by Yaakov Frenkel
Yaakov Frenkel was the brother-in-law of Yisrael Grosberg. The two of them had stores for the selling of fabrics. On this basis competition developed between them. In addition to this, Grosberg short-changed Frenkel in the division of the inheritance. Against this background, the relations between the brothers-in-law sharpened greatly. The story The Jews in Augustow came to punish the brother-in-law and an additional competitor, who also had a shop for the selling of manufacturing, Barukh Margolis. Incidentally, we learn about the atmosphere, trade relations, and way of life in that period.
My eyes looked about for a short time, for the honored guest who came in the gate of Lodz with bundles of his melodies loaded on his shoulder to delight us for free was Reb Shealtiel,** the splendor of whose voice I heard in his passing before the ark. I will remember him and all the events that happened to him from the day of his existence until this day. Prepare please to greet me, dear reader, and I, here I am wearing pride and genius to present myself before you as a distinguished person. With the desire of Divine Providence, which pays a man his reward many times, more than what is proper for him, according to the measure of his deeds, it has fallen to my lot to be honored with a great honor, much greater than my worth, to know Reb Shealtiel the musician who prays face to face, being one who knows him and sees his face, for the reason that in the city Madmannah , *** I too dwelt in honor for about two decades. There I buried the best days of my youth. There I was one of the silk yeshiva students in whom all the righteous women of the city would be blessed. There I took for myself a wife, before I knew how to find my daily bread, and I fathered sons and daughters while I was supported by my father-in-law, as was the customary practice in Madmannah, where the father-in-law makes an agreement with his son-in-law like the partnership of Zevulun and Issachar. The father-in-law engages in trade, and the son-in-law sits in the tent of Torah; the father-in-law provides meagre bread and scant water, and the groom pays him as his recompense with difficult and challenging debates about the Torah that even with great difficulty it is impossible to resolve them or find their correct meaning. There my hand grasped great commerce whose bundle was established not on earth or in the heavens, not on a simple foundation, but on keen and focused debate that I took out of my study houses, as a law for all yeshiva students of Israel after the completion of their years of hospitality, to do trade and acquisition according to the 13 attributes that the Torah demands of them, until they lose the money of their dowry. Then their eyes will be opened to see that the debate was their destroyer, and then they will begin to deepen with great study to find the simplicity of commerce. However, then the order will be reversed for them, and instead of that which was before, that their pockets were full to brimming and their minds were empty, they are now experienced and expert as is proper. Their minds will be full of knowledge of the simplicity of commerce, but aha! Because their pockets are empty. There I enjoyed myself for many years in the company of the national and enthusiastic residents of Madmannah, who spend all their days in national allegiance, in their always making every day a national festival in memory of the Exodus from Egypt. Their bread is the bread of affliction and bitter herbs, and sometimes also affliction without bread, the bread that they eat bound with grief and bitter herbs, but simple bread and the taste of simple food will not enter their mouths, because their words are as simple as these: bread to eat, and also to suck out enjoyment from the comforts in life, are only for simple people, who live for the sake of living, but not for the residents of Madmannah, who live only because the time of their command to die has not yet come.
Indeed, I knew Reb Shealtiel when he was still one of the young students of the Beit Midrash, sitting for his enjoyment near the oven and working diligently over his stories in the long winter nights, telling of miracles and wonders of the golem that the Gaon of Prague created, and awesome deeds that happened to Napoleon I. His meals were given to him at that time by seven people, one day of the week in the house of each one. I knew Reb Shealtiel when the Torah shone its face towards him to find him all good, that is, a woman with a double hump, in front of her and behind her, with a dowry of 100 shekels in cash, and meals seven days a week in the house of one person, in the house of his father-in-law, over the course of three years. I knew Reb Shealtiel when success shone its face towards him again to take his humped wife off his head and to give him in exchange for her
younger sister who was dark and comely, and an additional allotment of new dowry money, 50 shekels his reward for the exchange and the substitution, and the eyes of all the silk yeshiva students who were envious of his wealth and his success, seeing and yearning. I knew Reb Shealtiel in his standing on the height of the summit of happiness, when his business greatly burst out and in the pride of his wealth, which was not according to nature, and the women of Madmannah unanimously told that the demons brought him much money each and every night by way of the chimneys through the egg stew that he would arrange for them under his table. This is the evidence, that Reb Shealtiel's wife always bought many eggs, more than a mouth could eat. I knew Reb Shealtiel when he passed before the ark on the Yamim Nora'im, with the choir of his composers at his command, they are the tailors who stand at their posts in his store, and expect to obtain work there that God would make happen for them from the purchasers of the fabric merchandise. And then Reb Shealtiel found for himself the propitious time to arrange together with them the melodies that his intelligence and understanding innovated, which in the future would be conducted at the time of prayer before the congregation of worshippers.
I especially will raise before me the memory of Reb Shealtiel in his image and unique true style at the time of his passing before the ark. How awesome was Reb Shealtiel then! More dreadful than the Yamim Nora'im themselves!
