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[Page 232]

Some Personalities of Our City

 

In the Company
of Meir Meizler and Yaakov Frenkel

by Tz. Z. Weinberg

In the beginning of the fall of 1903, when I had only just moved the members of my family from the religious Ostrov to Augustow, and I breathed easier in the free atmosphere of the area, I found much interest in the company of new acquaintances, the salt of the earth, with whom I became acquainted. I connected with strong friendship with my neighbor Meir Meizler, the Hebrew teacher, whose house I lived across from, as if I had known him for a long time.

The fall and the winter passed for me with hard and exhausting work. My friends and acquaintances offered me private lessons, from which I supported myself with difficulty. The work was plentiful and the salary was small, and Meir Meizler guided me in the ways of instruction and human relations, how to teach and how to come into contact with people, and he became a guardian to me, and he was a help and useful to me. The essence of my strength was in the teaching of Tanakh and Aggadah[1] and works of literature. In the teaching of language and grammar I was more than a little lame, and each day before the lessons I prepared myself properly and with great effort. I was always worried that I would fail, and so, slowly, I completed my education in this profession also, and in my coming to teach I became a learner.

In the evenings, after difficult and exhausting work, and walking all over from house to house, and from the castigation of the comments from the mothers that supervised my lessons, I arrived home, towards evening, tired and broken. I ate my bread and lay down to rest. By the light of a candle, in my small room, I rose and shook myself off, took hold of the writers' pen, and the fever of writing entirely encompassed me, and liberated me from the bitterness of my day and from carrying my yoke, and in this way I sat and wrote until a late hour of the night.

I developed three stories at the same time, in the fall and winter, the first fruits of my labor, and together with a few things (unripe attempts, that I was able to show to the writer H.D. Numberg, a passing guest in Augustow, who supported them and said to me in these words: “young man, you have talent…”) I hid them in my drawer, and I did not reveal them to any person, mostly because of my hesitations and my doubts, and I was embarrassed to articulate[2] that I was a writer.

On the festival of Purim, I was invited, me and my wife, to the house of Meir Meizler. We spent an extended time there. After the hearty feast and lively conversation with the company, the group split; the women sat apart on the sofa, and continued with the conversation that was pleasant for them, and Meizler and I went into the other room, and exchanged words on the matters of our profession, teaching, and we touched also on matters of literature. To my great surprise Meizler opened his bookcase, and on its shelves manuscripts were placed, packaged and bound in tens, one upon the next, and with a sarcastic joke, slightly tipsy, he commented to me, with the bitterness of his soul, that all these

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writings, which my eyes were seeing, he had sent more than once to various publishing houses, but he had not succeeded in publishing them; they sent them back. Oh well – he concluded with a bitter laugh – these evil ones did theirs, and I do mine. I don't despair at all…” And in the middle of this, he took out of the stack of his writings an edition of HaTzefirah,” bound nicely in thin white paper, opened it and spread it out before me “Here, finally, I won” - he said like a victor – “they printed one of my big articles, and the readers were full of enthusiasm from it.”

Because of my manners I read the article in its entirety. Meir Meizler sat across from me and peered at me, and did not take his eyes off me, and when I finished the reading, I said what I said to praise him, and he clapped his hands and his eyes

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gleamed, and radiated satisfaction at my words, and he added and said: “here you see, the rest of the articles are also not inferior to this… but nevertheless…” he sighed and did not finish, and he drank an additional glass of liquor to banish his sorrow.

 

Aug234a.jpg
 
aug234b.jpg
The Writers Yaakov Frenkel and Tz. Z. Weinberg (1904)
 
From right to left: The writer Tzvi Zevulun Weinberg,
Meir Meizler, Moshe Ber Eizenstadt, Shmuel Weinberg (1904).

 

We sat for a long time, until a late hour of the night, and we conversed out of good-heartedness and friendly connection, and when I rose to go, while I was standing on the threshold, there escaped from my mouth, unintentionally, a restrained utterance: “I too write sometimes, I too have manuscripts, but I have not yet sent them anywhere…” When Meir Meizler heard this, he did not let go of me; he accompanied me to my house, and I was compelled in the dead of night to search for my writings and put them in his hands for reading.

On the next day, in the afternoon, Shushan Purim[3], I turned aside again to Meir Meizler's house just to visit,

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as was my way, since there was also a free day from learning, and incidentally, I was in a hurry to hear his opinion on my writing, which I had turned over to him the day before, and I found in his company the chazzan of the town, whom I had met a long time ago, and he was an educated man and a lover of books, and the two of them as one received me with a shout and compliments, and mentioned with praise my story that they had read together, before my arrival, and they advised me to publish it without delay.

I sat in their company thrilled and confused[4], and agitated by their good words, and dubious within myself, lest these friends of mine had exaggerated, and when I sent these stories of mine to a publication, then it would happen that their fate would be like the fate of Meir Meizler's writings. I considered and I restrained my spirit and I did not answer at all. At last I girded strength and I said to them that I was not able to send my writings to a publication, because I feared the great disappointment when they sent my writings back. When they heard my words, the two of them burst out into laughter, and they continued and took counsel between them, and they arrived at a conclusion that these writings should be transmitted to the merchant Yaakov Frenkel, a permanent resident of Augustow, and they would hear what he had to say. I agreed to their suggestion.

This Yaakov Frenkel was known to me. Immediately upon my arrival in Augustow I heard about him a lot. I read something in his books (his translation of “The History of Beliefs and Ideas” and his “Chronicles”). I also encountered his name in various periodicals. In Augustow, there were those who interpreted him for praise and also for reproach. They lauded his ability, his intelligence and his understanding, and criticized his stubbornness, his rigidity, and his vindictiveness, in his book of polemic that he published against his rivals. I saw him a few times on the streets and next to his shop (his wife's manufacturing shop), and also sometimes I stopped by his house to his daughters, in my wife's name, who befriended them, and I peeked into his room, when he was sitting bent over his books and his papers, next to his table, studying, pondering and writing. I felt an internal agitation, a kind of reverence, in my peeking at him; this is what a Hebrew writer looked like in my eyes, sitting on the birthstool[5] in his hidden corner. When he would get up and pass to its end, from his room to the kitchen, and saw me in his daughters' presence, and didn't say anything, and his sparkling eyes as if really redeeming me, I became confused and I hastened to leave the house. He was exalted in my eyes, and I humbled myself to stand in his presence.

Many days went by, and I did not receive any information about my writings that were in his hand. Meir Meizler too did not know what to say: “He is not in a hurry to read” he added “he is busy with his own, there is no hurrying him, this is his way, and it is forbidden to bother and annoy him…” I bit my flesh with my teeth[6] and remained silent, and I didn't ask him again.

