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One Childhood

by Chanoch Al-Domi

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In memory of the martyred, pure children of Smorgon – with a mournful heart.

––The author

 

a. Ask your father, and he will tell you[1]

My children, more than once you asked , as I was sitting reclining on my back, about this book, saying:

“Father, what do others say about this book, for anytime it is before you and you read it, a wave of nervousness covers your face; and you do not put it down until you sit me down next to you and ask to read to me one of its chapters. And I dear father, whenever this happens, I conclude by telling you:”

“It is too heavy for me, it is like a sealed book to me. Its black cover and the agony coursing through its pages, and to me – books are abundant when they are happy and enjoyable.”

“My son, if it is truly difficult for you to read it, and the things written on the hundreds of pages of the book are far off from you [and] from a different world, then at least listen to the words of my mouth and hear the story of the small town, the birthplace of your parents and grandparents over many generations. You will learn to know about the entire mass of people, their joy and grief. You will unite with a chapter of life that was cut off by the enemy.

And who knows if you will not find, after all this, that your pleasant tree is planted on those springs of life, and its roots suckle from the sources of life of your ancestors.”

 

b. A Place Under the Sun

In the geographical maps and textbooks of the Land that you have, the name of the small town is missing.

However, in order to describe its place under the sun, let us go together to search for a small place in the wide world, and we will find it:

It is between Minsk, the capital of White Russia, and Vilna, which is the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” the city of the Gr'a (the Gaon Rabbi Eliahu), a major Jewish city of Torah and doctrine.

The place is a large strip of land. Vast forests grow in it from the six days of creation. Rivers, streams and ponds spring forth from clefts within its expanse. Bears walk among its forests. This is the brown bear whose fame spread through the land: a glutton and drunkard who loves to lick things up. As time went on

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the fathers of the city strengthened the bear and made it into a sign on the city emblem.

Your ancestors knew how to tell many legends about the meaning of the name of the city of Smorgon, about its bear school, about its bakery dough –the famous cakes of Smorgon, about the legends of its two rivers Groyat and Okna, tributaries of the large Viliya River.

If you enjoy legends, read at the beginning of the book about the legends “A Conversation from Ancient Times”[2]. If you like to delve into questions, then read the chapter on the history of the city from its beginning to its destruction.

 

c. The World of One Child

All the rest is a story of childhood, experiences, impressions, joy, pain, and dreams. As you look through the lens of one child to the background of life in the small city, you will find that the following chapters are only one of many in the story of the life of a person.

* * *

1. The Home of the Hat Maker

The Home of Reb Shlomo the hatmaker stood on Kirovai Street next to the well from which all the residents of the street drew water for their needs.

Reb Shlomo's house was one story with an attic, called szlaka in the vernacular.

The house was a house of boards. It was said about the hatmaker: when he was about to build the house for himself, he went out and declared before the gentile residents of the village, that anyone who would bring him a choice board from a mighty, strong tree with lots of foliage, would receive a gift over and above his salary: a winter hat made of fur, with ears sticking upward, called naoshnik. The farmers brought wood for the building, two or three boards in one sleigh. They unloaded them before the yard and traveled on. The Czeslars came out – they are the builders who built the house. As they were covering the roof, Reb Shlomo the hatmaker came out and told them.

“As you put up the “hat” that is the roof of the house, make it two stories, that are connected toward the top. The structure of the roof will hover over them – naoshnik – that is the winter hat with ears.

The house left the hands of the builders rounded and smooth. Not more and not less, and exact in all details.

You will ask, why did the hatmaker need his house built with two stories? Would one not have been sufficient for him? He needed it. The first story would serve as the workshop. There sat Reb Shlomo's two daughters, Tzirel and Feigel (the other girls [of Shlomo], pure doves, flew

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from their nest overseas, to America). They sewed hats for the Jewish population and the masses of villagers. Some of the hatmaker's sons were on their own, and others were apprentices with the tradesmen of the city: tanners and barbers. And what about the second attic? It was empty all year. Only on the eve of Passover did they bring down the holiday dishes which were guarded there all year, through a hole in the first attic.

However, I want to tell you about another hole in the ceiling… The one found in the ceiling of the hat shop, opening into the room of Tzirel and Feigel.

You would enter the hatmaker's shop. The bell would ring immediately, and through the resonance of the bell at the entrance, and through that hole from above extending downward, the form of a women – either of Tzirel of Feigel the daughters of Reb Shlomo, appeared through the hole. The image through the hole, with a face round as the moon in the middle of the month, would call out loudly with either a chirp or a whistle, apparently coming through the tube leading to the hole in the ceiling, toward the customer in the space of the store below:

“Father, it seems that a customer entered the store.”

The hatmaker came out from the den, that was a sort of room – a small room at the side of the store – and he saw the customer, a certain gentile, one of the children of the land. He stood, looked upward, and smiled between his mustache and his full beard together, and said:

“See how far these people have come with their inventions?”

Do you want to know whose invention was this hole in the ceiling? I swear you do not know. Only one child knew. In short, this was the child or the little one of the story, the son of Berl, Reb Shlomo the hatmaker's oldest son. He knew and was a witness that this was the invention of his father.

This is the story: The father of the child had a bright face, and was not a master of any pranks. One winter day, when nobody was walking in the market, and when there was no money in the pocket, father came. He was already self–sufficient and a householder in his own right, with all his pride directed to this child who had grown up in the interim and now tells stories [of his own]. To whom is he coming? To Grandfather Reb Shlomo the hatmaker, and he said the following:

“Father, you should listen to me, and we will make a hole in the ceiling of the store, connecting it to the attic of Tzirel and Feigel”

Grandfather looked at his son, a type of gaze the meaning of which was more or less the following:

“Go somewhere else with your ideas.” He added more or less the following:

“I see, my son, that you have no other worries. If you want a hole in the ceiling, fine, do what you say – only do not make a hole in the head. Perhaps I am allowed to ask my son, the fruit of my body, why all this?”

“The sign will be tomorrow,” the father answered in brief, mysterious words. He smiled a smile that had an inkling of mischief and jest. He said goodbye to his father and left.

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2. The Hole that Father Made in the Ceiling, What is its Use?

The next day, Father went to the attic of his sisters Tzirel and Feigel, and called through the floor of the attic, which was the ceiling of the store. He made a round hole about the size of a human head, to the surprise of all the members of the household. Father sawed and opened the hole. The bystanders turned away and pushed against each other with their elbows, back to shoulder, and said in laughter:

“What will be the end of this matter?”

The end of the matter was that immediately after the conclusion of this work, Father ran to his house that stood in the flour market (he earned his livelihood from a fur store and from cutting hair). He took in his hands the boy, who was small and could not yet keep up with the quick pace of his father – and brought him to Grandfather's hat house. They came, and father immediately placed the small child under that hole in the ceiling, which was now covered by a wooden cover as large as the opening, and said, “

“My son, close your eyes, and do not look up.”

Father said this, and went up to the attic of Tzirel and Feigel. He lifted the cover and moved something over to the circle in the ceiling – do you know what? – a new hat, tied on a string woven with gold and silver, aimed directly at the young child's head.

The young child stood below, and the hat, a gift from above, was on his head. He squinted his eyes and laughed with joy, as he saw the bright face of his father through the hole in the ceiling – as the shining sun.

What can I tell and add – there were no days for Reb Shlomo the hatmaker as good as those days from when the hole in the ceiling of his shop was made. The issue of the hat that rolled down and descended from above in the store of Reb Shlomo the hatmaker became known to the children of the city of Smorgon – these brazen children – who then urged their fathers to come to see the “magic” and to merit this great thing of a hat sent from above.

The children of that city were opinionated and stood their own [ground]. The fathers did not object. Probably, in the hands of the children who were so impressed by the house of the hatmaker, it is written in the book about business that for a long time, Grandfather Reb Shlomo's shop was never empty, and he was never lacking a coin in his pocket.

Eventually, the father of the child, Reb Dov–Ber Levin, was requested to provide help in the matter of hats. What did he do? He tied together hats hanging from above, with a bag for every hat, and with all types of sweet and treats in the bags. On Tu B'Shvat there was something extra – a small dry carob (bokser) for the enjoyment of the children.

Lest you think that with all this, comes the end of the story that began with the hole in the ceiling, and ended with hats hanging from it? – no, no:

The final result of this was revealed once and not again, in the childhood experiences of that child, as is told in our next chapter.

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3. How the Nickname “Plomp” Came About for the Wells Dug in our Area[3]

The wells of our city were dug by Jews.

In the merit of Mendel “Plomp” and Getzel Gliniarnik, the Jews of Kirovai Street drank their good water. How?

Kirovai Street was a long street. Its head was opposite the fish market, and its end reached the railway tracks. Before the wells were dug, the residents of the street would drink their water in measure from the turbulent river, a distance from Hodu (to G–d for he is good), until Aleinu[4], as our brethren in this city used to say when describing a long distance.

The Jewish women, the housewives of Smorgon, would groan and moan with their young daughters, the “water drawers” next to them, with bent heads from the pails around their necks. It was not enough that they went down every Monday, in rain and frost, on hot summer days and during the cold of winter, to wash the clothes in the river. Then they had the additional burden of hauling water from afar. This was until the merit of Getzel Gliniarnik and Mendel “Plomp” stood for them, and put an end to the suffering of the women of Kirovai Street and their daughters.