His eyes protruded from their sockets, the hairs of his beard were askew and bristly like a rabbi's, and with his thundering voice he made the world and all that fills it tremble. He especially knew to build ascents and descents with his strong voice, and the composition of his melodies according to what suited the meaning of the words. In the hour that he used to scream and shout And fear of you on all that you created, a dark terror would fall on the congregation of his listeners, until their souls took flight from the sound of his fear. At the time that he said Strength is in your hand, he would sob in a gentle voice like a baby goat, until he himself believed that he was showing the strength that was in His hand to the eyes of the congregation, for however strong Reb Shealtiel was in his city, in his knowledge of the correct meanings of the words he was weak and powerless. * In the hour that he was thundering Rebuke Satan that he not accuse me, the posts that the house was standing on trembled from the sound of his reprimand. Outstanding people before whom were revealed the secrets of the mystery of all that is done behind the heavenly curtain in the house of Reb Shealtiel decided that his intention was not on the devil against whom, in general, all the emissaries of our people the House of Israel fight in every generation but have not bested him, but rather on the private demon that God established for him alone here on earth, in the image of Reb Lemel. ** Reb Lemel competes with him in his business, to hunt with his fishing net all the customers in the city, until there did not remain anything for Reb Shealtiel, and will further oppose him every time that he is found before the factory owners, so that they will not give their merchandise to Reb Shealtiel on credit, for the reason that it is correct for the slipping of a foot or debt forgiveness.
All of the praiseworthy values and virtues that we counted for Reb Shealtiel are also found in Reb Lemel, the man who is his accuser in content, and also surpassed him in his outward qualities. Reb Shealtiel was short in stature, lean in flesh, and thin bellied, like all who dwelt in Madmannah who fast and deny themselves physical pleasures all the days from lack and distress and also from miserliness.
On the other hand, Reb Lemel was full-bodied and fat, tall of stature and thick in the belly; his cheeks and his neck were fattened, his eyes shone like torches and his face was ruddy, and the whole shape of his torso was sunken in a ring of fat and from the fat of his flesh. The chest like this of a healthy man was a strange sight in the city of Madmannah. Why was this
Reb Lemel different from all the residents of Madmannah? And why was only he exceptional? The circumstance for this is very simple. Reb Lemel grew up in the city of Zafrona * in the house of his wealthy father whose business in pig's hair expanded greatly outside of the country, and the needs of his business encouraged him to travel frequently to the country of Germany, and to reside there from time to time for a long period of time, and especially for the market days in Leipzig, in order to sell his merchandise there, and when he dwelt there he endangered himself in the way of the Germans by satisfying his soul with eating and drinking gluttonously, and this pleasant tendency he planted in his house as well. For about ten years Reb Lemel was supported by his wealthy father-in-law's table, and he broadened like a fattened calf at a table full of rich food and pleasure, which his modest wife Shprintza the barren set before him in her father's house. She took care of everything in his store and his business, for she was his daughter of old age. Shprintza saw herself as happy because she succeeded in acquiring the family lineage of her husband for the price of her dowry. The elder father of her husband, so it was said by her in her boasting in her neighbors' houses. He lived long, until 100 years old, he brought seven wives to graves in his life, and all of them bore him sons and daughters. The number of issue from his loins multiplied like locusts, and all of them grasped their fathers' deeds in their hands and were merchants in pigs' hair. All of her neighbors envied her because she had achieved such greatness. And she spoiled him with a gluttonous economy as was the law that came out of the place. In order to balance the scales of the economy of the household, in order not to tremendously elevate the expenses, out of fear that her father would shut his hand, she afflicted her soul daily with dry bread and legumes, like Daniel in his time, and on Mondays and Thursday of the week she also fasted, and with this if she did not succeed in reconciling the lack she fasted again on the eve of the new month.
Reb Lemel gave his money with interest, and with this knew how to speak a word, because interest and principal were always coincident topics. Also, Reb Lemel fulfilled with a diligent hand the law of determining the scale in favor of the receiver according to the laws that are clarified in the halakhah of weight, because Reb Lemel was from his youth God-fearing and observant of the mitzvot, and also in all matters of harmful exploitation and robbery, he put the words of the decisors as a line.
Suddenly new mourning: the old man, his father-in-law, died after a protracted illness. Reb Lemel, who in order to please himself, considered money as nothing in his eyes, became very stingy in expenses to support the illness of the patient, in his closing the door before doctors and pharmacists, so as to not reduce his inheritance.
But the old man closed his eyes, and Reb Lemel waved his innocent hands to search in the holes and cracks to remove each and every penny from the fortune of the deceased, before a second heir could come and divide the inheritance with him. Is it really so Reb Lemel said to himself - that also my brother-in-law ** the heretic and the apikores for whom books of enlightenment drop from his lap, will inherit a portion of the wealth of my God-fearing and trembling at the word of God father-in-law? Is it really so that the wealth of a righteous man should be stored up for the wicked? Was this the intention of our Torah in the law of inheritance? It is a conclusive law that the heretics and the apikorsim do not inherit a share of an inheritance. Reb Lemel, all of whose devious tricks were founded on the holy purity, put this holy thought into deeds, in his taking for himself every good and fat piece, and every whole piece that tasted good, and he left for his brother-in-law the apikores only small crumbs under the table, as a kind of leftovers from the banquet of the righteous. And Shprintza was happy with her lot, because God blessed her with wealth and possessions from her father's estate, and also a good advocate on high, in addition to honor and family lineage, and
her husband, a capable man, who knows how to use every fit opportunity to increase his fortune and to profit by hurting others.