A few days after that, Rosa, Yaakov Frenkel's youngest daughter, in talking with my wife, divulged… “I forgot entirely… Father requested that you stop by to see him…” I heard, and my heart pounded inside me, and I thought a lot about the appointed meeting. Quaking I entered Yaakov Frenkel's house, and he rose to greet me, received me hospitably, brought me into his room, seated me across from him, with prolonged deliberateness took my writings out of his drawer, felt them a little, as if weighing their quality, and placed them in my hands. “The stories are written with ability” – he said – “but they are full of mistakes and more than a few flaws…” I lowered my head, and he added “continue, continue to write…you have your own style, and in the end you will succeed…” These last words of his encouraged me. I lifted my head, and I looked straight at him: tucked into the armchair, dressed in a morning robe, the hair of his head graying, his short beard black and gray, he sat before me like an old hunchback, entirely shrunken, as if a chill gripped him, and his high forehead and his inspecting eyes directed at me: “nice, nice” he ended softly – “I have no doubt, you have ability… but it is not enough…you must learn…learn…read a lot…and acquire much information…”

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We parted in friendship. His unyielding tension softened as he stood on the threshold to accompany me, but he did not ask me to stop by to see him again. I heard from Meir Meizler that he spoke favorably of me, but I did not again come into contact with him alone. I encountered him many times on the street, I blessed him with peace, and it was like he veered away to pass by, and did not stop at all. An extended time passed in this way. On one of the days his daughter Roza again informed me that her father requested that I come to him. This time he received me really with warm-heartedness, as if a new light was radiating on him, talked with me at length, asked me in detail about the progress of my work in teaching and writing, made his comments with light humor and good advice. At last, incidentally, he told me the purpose for which he had summoned me: “he had received an invitation from the well-known writer Ben Avigdor[7] to participate in a new newspaper “HaZman,” a daily and monthly newspaper, which was about to come out soon in Vilna. He sees, therefore, that he has a pleasant obligation to include my stories that he read a long time ago, in sending his writings to the publication, but that I had to bring them to him together with the additional things that I had written, in order for him to proofread them in advance and prepare them appropriately before sending them for their document.”

I was filled with joy after his words, and I became a regular visitor in his house. He sat with me many hours, and he passed his quill over my writing, and did this with pleasure and fury. When he found some expression appropriate or a sentence as it should be, he shriveled with sweet language and an easy breath: “nice, nice, so, so…” And when he encountered a mistake or linguistic flaw, he got angry: “How, young man? How do you write?… This is absolutely not Hebrew…” And when once he found a linguistic distortion, he laughed out loud, and turned to me with his sharp disparagement: “How, young man, how do you confuse the creatures? On the street, I often see you, you know how to distinguish between male and female… you know well how to follow the pretty girls… and here, here in your writing, you are not precise at all… male and female, the two of them are as one, equal in your eyes…is that possible!!??”

I left him in good spirits, my writings in my hand, in order to copy them over cleanly, and transmitted them to him a second time in order to send them to the publication “HaZman.” Full hours of the night I sat and copied, and I trembled over every letter and word, to copy them correctly. When I had finished everything, I hurried to Yaakov Frenkel's house, and trembling, gave him the copies. He sat across from me, in his usual way, relaxed, studied my writing and read, read them silently and aloud, and I did not take my eyes off him. I sat like a sentenced person waiting for his judgement. When he finished, he lifted his face, looked at me with wonder, and chuckled: “How, how, young man? Letters like these?!…Lilliputians! Tiny letters!! The editors will poke out their eyes to read them!” He leafed through the pages again, leafed, until he arrived at the last page, and suddenly he burst out in laughter: “so, so, what signature?! What length?! Really a long Sephardi name, long, Tzvi Zevulun Weinberg… what letters! And what size?! Here, inside, small, small, really midgets… and here, at the end, big, big, gigantic really, Tzvi Zevulun Weinberg… you should be ashamed of yourself, young man, is that how one writes?!…”

I shame-facedly took my writings back, and sat again for full nights to copy them over, scrupulously making sure that they were copied and edited according to their proper format, in average writing, according to Frenkel's instructions, and I signed my name with the abbreviation “Tz. Z. Weinberg,” in small letters, so that it would not stand out so much. I brought all this to Frenkel, and gave it to him, with trembling hands. He checked my writing cursorily, cast an eye on the writing and on my signature, and laughed lightly, patted me on the shoulder, and was satisfied with my work.

I went out from him happy and goodhearted, and everything in me sang within me, but on the way and in my house

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my doubts gnawed at me, as was my way: “lest Frenkel regrets his decision, and doesn't send my writings… and if he sends them, who at the publication, will pay attention to them? And if they read them, who knows, what will be their fate? They will still send them back to me…so I mulled it over in my doubts, and my soul was disgusted.[8] Over a few days Roza, Frenkel's daughter, came into our house again, and in her hand a package of articles bound up for sending, and her father's letter, which she opened circumspectly out of curiosity, and her laughter filled her mouth. And this is approximately what Frankel wrote, in a summary of his letter to Ben Avigdor: “Surely my opinion of our fine literature, with which we stuff the Hebrew community, is known to you, which, as far as I'm concerned, is in the sense of permissible, and there is no need for it except that the community is enthusiastic about it, and you find interest in it. Here I add, therefore, the stories of the beginning writer Tz. Z. Weinberg, which from each and every line bursts forth great talent, and the material is good according to your taste…” I found great satisfaction these words of Frenkel's, and I calmed down. The company in my house joked about me and my “great talent” that Frenkel found in me, and caused me pleasure.

In my next visits to Frenkel, I pretended not to know about his letter to Ben Avigdor, I brought him new writings to read, and when I asked him, pretending innocence, if he had sent my stories to Ben Avigdor, he answered me with annoyance: “Well then what did you think, that I left them in my house?! Do you have a need for them?!” And he did not continue to speak with me further, read my new writings, went over them with his quill, and poured out on me the fullness of his complaints: “For what purpose is there to write with this kind of contempt, with mistakes like these? Why don't you take pains, young man, to learn something fundamental and write properly, surely there is talent in you, there is!” I did not tell him that I sat seven clean days[9] on everything that I turn over to him for reading. I knew that he would not believe me.

On one of these visits I found Meir Meizler in his house, sitting and discussing with him a thick notebook, that he had given him for reading, and Frenkel had dismissed his article. The purpose of dismissal: “I found nothing of value in it – he said – the Hebrew, however, is not bad, but aside from that there is nothing in it.”

“But Reb Yaakov” Meir Meizler argued to defend himself – “here, here” and pointed with his finger to one section in particular, which seemed much in his eyes, “here too, Reb Yaakov, will you say that there is nothing, here too?!” He concluded in amazement, and his face turned red.

But, Reb Meir, Reb Meir, Yaakov Frenkel answered after him, imitating his voice twice – you have put before me a bucket of water, and put into it a sugar cube, will it be sweet? Will it be sweet?! And he concluded his words with annoying laughter. Meizler's face was covered[10], and I turned my eyes away, so as not to see his failure, and I immediately left the room, as if hurrying on my way.

He was a lonely man, walking on his own path, and strange to the members of his household. His wife was exaggeratedly religious, bound to the synagogue and prayed every day, and he was a freethinker, an apikores. His foot did not step into the prayer house, except on Yom Kippur. His daughters were blossoming scholars, and his mind did not rest from them. Every day he would rise early, enter the nearby tea house, review the newspapers and return home. He would eat his meal, and seat himself next to the table, and hours upon hours he would sit and read and write. Only towards evening he would go outside, take a walk, annoy the loafers, and at their posts he would pass the townspeople under the whip of his tongue, those who were hateful to him,[11] and with special venom he would pour the bitterness of his contempt and ridicule on

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these “stammering faces and twisted backs” with his nicknames for those who were dear to him, to the enjoyment of the listeners, and take leave of them for his walk quiet and calm, as one who had fulfilled his task properly.