Reb Mendel the flax merchant dug the first well. He was wealthy householder with five sons who divided up the “entire land” amongst themselves, with the “kingdom” of each one not encroaching on his brother. Each would go out to the nearby towns twice a week to make purchases, that is to purchase flax from the farmers. They were strong, stubborn men who crowded out other Jews. They would follow close after the heels of the gentiles to purchase their merchandise, with the curses of the pushed–aside Jews following after them. Reb Mendel was a widower, and all the housework was done by his only daughter Mirele. He saw that she was becoming more and more stooped over each day, groaning and moaning. Reb Mendel said to himself, “This is only because it is hard for her to bring water from the rivers.” He spoke, and he carried out his promise. He dug the first well with his own hands. The Jews of Kirovai Street stood in astonishment about that man, and stared at him with awe and respect. After Mendel finished his work and water bubbled up from the bottom of the well, he got up and brought benches and tables from his large house, placed them around the well, and made a large celebration for his brethren of the city. First, Mendel cast a large rope with a pail at the end down to the bottom of the well and drew “the first waters.” The sons, who had all gathered and came together that day, distributed the water in earthenware cups to each of the Kirovaites, and drank Lechaim! Then Mirele and her friends left the house with large platters of honey cakes. The mouths will be fed! A honey cake for everyone. The Jews rejoiced and celebrated the joy of the well.

And when Mendel's heart was glad with water, he asked that they lower him to the bottom of the well, so he could see with his own eyes how the water bubbles up from the ground. His sons tied him with a rope and lowered him to fulfil the commandment of honoring one's father. Apparently the “dunking” was too strong, and the water in the well

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was very deep. Mendel shouted and called out: “Plomp… plomp..” His sons quickly grabbed the rope and raised their father from the well while he still had his breath within him. They lay Reb Mendel down and took turns sitting beside him. His sons slapped his cheeks from each side to remove the water and restore the breath of his nostrils. Reb Mendel made sounds of bubbles of water: “Plomp”. “Plomp”.

The next Sabbath, Reb Mendel stood up and recited the Hagomel blessing in the synagogue on Kirovai Street.

From that day onward, the nickname Plomp stuck with him. He was Mendel Plomp, and every well in the city, old and new, was called by that name.

 

4. Getzel Gliniarnik, the Man of The Land

The well of Grandfather Reb Shlomo the Hatmaker was dug by Getzel Gliniarnik in the Karka. What is the meaning of this? As it sounds: land of tilled soil and field. How did the Jews of Smorgon reach this “status” of “all the gentiles”? This is the story that took place.

A new king, that is Czar Alexander II, rose up. He ruled all the land of greater Russia, and proclaimed a decree for all the Jews in all the lands of his kingdom, living legally or illegally: whomever wishes to gain real estate should come and register in the royal registry. He will then receive land from the government in his place of residence – the best type of land upon which to live – for him to till and guard. He would be able to live there in his city until the advent of the redeemer, our righteous Messiah.

From all the Jewish settlements between the cities of Minsk and Vilna, only the Jews of Smorgon responded to this “worker of good,” that is the Czar of all Russia, Poland, Lithuania, etc. Alexander II.

From the documents and writings of those days, we learn that 78 heads of families, tradesmen and day laborers whose livelihood was difficult and who did not even have a rubbed–out coin in their pocket, registered and determined to leave the “city of hides” on account of the oppressors – i.e. the owners of the tanning enterprises – who “elongated” the days of the workers service and oppressed their lives down to the smallest coin… The main thing was that these people escaped the prickliness that came from the tanning centers that the city was full of.

Where would they find the money? For they do not distribute land for free, even the land of the Czar. They went and sent a letter to Baron Hirsch, the doer of good and

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benefactor of his nation. They explained to him their request and placed their petition before him, asking him to stand with them at their time of their difficulty.

If we say that the aforementioned Baron was moved and answered them, we would not have said everything. A hasty messenger was sent by him to purchase gentile lands near Smorgon. They settled the requesters on the land and left them with karbons (currency of the country) to build houses and plant vineyards: for each person to sit under his vineyard and fig tree. And how will they settle!?! The Jews were tied to the Karka land with their navels and ate the bread of the land through the sweat of their brow.

Getzel Gliniarnik was among the first to settle on the Karka. However G–d prevented him from reciting hamotzie on his morsel of bread. His fate was that his field was allocated where the large river, the Viliya, was located, winding its route in a tortuous fashion and sending streams of water without any order, in branches and sub–branches near the river and the passageway to the lands of the north.

The Jew Getzel was tied to the flow of the Viliya. Every few years, it would overflow its banks, at the beginning of the spring when the snow and ice melted. It would flood Getzel's fields and soak the full toil of his hands with its strong stream. The field of this person was flooded over, but the stubborn person was Reb Getzel. He did not sell his land due to the treacherous Viliya, and did not even abandon it. He continued to work it faithfully, whatever may be. You will ask, how did he feed himself and his family? From plastering. From here, Gliniarnik, who plastered the houses of the Jews with cement during wintertime, set up and fixed the large ovens that wore out over years and from the rain. He plastered the floors of their house of the residents of Karka, and did other such jobs that were needed at the time, or were desired by his fellow brethren. As has been noted, he, Getzel Gliniarnik, dug the well at Grandfather's house.

 

5. What Happens to the Child who Wants to be a Drawer of Water?

That child had an additional level of love for that well at the home of his grandfather Reb Shlomo. Every time that he went to visit the “house of the hatmaker” with his father, he would urge his father to take him on his shoulders and show him the opening of the well, to see its depth and darkness, and look at his shadow in it.

In particular, the heart of the child fluttered from joy when Reb Shaulke Pozarnik the firefighter, a redheaded, stubborn Jew, famous throughout the city for his haste and bravery in putting out fires, approached the well. Shaulke the firefighter earned his livelihood from the bucket of water that was resting on his cart, that he himself hauled to provide the weak housewives with sufficient water for their needs on weekdays and Sabbath eves.

When a fire broke out in the city, Shaulke Pozarnik would harness the horse of

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Itza the “postmaster and owner of horses” to his cart, take the shofar of the shamash [beadle] of the damaged synagogue in his hands, gallop through Kirovai Street and shout with all his might “Fire!”

Thus was the custom of that Reb Shaulke next to the well of Shlomo the hatmaker:

At first, he would tuck the edges of his kapote into the area between his belt and his loins.

He washed his hands and immediately leaned against the well and recited a silent prayer to chase away the demons and evil spirits that live in the depths of the well. He did all this, then he lowered the pail that was tied to a rope, wound around wheels that were anchored into two hooks attached to the opening of the well.

He would roll the wheels and lower the pail, as he hummed to himself. The pail filled up. He raised it, and poured the water into the barrel on his cart.

Since Reb Shaulke was careful that the water in the pail would always be close to full, that is full to its rim, it was natural that gushes of water spilled out of the bucket, and there were veritable puddles on the ground outside the well.

The young child enjoyed standing in this puddle, dancing with his small shoes in the cool water, splashing jets of water about for his pleasure.

You probably understand that his father, Reb Berl, when he saw the disgrace of his son, immediately took him, brought him into Grandfather's home, and always placed him on the warm attic of Tzirel and Feigel to dry his wet feet and socks. The child of course shouted…

Once the aunts Tzirel and Feigel distracted the young child, who took a flask of water that was used to spray the hats during ironing. Somehow, he tied together a chain of hats that were scattered on the floor, went to the hole in the ceiling, and removed the cover.

He then did the same thing that Reb Shaulke Pozarnik did next to the well. He began to lower the flask – which was the pail of the well – the well being the hole in the ceiling.

However, this child did not tuck the edges of his kapote into his belt. He did not roll up his sleeves. He did not whisper a prayer.

He only stood at the mouth of this “well” in the ceiling and called out as loud as he could: “Water! Water! Water!”

Water sprinkled and poured out from the hole in the attic onto the heads of the customers in the hat store of Grandfather Reb Shlomo, wetting the hair of the village gentiles.

They moved to the sides, crossed themselves, and called out.

A Atu Cztu Wom?” (These, why so much?) The elderly hatmaker appears the gentiles with smooth, logical words, and concluded:

“Do you not see, this is a prank of a young child”

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After this last act, the aunts moved out of the attic in the roof and descended to their home below for some unknown reason

Or maybe it was because the war broke out in the interim, and a shell damaged and sealed the well. The hole in the home of Grandfather Reb Shlomo the hatmaker never again bothered the gentiles and the young child.

 

6. An Incident with a Magnifying Glass

It Is said, to whom are you beholden for good all the days, and their mercy is bound up with you, if not to he who first taught you how to literally walk on your small feet?

If not to this – then to he who brought joy to your hearts and lit up your faces with a gift and a game.

If not to this – then to he who participated with you in all your childhood creations.

If you have no such person, by your life, you lose out in the long run.

To that child whose entire world is confined to the area between his parental home, which stood on the Flour Market, and the home of Reb Shlomo the hatmaker on Kirovai Street – it was like this:

There was someone who broadened his world.

This was another elderly person, a pleasant man, the second grandfather, the father of the child's mother Reb Shmuel Shimon.

All that the child remembers from the appearance of that grandfather was that he was a head taller than anything around him, even taller than the high gate of his yard, for he had to bend his head every time he went through it.

Even taller than the tall trees in the plain behind the spacious house.

Taller, even, than the…clouds. How? He said to his grandson:

“If you want, I will take you for a ride on one of them. Perhaps you think that the child was not tied to tops of these ‘heights of the world'?”

The child squirmed and trembled with his entire body when his grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon tossed him up, and then caught him with his two arms. After this manly game, his grandfather kissed his grandson to calm is fear, pushed his thumb into the cheek of the child and rubbed it around in order to arouse his laughter. He would them immediately toss him up again to the “Heavenly court”. If as time went on, the child, who had by now grown up, walked about with his “head in the clouds”, the role of Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon was more significant than the role of the rest of the people and things that led him to this path in the world.

To the extent that this grandfather's stature grew in the eyes of the child to that of a giant, one of the Nephilim, to that extent he became [myopically] nearsighted.

