers; no papers, so the gendarme told them both to go to the devil. Leyb Stolyar tells him that his protégé has already been to the devil. The gendarme shouts shoot, putting the fear of God into Leyb Stolyar. The gendarme takes out his revolver, Leyb Stolyar proceeds to move forward with the Beshenets behind him, he tears open his shirt, gets closer to the gendarme, smiles into his bandit eyes and says cold-blooded: So shoot! Let us just see if you will shoot. In fact, I wish I were God so that I could see just how you carry it out. The gendarme laughs to himself, acting tough and spitting in the water as he pushes the Beshenets in the back: Quick - run over the bridge, don't let me see your face again. And such a scene was repeated every day, and Jews traveled to Kishinev, nearer to America.
There were other important things. Leyb Stolyar was not on that committee, but as a matter of fact, without revolt and without bloodshed he was crowned by everyone as the director of the town. The border does not doze, all the time new guests arrive. And people pretend not to know that the supposed guests are refugees. Everyone wonders - where did he find the words. For such a silent, shy person, who all his years barely smiled to himself and now Leyb Stolyar commands and everyone obeys him. On the other hand, they rebel against Leyb Stolyar's dictator, and he smiles at being so pegged.
An especially touching moment was when Leyb Stolyar came to say good-bye to us. He asked forgiveness from my old friends and took me away into a separate room for a private discussion.
I want you to decide a question for me. According to religious law, must a Jew pray?It is hardly necessary to describe what I felt at that moment, and with a very raw sense of morality, I passed judgment.
I mean it, actually, in regard to myself. I consider myself, I as stand before you, a devout Jew. Until this year, I never missed Minhah (ed. note: afternoon prayer), no saintliness on my part, but this year, it shouldn't happen to you, I cheated a little. Please understand me. I wronged the Almighty a little. Sometimes in the morning I have to see what's going on in town, to discuss with a few gentiles what work there is for the pioneers, to fix up a bed for the Pioneer House, to get a mattress, and the missus - she should live for 120 years - does not let me out of the house. She says - you have someone to take care of right here, better to sit at home and do your work. So, what can I do? Really, a half-truth emerges, as I go to Bet-Hamidrash to pray. I actually take with me a tallit (ed. note: prayer shawl) and tefillen. Only along comes a shopkeeper acquaintance and good-bye praying! I don't know if I was dreaming that Reboyne She Loylem (ed.note: God, ruler of the Universe) came to me: so dear Leyb, don't keep it under your hat. Don't worry about me so much. People are a higher priority. I will insist upon it in my own shtetl. I can do without your prayers, but the guests are hungry and tired, and the pioneers have to have mattresses. Such thoughts always come to me in my dreams Say something? The Reboyne She Loylem will hold me to account for my sins? What, he does not understand what is going on here? He should go learn wisdom from Leyb Stolyar?
I believe that according to the law you are exempt from prayers.
And if rabbis, who know the Book of Law better than I, will call me for the purposes of a more thorough investigation and will demonstrate, as two times two is four, that the Book of Law says otherwise, and that Leyb Stolyar is a sinful Jew, I will say that two times two is not four, and that the Book of Law does not know Halokhah (ed. note: the practical implementation of the principle) as Leyb Stolyar does.
The principal refused to take me to the school on account of my young age. I returned from whence I came with a broken heart and tears in my eyes My father, who saw my anguish, comforted me by telling me that he would invite a teacher who would prepare me for grade 2 for the next year. Thus did he do.
Throughout the year, I took lessons in accordance with the curriculum of the Talmud Torah from the daughter of the Hebrew teacher Michael Groyser. When the time for registration approached, I was accepted to grade 2.
It is impossible to describe with words my great feelings of joy. It was a wonderful thing to spend hours in the company of boys and girls, happy in their boisterousness, or to sit on a bench with many people, in a large room with large windows that let in a great deal of light and fresh air For some time, we were cramped, for the large building was occupied by the Russian army (1915), and we were forced to study in two rotations. However, when the building was vacated, we once again enjoyed the comfortable space, and I felt myself fortunate.
When I graduated to Grade 3, the teacher Yitzchak Sherman served as principal instead of Krips who retired. There was also a change of teaching staff. With these changes, the children felt a warm atmosphere, closer to their hearts. We literally breathed easier.
The impression that each of the teachers had upon me is still etched in my memory. Before my eyes I can see the image of the principal Y. Sh. Adam, who had a serious face, a self-assured, deep voice, and a pleasant smile for the students. I see the image of the elder member of this group, Reb Mendel Naychin, who was weak in body and strong in spirit. How pleasant to us were his classes in history and Yiddish. There was the Hebrew teacher Michael Groyser, alert and jaunty; and Velvel Shaposhnik, the teacher of nature, who had soft, bright black eyes and was pleasantly disposed to us. His clear Yiddish accent, free of any mixture of Russian words as many were wont to spice their spoken language made a strong impression upon me.
His lively A gut morgen (Good morning) greeting in Yiddish instead of zdravstvuite that was used by the rest of the teachers, had a special character. His classes brought me special pleasure. V. Sh. had a sense for the dramatic arts. In his time, he participated in the dramatic circle of our city. He organized a drama club for the graduates of the school, who performed with great success when they finished their final year of studies. I remember the teacher Piatr Abramovitz and his wife Fania Isakovna Rabinovitz. The former always looked serious, however he always smiled at the students, and had a sense of humor. He taught us math. She, Fania Isakovna, had an erect stature, was pretty, with golden hair and blue, caressing eyes. She had a good heart and was dedicated to her job. She taught us Russian language and geography. She also guided us in the reading of children's books, which she herself chose and gave to us. We took pride in this.