I accompanied him on these walks of his more than once, for it was not comfortable for me to disturb him a lot in his house, and he would receive me willingly, and his conversation was gurgling like a babbling spring, and with his sharp expression he harshly criticized world champions and men of letters. He was especially angry and complained about Frishman, who praised Nietzsche and interpreted his words: “this crazy person, with the torturous distorted mind, the degenerate of the 19th century, he is our Yoreh Deah?![12] He is a paragon for us?!” And he concluded with a sting: “we were influenced by the beauty, the beautiful one of Yafet[13], and if this beautiful one of his is anointed[14] with poison[15], he destroys all of our good part in literature and in life.”

On one of the Shabbatot I came out of the synagogue, on my way home, and Frenkel encountered me and stopped me. He was in a happy mood, and took up his message on nation and humanity as one, and he spoke trembling on the believers who followed in vain and hurled scathing words about the synagogue and those who come to pray within it, and he struck with the staff of his mouth the people of the east and the west as one, and suddenly he glanced at me and discerned my weak position in relation to him, and immediately he changed his tune and added: “these words are not spoken towards you…you appear in my eyes to be honest and a true believer… go, therefore, on this path of yours, and may God be with you…only these…those who trade in God and faith as one…they are abhorred by me, and I am unable to tolerate them and their faith as one…”

I was confused in all my meetings with him, and I was embarrassed to ask him about the fate of my writings. In the meantime, I stood for the army exam and I was released from service, but I was stuck there with a pox illness, and I became very ill, and I was confined to my bed for many, many, months, and when I recovered and recuperated and got out of my bed, I sat and I studied the stories that had then been published in various places, and I compared my stories to them. I did not find that they were inferior to the ones that I read, and I wondered about their delay. I therefore wrote a letter to Frenkel, and I asked him if he had received any information regarding my writing, and he answered me sharply: “Don't you have patience? Do you really think that there at the publication, they have no other matters, only to attend to your writing?!” I became silent and did not ask him again. I carried the pain inside, and the doubt about the value of my writing consumed me.

A few more weeks went by, and when I went outside for the first time after my protracted illness, on Shabbat in the morning, leaning on my stick, and all of me throbbing and tipsy from the clear air, I ran into an acquaintance of mine, who informed me that my first story had been published in “HaZman.” I hurried to his house to see the printed edition, and when my acquaintance held the edition out to me, the headline became blurry before my eyes, (the publication had changed my story “The First Theft” to another name, “Experience.”) I turned red and pushed the edition away from myself, because I did not believe that this was my story. My acquaintance held up the newspaper, and the first lines were revealed to the eye, and I recognized that they were mine, and joy and trembling gripped me, and I dropped onto the chair from much weakness, and when I came home I was again confined to my bed for upwards of two weeks.

From an abundance of confusion and a lack of faith in myself, I rushed a letter to the “HaZman” publication, inquiring as to the fate of the rest of my stories that were in their hands, and I concluded more or less with this: “and if it is the case that they are not worthy of publication, they should be so kind as to return them to me and let me know the reason for their disqualification.” I immediately received a response from one “Domachevitzky” that the second story would come soon, in the edition of the coming Shabbat, and the third, although he had not yet read it, indeed was sure

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that he would find it, too, fit to publish in “HaZman.” He invited me to participate regularly in “HaZman,” and praised the fitness of my writing. From much excitement and exhaustion of energies, after my protracted illness, I became ill again and fell into my bed for a number of days. When I recovered, and went outside, I stopped by Frenkel's house, and showed him Domachevitzky's letter, and he figured out for me the name of the writer, who was the writer Bershadski[16]. He read his letter forwards and backwards, lowered his head, and sighed: “So, so…” He moaned and said, as if speaking to himself “that's it, that's it, that's what's necessary for them, not true works of literature, but short stories.” He almost did not look at me, and I felt a sort of envy in this, his whispered grumbling, and I was embarrassed to remain in the presence of the man, who had been charitable to me, and had done much on my behalf, and it was as if I had been made a competitor to him. I parted from him hastily, and went away from him disappointed, and my conscience troubled me.[17]

From then on, I avoided extraneous meetings with him, and when, occasionally, I met him by chance, I turned the conversation to various matters, and I did not touch on matters of literature at all, and he too avoided speaking about it, as if he was afraid to wound me, and to touch his pain.

Meanwhile, my material situation in Augustow had been significantly weakened and deteriorated drastically. I really did not have bread, I and the members of my household, and I made efforts to move to the district city of Suwalk, where there were many opportunities for me to get sorted out. From an abundance of busy-ness and negotiation on the matter of the move to Suwalk, I neglected meetings with friends and did not visit anyone. And Frenkel, I almost did not see at all. Only before my departure did I go in to part from him, and I was shocked at his appearance. His grim face and his dulled eyes cast terror on me. He sat across from me hunched and withdrawn into himself, and he spoke with me only a little. I hurried to part from him warmly, and I thanked him for all the good that he had done for me, and he extended his hand coldly, and dull indifference slid off his face. I left his house with heartache.

In Suwalk additional details about him became known to me. He was sick with an illness that would not leave him again. The aging and the forgetfulness jumped on him in one stroke, and his mind became faded. He went about despondent all the days, found his shelter in the tea shop that was next to his house, quiet and abandoned and hidden in his corner, sunk in the newspapers that were before him, and when he recovered a little he poured out before those whose encountered him the bitterness of his anger on the order of the world and its inhabitants. In this way, he continued day after day, until the years of the First World War, when death came and redeemed him from all his troubles.

Tel Mond, 5725 [1965]


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. “Telling,” which refers to non-halakhic rabbinic exegetical texts, in the Talmud and in works of Midrash. Aggadah (sometimes “Haggadah”) is a corpus of rabbinic texts that includes folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and practical advice in various spheres. Return
  2. Literally, to raise to the door of my lips. Psalms 141:3 “O Lord, set a guard over my mouth, a watch at the door of my lips;” Return
  3. The holiday of Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the month of Adar, but the sages instituted that Shushan residents perpetually observe Purim on the 15th of Adar–the day when the Jews of Shushan celebrated. The 15th of Adar is hence known as “ Shushan Purim.” Return
  4. There is a little Purim humor here, for in the Book of Esther we read (3:14) “The king and Haman sat down to feast, but the city of Shushan was confused.” Return
  5. Exodus 1:16 “…When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool…” Return
  6. The equivalent of “I bit my tongue.” Return
  7. Pen-name, Avraham Leib Shalkovich, Russian Hebrew novelist and publisher; born in Zheludok, Vilna, in 1867. Return
  8. Job 10:1 “I am disgusted with life…” Return
  9. Referring to the full week that a woman waits after seeing a drop of menstrual blood before she can immerse in the mikvah and resume sexual relations. Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 31a “The daughters of Israel were stringent with themselves; to the extent that even if they see a drop of blood corresponding to the size of a mustard seed she sits seven clean days for it…” Return
  10. Or, downcast. Esther 7:8 “…No sooner did these words leave the king's lips than Haman's face was covered.” Return
  11. 2 Samuel 5:8 “On that occasion David said, “Those who attack the Jebusites shall reach the water channel and [strike down] the lame and the blind, who are hateful to David…” Return
  12. The Teacher of Knowledge; the names of one of the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, containing laws about kashrut, religious conversion, mourning, laws pertaining to Israel, and family purity Return
  13. Yafet is the youngest son of Noah, Genesis 5:32. His name is a form of the word “beautiful. He is also considered to be the forebear of the Europeans, and therefore their thought as well. Return
  14. The Hebrew words “anointed” and “destroy” sound very similar, and one can hear the play on words in the Hebrew. Return
  15. A pun. The Hebrew word for “beautiful one” is also the word for belladonna, a poisonous flower. Return
  16. Isaiah Bershadsky (1872-1908) born Isaiah Domachevitzky, was a Russian novelist. Return
  17. Psalms 16:7 “I bless the LORD who has guided me; my conscience troubles me at night.” Return