The child was always concerned that the giant may not pay attention to his short stature, at home or

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in the yard, and hurt or trample him, Heaven forbid, with his large feet. For that reason, the little one lowered his stature further, and pushed himself into every corner and wall in the home of his grandfather, cried silently, and tried to avoid being seen.

Reb Shmuel Shimon wanted to provide glasses for his eyes, but he could not find glasses appropriate for his nearsightedness anywhere, neither in his city or in other places from Minsk to Vilna. Having no choice, he fashioned for himself a magnifying glass on a rod.

That rod was a work of an artisan, prepared by Pesach Elkes the craftsman. He was the man who built the large synagogue and the holy ark after the large fire. He built them in a splendid fashion with lots of moldings and carvings. He etched the image of the tabernacle and its vessels in them, as well as the image of Aaron and his sons and the forms of the ophanim and holy seraphim. The eye could not have enough of seeing it, especially the eyes of the children of Talmud Torah, who would enter the anteroom of the synagogue with their teacher to learn the stories of the Torah from the images.

Everything that went out from the hands of Pesach Elkes was in a fine state. Even this rod of grandfather's was certainly not like those of the rest of the world. First, there was a handle made of bone. If it was not ivory, it was probably a bone of the wild ox[5]. Etched on one side of this handle was the blind Lemech holding an arrow, killing his grandson Tubal–Cain, as stated in the Midrash. Etched on the other side was the Binding of Isaac, with the angels fluttering on high, shedding tears onto the eyes of the lad Isaac – from which his sight was later affected. Above the handle, on the rod itself, Pesach Elkes etched the image of a bearded, barefoot gentile – with the sun shining and light blinding around him. This gentile held a lantern in his hand to provide illumination.

The child knew how to pronounce the name of Isaac our Forefather, but he could not contemplate the name of Diogenes – a philosopher according to Grandfather – or to pronounce his name. Eventually, he learned that he was a Greek, who went to search for man with the flashlight in his hand.

Finally, what is your opinion of the rod of Grandfather's magnifying glass? You also think that it is one of the “wonders of the world.” In truth, there was no other object in the large home of Reb Shmuel Shimshon that it could be compared to and could serve such a purpose.

Go and see, at times, the giant, the child's grandfather, would place the little one on his lap, bring the magnifying glass close to the child's eyes, and search in them.

You might ask, why was Grandfather interested in the eyes of his grandson? The little one himself asked such a question. The giant with the magnifying glass on a road answered as follows:

“I wonder, what will your eyes be involved with in future times, when you grow up?” The child did not understand anything of these words.

Just as he did not understand the knowledge of his grandfather, who made a “search” in his eyes,

[Page 471] in all his views, his own and not those of others, so did he not understand the interest he had in his ears, the canals of which were inspected by that rod along with his eyes.

Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon said, “It seems that through the ears, one can see what is laying in the container of the head of man”.

For a long time, the child felt his ears and squinted with his eyes – until he was redeemed [i.e. figured it out].

 

7. Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon and his Family

Reb Shmuel Shimon's house stood “outside the boundaries” of the Jewish settlement in the city of Smorgon, on the gentile street.

This main street, Vilna Street, ended at this place and split into two branches. The one on the left led to the railway station, and the one on the right led toward the “Dark Forest,” from which the road to Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania, continued.

Reb Shmuel Shimon did not build his house among the gentiles because they scorned his brethren of his nation.

It seems that he did this specifically out of his love for his fellow Jew. How, you might ask? Tuesday night would foreshadow the great market day of the city. At the light of the morning star and the crow of the rooster to wake up the slumberers, Grandfather would go and stand in the path outside his house to return the gentile Kirila and the rest of his friends who were tipsy, and who had disrupted the market day of the previous week. How did he bring them back? He would grab one of them with the flap of his fur coat, and grab the second one similarly. He would bring them together, and bring them into a great “conflict,” to “wrestle” with each other.

Kirila and his friends would return to their village, beaten and subdued, and would not enter the crowd of their brethren at the entrance to the market. The land, that is Smorgon, would be quiet for thirty days, with no outburst or outcry.

You could not enter the house of Reb Shmuel Shimon until you went through that tall gate, made of boards, clumsy and high. Above the gate fluttered some sort of “heroes sign,” unique of its kind and unique in the city. The round sign was carved and engraved. Upon it was a rubbed–out image of the banner of the Tribe of Simeon.

Apparently, this grandfather had decided that he, his father, and all his ancestors, all previous generations, were members of the Tribe of Simeon. He opened up the Chumash and found the flag of the tribe. He looked into the Midrash and found the coin of that tribe. Since he found what he wanted, he immediately affixed this image of heraldry atop his gate.

I will not describe all the details of the rubbed–out image. I will only say this, that under the image, to the right and the left, engraved and etched deep into the copper, were two letters Shin, one on each side – the initials of his name: Shmuel Shimon.

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Until the man calmed down from this act, all the idlers and unemployed of the city of Smorgon entered, stood in front of his gate, straightened their stature, lifted their heads up to see what was written on this rav (sign in the vernacular). Their eyes rolled from one side to the other, as they read Sh. Sh.

After they pronounced the initials out loud, they put their fingers to their mouth, and repeated over and over: Sh. Sh.

From then, the nickname Rash'ash stuck with Reb Shmuel Shimon.

The empty, good–for–nothings of Smorgon saw the elderly man as he walked about for his business. They immediately hid behind every abandoned fence, and secret corner, mocking him out loud to disturb him, calling out through the street:

“Rash'ash is walking, clear the way for our rabbi Sha'sh!”

If you think that Shmuel Shimon cared, you do not know anything about the first nickname that he had, and that actually always bothered him.

On the contrary, he was happy with his second nickname, that made people forget the first.

What was the first nickname? Reb Shmuel Shimon the “Kalte Loksh” – that is the cold noodle.

How did this bespectacled man get such a strange nickname? This is what happened. And it did not happen to him, but rather to his grandfather, Reb Michael of Daniszew, who was a merchant and a scholar, modest, and a great giver of charity. In his day, he saw that nobody was concerned about the poor people of Smorgon, whose administrators were immersed in controversy, and had no time to help those were in distress. He went and set up a sort of private kitchen.

He called together his entire family, his wife, sons, and daughters, and taught them to occupy themselves with the commandment “disperse your bread to the poor”[6].

The daughters would make the dough, roll it thin, and cut it into thin slices. These are the noodles.

His wife would cook soup.

His sons would bring the food every Friday in two large vats to the houses of the poor, and pour out soup for the Sabbath into their vessels.

Since this food reached the houses of the poor of Smorgon for the most part when it was cold, They called Reb Michael of Daniszew “Kalte Loksh” (cold noodle).

This was the story, and this was its reward.

This nickname passed down as an inheritance from Reb Michael to his sons, and from them to Grandfather. Certainly, this nickname was honorable and merciful. It continued on to all the descendants of the family until the final generation. However, two great wars came, wiping the people out of the book of life – them, their names, and their nicknames.

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However, until the drafting of the gentiles to beat each other began[7], and the world got confused, the city of Smorgon was quiet and successful. Its Jews were written in the names of their fathers, and were called by their nicknames. For example, that little one who, about whom we are more or less interested, was called the following on Kirovai Street.

“Henech Berl's Shlomo's the hatmaker's

That is:

Henech (that is the child), the son of Berl (that is his father), the son of Shlomo (the grandfather), the hatmaker.

That same area of the city, spreading from the flour market where his father's home stood, until the home of his grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon, for the entire length of Vilna Street until the crossroads leading to the railway station, and the Black Forest, was called by the child as follows:

Henech Mintza's Shmuel Shimon's the Kalte Loksh.

That is:

Henech (the child), the son of Mintza (his mother), the daughter of Shmuel Shimon (the grandfather) the cold noodle (the nickname).

 

8. How Did the Child Stop Being Afraid of Mitran's Dog, [named] “Paskody”

How does one go down to the cellar of the giant? You could go down from inside, or you go down from the outside. There was a hole in the floor in the middle of the large kitchen of Shmuel Shimon's house. The opening had a cover as large as itself, and the cover had a hook at the edge. If you wanted to go down to the cellar, you would just have to remove the rope tied to a peg on the nearby wall, tie it to the hook, and pull.

The cover would then rise, and you would be standing “at the threshold of the lower abyss” – that is, next to the opening leading to the cellar. A ladder was resting on the floor, with its top reaching the edge of the opening. You could go up and down to your heart's content. That was in the house.

From the outside – you would go down the steps under the porch (genikl in Yiddish) of the back door of this large house. By your life, if you did not know from hearing, or through this story, you would not find the entrance to that cellar in the house. Why is this so? Because in the kitchen, from where one goes down to the cellar, there is a sheet of hides made up of interwoven pieces that were brought from Grandfather's factory. You would also not find the outside entrance to the cellar, for it was hidden beneath the porch.

Why did Grandfather do this? Perhaps he looked up at the stars and realized that disaster was about to afflict the world, so he prepared the cellar as a hiding place.

Whenever the child was at his grandfather's house, he wanted to go down to the cellar to see what was hidden there.

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Once the child begged him and said:

“Grandfather, I want to go [in] there” and he hinted with a nod of his head and a wink to a place over there.

“Where do you want to go, my child?” asked Grandfather.

“To the cellar.”

“And what will you do in the cellar, my little one?” Asked grandfather.

“I will search for treasures.”

“What treasures will you search for there?

“The treasurers that you told me about, Grandfather.”

“And what will you do if you do not find treasurers there, my son?”

“Grandfather will look for them and find.”

“Okay” was the answer.

The child did not know the meaning of this cut–off word.

“And when, Grandfather, will we go there?” The child did not let up.

“When you get bigger,” answered Reb Shmuel Shimon in brief.

“And when will I be big?”

“When you will be as strong as you need to be!”