We had great enjoyment on our excursions, accompanied by our teachers. I still remember an excursion on splendid Mount Ivanus on a sunny winter's day. Blinding, frozen snow covered the ground. We climbed and slipped, fell and got up, and continued to climb, happy and singing from great joy
Bilah Grigorovna Rabinovitz was our teacher for handcrafts. She was a pleasant woman who conducted herself with simplicity. She wore simple, albeit tasteful dresses. She implanted a great love of labor. We usually gathered around her at recess, and she taught us working songs.
Indeed, this precious institution, with its staff of dedicated teachers, raised and educated hundreds of poor children, who lived in substandard living conditions, were lacking food and clothing which darkened their childhood years in their parents' home. Their lot at home was bitterness, agitation, sadness and spiritual oppression. Here in the Talmud Torah, when we found ourselves in large, bright rooms, with warm, enthusiastic relationships with the teachers, we were happy.
From Yiddish by M. R.
[Pages 143 - 144]
Translated by Marsha Kayser A couple of characters from the place where my cradle once stood. Not from Aleksandrovski, but characters from below the Market-Shul, below the bathhouse, from Senoya and the bridge. Characters toiling, extremely busy, but endowed with an immense wealth of humor there they hover in my memory with a very infectious smile
Do you hear, Eli, - he says to my father with a broad smile - look at me, am I not a great 'beauty' Ha?! Yet I doubt if the women run after you, the way they run after me if only one time before Pesach, to 'rendezvous' in their palaces
Reuven does not need special make-up in order to get a big laugh from theater audiences. A kaftan, a kerchief, a peculiar ticklish look, a joke from a shadkhen (ed. note: marriage broker) or Batkhen (ed. note: Jewish improvisational entertainer), and the entire auditorium erupts with laughter.
When Moyshe Klamanovich came into the matzah bakery, Shmuel would welcome him with a melody in rhyme:
I want breadHis coworkers were amused by the last pair of rhymes, and in the noise from scraping floors, the whirling of the machines, his friends chanted the last two lines so long that Moyshe, bewildered, escaped outside Shmuel was a hit.
And a piece of meat as well - eh
And Moyshe Klamanovichn
A colic in the belly.
Shmuel with his helper delivered matzahs to Pesi Reznik. In the kitchen, unpacking the matzahs, his sharp eyes spied something that could cheer his buddies. Without thinking he tossed the bargain into the basket. Rushing back to the bakery a whole pastrami, stuffed ducks, gizzards - I bring! - Shmuel said beaming, pickles and wine, goodies that Pesi sent you
A couple of days later - Tuviya is dressed in a new hat and new trousers. You really earned this, comrade Tuviya you're 'really something!'
The production of the theatre piece Nighttime in the Old Market by I. L. Peretz was risky but successful. The young people were unbelievably ecstatic during the scene We Strike, when a sea of withered hands reached out from under the iron gate on the stage. The scene aroused pain and fury, a youthful yearning for revenge, and the desire to seek out and destroy the exploiter.
Mass meetings, gatherings in all parts of the city. In the small synagogue the non-Orthodox Rabbi Pagis speaks about Zionism. The synagogue is packed with more Jews than come in a whole year - the bourgeoisie, middle-income groups and the like. We see a youthful crowd in Kosovorotkes (ed. note: Russian shirts that button on the side) shouting hurrah. Above everyone's heads we see someone wearing a black cape with a black coil of hair on her head. Zeydl! Dear Zeydl Bakovsky brings a hush over the crowd and a mighty silence rolls like thunder and words like sparks fall over the gathering: Now, when the chains of enslavement are broken, when all the roads of Russia spill with blood for the liberation of all people - do you creep with your reactionary Zionism?! Down with the bourgeoisie, down with capitalism!!! - shouts the cape. Hurrah!!! thunder the Kosovorotkes. And dear Zeydl filled with fire
From his Pranks
Novi (Prophet) we called him because he was an extraordinary fortuneteller. If the city was surprised by an amazing stunt during the night, we did not need Scotland Yard. Our prophet Sholem-Shakhna divined it clearly.
One of his homey practical jokes:
One time when all the members of the family are sitting at the table, Sholem-Shakhna comes to our house to sell us a brand-new hammer. My father pays him his asking price, with the idea that, should someone from the neighborhood recognize it, he would return it. It looks just like our hammer, someone from our group remarked. A couple of hours later, we turn around and we look for our old hammer - a dark day! Sholem-Shakhna has sold my father our own goods!During one dreary winter evening at dusk, Sholem-Shakhna walks quietly into Moyshe Klister's courtyard, drives the horses from their stalls and lets them loose, a landlord's story.
A few hours later the building superintendent notices that the horses are gone. He reports the theft to Klister. Klister does not get excited and says to the superintendent: Go to Sholem-Shakhna and say that I want to see him.
Sholem-Shakhna, knowing what Klister wants, is not impressed and is not in a great hurry to go. The next morning Sholem-Shakhna brings back the horses and gets a gift for the favor
Characters, episodes from our shtetl. There they hover with their infectious smiles
Revised M.R. (Mordechai Rotkov)
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