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The Compositions of Yaakov Frenkel

  1. “The Natural Inheritance” (Warsaw 5659 [1899]). Published by Tushiah. It discusses the foundations and laws of inheritance and its relationship to Jews and Judaism.
  2. “My Region 3” (Warsaw 5660 [1900]). Published by Tushiah. The story of his life and scientific activities.
  3. “Nikolai Copernicus” (Warsaw 5660 [1900]). Published by Tushiah. It tells about the story of his life and his scientific activities. Translated from foreign language sources with changes and additions.
  4. “The History of the Jews,” a popular history for the nation and the youth. This publication of his in its six parts (he composed them while he was dwelling in Lodz) is the crowning glory of his literary work. In its time, the book won enormous distribution and was learned in schools of “Hebrew in Hebrew” and in improved cheders. Yaakov Frenkel was assisted in this important work of his by the books of the researchers of the history of Israel written in foreign languages and in Hebrew, however in many matters he was reliant on his own judgement, from his own unique point of view, without being too enslaved to the knowledges of sages who preceded him (from the words of his introduction to this book of his, Part 1).
    Part 1 (Tushiah Publication Warsaw, 5657 [1897]), from the first days of the nation until the Babylonian exile;
    Part 2 (Tushiah Publication, 5658 [1898]), from the Babylonian exile until the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus;
    Part 3 (Tushiah Publication, 5658 [1898]), from the days of the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus until the destruction of the Second Temple;
    Part 4 (Tushiah Publication, 5661 [1901]), from the destruction of the Second Temple to the completion of the Talmud;
    Part 5 (Tushiah Publication, 5662 [1902]), from the period after the completion of the Talmud to the rabbinic period;
    Part 6 (Tushiah Publication, 5668 [1908]), from the period of the latter Babylonian Geonim to the persecutions in the period of the carriers of the Cross.
  5. “What is Death” an investigation into the teaching of life (Odessa 5654 [1894]).
  6. “The Railroad: Its Invention and Development” Warsaw 5683 [1923].
  7. “The Jews in Lodz” Warsaw 5654 [1894].
  8. A Translation of “The History of Faiths and Ideas” of A. Menses, 5659-5661 [1899-1901].
His Articles in “HaTzefirah

1876, Edition 11,12, 26-28, 34-35, 36-37, 43-44, 50.
1877, Edition 3-4, 7. 9-10, 18, 33-48.
1878, Edition 13-14, 16, 18, 48-49, 51.
1879, Edition 27-32, 34-35.
1882, Edition 12; 1884 Edition 2.


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A Candle for the Soul
of the Teacher Meir Meizler

A Penny

by Tz. Z. Weinberg

Melman was short-statured and potbellied; his face was swollen and somewhat embarrassed; he had gaping, flashing eyes. His shoulders lifted up, thrusting his head and short beard upwards, and with his constricted movements it was as if he immersed himself in his poor value. In teaching – he was accustomed to tyrannize his students with force, and in the loan business, he was in a hurry for each and every penny that left his possession to the pockets of his customers. Indeed, the minute that a penny of the fund returns to him with an additional agora in interest, or when a student pays tuition in full, then his eyes shine and well up with tears of joy, his shoulders lift higher, and enjoyment of his existence, radiating in his humble ways, stretches over all the lines of his face.

He loves nature. A pleasant meadow, a lovely flower, a bird mating, excite him. He loves literature. A fitting idiom and an apt expression capture his heart. Sometimes when he is teaching his students and he reaches a chapter of piyyutim[1] in the Tanakh, or one of the poems that is beloved to him, then he forgets his “heads of cabbage” (a nickname for his students), his “loathsome penny” (a nickname for his business), and his voice erupts and pours out his feelings with enthusiasm, to the point of forgetting the essence. His excessive weakness for the fair sex is known. The shape of a delightful woman, the rustling of the hem of a dress, a captivating glance, distract him. And it happens that when one of the poor women who is indebted to him, the glowing ember of her beauty and former femininity dimmed, in bondage to him and exploited by him to the point of depression and resentment, places her last penny in his hand, when she reveals her naked arm from under her worn-out garment, and a spark of hidden beauty flashes before his eyes, then Melman expresses his interest, and his eyes are nourished by a burning excitement from the fading beauty in the filthy garb and the confusion of worry, and he softens and speaks with her pleasantly and forgoes also several of his pennies. But this feeling changes quickly. When the woman just moves away, and the coins are rolling around on the table, his eyes are immediately kindled, and with trembling hands he makes the precious coins dance, and all his senses and attention are on the reverberating sound in the room.

“Sound! Sound! All the world was created for just this sound!”

Melman was entirely different, when he left his house for their daily walk accompanied by his friend Globerman. Then he would break off himself the teacher's yoke, and the troubles of his business, and enjoy himself in God's world in the lap of nature.

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In the forest, outside of the city, he is encouraged and shakes off of himself the dust of secularity and the filth of the city, devotes himself to his inner world and communes with his hidden wishes, which yearn for a different shade of life, except for grace and beauty and the elevation of the soul. In this hour, when he is suddenly reminded of his status and his function among people, as a teacher and as a lender at interest, an enormous nausea about himself encompasses him, and he accidentally lets words slip from his mouth: “Uch, life…”

And he turns to his friend Globerman with a dull voice: “how strange is the person, who doesn't live according to his nature, or the inclination of his spirit…”

However, in a moment he recovered, shot his gaze at the surroundings, and was distracted by all this, and returned to equilibrium. A joyful spirit returned to him, and he patted his friend's shoulder with his usual cheerfulness, as if becoming reconciled with his fate and making peace with his deeds and his role.

“mmm…. Let it be so…” indeed as if agreeing with himself.

And he continued his walk with his friend, as if cutting himself off from the dirty reality, and as if sweetening with it the bitterness of his day. His conversations about life and nature were mostly abstract, covering over internal pressure and profound pain, superficial and not touching straight on, as if deliberately covering up the missing essence. Therefore, Globerman was not surprised at all when he heard once from his friend Melman a bitter lament from which an echo of deep despair erupted, like a person who has nothing more to lose. One relinquishment, that one let go of a firm debt, was that which crushed him to the brink of despair, and like the confession of a deathly ill person, Melman pushed it aside before his friend, this tragedy a portion from the scroll of his life.

“I almost didn't know my parents. My father educated me until the twelfth[2] year, and, because of the reduction of income, sent me from his house, “to worry for my sustenance and to create for myself a path in life.” With his blessing, and provisions for the journey,[3] my father aspired for my future, in which he would see me “an exalted man.” I went out to the big world alone and abandoned, by myself. I passed through many places in the land. Wandering nights and days of hunger found me. I withstood the troubles and terrors of the world, and I did not believe my father's words, that at some time I would be “an exalted man.”

From where? From the bad days, from the pressure of hunger and lack? In all the days of my wandering I struggled to reach some position, any kind of livelihood. I clung to small[4] teaching, and in free time I learned and I added to my knowledge. When I tasted the first taste of profits, an intense desire was aroused in me to add to them and to strengthen my situation. The first coins were for me a source of hope, consolation, and amusement. My hands stirred within the piles of the dinars[5] that accumulated on my table, and I played with them incessantly for full hours. I did this, of course, silently, at night, so that no one would see me in my corruption.[6] And in order to add[7] penny to penny and increase my fortune, on many days I became a lender at interest.”