“And how will I be as strong as I need to be?”

“When you are not afraid of Mitran's dog,” answered Grandfather.

“I am already no longer afraid of Mitran's dog.”

“If that is so, then let us see if you are truly strong. We will go to Mitran's dog,” concluded the giant man, the grandfather of the child. They both left the house.

Mitran was Reb Shmuel Shimon's neighbor. He was an adult gentile who hobbled on one leg. It was said that he lost his leg due to the evil eye[8]. Once when he was properly drunk, literally drunk as Lot, he told his gentile friends who joined him in the “bitter drop” that he has no fear of that “slithering beast” on the tracks – the train. They stood up with him, wagered with him, and promised him such and such gallons of liquor if he displays his bravery…

He spoke, and he did: Mitran went to the railway tracks, rested his large body on the gravel area next to the tracks, putting only one foot on the track. The train passed by and severed his foot. Mitran was in pain and afflicted with terrible afflictions for many months. His wound opened and closed, opened and closed. When his pain strengthened, he washed it away with the liquor that he received from his friends. He finally went and prepared himself an artificial limb (Kula in the vernacular). One day he brought in the despicable dog, called Paskody by the gentiles, to frighten people.

This dog was a despised creature. It would always stand up and scratch itself in front of its excreta with the pole that was tied to its leash. All the passers–by on the street were afraid to walk by due to its bark.

When this child would reach Grandfather's street when walking with his mother Mintza,

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his entire body would begin to tremble. They would even avoid Mitran's house by crossing to the other side of the street.

In truth, the gentile Mitran and his dog Paskody did not threaten Grandfather. They liked the Jew.

The handicapped man's livelihood was found through Reb Shmuel Shimon. From the day that gentile went on “amnesty” because of his injury and abandoned his work in the fields – he was dependent on the kindness of his Jewish neighbor. Grandfather would purchase oak bark from him for his tannery. This was mixed with a type of liquid called export, and used to soak the hides. Grandfather would purchase it and pay generously.

The two of them, the grandfather and the grandson, went to visit Paskody, Mitran's dog.

The beast leaped out of the pole quickly. The leash to which he was tied stretched and recoiled backward. Paskody stood up on his hind paws and showed his teeth.

The dog did not bark.

And it did not move.

It calmed itself.

And it folded is legs underneath and laid down.

It only gazed at the grandfather and his grandson with good eyes, and calmly murmured, “hum… brr… humm… brrr”. The child was not afraid of Paskody at that moment, and the next day, they went down to the cellar.

 

9. What Did the Child Do With the Barrel of Cabbage Stocks?

The entire city gathered in Reb Shmuel Shimon's cellar.

Were all those terrible tribulations not to have come, the ones that wiped out the city and all therein, and froze our world until all joy was removed from the hearts and laughter from the lips–Grandfather's cellar would still exist to this day. We would not read about it in a story, but rather go and see what was in it.

Language is insufficient to describe what that child found in this underground place of his grandfather. Before his eyes got accustomed to the darkness of the cellar, and opened a bit, the aromas of cooked dishes and the spices of the city wafted to his nostrils.

The cellar was made up of compartments. Some were for food and drink, and others were for all sorts of belongings that were lovely in their time, and were still nice now, but it was best to hide them away because of the evil eye, so that wrath not break out against us.

All the food and drink were arranged in barrels, containers, trunks and chests, or were hanging from hooks and beams.

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There was one pantry for potatoes for the winter. They were buried in thin sand, with their “eyes” sticking out. They were not rotting. One large pantry was for pickled food, where there were barrels of purple cabbage (sauerkraut), and pickled cucumbers.

The daughters of Reb Shmuel Shimon, the older ones and the younger ones, worked especially in preparing that pickled cabbage.

In the evening, when the light of an autumn day was fading, a red splendor covered the roofs of the houses and the foliage of the maple trees that grew next to the kitchen window. Then di muter, that is the wife of Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon, who was called that by the household out of respect, to differentiate her from his first wife who died young – placed a long wooden shelf on top of the tables (kozals in the vernacular), and summoned all the daughters of the household to the kitchen with a loving voice.

Mintza the eldest, who was summoned to come while it was still day, brought her son. The mother would cut cabbage and the child would entertain the hearts of those who came to the kitchen.

There was Sarah, who was small and refined, and married to Shmuel Fajn, an enthusiastic Chovev Zion (lover of Zion), and the first of all the youths in the city who worked at the holy task of reviving the nation.

There was Fania. No place in the house was free from her pranks. She was an actor from her early childhood, and was the first participant in the amateurs' circle on the stage of Smorgon. Later, she was an actor in the government theater of far–off Rostov in Russia.

There was Rechil, that is the dark, pleasant Rachel, proud of her beauty, young, and already a teacher in the Russian girls' school. She corresponded to that Tolstoyist (a student of the well–known Russian writer Tolstoy) named Gabriusha. She was as tall as one of the Nephilim, and as innocent as a child.

They were all daughter of Reb Shmuel Shimon who were born to him from his first wife Henya (and the child was called after her name). They stood on one side of the cabbage shelf.

And the other side of the shelf – who stood there?

All the young ones, including the lads. These were Chayale, the daughter of Reb Shmuel Shimon's old age who was born to him by di muter.

And the sons: Alterke and Shayke, the first quiet and bashful by nature, and the second “mercurial” who never rested for a moment. He was called Sambatyon, but this one did not quiet down even on the Sabbath.

And finally – the child. Jumping around the legs, falling and getting up, and chewing lightly on the cabbage that was called kacan (in the vernacular).

“Where is our child?” asked Reb Shmuel Shimon, who entered the kitchen to see all of his children reclining around the cabbage shelf, cutting the leaves finely.

“Certainly under the table,” responded Mintza, the mother of the child. Grandfather immediately put the magnifying glass to his eyes, bent down a bit, searched, but the child was nowhere.

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“You are rebelling against me, my children,” said the old man. “You have hidden the child from me.”

“Father, behold he is in the barrel!” Uncle Shayka burst out in laughter. All the members of the household looked toward the large barrel and saw the child riding on the cabbage heads: It was to the good fortune of that child that there was not much water in that barrel.

“Catch it, Grandfather!” the child called out, and tossed a head of cabbage, as large as the hand of the grandchild, to the grandfather. Grandfather caught the cabbage with one hand, lifted the child from the barrel with the second hand, and said:

“Now let us go down to the cellar! The child thought that Grandfather might punish him, and now he was going to take him down to the dark place – but it was not so!

“Let us trash the cellar, and see if the rest of the miracles and wonders are better than those of the barrel.” Reb Shmuel Shimon concluded the words of the child.

 

10. In the Cellar

You certainly want to know what are the rest of the wonders that the child saw that evening in the thick darkness of the cellar of the house? Go out and descend in the footsteps of time down the stairs under that porch that was called genikl, located behind the house.

I have already described to you the cells, the chambers, and small pantries for all types of pickled foods. However, you have not yet figured out how to tell the difference between bitter and sweet in the vats of drinks and receptacles for food – starting with the carboys of mead and raisin wine, and ending with the cherry and apple juice of various sorts – all of these in the chamber of wonderful stuff in the cellar. On the shelves, in an important manner, were plates and jars, each different from the other, containing various concoctions of the house of Reb Shmuel Shimon: the sweet cherry and its brother, the sour cherry (called czerszany in the vernacular). Some of them spiced up the winter nights as the warm drinks were served, and treated the “sons–in–law” who came to see the “brides,” the daughters of Reb Shmuel Shimon, who were invited with a gesture and the words:

“So, let's put our kirshlech on the table, that is from the famous cherries.”

Other concoctions were close to them in place and taste: fox grapes[9] (called agrast in the vernacular), with their eyes like glazed blue, hard and whole, without any blemish.

Various berries, from black to red, which were a medication for colds and beneficial to make sick people sweat to relieve the dampness of the illness.

The preserves to garnish the bread were in a unique compartment. These were the black plum jam, and currant (called bruszniczes) jam.

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The first was a desirable food for children, and the second, very sour, to serve as an appetizer before a full meal, and as a condiment for all types of meat. The types of meat in the cellar cannot all be counted, but it would be inappropriate to not mention that which was present at all times in that large house: salted brisket in round barrels, preserved tongues, livers and kidneys in barban – that is a type of drum that was taken after use from Grandfather's tanning factory. There were jars of duck fat and hard fats designated for frying the Chanukah latkes and potato kugels.

All of these were things that the stomachs of grandfather's house required. However, the fineries in the cellar were delicacies that the hearts of a person desired due to their fine nature, and the soul always wanted.

In one of the resonating corners, next to the wonderful boxes of childhood, “So much stuff in the boxes, Grandfather!” the child called out with a glow in his spirit and a sparkle in his eyes.

“You want to know how many there are, count them my child!” said the giant in the cellar. The child began to count them one by one, and did not reach the end of the count, whether because of lack of ability, or because Grandfather opened one of them and took out copper or perhaps gold coins.

“For whom is all this treasure, Grandfather? Is it true that the coins are dwarfs? Uncle Shayke said that they were dug from a tunnel to the cellar, did Shayke tell the truth?” the child asked and asked without letting up.

“Go ask your uncle Shmuel Fajn,” said Grandfather.

 

11. The Land of Israel Rings

Eventually, the child asked this uncle, who told him that these boxes were – the wonder of the redemption of the Land of Israel. It was forbidden to keep them in the open and use them in public for fear of the government. Therefore, he took them down to Grandfather's cellar, where they are waiting for better days. Until those better days come, the good eyes of Uncle Shmuel watched over them to protect and save them.