Before, Reb Shealtiel and Reb Lemel dwelt together in safety and were loving companions. And if in the qualities of their souls they were far from each other, as the goat is from the tiger, in one way they were equal, and that is in the wisdom of music, in which this one was like that one, they both boasted of knowing it, and it was the point of contact in which they met together, and that brought them closer to each other. Please don't imagine for yourself, my dear reader, that the wisdom of music which all of us loved was wallowing in the trash heaps in the city of Madmannah; in the role of an ear witness behold I promise that the sound and the sense of the music of the two of them mixed in the palate of the listener like the sounds of frogs peeping in the rivers of water on a summer day, but others were silent. And they tried to stand before the ark on the days of the festival, to show the majesty of their music before it to all who came to the gates of their city, and if lords like this were praying, how can their music not find favor in the eyes of the nation bowing beneath them?
So lasted their association for many days, but with Reb Lemel's malice the bundle broke apart. Reb Lemel set the tiger's eye on the business of Reb Shealtiel, his friend and loved one, and established for himself as well a warehouse for selling all kinds of weaving and fabric, facing the entrance to Reb Shealtiel's house and his store. In order to conquer his opponent and defeat him on the field of competition, Reb Lemel set up his wife the businesswoman, the woman of valor, at her post at the entrance to Reb Shealtiel's shop, and when some customer passed by, she would grab hold of the corner of his garment and drag him by force into her shop. In a place where her right hand did not save her, she was helped by the freewill offering of her mouth, and the grace of her lips and her multiplying of temptations and entreaties, and she would promise to every customer to give them large discounts, only for him and his honor. Enchantment was spilled on Shprintza's lips to promise to each and every person to fulfill his heart's desires and his lacks as he wished, from her knowledge of them and what touched their hearts. To Reb Tzivon the sucker whose lack of money irritated him seven times over every day, she always promised to loan money at low interest, 3 percent a month, on condition that he bring a pledge whose value was double the money of his debt. To Reb Tzadok the widower whose eyes were lifted to the one who dwelt in heaven because she was precious before him, an important woman, in order to use her dowry money for the blessings of his failing business, she recommended a shidduch with a young maiden with a large dowry, from the family of her well-pedigreed husband. To Gronah the leather worker, the hand of whose compassionate and gracious husband fell on her ten times a day, hitting and hurting her, she promised to enforce on her husband by order of the rabbi and the heads of the community a decree to lighten his hand from upon her. To the Lady Matilda who oppressed her servant girls ruthlessly, and harassed them incessantly with aggressive curses, and therefore they were fleeing from her house on the first day that they arrived, she offered a submissive servant who was diligent in her work, and at a low price. To Reb Gamliel, the baker who practiced asceticism all his life, and drank wine to satiation only once a year (that is, from the beginning of the year until its end), who every day made the sound of a great noise to disturb the rest of the heads of the community, in his upsetting the order of community behavior which were not always right in his eyes to this Reb Gamliel the baker (and there are versions that say the pourer), she would promise that the hand of her powerful husband would plan to be of one mind and opinion with him in matters of the community's behavior. To Reb Elyakum the shopkeeper, whose business ledgers were arranged according to the method of the system of double business ledgers, where he would sell to his customer on credit once and write in his ledger twice, she promised to bring him customers who would specifically buy on credit. With one word! She was founded in her goodness to fulfill the desire of every man, to do for him all that his heart desired, only in order to satisfy his desire, and with this, hope could be seen in her, for she drew it with cords of desire to her shop, and he inclined his heart towards her merchandise.
And Reb Shealtiel did not also stand coolly in opposition to Shprintza's capturing of his acquaintances that came to his store, across from the doorway of his shop, and he too did not delay in pulling them by force into his shop. The joke was to see, sometimes, how when some customer passed by, and Shprintza was pulling him by the corner of his coat from this side, and Reb Shealtiel held onto the other corner of his coat, until the two corners of his coat were torn from the force of the pulling, and the embarrassed customer, ashamed to go naked and in torn clothing in the street of the city, would run home, like the fox fleeing from the hunters' bow, to change clothing, and the two rivals, when they saw that the customer fled from their hands like a bird from a snare, would be aggravated, and curse each other, and from arguing they would find themselves coming to blows and punches. From time to time when Shprintza and Reb Shealtiel would encounter each other around some customer, Shprintza's hand would be thrust in her opponent's beard, and also his hands would grab her braids, and the members of their households would join them.
On account of this tremendous competition, cursing took place in Reb Shealtiel's shop, which sapped his strength to oppose Reb Lemel and Shprintza, who were stronger than him. Reb Lemel brought slander about his opponent to the factory owners who were giving their merchandise to Reb Shealtiel at a discount, and every place he spoke, an agreement (credit) came, and in most cases it did not miss the mark.
And time does its own. The moments of time move forward according to their order, and are swallowed up in the realm of eternity. Winter marches in the cycle of the season of the year, the month of Shvat arrives, and soon the days of the festivals are about to come. Reb Shealtiel gathered the remainder of his fortune and took his money in his hand and travelled to Lodz to buy the necessary merchandise for the time of the days of the festivals. As was the custom of all the Lithuanian shopkeepers, he stayed at the house of the man that he had chosen to be his intermediary (commissioner) H. Shmelkin. What was a commissioner in the city of Lodz? Listen closely, dear reader, and hear.