Melman stopped speaking, peered at his companion with watery eyes, and added:

“And as you are of the opinion that these two issues are pleasant to me, the exhausting teaching, which sucks the marrow of the bones, and the business of interest, which removes the image of God from a person's face …but there is no choice, my friend…I became a lender at interest, and I engage in this work diligently…I know how to keep on hand and to guard the penny…and if only everything within me would protest, and regret reproach me bitterly, it is impossible to remove from my heart that there is something more important in life and of greater value than the penny…”

He fell silent, threw a penetrating look, and suddenly turned his face to his companion and continued:

[Page 243]

“And worse than this is the psychological rift…the same perpetual unrest and the strange desire that sometimes entirely agitates you internally, changing from one end to the other and to turn the entire bowl upside down…[8] for after all these what do I have in life, and who do I have? The penny…indeed, without it there is nothing in life, but as far as I'm concerned this is only a deception of the eyes,[9] a kind of lying divination,[10] isn't it so that I do not have any control over it, complete control over it…don't you see how I live and by what I live? And the rest, the rest…my family life…my Miriam, I don't delude myself …this is not what I prayed for…not this…”

His voice began to quiver.

“But nevertheless, there were days…I always hated the ugliness, especially in a woman. I too was not attractive. But when I captured the heart of a young woman, and I myself did not know because of what, consider well…[11] When I learned in the yeshiva, I lodged in a house where there was a young woman whose memory until now has not disappeared from my heart. The curls of her hair were black as a smith,[12] her eyes were breathtaking, as profound as the Holy of Holies,[13] and when she spoke grace spilled from her lips, and great sweetness in all the limbs of her body. Her love, I pondered in dreams and when awake, and I said to myself, that only her would I take for a wife. I befriended her and I pledged allegiance to her, and she, she too returned love to me. I still remember her conversations, her glances, and her encounters. I was happy. I imagined that this would go on forever. But…here too the hand of the penny remained in the middle, together with my great love a bitter thought clung to me, as if casting lead, that turned my feelings to stone and spoiled my happiness: “entirely without a dowry, it is not possible.” And since her parents were miserably poor, my love died and slowly faded away, and the package broke apart…”

His voice was strangled by his suppressed groan, he took a breath and added:

“And this wife of mine, my Miriam, as you think, they did not deceive me? They offered before me this “mine,” they dropped her dowry on the table, they set up a household. My eyes were drawn to the blue papers and the gleam of the dinars. They counted the money into the hand of the trustee. The rest, the trustee guaranteed. They transmitted a document of debt in my presence. They celebrated the wedding celebration with mazal.[14] And after the wedding, when I demanded what was coming to me, they ridiculed me and my naivete. Even the trustee laughed at my destruction. He was in full agreement with them, as was the custom. And a greater evil than this – the wife and the mother-in-law. The two of them fell to my lot, in one stroke. Wasn't mine beautiful… while her mother was incomparably ugly. Nausea assailed me upon seeing her face, at the times when she spoke moral reproaches to me. But finally I became reconciled. For why should I still be a complaining fool? They added for me years of “keset” (food), and I agreed. My fund of money continued to grow larger. My Miriam helped me as a true woman of valor. Like me, she also knew to appreciate the penny. I was content with her, and children were born…”

“And in truth, isn't it the same. Beauty? Of course, this is a tremendous power. A beautiful wife, certainly this is happiness. Love? There is no doubt that this is an exalted emotion. But what – finally, it is all vapor.[15] None of these have honest contact with life. And in essence, it's the same thing,[16] indeed most of my years have already gone by, and if you say, my Miriam, also as a wife….nu,[17] do you know, it is possible to love her.”

He concluded. A kind of sour taste trickled in his throat, when he wrung out the final expression. His face reddened. His eyes sought a hiding place. He immediately moved his conversation to “The Confusing Trees” to “The Delicate Weather and the Sustainer of Souls” to “Nature, Which has in it Cures for All Suffering” its heart a profusion of colors

[Page 244]

and images, skipped from topic to topic, and again spoke about the value of beauty in human life. A tired pallor stretched across his cheeks, and his eyes burned.

“And what” he commented offhandedly, “my daughter, Channah, without this” he indicated the coin “would you be able to take to heart?”

And without expecting an answer he exaggerated with his glance, as if speaking with himself “the apple does not fall far from the tree…her nose…her eyes…like mother like daughter…my Channah is not at all beautiful…not like this one…not like this one…”

Again he patted his companion's shoulder, and alluded to his pain in his incidental comments, on the shrubs and the flowers that one encountered along the way. And suddenly, as if he felt the falsity of his words, he fell completely silent, and immersed himself in his ruminations, and communed with a section of one poem, which he repeated a number of times in a special tone:

For I have loved! And loved you faithfully!

Also when I returned from behind you

I did this from love…

In this way, he trudged along after his friend, repeating the section of his poem in his pleasant voice. When they came near to the city, Melman stopped, stood erect in his full height, and deepened in a whisper:

“What a loss…what a loss…ten promissory notes…worth 500 gold coins…business?! I have to “let loose” my Miriam…also Channah will go with her…the two of them as one…maybe they will somehow be useful…maybe they will rescue…they are daughters of valor…and their mouths with them…maybe…nunu…what a loss…oy, what a loss…”

 

The year 1909

There were two heads of families in the city: Kalzon and Goldshmid, whose affectionate nickname of the two of them was “Velvel.” One was swarthy, and the other, ashen. The eyes of the two of them sparked with fire. Kalzon was outstanding in his scholarliness and sharpness; Goldshmid in his quick wits and restraint. The one – thin and short, his eyes big and penetrating, his chin tuft was pointed and his peyot[18] were curled. “Velvel Stirkus” was his name. He was the father of the Kalzon family. The second – swarthy, illuminated by a majestic appearance, “Velvel the Black” was his name. He was the director of the Chevre Kadisha of the city.

The two of them were beloved by all the people. Many wanted to be near them. They would always sit in judgement between two people, in the role of chosen arbitrators. They would argue and debate with sharp and amazing skill, elegant and honest arbitrators, and increasing peace among Jews.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. A piyyut is a liturgical poem, from the Greek poietes, poem. The word is not usually used to refer to biblical poetry, but it is intelligible in its use here. Return
  2. Written in an unusual Aramaic form. Return
  3. Genesis 42:25 “Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, return each one's money to his sack, and give them provisions for the journey…” Return
  4. Aramaic. Return
  5. The dinar's historical antecedent is the gold dinar, the main coin of the medieval Islamic empires, issued in 696-697 CE by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. The word “dinar” comes from the silver “denarius” coin of ancient Rome, first minted about 211 BCE. Return
  6. Jews are not supposed to lend at interest to Jews, based on Exodus 22:24, and elaborated on extensively in rabbinic literature: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.” Return
  7. Numbers 32:14 “And now you, a breed of sinful men, have replaced your fathers, to add still further to the LORD's wrath against Israel.” Return
  8. Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 16a: “…Rava says: Job sought to turn the bowl upside down…” Return
  9. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b: “…One who deceives the eyes is exempt from punishment, but it is prohibited for him to do so….” Return
  10. Ezekiel 13:7 “It was false visions you prophesied and lying divination you uttered, saying, “Declares the LORD,” when I had not spoken.” Return
  11. This phrase appears in the Jerusalem Talmud but not the Babylonian Talmud, e.g. Megillah 25b, Chagigah 6a, Shekalim 23a:2, and more, as well as frequently in later rabbinic literature. Return
  12. There is no word in Hebrew or Aramaic spelled this way, or even anything close to it that makes sense. Phonetically it can read “smith” or “semite,” but neither really makes sense in this context, and neither is a Hebrew or Aramaic word. Return
  13. Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 7a: “…Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the High Priest, said: Once, on Yom Kippur, I entered the innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies, to offer incense…” Return
  14. Luck. Return
  15. Ecclesiastes 1:2 “Vapor of vapors –said Kohelet– vapor of vapors! All is vapor! Return
  16. Aramaic, appearing profusely throughout rabbinic literature. Return
  17. Yiddish for so? or well? Return
  18. Traditional Jewish men do not cut of the forelocks of their hair, based on Leviticus 19:27 “You shall not round off the corner of your head, or destroy the corner of your beard.” These forelocks are called “peyot,” corners. Return


