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[Page 152 Hebrew] [Page 308 Yiddish]

Episodes

by Arye Ayzen

Translated by Yaacov David Shulman

Selling the World to Come for a Sack of Flour

Anything can happen in this world, including in our town of Radzivilov. The following incident took place in the 20th century, when our culture had already reached a very high level.

One Sunday, a cold day that froze the blood in the veins, at the time of day when all the storekeepers and merchants used to get together in the Barani study hall not to pray but to discuss politics and hear what was going on in our Jewish world, they were sitting and talking about this and that, and arguing about problems that had no connection at all to the Jewish people. As usual, the conversation rolled around to the world–to–come. Those people participating in the debate, Jews whose bread was assured and whose water was dependable and whose minds were settled, could allow themselves to sit and debate this topic. R' B. T., a grain merchant, said that he could prove that there is a world–to–come and that a person can merit to go there after 120 years. Similarly, there is a supernal providence that recompenses the righteous for his righteousness and the wicked for his wickedness. R' H. K. the storekeeper didn't agree with R' B. T., and he proposed that B. T. buy H. K.'s portion in the world–to–come in exchange for a sack of grain. R' B. T. accepted the proposal. The two sides sealed the deal with a handshake, and R' B. T. weighed 33 zlotys–the price of a sack of flour–into R' H. K.'s hand.

People were having a good time, joking and laughing at the big deal. R' H. K. boasted of his great cleverness as he told his mother about his “deal.” Hearing his story, his mother was understandably shocked. She almost fainted out of fear of what might happen to him, heaven forbid, and she demanded that he go immediately to R' B. T. and cancel the deal. But R' B. T. didn't easily agree to give up his double portion of the world–to–come. Other people got involved.

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They began to persuade R' B. T. to give in, and after much coaxing he agreed to cancel the handshake in exchange for two flour sacks, which would be distributed to the poor of the town.

This “deal” was the talk of the town, and people discussed it for a long time.

 

Funeral for the Living Dead

This didn't happen in Radzivilov but in the city of Brody, in 1928. Posters announcing the sudden death of the great merchant, the wealthy Mr. D., appeared in the streets of Brody, saying that the funeral would take place at 3:00 that afternoon.

The beginning of the story was connected to an impoverished, destitute Jewish tinsmith who lived in a cellar with his wife and five children, who didn't have enough money to pay rent to the landlord, Mr. D. The Professional Association for the Well–Being of the Workers in those days took an interest in the tinsmith's situation, intervened in the matter, and attempted to persuade Mr. D. not to evict the poor family from the cellar–but in vain. One fine morning, the poor Jew and his family, with their few meager possessions, were in the street without a roof over their heads.

In protest at the honorable magnate's behavior, it was decided to arrange his funeral: [a funeral] of the living dead. The bier was brought from the cemetery, and many people gathered and began to move down the length of Leshnev Street, Market Street, Gold Street, and Lemberg Street until [they reached] the house of the “man of the hour.” The farther they went, the greater the number of participants. People who knew about the matter joined in, and people who didn't know came in their innocence to pay their final respects to Mr. D. Photographers took many photos of the funeral procession, for it was known that a great many people would want to buy photographs of this “funeral.”

As the funeral procession approached Mr. D.'s house, a special cantor from the worker's movement sang [the mourner's dirge], El Malei Rachamim.

A delegation of three members of the Professional Association entered into negotiations with Mr. D. and received 1,000 zlotys from him, a decidedly large amount of money in those days, to help the family. There was also a large income from the sale of the photographs. With this money, the tinsmith's poor family was set up in an apartment, and work was also found for him.

The story became a great sensation in Brody and in the entire area.

 

Anything Can Happen

Among all the few men of our town of Radzivilov, Leybish Prochobnik, of blessed memory, had an honored place. It goes without saying that he moved worlds so that his only son Mikhael wouldn't fall into the hands of strangers but would be freed from army service.

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When the time came for him to go to the army, an “arrangement” was reached with the military physician, Rabtshenko of Dubno, that in exchange for $100 he would write one word in his report: nyazkalni, i.e., “unfit.”

Everything appeared fine, but the work of the devil [interfered, and] a terrible error occurred: there was a gentile in the town with the same name, Mikhael Prochobnik, who was also summoned to the army at that time, and he was freed first. When the mistake was discovered, it was already too late.

Having no choice, Leybish Prochobnik was forced to secretly add another $100 to free the gentile [in addition to his son], on the condition that the matter would not be made known to anyone. But the news spread immediately, as quick as lightning across the entire town.

A few days later, the gentile came to Leybish, his hat in his hand, and said: “Thank you, Mr. Prochobnik, for your kindness.”

The people of Radzivilov certainly remember this story.

 

A Poor Man with a Starched Collar

That was the appearance of a Jew, someone from Lemberg, who made his way to us, to [our] town–not, heaven forbid, to seek alms but to raise money to support a bride: to marry off his daughter.