The commissioner is a very great necessity for the Lithuanian shopkeepers that buy their merchandise in Lodz. Without him the shopkeeper would not lift his hand or foot. He is the mischievous lad who takes hold of the blind man and misdirects him to the place that he is seeking. The commissioner is not a buyer or a seller, not a fabricator or a shopkeeper, yet he is equal to them all, and takes the wage of all of them combined. The mission of the commissioner in the world of commerce here resembles in all its aspects the mission of the Hebrew teacher. This one is like that one; they don't take anything, not the reward for their wisdom which they do not know, not the wages of their work which they do not do, but the wages of their idleness, that is, their laziness. And according to the many levels of their idleness, their wage is according to what they do. The teachers are loafers on a low level, and therefore they will be on the cliff and under pressure, and the commissioners in Lodz who are accomplished in this attribute live a life of wealth and honor. A parable is carried on the lips of the people. The father advises his son, who doesn't know how to read or write, not Torah and not knowledge and not the way of the world, that there is only one path before him to find the source of his livelihood, that he should be a teacher. Resembling this, our eyes see that here, too, a Lithuanian Jew who comes to Lodz with an empty plate, without proper knowledge of the nature of commerce and its character, without knowledge and understanding, he is the one who is chosen to be commissioner. However, while the teacher still takes only the wages of idleness and nothing much more, and sometimes they do not pay him even the wages of idleness, as is practiced in these days of ours, the commissioner would take 5 things: only the wage of idleness, only the wage of lifting hand and foot, only the twisting of his lips, only the wage of the bite of the fabricators, and only the wage of the bite of the customers. There are many commissioners in every city that has much commerce, but here in Lodz they surpass all members of their kind, because here the ground is capable of growing these seedlings.
For them to prosper, because the prices are not fixed appropriately, fixed and not fixed are the same, inflated and hollow inside and in their content, and a simple man from the market does not get to see the depth of their hollowness. The price of the known merchandise of Ploni is a full silver ruble, the price is the price, but there is a discount here, and a man had not yet been let into the secret to know the measure of the discount and its quantity. The commissioner Reb Ploni calculates the price for his customers according to what it is, without a discount, and Reb Almoni, who casts his net to hunt the allies of Reb Ploni and to draw them to him, offers to discount the price by 10% on a hundred, but has not yet divulged that for the third he deducts 15%, and for the fourth he expands his position to reach 25%. This wild regimen in the setting of prices is a source of salvation for the commissioners, to give them the ability to earn whatever their hand can reach, and to blind the eyes of the customers with a great and awesome discount.
Reb Shealtiel consulted with his guide and administrator Mr. Shmelkin, and paid him the allotment of money that he owed him previously, to take in exchange for it a fine portion as is fitting for a very old shopkeeper like him, who buys his merchandise from the first hour with a promissory note and not with money, and no disaster has happened to him yet. Mr. Shmelkin was agreeable to this. Since Reb Shealtiel was one of his best customers, and Reb Shealtiel would purchase merchandise when the spirit moved him, Mr. Shmelkin gave his guarantee on his behalf. Mr. Shmelkin brought the purchased merchandise home to wrap in secure bundles, and to rush it onto the railroad, and between this and that the Shabbat day arrived, and because of that the shipment was stopped.
Happy and with a heart full of pride on the splendor of the glory of his music that he played before a large congregation in his passing before the ark, Reb Shealtiel returned home from the prayer house and sat down to eat bread together with the family of Mr. Shmelkin. And while they were eating and gladdening their hearts, a messenger from the house of runners * brought a letter to Mr. Shmelkin. Without any malice aforethought Reb Shealtiel looked innocently at the letter's envelope, and he saw the address of his enemy who grieved his soul, Reb Lemel, printed on it, and his spirit was agitated within him, in his knowing that some matter was hidden in the letter that would cause him to be made odious in the eyes of Mr. Shmelkin also, who was his last only hope and his one heart's desire, to hold on to his trade, which was collapsing on its foundation, after all the merchants and factory owners in Moscow in whom his heart had trusted before had locked their faith away from him on account of the slander that Reb Lemel had maliciously brought before them. With sorrow and emptiness Reb Shealtiel finished his meal and came to his room that the master of the house had designated for him, but his rest was robbed the whole night. He sprawled unmoving on his bed like a block of wood and acted like a deep sleep had fallen upon him, his ears attentive to every sound of thin silence that the members of the household were whispering in the room that was near his bedroom.
Reb Shealtiel's shipment arrived. The letter that was hurried by Reb Lemel was full of bitterness and words of accusation about Reb Shealtiel, that this purchase would be the last, a little more and he would go bankrupt to his creditors. But Mr. Shmelkin set his eyes to read it and his face became pale.
In the room that was next to Reb Shealtiel's bedroom, Mr. Shmelkin sat on his chair upholstered with silk fabric, and under the soles of his feet were lovely carpets of silk tapestry made in the style of the land of the east. He was leaning back against the back of the chair. His right leg was placed over his left leg, his head was tipped to the side, and his eyes were directed motionlessly to the letter that was in his hand. He read it ten times, as if he refused
to believe what his eyes were seeing, as if he was trying to find what was hidden in it between the lines, and as if he was attempting to find the correct way to determine the falsehood of the words of the letter, and to nullify its words, because parting from Reb Shealtiel would be difficult for him, since he had been connected with him in the fetters of commerce for many years, and he had been as a milk cow for him this long. Hah! Now here is the time to shear his sheep, and his heart was pained, as if he was forced to send an unshorn lamb from his hand. Next to him sits his magnificent wife in fancy clothes, adorned with precious jewels. She clings to him fondly, passes the palm of her hand over the locks of hair on his head, and waits impatiently for him to finish his reading, in order to remind him that the time for the play to begin in the Playhouse * was fast approaching, and it was not right to delay further. Each and every minute is like an eternity in her eyes. She restrains herself with great power from disturbing his work, and feels bitter and very angry about it in the secret place in her heart. When will he finish his reading? When will the end come? He read the letter until its end, and sat to read it a second time. Now the strength of her patience failed.