[Page 245]

The Keinan Family

by Eliezer Markus

At the end of the previous century and the beginning of the present century, there lived in Augustow five households, who were known by the Jews of the city by the inclusive name: “The Keinan Family,” or by the nickname, as was the custom in the towns in those days, “The Tzarska Family.”[1]

The beginning of these five families were in a Jew, a man from Augustow by the name Leizer Keinan. He was the son of a baker, who also engaged in the selling of flour. In those days, they used to bring white flour from the areas of Kovno and Vohlin. For the purpose of diversification, he also would import salt and salted fish from Prussia. At the end of his days he also worked at the sale of fabrics and became a big “kol-bo.”[2] His commercial connections reached to Konigsberg in Prussia, Kovno which is in Lithuania, Lodz which is in Poland, and the Vohlin region, which is on the Ukrainian border.

He built a big house on the market plaza. In time the house became known as “Markus' Moyer[3] after the name of one of his sons-in-law.

Reb Leizer Keinan had six beautiful and successful daughters; he had no sons. When the daughters reached marriageable age, he married them off, according to the custom of those days, “royally.” To each of his sons-in-law he paid a respectable dowry, and connected him to his table.[4] After the completion of the days of “keset,”[5] he allotted each one a portion of his business.

Since he was wealthy and respected, he was fussy about the selection of his sons-in-law, who would have respectable ancestry and be Torah scholars. In this way five respected families were added to the Augustow community (one daughter went out with her husband to Grodno):

  1. Reb Yaakov Frenkel, a scholar, Maskil, writer, and historian.
  2. Reb Arieh Lap, a scholar and a merchant.
  3. Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus, a scholar who had rabbinic ordination, who was known as “the Ilui[6] from Kovno.
  4. Reb Zalman Leib Koptziovski, a scholar, Maskil, and merchant.
  5. Reb Shmuel Grosberg, a God-fearing teacher from a rabbinic family.
To the last three he turned over his big house, and a side house. In the side house there was one large room, the roof of which could be raised to turn it into a sukkah. During the festival of Sukkot he lived in the sukkah with his three sons-in-law. There they would take their meals, and also sleep in spacious beds.

Over time the big sukkah became one of the living spaces of the Orimland family, the owner of a store for medications.

With the years, the families of the sons-in-law of Reb Leizer Keinan grew.

The Frenkel house had five daughters and one son. The Lap house had three sons and two daughters. The Markus house had three sons and five daughters. The Koptziovski house had four sons and two daughters. The Grosberg house had four sons and four daughters.

The total of Reb Leizer's grandchildren was thirty-three.

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The son and the daughters of the Frenkel family acquired a general education. One of the daughters, Chava Frenkel, was known in the days of her youth as head of the propogandists of the “Bund” in the city, and participated in an active way in the revolutionary underground in the days of the rule of the Tsar. One of the daughters remained in Augustow and continued in her parents' fabric business. Her husband, Reb Sh. Chefetz, a man of Torah and enlightenment, was appointed afterwards as administrator of the Jewish cooperative bank, and served in this position until the Shoah.[7]

The Lap family engaged in the wholesale and retail grocery trade. The store passed afterwards to his son, Binyamin, and to his son-in-law Reb Tuvia Burak.

The Koptziovski family had a big store for iron, iron tools, and metal. All of the children received a Jewish and general education. All of them left the city- part for Lodz, and part for Moscow. Not even one of this family was left after the First World War.

At the end of his days, Reb Yisrael Grosberg bequeathed his business to his daughters, and went up to the land to grace its soil. He died and was buried in Tel Aviv, in the old cemetery.

I was named for Reb Leizer Keinan. My grandfather, Dovid Mordechai, who arrived in Augustow from Goldava, which is next to Kovno, was proficient in Talmud and verses, and all the city was blessed in him. Well-known rabbis used to visit him for the purpose of debate and advice. He was a good Jew, friendly, and was pleasant to everyone who turned to him. He administered his many businesses as a merchant in foodstuffs and also found time for his learning.

In his store, there was arranged a special lectern, on which a Gemara was always placed, or another book with interpretations, that he studied.

He was also accepted by all of the Christian population as an honest and God-fearing man. He also considered enlightenment studies to be important. The Chibbat Tzion movement was also close to his heart.

He saw to it that his eldest son, Chaim Yosef, also learned Russian, German, and French. In time, this son also became one of the administrators of the joint business of the family, and the administrator of the account books of the store. He was an educated man, humble, gentle, and “dwelt in the tent.”[8] He sent his second son, Binyamin, to the yeshiva of Volozhin, which was one of the well-known yeshivas in those days, and he was ordained for the rabbinate there. He also received additional general education in Russian and German.

My father Reb Binyamin was a sociable person, and active in the public life of the city. For many years, he was the head of the Zionist organization in Augustow, the head of “Tarbut,”[9] an activist in “Keren HaYesod,” and “Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael.” He was also one of the founders of the Jewish cooperative bank in the city, and the head of its administration. He was accepted by all echelons of the population, the educated and the simple folk alike.

With the death of Reb Meir Koifman, who gave the “lesson” in Talmud in the Beit Midrash, he filled his place. Sometimes he would lecture before the youth on Zionist topics.

His wife, Rachel, the daughter of Reb Yechezkel Berman, the owner of the leather factory in nearby Sapotzkin, was a quiet and modest woman, a diligent home worker and devoted entirely to the management of the many-person family household. She was compassionate and engaged in mitzvot, and giving in secret.[10] The two of them, my father and my mother, were exiled in the days of the Soviet conquest to the town of Suchovola, and remained there until the Nazi invasion. According to what was transmitted, they were transported to Treblinka and placed on the pyre.

The Markus house was open. Everyone was received with great hospitality. The house served

[Page 247]

as a meeting place and center for the various emissaries that would come to the city on behalf of the Zionist organization, Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, Keren HaYesod, etc.

Of the daughters of Reb Dovid Mordechai, the two sisters, Sarah and Chitza, were known to the Augustovi public. Sarah was very active in the family store, whereas Chitza was an active functionary in public institutions. For many years, she stood at the head of the council of the Jewish library, and was one of the founders and administrators of the “Linat Tzedek” society. With her aliyah to the land she worked as a nurse[11] in Hadassah Hospital in Haifa. She died at a good old age on 29 Adar, 5725 [1965].