When he arrived in Radzivilov, he arranged his first visit with me, with Berel Lober's recommendation. He greeted me very politely, mentioned his family name with a smile, and said to me, “I haven't come to you for a donation, but to ask you to give me a few addresses of grain mill owners, because I'm connected to that profession. I worked my entire life as an accountant in Frenkel's grain mill. I believe you know that the grain mill in Przemyśl burned down, and I remained without work. Now I must marry off my daughter, and I'm forced to turn to people of my profession to stand by my side in my hour of difficulty.”

This was the introduction of a poor, intelligent Jew with a starched collar. He had aristocratic features and [used] Germanized expressions. Of course, making the list took only a short time, and he left to visit the flourmills, where he called each mill owner by his family name on the list in order to make an impression. The men of our town showed their generosity and gave magnanimously.

After he returned and ate a satisfying lunch that he had ordered earlier, my guest lay down to rest for a while.

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After he got up, he asked if there was a study hall nearby and whether wealthy people prayed there. He went there and stood and prayed with great feeling, almost like a rabbi, without taking his eye off the congregation. He spoke with no one but replied to those who greeted him, peace be with you! He kissed the mezuzah and went back to the house. Supper was already prepared according to his orders. After he ate, he struck up a conversation with me about the years before and after World War I. He said, spicing up his conversation with German expressions:

“In 1914, as a young man, I began to deal in livestock, although by profession I was a tailor. I saw a blessing in my business, but the war frustrated my plans. During the war, I supplied meat to the army and created a good business. I believe that in your town there are many butchers. Won't you in your goodness give me their addresses?”

The next day, after eating a tasty breakfast, my guest went to visit the butchers. He spoke with them as a professional colleague, and again he returned with money in his hands. In the evening, we continued our conversation on that topic. He told me:

“When the revolution broke out in 1917, I was very devoted to the workers' situation. But as time passed, I changed my mind and I lost my love for Marx–Engels' plans, because I myself come from a religious family. Then I returned to my old profession, tailoring, until 1922. I believe that there is no lack of tailors in your city. If it's not difficult for you, give me the addresses of my former professional colleagues. I'd like to visit them.”

On the third night as well we talked about the time after the war and about the present situation in Poland (he was also conversant in politics). Although I knew that all this was connected to his money collecting, I enjoyed hearing his made–up stories, as he continued telling me with a serious expression on his face:

“I saw that there was no blessing in tailoring. Also, my departed wife was against this. I therefore began little by little to deal in furs. As an expert in this profession, I made a great deal in the business, and I did very well. To my great sorrow, my wife passed away after a difficult illness, leaving me with two daughters and a son. Are there furriers Here? Won't you do me a favor and give me their addresses?”

I again made a list of addresses, as I took pleasure in his made–up stories, which were arranged with great expertise.

After he “arranged” his business with the small hide dealers, he rested for a few hours. After that, he proposed that I go with him on a short walk. He again began to tell about his past, about his work as an accountant in Frenkel's grain mill, and that after the fire he was left without bread.

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“Since I didn't know what to do, I became a cantor in a small synagogue. The beadles weren't happy with my Hebrew, and I soon had to leave my post. In the meantime, my daughter got engaged to a very fine young man, an expert in the lumber profession. Maybe I will succeed in getting back on my feet through him, because before the war my departed father was the owner of a sawmill, and I'm an expert in this profession as well. The border regions are famous for their large forests. Do you also have sawmills? Maybe it's worth visiting their owners? I promised a dowry for my daughter and also clothes, and as a result I have to travel through the world and raise money. I believe that after the Sabbath I will, with God's help, leave town. To you, sir, I have one more request; perhaps you can arrange a few people to will go out in pairs and collect some zlotys. This will be a good deed for you, because it's not pleasant for me to go door to door. I don't have any money, but I do have my self–respect. I am, after all is said and done, a merchant who's had bad times.”

I asked him if it had been worth his while to come to our town. To that he replied comfortably that he had raised 250 zlotys in a few days in this town–a very respectable amount. And he wanted to laud all those who had helped him–most of all, myself, of course, because I was the “man of the hour” as he arranged the wedding. “Yes,” he said, “I want to speak with your householders from the Barani Study Hall. I believe that they'll deal with me and help me in my difficult position. On Sunday I'm going to Dubno. Perhaps you have acquaintances who know the city well?”

On Sunday morning, our guest left town as he shook my hand. “Auf wiedersehen–we'll meet again!” And he thanked me as he promised to invite me to the wedding.

Of course, Berel Lober came to receive his “broker's fee” on behalf of the guest whom he had sent me. Whether or not I was pleased, I had to pay. He also promised to send other guests.

The incident remains in my memory, and it taught me not to look at a person's outer appearance, but to judge him in accordance with his words and stories.

 

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