What do you in see in this letter, my darling, that you so diligently read it over again, as if the secrets of the world are hidden in it? Don't we still have to go to the Playhouse? Her words express a kind of silent complaint. She takes out her watch from her pocket and looks at it.
This letter was rushed to me from my acquaintance Reb Lemel, a respected merchant who has treasures from the city of Madmannah, in which he warns me against placing my trust in Reb Shealtiel and his promissory notes, because his circumstance has very much worsened, and he is about to claim bankruptcy to his creditors. Thank God that the letter arrived while there is still time, while the merchandise is still in my house. Let Reb Shealtiel return to his house by himself, with his promissory notes that will be useful now to cover the mouth of the flask. I will not give him my merchandise. And what do you say about this my darling? Is my way in this right in your eyes?
Your counsel is good and correct; do as you have said.
Her shining face expressed a feeling of joy, that the matter had reached its end, and her advice was accepted in a moment, before they had been late for the starting time of the play. She looked at her watch and said:
The ninth hour is approaching.
And maybe only with malice and treachery Reb Lemel rushed this letter, only in order to throw his opponent who competes with him on the field of commerce into a pit that he dug for him. The shopkeepers in the small cities in Lithuania are as shrewd as snakes, and every matter of guile and malicious evil will not stop them from carrying out their schemes, only in order to find a benefit for their souls.
Indeed, there is no end to the evil of these swindlers.
But Reb Lemel's letter is not an empty matter this time. Reb Shealtiel is very suspicious in my eyes. I see that a wicked matter is hidden inside him at this time, that he purchases merchandise from all who come to hand, without considering the paths of his purchase, and also that he expands the extent of the purchase more than he has been accustomed to always doing.
That being the case, the matter is as right as sun at noon.
But didn't I know Reb Shealtiel from before as an honest man, and believe that he would spread out his net at my feet?
So, I too will express my opinion. A man like him would not claim bankruptcy to his creditors.
And maybe…it would frighten me to endanger my fortune. Also, without this the ground would sway under the soles of my feet, on account of the blows with which I was stricken last year, and if this time a disaster were to happen to me, then my downfall would be complete.
So I too would predict. It is forbidden to us to put our heads into a place of danger look, it's 5 minutes after 9:00.
And who knows if we would not lose much goodness. To break my agreement with Reb Shealtiel is to walk away from a large salary, 500 shekels a year. And what will you say, my dear?
Do not, my man, afflict me with your counsels this time, at the time that the minutes are few. The Shabbat day is still long, we will still take counsel on the matter. See, a little more and we will be late for the time of the play. Let's go.
She forcefully took hold of his arm and got him up from his chair, and they turned their faces towards the door.
My contract with Reb Shealtiel is broken, I will not give him even one kesitah.
So spoke Mr. Shmelkin as he got up from his chair, and his face expressed grief and bitter disappointment over his large salary that was subtracted from him.
They went to the theatre house to see the play that was being presented there.
And Reb Shealtiel lay on his bed, and his ears were paying attention to every utterance that came out of their mouths. Reb Shealtiel's blood froze in his veins, and the hair on his head stood on edge from fear, his spirit was deeply moved inside him, like a sinner liable for death who stands before his judges and waits for his sentence and his law to emerge from them, whether he will live or he will die.
Where will I go? The unfortunate one imagined in his heart, to return to Madmannah with empty hands?
What will I answer my wife and my nine children who await my arrival with bundles of new merchandise?
The night covered with a dark shroud the tears of the unfortunate one who was abused for no reason by the hands of a man who was the adversary and enemy. Deep silence and darkness all around, and no one hears his bitter groans, none see the warm outpouring of tears from his eyes.
Night went by with all the storms of his fear and panic. Morning came. The sun sent its rays, rays of gold, pouring precious light into the window of my bedroom.
And behold my friend came and said:
Did you know? Reb Shealtiel who trilled with his throat is hanging by his neck. He died by strangulation in suicide.
My soul suffered greatly over the unfortunate Reb Shealtiel, who could not summon the strength to carry life's suffering, and my soul troubled me for the ridicule and contempt with which all who knew him slandered him, instead of nodding and expressing a feeling of sorrow over the death of a human soul, even if he had killed himself. It was not his fault that he committed suicide, but the fault of this generation that conducted this bloody practice and joined him to the laws of the mode. *
by Reuven Levi
At the beginning of 5672 (1912), my wife, of the house of Sperling, and I, came to Augustów in order to settle down there and found a Hebrew school in it. The name Augustów was not foreign to my wife's family, the Sperling family. My wife's grandfather, Reb Ze'ev Sperling, was the government-appointed rabbi and a municipal worker. He became known as the translator of two books by Jules Verne from French into Hebrew: In the Depths of the Sea and In the Belly of the Earth. In addition, he engaged in the study of astronomy and wrote a book on this topic. However, the manuscript, along with other manuscripts was burned in one of the many fires that struck Augustów. His son, Dov Ber Sperling, also dwelt in Augustów and directed a cheder in it. He moved to Suwalki after his house was burned down twice. Another writer, Yaakov Frenkel, was also known to us, not personally, however, but from the literature.