Of the descendants of the Keinan family, there are grandchildren of Reb Leizer Keinan in the land:

From the house of Lap: one grandson, Dr. Menachem Burak, a chemist in Ramat Gan.
From the house of Koptziovski: one grandson, Zalman Rozenblum, an official in the electric company in Haifa.
From the house of Grosberg: one grandson, Chanun Kantzok, a merchant in Tel Aviv.
From the house of Markus: 6 grandchildren:
The sons of Reb Binyamin Markus:
Moshe Markus, a doctor of economics and political science;
Eliezer Markus, engineer, Tel Aviv.
The children of Regina Rabinovitz-Markus:
Dr. Ze'ev Rabinovitz, doctor, Haifa;
Nechemiah Rabinovitz, engineer, Tel Aviv.
Beila Greenstein, Haifa.
A daughter of Sarah Saperstein-Markus:
Liza Gonen, chemist.

 

Aug247a.jpg
 
aug247b.jpg
 
aug247c.jpg
Binyamin Markus
 
His wife, Rachel
 
Dovid Mordechai Markus,
his wife Beila of the house of Keinan,
their daughter Dr. Roza Markus

 

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Yiddish. Return
  2. Everything in it. Return
  3. Yiddish, “wall.” Return
  4. Agreed to provide his meals. Return
  5. Yiddish for “keep.” Return
  6. The Prodigy. Return
  7. Holocaust. Return
  8. Of Torah. Return
  9. Culture. The Tarbut movement was a network of secular, Hebrew-language schools in parts of the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Return
  10. The highest level of tzedakah, according to Maimonides, is when neither the giver nor the recipient knows who is giving or receiving. Return
  11. Literally, a merciful nurse. Return


[Page 248]

My Brother Sender

by Akiva Glikstein

My mother used to say: “Sender was born in a ketonet.”[1] That is to say, he was lucky.

When I was born my parents had 6 children: 3 sons and 3 daughters. Mother bore more, I do not know exactly how many. I only know that Sender, the oldest in the family – he was about 20 years older than me – was not the first-born. They used to mention sometimes a Reuvele and a Yankele, that were born before him, but they died when they were babies. When they mentioned one of them Mother would knock on the table with a fist and say: “It is forbidden to mention him, he is in the Garden of Eden.” I don't know if she didn't want to mention their names because it is forbidden to interfere with their rest there, or because she didn't want them to think that she did not protect them enough and because of that they passed from Gehenna, which is on the planet, to the Garden of Eden, a world that is all good. They used to tell about Sender that he was hard to teach, that he had a domineering manner. My father used to say that if only the Tsar had granted the same rights to the Jews that he had to the rest of the subjects, Sender would – lacking an education and having a fist – would have become a gendarme, a kind of “drezimordabroyzer of Gogol.[2] In his youth he used to spend his time playing cards. He did not want to help Father in his business. It is interesting that the one two years younger than him, Moshe, was exactly his opposite; he was Father's right hand, frugal and also enthusiastic, the only one among the sons. And he, specifically, did not have luck. Already in his first endeavors he lost the dowry that he had received, he had lost his energy, and after that he was a clerk for Sender. Apparently, Sender really was born with a ketonet. He began his career in the role of a construction contractor for the army. There were at that time military councils for building, as an example of these, that we had during the Mandate.[3] The head of the council was a general, his assistants – two-three officers, a military engineer, and a number of Sergeants and Corporals. The projects were awarded by auction. The steep prices and the work were fixed in a special booklet as standard prices. The contractor had to make it known what percentage of these prices he required. According to this method the contractor that made the cheapest offer won the work. It is understood that our brothers the Jews would “work it out” with a bribe and become rich. My father was an honest man, the opposite of Sender, and he would scream bloody murder about these “deals.”[4] He would say that they hate us not because of our offensive deeds; among the gentiles there are many more criminals. Rather, the gentile would be caught and receive his due - he would sit in prison. The Jew knows how to evade the punishment and continue his deeds. As an example Father would tell: in Russia there was a law, according to which, only sons[5] were exempt from military service. But if the Jew had a few sons, each one of them became an only son. The Jew would find another Jew who had no sons, and for a payment he would agree to adopt him as a son.

[Page 249]

So it was possible to encounter brothers from belly and birth, each of whom had a different family name. To the government this thing finally became known, and it nullified the law of only sons relative to the Jews. The exile turned us into people with a deformity from the aspect of the national manner. Because of this we decided to flee from there, to come to the land, to engage in working the soil, in which there is no possibility of doing “deals” of this kind, to live simple lives, healthy lives of austerity. What affects me, and many like me, who came to the land before the second aliyah,[6] the prime cause that brought us here, was the desire to live healthy lives, like the rest of the peoples. Sender, even though he was my brother, was a great parasite. A plant like this could grow and develop only in the rotten regime of the Tsar. In the military council that I mentioned, all of them were taking bribes. It began with the General who was the head and ended with the Corporal, whose power was also great, because he would approve the receipt of the materials. I remember that on Sunday (on this day outside worked ceased, but the office was open), the Corporal would enter as drunk as Lot,[7] and he would say to the clerk: “give me 3 rubles, I must drink.” (As is known, alcohol is chased from the body by the drinking of additional alcohol). At that same time, the Corporal would throw the receipt ledger on the table, the clerk would fill out receipts for a large sum, and the Corporal would sign them. Only then would the clerk give him 5 rubles instead of the 3 rubles that he had requested. Thus would the contractors conduct themselves in that period, and so did they act in our time.

It is interesting that Sender was not a miser. He would give a donation generously, and would spend much money on himself and his family. “Making money” was a hobby for him. Father, who was of another kind, even though he too did not do productive work, as the owner of army barracks for a Cossack regiment, supplied wood for heating, etc., did not love Sender, because of his desire for money. He used to say: “Nothing interests him except for money. He is not a member even in “Chovevei Tzion,” no one of the intelligentsia enters his house, he never read a book, and in the newspaper he is interested only in the financial section, in order to follow the movement of bonds, with which he filled his steel cabinet.”

He was a tyrant. His wife was the daughter of a poor family; she was tall and beautiful. She respected only rich people. My father used to call her “cow.” Every year she gave birth to a child. Sender had about 12 living children. His wife was deathly afraid of him. He was always busy looking for strategies to increase his wealth. When it happened, sometimes, that an engineer was accepted who despised a bribe, he saw to it that those who were in charge of him would be informed that the man was not qualified, was stupid, did not understand the profession – and they would fire him.

Every year Sender would travel to one of the bathing cities of Europe. By himself, far from his businesses, he did not run around after the money, and resembled a human being. At that time I studied in Germany, and he would send me the expenses for the journey, and he would invite me to him in Carlsbad. I lived with him in an expensive hotel. In the morning I would accompany him to drink mineral water, after which we would go into the expensive coffee house “Pop,” and he would feed me every good thing.

Sender had a bank in Suwalk. While I was with him in Carlsbad, he received a telegram from the administrator of the bank, Shmuelke, in which he asked if he should give to Ploni a loan of 1000 rubles. Since I knew German he asked that I write the reply. “Write, that he should not give it to him” – he ordered. I wrote “no money was given.” “What did you write here?” Sender said, “won't he give him the money, and it's as if he invested in a dubious venture. Write to him “no money not given.” “Sender” I said “in German won't

[Page 250]

the opposite be understood?” “I couldn't care less” he answered. “Indeed. you know German, but I know Shmuelke.” And he was right.