The child received from his Uncle Shmuel one box whose lock was broken. His eyes feasted on it for many days until its image became etched in his heart until this very day. It looked like the blue glassy appearance of the large flower vase that stood on a narrow, tall stand at the corner of the guestroom of his parents' house facing the flour market. The child placed it, standing on a chair, next to that vase. The shape of a Magen David shone on one side of the cover of the box. A star reflecting light was etched into each of the corners, the inside of which had the image of a man following his plow, with the rising sun opposite him.

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Two lions were crouching on the other side of the box, facing each other, holding the blue and white flag with their bodies.

The child did not know if this box was more wonderful than the other boxes in the cellar, but he felt that the secrets of great ones are etched within it. He would feel it in the day, and see it in his bright dreams at night. All the coins that the child received were placed into that box. How? He would remove this precious treasure from the stand, place it on the fur carpet on the floor, take the coin and toss it inside. He would continue until he reached the last of his coins. When all were in the box, he would immediately lift it up, walk around the room, shaking the box strongly. The coins would jingle inside like a bell. It would seem like many bells joined together, resonating throughout the house and its inhabitants.

“Berl, what is this that is ‘shaking up the worlds' with you?” all those who passed through Father's door would ask.

“Do you want to see the tricks of my little one? Come and see!” Father would say not without a trace of pride.

Dov–Ber would bring them to the door of his room. They would stand and see the child making his circuits with the box. The little one would notice the crowds of people watching him with their eyes. He stood bashfully before them.

“What is it that is ringing with you?” Father asked his bright–faced child, as he tossed a handful of coins to the feet of the child, to appease him and assuage his confusion.

“The Land of Israel is ringing” said the child.

The adults heard the answer of the child, peered at him and were astonished. They moved their lips, but their voice was not heard. They raised their heads to Father and looked at the bandage[10] that circled his head, wondering in their hearts: This bandage comes from another flag, and how do we settle it?” It is a question.

 

12. The End of the Pristov [Police Chief] Who Injured Father

The other flag stood in the cellar of the giant, that is Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon. It was fastened to the sandbox with all the accessories and wonders, various articles of clothing and colored liens that served as props for the actors of the city and the daughter of the owner of the house, Aunt Fania, who was responsible for this burden. The flag was red – and the child imagined in his heart that he was dripping with its colors – drop by drop, into the sand in the box, apparently as if it was wounded.

If – an actual injury was not seen on the flag – its canvas was torn

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and ripped: All its threads, woven together, the work of the child's mother Mintza – were frayed, with the strands hanging down from the textile.

It once happened that all the workers of the city, tanners and tradesmen, craftsmen and day workers, apprentices and students, went out to demonstrate the brotherhood of workers on the first of the month of spring, that is what they call May in their language. All together, they went out to protest against the government oppression, and the disgrace and pressure on their lives. Mother went out as well, holding the flag that she embroidered during the nights, marching upright at the front of the camp.

The Pristov, that is the police chief of the city, saw this act of rebellion of the zhyds – as the gentiles called the Jews. He immediately commanded the Cossack brigade that was camped opposite the city to hitch up their horses, take their whips, and scatter these rebels with shouts of Hurrah!

The Cossacks stormed out to the streets of the city. They broke through the rows of marchers, beat them the butt of their rifles and whipped them right and left with their whips.

The father of the child was also there. He did not mix in with the throng of demonstrators, but only watched the parade. He saw that evil was about to take place, and his wife, who did not pay attention due to her great enthusiasm, was marching toward the danger. He broke through the crowd, reached his wife, removed the flag from her hands, and dropped it behind him to protect her. A Cossack noticed him, and made his horse gallop straight toward him.

Were it not for the agility of Berl the son of Shlomo the hatmaker, he would certainly have been trampled, and she would have caused the child to be orphaned from his father.

However, it was impossible to free oneself from this danger unharmed. That Cossack made him taste the taste of the whip, which had a lead tip.

Because of that flag, Father remained at home for a month with a bandage on his head.

Those days of Father's pain and affliction, when he had nothing to do – were happy days for the child. It was not that his heart was hardened, and he did not feel the gloominess of Father and Mother. On the contrary, the little one used all the meager energy of his soul and his feeble imagination to figure out how to comfort and encourage his father. He was certainly happy that Father was fully connected to the home and to him during that period. Furthermore, the child sought, so to speak, to prove the depth of his love for his Father, for he too was saddened by all the suffering and pained by all the agony. The child stood up and became ill.

This was not a fake illness. It was actual. Father had one bandage on his head, and the child – two. One was bound on his little head to reduce his fever, and the second was tied as a yoke on his neck to ease his warm, heavy breathing. The sick child accepted his suffering with love because his Father, who was sitting with him, would caress him, comfort him, and kiss him. He would hold the burning hand of the child in his large, merciful hand, and even tell his son stories that were desirous to the small heart of the child.

Once as evening was falling, the room of the sick child

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moved, and his bed flew about. Father was sitting at the head of his son and telling the end of the story, about this anti–Semitic Pristov, the evildoer may his name be blotted out, who wanted to destroy us and would have killed mother with the lead tipped whip. After several days, this Pristov was found with his arms and legs tied in a sack, the opening of which was also tied. The sack was under the bridge over the river, passing by Minsker Street, where it divides into two.

The police found their leader, that is the Pristov, in the sack under the bridge. They released him, and placed him on the pavement next to the bridge. They wanted to stand him up, but a hook[11] fell on that wicked man. They tried to talk to him, but he did not answer – he lost his power of speech. They gave him liquor, and he began to cry. They returned and asked him how he got there, and he began to laugh. He alternated crying and laughing. They found out from the relatives of that wicked man that it was not only the power of speech that he lost, but his mind became deranged. They sent him somewhere, and that was the end of the sentence.

“Father, what is the end of the sentence,” asked the sick child in a weak voice, as he struggled with his sore throat.”

“The end of the sentence, my son, is the end of the story.”

“It is not good, Father, for the story must have an end” said the child.

“And so – what do you want the end of the story to be?” asked the father.

“Let it lead to another story.”

“How?” asked the father in astonishment.

“That there should not be another Pristov. There should also be no more Cossacks, the whips in their hands should be broken, and the wooden marbles should only be used by the children to play, and that we may all go in the way of the rising sun.”

“What sun?” asked Father, not delving into the depth of the thoughts of his son.

“Like those that are drawn on the blue box of Uncle Shmuel.”

The child rested his head on the pillar that stood in the corner of the room where that box was located. Father also turned his head to that side, and it seemed to both of them that the sun was indeed shining from there.

 

13. The Singing Box and the Death of the Giant

During those days that the child was sick and Father was resting in his bed, Mother was not at home. Where was the mother of the child? In the house of her father Reb Shmuel Shimon. Mother would leave the house in the morning and return at night. Before she left, she would open her son's room slowly, approach his toes on his bed, stand for a bit silent and sad, look at the face of her son, lit up with the light of a final dream, and kiss him. Her lips would move as she touched the hot forehead of her sick child. She would mutter something in her heart and leave slowly, so as

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not to wake him. Once the child was semi–awake and felt the tears of his mother on his cheek. He opened his sleepy eyes, and saw that she was mournful, depressed, and wearing black. He wanted to ask why she was so sad. He could not, as she disappeared quickly and left the door open. Father came, sat beside his son, and said.

“Did you see a good dream, my son?”

“I forgot my dream, but I only remember Mother's sad face.”

Father was silent and perplexed. The child saw that his father was also joyless, which was unusual. His heart soured, and he burst out crying.

“Why are you crying, my son?” asked Father.

“I want Mother” sobbed the little one.

“Mother will return in the evening.”

“Take me now, Father, to Mother.”

“I cannot do so, my son.”

“Why not, Father.”

“You are sick, and Grandfather is no more!”

“How is it that Grandfather is no more?”

“He passed away, and is no longer with us.”

“Where did he go, my grandfather?”

“To a far–off place.”

And when will he return.”

“Grandfather will not return, for the place is far off – very far.”

“I want to go to Grandfather. Let us go to Grandfather. Even if it is far – far, let us go to him.”

The father could not end the talking of his son. He saw that his tears were flowing, his eyes were blinking, and his mouth was talking, and he tried to calm him in a different manner.

“You are no longer a little child, my son. You are older, and you have understanding. It is not fitting for you to cry. Come and listen, and I will tell you what happened to Grandfather?”

“When the child got sick, Grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimon wanted to visit his grandson. He had left the house, and was prepared to go through the tall gate of his yard to go out on to the long Vilna Street. He realized that he was going to the child emptyhanded. He stood and said to himself.”

“It is impossible for you, Shmuel Shimon of Daniszew, that the matron whose name you forgot is ruling over you, for you are a very old man; Is it not that a great treasure is hidden in that cellar for that child to whom you are going. How could you forget, an old man such as you?” Everything that he was saying to himself – Grandfather was thinking of nothing other than the musical box that he brought as a gift for the child from his last trip to the city of Minsk.

Reb Shmuel Shimon went to Minsk three times a year to bring

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his tanned hides there – the hides that were called pilszpaner in the vernacular, to sell to a certain German who came from his far–off estate on the great Volga River.

This is what happened: after the two reached an agreement regarding everything related to the business transaction, they concluded the deal with a drink and a snack, and exchanged gifts. One to the “shkotzim” of this German, who sail on the great waters of the Volga. The other to the grandson of that “Staro–Zakonik”, that is the Jew of the old faith from Smorgon.

The gentile received a chest of cakes, small and large, soft and hard, from “Samuel Semion Levovich Daniszewski.” These were the cakes that his city was famous for. He gave the Jew a musical box, the workmanship of the German craftsmen.

He remembered what he forgot. Grandfather returned to his house to fetch the box that was placed in a hiding place in the cellar with everything else hidden there.