We chose to settle in Augustów because we knew that many people in town knew the Sperling family, and our hope was that we would find a living there and also room for a broad range of cultural and Zionist activities. Our hopes were not disappointed.
What was the cultural and intellectual situation in the town when we arrived there? There were two educational institutions for Jewish children, where they taught mainly Jewish studies, and they educated for the fear of Heaven and fulfillment of the mitzvot. In those days, there existed in the eastern European Jewish communities the talmud torah and the cheder. The talmud torah was a public institution funded and supervised by the community, and the cheder, a private institution funded by tuition paid by the parents of the children who learned there. The talmud torah didn't have a good reputation, not as a teaching institution and not as an educational institution. Only those who were unable to pay tuition for this learning sent their children to the talmud torah, out of necessity. The people who had the ability would send their sons to the cheder. There were various chadarim: elementary (learning the aleph-bet and reading), the Chumash with Rashi,
and the Gemara. The father would choose the cheder that was most suited to his son according to its world view. There were poor people who scrimped on their meagre bread so that their sons could learn in the cheder.
In Augustow at that time there existed only one educational institution the talmud torah, in which all the town's boys learned. It was actually both cheder and talmud torah in one. Those who were able paid tuition, and the poor children learned at the expense of the community. The institution had a good name; at its head stood Reb Betzalel, may his memory be for a blessing, a God-fearing scholar who was modest in his manner. There was no Hebrew educational establishment in which those who completed their years at the talmud torah could continue their studies.
A few travelled to other cities to study in a yeshiva or in a general school. Others studied Hebrew and Russian with private teachers, but most remained uneducated and uncultured. The teachers of Hebrew were Mr. M. Meizler, a grammarian and expert in the Tanakh and its interpreters (he himself had written an interpretation on the Tanakh; it is not known to me if it was published), and Mr. Dovid Boyarski, who was a modern teacher that taught literature and history in addition to grammar and Tanakh. Both of them were distinctive teachers, but they did not establish an educational institution, and in addition to the lessons, a tightly knit society was created.
The benevolent institutions that existed then were: Gemilut Chassadim, Linat HaTzedek, Matan B'Seter, etc. These institutions, which were found in all Jewish communities, were also in Augustów, but I did not know them. However, one very valuable institution, with which not every town was blessed, we found in Augustów: a Jewish public library. This library had been founded at the initiative of the wife of Doctor Avramsky and Chitza Markus. Aharon Zukerman and Utzi Lap were active in its administration. Every adult who paid an annual fee of two rubles had the right to vote and be elected. Every year a new administration was elected by a majority vote. The library occupied two rooms. In the first were shelves, and on them the books stood in fine order. The second room was designated for meetings of the administration. One of the members of the administration would always sit at the time when books were being borrowed, and would answer the readers' questions. It was a magnificent institution. In this library there were books in Russian (the majority), Yiddish and Polish. There were no Hebrew books. I found a printed announcement in the library that read: If twenty people register their names as wishing to read Hebrew books, the administration will try to acquire books in that language as well.
In the city there existed a Zionist association headed by Shmuel Grinberg. The association engaged in selling the shekels and collecting donations for the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, for brises, weddings, and collection bowls in the synagogues on the evening of Yom Kippur. They did not engage in cultural activities or Zionist propaganda; they lacked, apparently, active people among the members of the association.
Thus I found the city when we arrived to live there. The saying is known: A guest arrives one minute - and finds a fault the next. I found in Augustów quiet residents, ready to help the one who asks, alert to public affairs. This was proven in the field of education and culture, and Zionist activism in the years 1912-1914.
My wife opened a school for girls, and I gave private lessons for one year. In the second year, we I and Mr. D. Boyarski, founded a Cheder Metukan using the method of Hebrew in Hebrew and Sephardic pronunciation; the Russian language was taught by another teacher. We saw to it that the Zionist association would contribute to the take-over of the public library by the assimilated and members of the Bund. Instruction was given to members that registered for the library and paid the membership fee. All the new members came to the annual general meeting of the library and elected to the administration the candidates of the Zionist association. Of the members of the previous administration there remained only the doctor's wife and Chitza Markus. However, they both resigned
as a sign of solidarity with the rejected candidates. Chitza returned afterwards and was more active than any of us, and cooperated with us. The new administration acquired hundreds of Hebrew books, and books in Yiddish and Russian on national topics. Hebrew readers multiplied to the degree that the number of new books multiplied. The Augustów public library was famous throughout the area and its influence on the youth of the city was tremendous. It was open to the community five days a week, Sunday through Thursday, in the evening. When the Germans captured the city in the First World War (February 1915), they quartered some of their soldiers in the library's apartment. In order to warm themselves on the cold winter days, the soldiers began to light the stove by burning the shelves and also the books. When this became known to Chaya Markus, she enlisted a few young people and coachmen who transferred the remaining books to the Markus family's storerooms. Until the library returned to its regular dwelling place, many came to the Markus house to borrow books.