In Suwalk, the city in which Sender lived, there was a very wealthy fabric merchant. His wealth came to him not from the sale of merchandise, but, as was the custom in this type of trade, from bankruptcy. A merchant who respected himself, and so that others would respect him, would declare bankruptcy every two years. In this instance, he would transfer his shop to his wife's name. The previous sign they would place in storage, in order to hang it a second time after he paid his creditors 20%-30% of the amount that was coming to them. Not bad at all. If you think that he would lose credit by means of this, you are mistaken. After the bankruptcy, he was more secure than Rothschild. The owner of the factory in Lodz would himself open for him a large line of credit, for he was sure that in the next two years he would not again declare bankruptcy. Over the course of this period he would reduce his credit. If you think that the factory owner was sorry about this, that he lost 70%-80%, you are nothing but mistaken. He would do the same thing to the suppliers of wool, thread etc. “Don't you see?” – he would say to them – “how Ploni destroyed me? From where will I take the money to pay you?” And so forth.

The fabric merchant had a son whose name was Leibke. It seemed that he was a member in the dangerous revolutionary socialists' organization, the men of terror, who took the bitter enemy Plehve[8] out to be killed, and others. The young man was a student. When they would take him out of one university because of his activities, his father would enroll him in another university.

When sometimes Leibke would come to stay as a guest in his parents' house, already on the first night the gendarmes would come, conduct a search, and find some illegal pamphlet, and they would, of course, arrest Leibke. His unfortunate father would run, distribute bribes left and right, and free him.

Sender my brother was, according to his acquaintances, a monarchist. Could he become wealthy under a different regime? Only in Tsarist Russia was this possible. With all his heart and soul he loved Nikolai II, who did not know what was being done in his country. After the First World War, and I was already in the land, one of the “olim[9] from Suwalk brought with him the weekly “Illustrated Newspaper,”[10] and in it we see my brother Sender, an amazingly beautiful man, in a black suit, with a top hat on his head, white gloves on his hands, at the head of the community of Suwalk, and the local rabbi, in whose hand is a Torah scroll and another Jew with a plate of bread and salt[11] in his hand, welcoming the Tsar, who came to Suwalk.

This brother of mine Sender would scream bloody murder at Leibl: “What does Leibke want? You understand, he wants to teach Tsar Nikolai to run the country. What chutzpah! All the troubles and the pogroms come upon us, because our youth engage in politics. Were it not for them – Russia would be “Gan Eden[12] for the Jews.”

Many years went by, and I have already been in the land for a long time, the father of children, the year 1926. I arrived by chance in Berlin and I was reminded of Suwalk; from there I took my lifelong friend, who I lost due to the disasters of the present. There were there some relatives of mine, and also of hers. I hoped to see the places I had walked, the city park, wasn't I once young? I wanted to see how the Poles ruled their country, for which they aspired from the time that Poland was divided. I entered the Polish legation, a magnificent building, with many officials. I approached the clerk; I spoke German. I showed him my “laissez passe,”[13] in which it was written that I was born in Augustow. The clerk: “My Lord

[Page 251]

was a Polish citizen and now the land of Israel, did my Lord receive the permission of our government to renounce Polish citizenship? Me: “When I renounced Russian citizenship, it was in the year 1914, there was not yet a Polish government.” “I am sorry” the clerk decided “I am unable to give Your Honor a visa.” I asked “Maybe I would be able to receive a transit visa, by way of Warsaw to Danzig?” “To Danzig there is no need for a visa” the clerk explained “it is possible to travel by way of the “passageway” without a visa.” I travelled by way of the corridor and I arrived safely in Danzig. There my wife had wealthy influential relatives. They owned a famous cigar factory for all of eastern Prussia. Danzig was then a free city. Despite the fact that this family had lived in Danzig for decades, they did not permit them to become citizens. They remained Polish citizens, and every year they were obligated to request an extension from the Prussian government. I decided to invite my two brothers to a meeting with me in Danzig. I reserved a hotel room and I waited for them at the train station. I have not seen them since the year 1912; for 14 years. In this period, great changes began in the world. Poland; independence. In Germany, the “Kaiser” had been removed. In Russia, the Tsar was taken out to be killed and the Bolsheviks took over. The train came, two old men got off the car. My brother Moshe was religious and bearded; because of this there was not a great change seen in him. Sender had changed completely; stooped over, dressed cleanly, however, but missing the “chic.” My brothers and I kissed each other, and entered the hotel. “Nu, Sender” I asked, “Mah nishmah,[14] how's the situation?” “The Bolsheviks, may their name be erased,”[15] Sender answered, “they took over Russia and they are destroying it. The children remained with them, and are surely dying there of starvation. They took almost everything from me. The Tsar's government owed me millions for barracks that I built for them before the revolution, the Bolsheviks came and released everything. The revenues from the assets that remained with me, a few houses, are not enough for a modest existence. This is the situation! But they will not remain in power for long, they are not successful people, they will destroy the country, etc.” I was reminded of Leibke the revolutionary, that he and his friends removed Sender and his kind from their properties.

Sender went to his eternity a long time ago, his children died in Soviet Russia, the rest were destroyed by the enemy in Poland. May they rest in peace. I am reminded of his eldest daughter, wonderfully beautiful, who was married in 1906 to the son of wealthy people from Tula, the city of the “samovars.”[16] The groom's father was the son of a cantonist, owner of a mine, factories, forests, - a millionaire. The youth was one of the children of “the golden youth.”[17] He and wife wasted thousands of rubles.

In the year 1912 I spent my vacation with my family in Europe. I also visited in Konigsberg. There, by chance, I ran into my brother's daughter, who was on the way to Berlin. She was dazzling in her beauty and in her dress. This daughter of my brother Sender, Asper, concluded her life in Moscow as a corset sewer.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Only two people in the Bible wore a ketonet, a cloak. Joseph, in Genesis 37:3 “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.” And Tamar, a daughter of King David; 2 Samuel 13:18 “She was wearing an ornamented tunic, for maiden princesses were customarily dressed in such garments…” Return
  2. Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, 1809 – 1852, was a Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin. Return
  3. The British Mandate for Palestine, from the end of WWI and the declaration of Israel's independence. Return
  4. Yiddish. Return
  5. Sons with no siblings. Return
  6. The Second Aliyah that took place between 1904 and 1914. At that time, about 35,000 Jews, mostly from the Russian Empire, immigrated into Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Return
  7. Genesis 19:31-33 ff. “And the older one said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to consort with us in the way of all the world. Come, let us make our father [Lot] drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father. That night they made their father drink wine, and the older one went in and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose.” Return
  8. Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve, 1846 – 1904, was the director of Imperial Russia's police and later Minister of the Interior. Return
  9. Those who make “Aliyah,” ascent, to the land. Return
  10. Yiddish “אילוסטרירטא צייטונג.” Return
  11. Bread and salt is used in a welcoming ceremony in several Slavic and other European cultures, and in Middle Eastern cultures. Return
  12. The Garden of Eden, or paradise. Return
  13. Literally: let pass. A document granting unrestricted access or movement to its holder. Return
  14. A typical Israeli greeting. Literally, “what's heard?” similar to the English “what's doing?” or “what's happening?” Return
  15. This phrase in generally used for the worst enemies of the Jews, such as Haman, or Hitler. Return
  16. Tula was a major center of Russian samovar production. Return
  17. Children of rich, prominent, and successful parents, who usually live on their wealth and connections. Return

 

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