Then Reb Shmuel Shimon took his kerosene lamp that was called kerosinke in the vernacular, which was hanging from a hook in the anteroom of the house. Grandfather lit it with a match, and turned toward the back entrance to the cellar under that porch that was called genikl. The old man went down the stairs calmly, with his heart happy that he was going to be doing a good deed for the sick child. He found the music box, that beloved treasure, by feeling and groping his way. He wrapped it in a velvet cover that he found among the stage props of his daughter, Fania the actor.

Grandfather now wanted to return through the way he came, but at that time, the Satan lured him, and he smelled the aroma that he loved – that is the hot lentil soup called lindzn. That soup has the consistency of dough or potato dumplings, pleasant to the palate. Reb Shmuel Shimon could not withstand his appetite, and tried to shorten the path by going up the ladder leading to the kitchen. He went up with the wick in his lantern, as he ascended the rungs and knocked his head on the cover of the cellar. The cover lifted. It did not stay up, but rather fell back down, injuring Grandfather's head. He rolled off the ladder from the knock, and fell heavily down to the cellar, banging his head on a heavy keg. The members of the household realized that he fell, and found Grandfather lying there, with his breathing fluttering. They brought him up, laid him on a bed, and hastened to summon the good physician, Dr. Epstein. He was the one who founded the large Hebrew school in the city of Vilna, where our young child would eventually study. The physician examined him, made a sign of despair, as if to say, “May G–d have mercy.” He commanded the Orthodox members of the household to refrain from moving Grandfather from his place. The look on the face of that giant changed, as contortions of pain overtook his body.

Reb Shmuel Shimon suffered for three days and nights with terrible afflictions, until he returned his soul to his G–d.

A heavy mourning descended upon the house. The sons and daughters of the deceased sat Shiva

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as their souls wept silently. The daughter Mintza, that is the mother of the young child, left her sick son every day and returned at dusk, forlorn and mourning.

And that music box, that hidden treasure, a gift from Grandfather of blessed memory, what became of it? The box shattered into smithereens when it slipped from the hands of that giant as he was falling off the ladder. It broke apart, and its shards rolled to a dark corner of the cellar.

Woe to the loss. The child did not merit to make music with the enchanting box of Grandfather of blessed memory. Its chords disappeared forever. At that moment, the internal reality of the child stood at the threshold of the locked gate of the great secret, dark and forlorn, about the loss with no solution.

The giant crouched and fell down, and a world of grace and light disappeared with his fall.

 

14. The Night Travels of the Child

The shloshim [30–day mourning period] for the child's grandfather, Reb Shmuel Shimon of Daniszew, had not yet passed.

He, who was a giant in the eyes of his grandson, like the Nephilim in the land.

He, the owner of the magnifying glass on a rod that enlarged the world and its contents.

He, Rasha'sh, who was called such by all the local jokers because of the harb – that is the sign that fluttered above the high gate of his yard.

Not long thereafter, there was great preparation in the house of the little one. Doors were opened gently, and all sorts of people entered both houses, one on Kirovai Street, and the other on Vilna Street, on the route that leads to the Dark Forest.

Those entering waited a bit in the anteroom. They removed their hats and placed them on the long peg in which animal horns were fastened, with the colors of the wild ox or perhaps, as is written in the books, from the deer to the buffalo. Out of doubt, the child called those pegs – just horns. However one thing he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was his father, and none other, who one day brought this fine object from a large chest in the city of Vilna with all the merchandise that he got there.

And what did Father get from the city of Vilna? He would get all sorts of furs, which were originally the garb of various foxes.

This is the common fox whose body is grey with a thin tail. This is the noble fox, for it had a streak of silver in its fur, and sparks of light in its ample tail – this is what was frequently found in the yards of the noblemen, the princes of the land, who sewed their fur coats – the inside as the outside – from this type of fox. Immediately after removing them, father took out all the other types of furs from the chest: large, medium, and small.

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Some were from martens and others from white rabbits and its mate, the grey rabbit. Some were from moles, and other from the black, wild cat called kotik. Finally, there was the precious fur of the Karakol goat, black and grey. In truth it can be said that our little one, unlike other children his age, was not afraid of the wild forest animals that entered his house. It seemed that he pulled out their glassy eyes from their heads and played with them quietly, or would pull the hair from their tails to hide between his bedding.

When nobody was looking, he would spread the furs on the floor of the room, and would set sail with all the animals to their forests.

“What are you doing, my son?” His mother would ask as she caught him in this game.

“I am riding on this young fox, who is taking me to his hole.”

“And what will you do, my son, in the den of your friend the fox?” asked Mother in complete seriousness, as if the words her son were completely true.

“I am invited to the feast hosted by the old fox for all the residents of the forest and the fields.”

“And through whose hand did the old fox send the invitation to my son?” added Mother, to verify the truth of the imagination.

“The old fox always sends all the invitations via the white rabbit who jumps from tree to tree in the forest.”

In his night dream, the child went out on his travels with his friends the animals, and returned in peace in the morning, with his eyes lit up with visions. His mouth did not stop telling about the miracles and wonders.

 

15. A Sister is Born to the Child

You probably recall that we were standing for a short while in the hallway of the house, where we tarried a bit at the horned hanger affixed to the wall. The entire story that we told above, from beginning to end, was on its account. If so, let us urge, therefore, all those entering to move from the anteroom to the parlor.

Our little one sees masses of people standing at the door, and calls out in his heart to each one to find out for himself if this call might catch their attention.

Here is his grandfather, Reb Shlomo the hatmaker from Kirovai Street and his wife Grandmother Hinda. Immediately after them are their sons, dragging their sisters Liba, Tzirel, and Feigel, behind. That is all one group. They all entered and made room for others. Uncle and aunts from here and there, descendants of Reb Shmuel Shimon, who came to rejoice with the head of the house. They all surrounded the large table, took a cup of

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wine or liquor in their hands, raised the cups, knocked them together, and wished Lechayim and Mazel Tov to the father of the little one, Berl. Father responded to them with joy and a lit–up face, “To you too!” The child heard the blessings and knew that they were directed to none other than that small being, red and white, lying in the cradle, who shrieks loudly when she is not asleep. In those days of agony and grief, the sister of the little one entered the world. The house had not recovered from the death of the Grandfather when they stood up, entered the house, and called her name Shima, to continue on the life and the name of the deceased Reb Shmuel Shimon of blessed memory.

There is nothing that brings comfort to people more than a baby who proclaims with motions and shouts to them and to the life ahead, with bright smiles and joy. That baby was lying in the cradle made of reeds, rocking on its round legs attached to its walls.

At that time, the little one stood next to the cradle, stood up on his tiptoes to the extent possible, but could not reach. He stretched his head between the reeds and saw that his sister was sleeping, with her splotched face trembling. Her wrinkled face seemingly announced her gloomy existence, and within a moment she has a bright smile on her face, as if she already saw the 310 worlds of contentment and happiness in her dream[12]

“Why is it that you are standing and laughing?” said the father of the child. “You will wake up your sister.”

“See, she grimaces like Aunt Fania.” The child broke out in loud laughter.

“Stop it, my son, leave the cradle and go to the adults.”

The adults do not pay attention to the child. They are only interested in eating and drinking, chit–chat, and stories of times gone by.

The child was astonished from the masses of people and afraid of the tumult. He certainly escaped from the noise to the silence of the second room where the mother was resting. He snuggled between his mother's arms to seek a hiding place. However his young uncle called Shayke saw the perplexed, abandoned child, and quickly rushed to him to calm his fear and return calmness to his soul. Shayke saw the child slunk in a corner. He approached him and said:

“Come with me, little one, we will leave the house, wander around the marketplace, skip over the yards, and go to the shops.” The child was happy knowing that Shayka was not a joker. He would not take him around for naught, and he would fulfil all that he promised.

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16. In Front of the Firehall

This was how their walk through the streets of Smorgon at the end of the summer went, one year after the end of the war, the thunder of which echoed from afar and the smoke of which rose up from fires that were approaching.

At first, they opened the door, and heard the ring of masses of small bells tied together – to accompany them with the blessing of the ringing. The went down the steps of the house and stood on the sidewalk next to the street. The eyes of the child immediately saw the firehall, pożarna in the vernacular. Opposite his house, to the left was the Carkawna, that is the church of the gentiles with a tin roof, sparkling in the light of the son, with three onion domes growing from the roof, round and potbellied, similar to the toy doll with a lead ball in its belly – called wanka wastanka because every time you put it down, it would jump and stand up by itself. The onions of the roof were swallowed up by the blue of the sky.

There were red barrels resting atop red wagons in front of the iron gate of the fire station. Since the horses were not hitched to them, they were certainly roaming about the meadow behind the bathhouse across the bridge. The only pump, called di pumpe, the pride of the firefighters, stood in a gated area with a long pipe, twisted as a snake, attached to its side. Small ladders were resting on the walls of the station. Among them was a large ladder with a mechanism to lengthen and raise it. The scoffers of the city called it yaale veyavo[13].

Melech Klopot sat dozing next to the gate, on a rock to which the horses were tied when needed. He was the emissary of the firefighters. He had a brass helmet on his head and an alarm bell in his hand.

This Klopot was an apprentice. Why was he called by that name?

Every time a fire broke out in the city, or as people say, “the red chicken” was sent to the gardens – he immediately rang the bell, summoned the firefighters, and called out loud:

“Here are new klopot!”[14] That is to say, perplexity, confusion, and troubles – a disaster and tribulations are fluttering over this city.

The young uncle, called Shayke, approached Melech Klopot, shook him gently, and asked him:

“Reb Melech, sir, do you think that a terrible klopot is approaching?”

The good firefighter smiled into his beard and responded:

“What do you think my son. If there is klopot, I am here.” However, the heart of the child did not agree with the words of his uncle and Reb Melech at that moment. His soul trembled

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and turned toward to the shiny brass helmet that was polished and glimmering in the sunlight – one cannot remove one's eye from it.