The success of the action for the conquering of the library encouraged the Zionist association to widen their cultural activities. It was the custom that on every Friday night a lecture would take place in one of the Study Houses, on Jewish history of the people on the land of Israel in the past and in the future, or on the Torah portion of the week. These lectures became a regular institution; the audience continued to increase until the space available was too small to contain them, insufficient, and late comers stood in the vestibule. It is especially to be pointed out that a close connection was formed between the lecturers and the audience, and after every lecture, questions would be asked by the audience. The lecturers were the three teachers, and sometimes, also someone from among the one of the educated leaders of the town. Thanks to the intensive activity, the atmosphere in the city was changed. Interest in Zionism and in the land grew. The association decided, therefore, to rent
an apartment. The club was open every evening except Shabbat evening. The council gathered there once a week for a meeting, people came to talk with each other and to read the newspapers and circulars, and the youth for practical work.
In addition to the collection of funds for the benefit of the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, as was the custom previously, and now more vigorously, the association ordered the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael boxes.
The youth that undertook the work distributed the boxes to the houses, and would empty them every three months. They would send the money and the list of donors to the center in Vilna. Another project that the association initiated with the help of the youth was the sale of shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust, in London. Contribution cards were distributed to the purchasers of the shares, and every day the youth went and collected the payments (20 agorot); a Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael stamp was stuck onto the card as proof of payment. Every month the money was sent to the center, in order for them to transfer it to the chief administration that was in London. Tens of the investors in the shares had not yet received them when the war broke out. A portion of the monetary payments remained in the Loan & Savings bank in Augustów, who with the outbreak of the war transferred it to Russia, and all those savings were lost. Part were transferred to the center in Vilna and to London.
An additional activity of the Zionist association in the area of culture was the establishment of Hebrew courses. The instruction was conducted using the method of Hebrew in Hebrew and in Sephardic pronunciation. The classes took place each evening for two or three hours, except Friday night and Saturday. The teachers were the writer of these lines, and Mr. D. Boyarski. The courses lasted for about two years. In the second year, there were two classes. The studies included: Hebrew language and literature (the works and the study of literature), Jewish history, the geography of the Land of Israel, Zionism, festivals and holidays, etc. In order that the youth would become accustomed to speaking Hebrew also outside the hours of lessons, we established a minyan for Hebrew speakers on Shabbatot and festivals in the girls' school. The meetings on every Shabbat morning were for a blessing, and served to encourage Zionist activity. On festivals, festive parties would be held after prayers. The main party was held on Simchat Torah.
The growing Zionist activity aroused the opposition of the Bundists, who brought propagandists from the outside. There were stormy arguments, but we had the upper hand, because the Zionist spirit that prevailed in the city encouraged our debaters, and their words that came from the emotional heart aroused a storm of agreement from the congregation. In light of their success, our association also began to bring propogandists from outside, and the ferment was tremendous. There came on the agenda a plan to open a Hebrew kindergarten. There were also those who dreamed of a Hebrew gymnasium. Hebrew performances were held, and the cantor's son, Volf Ratner, organized a choir from the students in the courses, and they sang very pleasantly at the parties.
At that time, a few students from the course went to study in the Hebrew gymnasium in Mariampol and Kovno. In those days, information was publicized in the newspaper that the Hebrew gymnasium in Jerusalem was interested in opening a guest house next to the gymnasium for students from outside of the land, and it was desired that its proprietor would be a teacher who could help the students. This matter enchanted us, my wife and me. We presented ourselves as candidates and received a positive reply. We published an announcement in the press that we were accepting youths for the guest house that we were about to establish, and that they would go up with us to the land of Israel. From Augustów about ten youths registered. Suddenly the war broke out, and the whole thing was cancelled.
With the outbreak of war, all the Zionist activity was finished, but the deep plowing that was done in the prior years gave its fruit.
|From right to left: M. Lap, Liza Aleksandrovitz, M. Stolar, A. Chalupitzki, Channah Chalupitzki,
M. Stein, Alter Aleksandrovitz, Genya Rosianska, Z. Sheinmar, Z. Kentzuk
After the completion of the First World War and with the arrival of the information that there existed a possibility to go up to the land, a group of ten people in our city was organized for aliyah. As secretary of the Zionist association, and the organizer of the group, I travelled to the aliyah bureau in Warsaw with the list of the members and the required documents. After standing in line for a few hours, I was received by Mr. M. Marminski (Marom). He told me clearly, after looking at the list of members, that only tradesmen receive entry permits for the land. That is to say - builders, carpenters, plasterers, white-washers, shoemakers, tailors, and the like; every one of them needed to have a certificate of permission from the guild (the Tradesmen's Union of a particular profession), to show that he was a certified tradesman and a member of the guild. Marminski returned all the documents to me, and added: If you want your group to travel in the up-coming convoy, tomorrow before noon you have to present at the bureau certificates signed with the approval of the guild according to the law. I answered with agitation: Is that possible? Isn't the trip to Augustów and back a matter of two days and how?... Mr. M. calmly interrupted my words and said: I didn't say how to do it, but what to do. Go and do it!
I did it, although in fear and worry, because there was no one to guide me as to whom to turn to in carrying out this task. By chance I turned to the respectable Jews. I wandered around in the streets and I found a Jew that makes seals sitting alone in the shop. At my request he showed me examples of the seals of the guilds and I ordered five or six various professions. I also found a Jewish office for writing and duplication. The following day at 10 in the morning, I stood in line to hand in the documents. Mr. M received me with a smile and said: Be ready! When you get a telegram from us you must come immediately. The telegram was received after a few days, and they all went up except me! The members of my wife's family blockaded the house and announced that they would not let me travel to a land of desolation, diseases, and plagues and I did not travel. From then on, I did not know a resting place for my soul. I walked around as if in a daze. My wife saw my depressed mood; she came to me and said: Go! I went secretly without even parting from the family.
On 22 Tammuz, the ship anchored in Jaffa Harbor with about 300 immigrants from Alexandria to the land of Israel. From Trieste to Alexandria, we travelled on a large beautiful ship; in Alexandria, we sat for a week without a connection to transportation to the land of Israel, because the ship-owners were worried about the danger of mines that floated in the Mediterranean Sea from the days of the World War. Finally, the owner of an old tiny ship, with no minimum amenities, agreed to bring us to the land. Many people warned us, and also the bureau did not hide their concern from us about the danger involved in this trip. But not one of the immigrants was deterred. We sailed and arrived safely.
After I spent a few days in Tel-Aviv, I went up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, the ancient historic city. From Jerusalem, I travelled to the group of people from Augustów, in Merchaviah, which served as a place for agricultural training, the vestibule for settlement. We were not yet engaged in agriculture itself. For the time being we dismantled old buildings that interfered with the agricultural area, we dug ditches, laid water-pipes from the well of the Merchaviah cooperative to the Merchaviah Moshav, which was about a kilometer away from us. The relationship between us was good. They guided us in the work, and the women taught us cooking and baking. The training group at that time numbered about thirty people.
After the festival of Sukkot, we received instructions to leave the place, because the training had been terminated. They transferred us to the Afula road, under the administration of HaPoel HaTzair. The first course of our first meal (and all the remaining ones too), was quinine. We did contract work; the young women broke the large rocks into gravel, and we, the young men, dug ditches. Our allowance for food, drink and lodging amounted to about 20 grush a day. The ground in this period, at the end of the summer, was very hard, we were unable to earn from our work, in spite of all our physical efforts, the 20 grush a day… The deficit continued to grow. The days of rain came; three days of torrential rain came down, accompanied by stormy winds, without letup. The tents collapsed. The bread supplied to us by Moshav Tel Adashim did not arrive, because of the swamp that stood between the moshav and the road. Only on the fourth day, when the ground began to dry a little, we climbed the hills and went up to Nazareth, where we bought some pita and the like.
When we again began to work, the ground was as soft as butter and the productivity of our work increased significantly. We covered our debts, and there remained some left over in our favor. Our group organized itself for the purpose of settling did not want to continue with the road work. We hoped that we would attain settlement, so we decided to look for a suitable place for agricultural training. In my hands was a letter of recommendation to Mr. Chaim Margolit- Kaloriski, and he gave me a letter to Mr. Eizenberg, the manager of the groves in Rechovot. Mr. Eizenberg received me graciously
and agreed to accept all of us for work. All of our group then moved to Rechovot except one, Zalman Bezant, may his memory be for a blessing, who had died in Merchaviah from yellow fever. In Rechovot the situation of the Hebrew workers was no better. A few citrus growers hired only Jewish workers, while others employed a few Jews and many Arabs. But the lion's share of the citrus growers the foot of a Jewish worker did not step on their property. Also in the orchards under Eizenberg's management there was intermingled work. The work was exhausting; at the head of the row stood a strong Arab used to working with a hoe. In order not to cause pleasure for the Arabs and shame to our brothers, we exerted ourselves with our last reserves of strength and we did not lag behind. After a few days, when the Arabs were convinced that we were not defeated, they slowed the pace of the work a little and gave us a break. The citrus growers who opposed Hebrew work composed a song:
Hear our voice, O Lord our God, oy, oy, oy.
Do not send here the pioneers, oy, oy, oy.
At half-past seven they go out to work, oy, oy, oy.
At half-past four they are already returning, oy, oy, oy.
Working, working, that's a year for them, oy, oy, oy.
If you don't believe go out and see, oy, oy, oy.
In those same days, The Association of Lithuanian Immigrants was formed for kibbutz settlement (they completed Kibbutz Degania ‘A’). I also joined that association, telling so to my wife. She responded that she would not go to a kibbutz, because she had no idea about agriculture, and demanded that I find work in the city. I moved, therefore, to Tel Aviv. I bought a pair of mules and a wagon and started to work, with a partner, in the port of Jaffa transporting building materials. We built a cabin with two rooms in the Bordani citrus grove today it is Tchernichovsky Street and a stable for the mules.
At Chanukah 5682  my wife, my eldest daughter Shulamit, our son Yisrael, and youngest daughter Bat-Tzion arrived in the land.
Tel Aviv in 1922 was a small town, next to the larger city of Jaffa. Herzl Street, the main street for walking and meeting people, and spending time in coffee houses, began at Ahad Ha'am Street and ended at Petach Tikvah Road. Across the street were orchards and Arab houses. The parallel road to Herzl Street was Nachlat Binyamin Road; its houses reached Gruzenberg Street. On Yehuda HaLevi Street, a few houses had already been built. In that street was the Chaskina kindergarten. A boys' school and a girls' school were located in Neve Tzedek. Bat-Tzion was registered in the Chaskina kindergarten. It was quite a long way, but she was nicely familiar with the way. Shulamit studied in the girls' school in Neve Tzedek and Yisrael, since he did not speak Hebrew was not accepted for school.
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