“That, my uncle” gestured the child with his thumb, blinking his eyes and pointing his head toward Klopot's helmet.

It seems that the uncle understood the concern of the child. He removed the helmet from Melech's head and placed it on the head of his young nephew. The helmet was larger than the child's head, which was hidden inside it. This too was a problem, that the heavy helmet descended and obscured the light of the day, leaving our child in darkness. Indeed, the little one did not forgo all the pleasures of childhood that he had at that moment of happiness, brought to him by the helmet of the fireman. Shayke gave Reb Melech Klopot as payment for wearing this brass helmet one fajm, that is a coin and a half that is the price of a glass of liquor in Yunta's tavern – he is Reb Yom–Tov – for it is as if everyone who enters his tavern comes to a great festival[15]. The child walked by the side of his uncle, and his small heart rejoiced inside him, for G–d had prepared such a nice day for him.

He still felt the heavy, shiny brass firefighters' helmet on his head. It was as if he was wearing a royal crown.

 

17. On the Streets of the City

How does one go on the streets of the city? One walks upright on the wooden sidewalk, and steps over the cracks that come from slats that are missing or that have rotted because of the rain and snow.

Then, one passes by the narrow doors and looks to see what is inside. One goes to the main road, and walks on a wide path, with one's feet pounding against the sharp, unhewn rocks that stick out, leaving a mark on the shoes. One finds puddles after the rain, jumping in, and crossing them.

If the puddles are too big for a person to jump over, one takes a stick or a pole from a nearby fence, spreads them across the puddle, and crosses in peace.

The two of them, our uncle Shayke, and the little one, stand near a puddle on the route. The uncle wants to take the little one in his arms, but the child protests, saying:

“I am big already. Let the uncle make a bridge.”

The child requested, and the uncle acceded. A slat or a pole was immediately spread over the puddle in the road, a bridge by all standards. As this was happening, the uncle did not forget to roll up the legs of the little one's long pants, for had he not done so, he would eventually have to answer to the mother of the child – his oldest sister Mintza.

Thus did they walk, while the heart of the child continued to rejoice.

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Suddenly, there is the sound of wheels, the whoosh of horses, and pillars of dust: From the curve of Vilna Street, from the direction of the railway station, a large carriage with two wagons speeds by. Pinia the Red is sitting in the cabin of the carriage. He is the lead wagon driver of all the “holders of reins” in the city. His sons Hershel and Shepsl drive behind him, sitting on a seat, stretching and pulling with their hands, and whistling to the horses: “Whoa!” They crack the whip.

Their father, Pinia the Red, saw that his children are erring, and acting improperly with the horses. He calls out loudly:

“Hey you rebellious ones, put the reins down, drop the whips from your hands!”

Pinia's sons Hershel and Shepsl are chastised, and lower their heads. Their whole bodies are trembling from the verdict of their father. The horses, however, raise their heads with pride. The merit of their ancestors, the swift horses, certainly stood for them this time. They shake their manes, neighed joyously, as if to say in horse language.

“It is clear––you rebellious sons will get your punishment.”[16]

 

18. Everything For Free!

More than the child coveted in his heart those sitting on the platform, and was jealous that they are leading fine animals like these horses – he placed his attention toward the strange people sitting in freedom and luxury in the carriage and wagons of Pinia the Red. Those people had colored kerchiefs on their heads, and wore multicolored cloaks. The had some sort of candle–like shaft in their mouths. It looked like a snake. Whenever they chirp at them, they make noise and roll up to their original state. They had scepters in their hands. They were apparently kings or noblemen. Two were sitting in a wagon, displaying a long banner with large letter, with the statement in Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish:

It is darmo![17]

It is free!

It is free!

The net day, Wednesday, was the market day in the city. These strange people stood in the open area in front of the firehall, and unfurled these enchanting banners that were resting in this wagon, now traveling behind them.

The people took out all the wonders of the world from the carriage, spread them on the stalls to the light of the day. They set up a splendid platform, and ascended the steps, clothed in their splendid cloaks,

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and wearing jagged hats on their heads. Two of them made their proclamations, with trumpets and pipes – declaring all types of bargains that they had, showing them to the people:

There was a small round mirror, a small, colored comb, bows and ribbons for girls, bobby pins and safety pins, a flowered and polka–dotted kerchief, full of colors, fluttering in their hands above the heads of the onlookers, everything almost free, for a small coin – that is darmo!

One of the group rolled a carpet in front of the central stall and acted like a clown: he put a red bulb on his nose, painted his face and whistled, put a linen wig on his head, rolled his eyes, and jumped and danced until he looked like a triangle in the air, doubled over – like a somersault, which is called koziołki in the vernacular.

He eventually stood on his feet to the applause of the audience, and coins began to fall into his overturned hat resting in the middle of the carpet.

As he did all this act, his other friend stood nearby, walking around with a music box, below which was a wooden pole. The box played a sad song in the language of the country, with a hoarse, shrieky sound. A lattice cage with a secret case below rested on the carpeted top of the box. A green parrot swayed on a platform of branches at the opening of the cage. Its mouth was not closed, and its tiny tongue fluttered inside without stop. As the motto goes, not to swallow and not to vomit.

“Gather around me, and come, beautiful girls”

Thus did the owner of the music box shout loudly.

“Come all and gather, come and listen to my words:

Who of you does not want to know what will take place in the future? The future is shrouded in darkness, but fate is etched on a hidden note in this case.” (He spoke, and showed the crowd the hidden box).

“For a coin, my learned friend, the praiseworthy Geronimus, the master of all birds, shabby and hot tempered, babbling and overflowing like a well, conducting himself in anger, will take out the note.

Wise and learned, expert and smart
His tongue is sharp and unstable like water
An emissary sent to the city of Smorgon
With praise, welcome him with applause!”

And to the parrot:

“Did I speak the truth, wise Geronimus
And did I not contradict you in front of the crowd and the people?”

The parrot, Geronimus the apprentice, opened its mouth in the language of people, to surprise of all those who came to the market, the purchasers of wheat and merchants of flax and other merchandise.

“It is true, my gospidin [boss],

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Bring a coin, and you will hear that which is hidden!”

And this gospidin, his master, the owner of the music box, pointed his thumb toward the parrot, who jumped down and flew up from the platform of the cage, and covered his master's finger with his wings.

A young farmer girl, named Stastinka, took down the coin that was tied to the edge of her kerchief and gave it to the owner of the music box. The zadarmnik, the group from the carriage and as members of this religion are called, brought Geronimus the parrot close to the hidden box, and opened it before him. With its twisted beak, the parrot pulled out one ballot of all those arranged in the box.

The villager daughter moved to the side. From her face, it could be seen that her heart was palpitating inside. Certainly, before the end of that suspenseful day, she would take that ballot to the village head who would understand and read everything that was in store for her.

It seems that the farmer girl would return to her home happy and glad. She would run the entire way, jumping and dancing. When she would return to her parents' hut, she would sing. The members of the household would be surprised, and say:

“What has happened to our Stastinka?”

Our Stastinka, as all the members of the household, did not know that all the fortunes in the secret box of the owner of the music box were all good ones.

 

19. A Cake called “Kushit”[18] and an Emblem called “Kokorda

This, and similar things to this, passed before the imagination of the child on account of that walk with his uncle called Shayke. The little one stood in his thoughts, with a yearning glance to the carriage and the wagons of Pinia the wagon driver.

The uncle noticed the thoughts in the heart of his little nephew, guessed what he wanted, and said:

“Prepare, my child, for tomorrow. We will go to the market tomorrow, and I will buy you a snake whistle.”

“Will we also go to the parrot Geronimus?” asked the child.

“We will go to him as well.”

“And now where are we going, my uncle?

“Now we are going to a place that is all sweets, to the Proznia, that is the confectionary of the Berberman sisters.”

The child knew that shortly he would have a moment of literal enjoyment – while awake and not in the dream that he had seen previously. His eyes would see. His hands would take, and his mouth would taste.

From all the types of sweets offered to him by the red–cheeked Bererman sisters: sugar coated cakes and fruit, twisted dough dotted with nuts and almonds, colored candies in the shape of beasts and animals placed on sticks – from all these the child did not choose

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even one. His heart, desire, and palate were on something called “Kushit”, cakes on a tall stand, black and lovely, sweeter than wine, and topped by a ring of chocolate.

“My uncle, will you buy me the Kushit?” asked the child of his uncle, hurrying his steps.

“Of course I will by you the Kushit.”

Do you know how to make a shortcut? – that is to jump over the path in front of you, and to go around and around until you arrive at the place without an obstacle.

The uncle wanted to cross through a straight yard and go out on the second road, from where he would head to the confectionary. However, he met the ire of the students of the Ivriya School. What does the uncle of the little one, who is no longer a child, have to do with these school children? This is the story.

There was a school in the city of Smorgon, unique of its kind, of which there is none like it in the entire country. It was founded by Rabbi Gordon's two sons, Abba and Zeev. Eventually, they became well known amongst the Jews and the gentiles in the country. They were great in thought, different in their ways, and strange in their vision to rectify humanity under the rule of freedom and justice. When they were still young, they founded the Ivriya School, in which everything was taught in Hebrew, with an accent that we do not speak, and in a manner that had never been taught in any other place: with work and play. This was a great innovation in our times, which became known in the city of Smorgon, for better or for worse.

Uncle Shayke knew how to play music. He had several musical instruments in his house. Some of them were dual harmonicas. If you wanted, you could play them with your mouth, and if you wanted, you could play them with your hand. That harmonica was prepared to entertain the children of Ivriya. On every festival and holiday, to those that adhered to the tradition of the ancestors, and those that guarded the school according to their hearts – Uncle Shayke would come and accompany the students in song, as he would play for their many performances. That day, the well–known teacher Abba Gordin sent two of his students, one of them still studying in the Beis Midrash and the other who was older and served as an assistant to his teacher, to look for the young musician, the son of Reb Shmuel–Shimon.

The students found him while he was walking on the city streets with the little one, talking to him.

“We were looking for you for some time. You are summoned to our teacher, Abba.”

“Are you not jesting with me?” answered my uncle.

“If you want, we will swear by taking hold of an object,” interjected the oldest of the group.

“For example?” asked my uncle.

“On that emblem of honor that our teacher is placed on our hats today, called Kokarda in the vernacular.”

He said this, took off his hat, and showed him the emblem. A sheet of copper with the letter ayin engraved upon it.

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Buds flowered at its edges, as if to say that Israel will sprout from the Ivriya School.

The child heard that they call that emblem Kokorda. He laughed out loud, as he pronounced each syllable Ko–kor–da forward and backward.

“My Uncle, when will I get a Kokorda?” asked the child. The uncle did not have a chance to give an answer that would satisfy the questioner, when the oldest of the group said:

“If you want, child, you can have mine.”

He opened the pin that held the [metal] sheet inside the hat, removed the engraved copper emblem, and gave it as a present to the child. The child was happy with this object that came to him unintentionally. Since he did not know how to thank him, he uttered a nonsense phrase:

“May it be that your voice be heard from one end of the world to the other!” He said this thinking that perhaps there is nothing greater for a person than for his voice to be heard.

He did not know that he had uttered a prophecy with his mouth that would be fulfilled by that same lad from whom he had received the gift. Eventually, he became well known as a major radio announcer on Radio Moscow. The student's name was Leviatan, and he composed nice poems in Hebrew during his youth, published on the pages of “Hagan Hateatroni” whose editor was his teacher, Abba Gordin.

 

20. At the Synagogue of the City

Before those two, the child and his uncle, arrived at the Ivriya School, they passed the Great Synagogue of the city.

The entrance way, formed of a rectangle of hewn stones lead from Vilna Street opposite the Flour Market, directly to the lane of the synagogue. At that time, Michaelka Slop, a tall, hunchbacked, Jew, thin as a tree twig, was standing there. He was nicknamed Slop, which means pillar, because of all those traits that I have just described.

The communal administrators deliberated and agreed to make him the guardian and the lighter of the lanterns on the Jewish streets, including the large lantern at the entrance to the lane of the Great Synagogue. The child saw that Reb Michaelka was standing before the pillar, and circling the pulley at its side. He lowered the lantern, slid it down on a metal wire, until it reached his height.

He opened the lantern, cleared the wick, and poured kerosene into the receptacle. He checked it from all sides, and then raised it to the top of the pillar.

The little one stretched his head upward and stared at the bird standing on the lantern and shaking it in the wind. The lights of sunset reflected off the lantern, blinding the eyes of the child. He wanted to lower his sight, but he could not take his mind off the bird. He clapped his hands, and the feathered being flew off the top of the pillar, and stood on the bright, round molding on the eastern wall of the Great Synagogue

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This joyful bird joined a good group that attracted the heart of the child. Two doves from the cote [shed] of Bentza the carpenter, whose house was opposite the synagogue were fluttering back and forth and in a circle, with a sense of importance, skipping and perching on the molding. The feathers of the doves were colored as if they dipped themselves in eyeshadow.

“As long as you stand looking at the bird and the doves, the sun had already set, and we will not get to the place where we said we would go,” said the young uncle to the little boy, as he moved him from the place. The little one was dragged against his will as his head was still pointed toward the molding of the synagogue, which looked like a rainbow with its colors, and which was the sitting place of lovely winged creatures.

The synagogue of the city was built half of bricks and half of stones. It was tall and stately, and fitting in every way to be a house of G–d and of His people Israel.

Stairs led up from the women's gallery on the second floor to the flat roof of the synagogue. A wooden fence rose up around the length of the edges of the roof. That fence had round windows as well as holes made by people. There were cannonballs and balls of cast iron, pipes and metal bars, basins made of pitch and utensils to light a bonfire – all of these were arranged at the side of the fence. The shaft of an old cannon stuck out from one of the holes.

The city elders were able to tell about the brave deeds of their ancestors from previous generations. Were it not for the power and bravery of the early fathers, who knows if this community would have survived in peace through the times of war and tribulations, the armies of wild disturbers, who pillaged and murdered, and stood ready to kill, wipe out, and destroy all the Jews, from youth to elderly, from child to woman. From the roof of the synagogue, the men would conduct war against the gentile riffraff below, to protect the unfortunate souls who were locked in the synagogue. They would throw cannonballs and fiery torches on the heads of the gentiles, and pour boiling water from boilers and basins. Supports of bricks and stones fortified the walls of the building from the outside. Since they were constructed on a slope, they served as a kind of sled rink for the Jewish children studying in the Talmud Torah, which was located on the ground floor in the anteroom of the synagogue.

Our little one is now standing in front of the holy building, listening to the voices bursting forth from it:

Rabbi Yaakov–Boaz was teaching his chapter of Mishna and Ein Yaakov to his audience, the simple folk: tradesmen, tanners, storeowners who were able to leave their shops in the hands of their wives and children, guests passing through, and those who attended the Beis Midrash as they had nothing else to do. The Beis Midrash of Rabbi Yaakov–Boaz took up the entire right wing of the ground floor, and was too small to accommodate all those who knocked on its gates. To the left of that wing, the quiet sound of the melody of the group of Hassidim sitting in the kloiz of the Kojdanow and Lubavitch Hassidim rose up.

Even though they did not all form one tight group, for this one cleaved to his Rebbe and this one to his Rebbe, to whom he traveled – they formed one group for the purpose of prayer.

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The voices were not the main thing for the child at this time.

What was the main thing for him? The lads exiting the Talmud Torah, placing their lanterns next to the wall of the synagogue, and climbing up those supports. They went up, and slid down with resounding shouts of joy.

“Uncle, I too want…” said the child, without explaining what he wanted at the end. A hint was sufficient for Uncle Shayke, and he responded.

“And how can you stand up to them, for you are small and they are big?”

The child recalled his grandfather Reb Shmuel–Shimon, and the story with the gentile Mitran's dog Paskody, before whom he stood bravely without flinching. The child responded to his uncle:

“Do you not know, my uncle, that I am no longer afraid of Mitran's dog.”

“Okay,” said the uncle, “If you are as brave as you say, let's go.”

They approached the place and asked to join in.

 

21. The Trip to Oblivion

The Cossacks!!!

The sound of the shouting of disaster rose up from the lane leading from Vilna Street to the Great Synagogue.

“The Cossacks are coming!” The call was heard from others who were going from the house to the yard, and from one road to the next.

A great pall fell upon the lane, and confused the mind of the child. Mothers burst forth from their house in weeping and shouts to look for their children and take them home. The bells of the tanneries rang and alarmed, summoning the workers. Shopkeepers closed their stores and hastened to their wives and children. The shutters were lowered. Doors were closed and locked. The streets emptied of people.

Uncle Shayke quickly grabbed the young child. He covered him with the edge of his coat under his arms. He left the slide at the Great Synagogue and ran with all his might toward the Flour Market – to the home of the parents of the little one. When they approached the house, they heard the agonized cry:

“Where is the child? Who has seen the child?”

The uncle burst inside and placed the child before his father and mother, as he said:

“Here he is!”

Tears of joy following fear welled up in their eyes.

* * *

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The Cossacks flooded through the streets of the city like a stream of mighty water. They were fleeing from the German brigades who were pursuing them. They arrived and camped in the city. Then they went out to mark the Jewish houses with signs, some for pillage, and some for burning.

That day, the child, his father, mother, and baby sister who was named Sima descended to the cellar of Grandfather Reb Shmuel–Shimon of blessed memory.

When they got there, they found sitting crowded there all the sons and daughters of this tall grandfather who had built the house and the cellar to serve as a safe refuge.

We sat in the darkness of that cellar for three days and nights. During those days, our child wandered the entire length and breadth of this subterranean place, as someone searching for his lost object. He looked behind every barrel and under every bench. He peeked into the storehouses and felt all the shelves.

“What are you looking for, my son?” asked Mother.

“I am looking for Grandfather.”

The mother kissed her son as her tears flowed down her cheeks.

During the nights, the smell of fire and smoke reached the nostrils of those sitting in the cellar. Everyone understood that the Cossacks were burning their city.

After three days, Father exited and went to the neighbor, the gentile Mitran, asking him to hire horses and wagons.

The gentile did what Father asked. He got wagons and hitched them to horses. We sat in them and set out on our journey.

Father drove one of the wagons, with its passengers. Uncle Shayke stood strong and firm in another one, driving the horses with a steady hand.

Mitran sat on the platform of the third wagon. His dog Paskody followed along at the side of the wagon, walking leisurely and humbly.

The escapees were now some distance away. Minsk Street was already behind them. They went along the route leading to Karka, that is the village of the Jewish farmers. They stopped their horses at the orchard of Sinicki, which extended over the length of both sides of the main street. The owner of the orchard came out. He had returned not long ago from the plains of Siberia, where he had been exiled by the evil regime. He said:

“They won't be in power forever. The evil regime will disappear completely from the land. A new world will arise. I say to you in truth, you will yet return, dear brothers, to your home in peace.” Sinicki's daughters approached the wagons, and gave the passengers fruits from the garden. They repeated what their father had said:

“May it be that you will return soon.”

The child saw that they were covered with white clothes, with sheets over their shoulders, apparently like wings. He looked at their pale faces, that did not appear like gentile girls, and saw that they were very sad. Tears began to choke his throat. He could not control himself, and burst out crying. One of them said:

“You are already big, my child, and it is not appropriate for you to cry. Take these as well for the journey.”

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She gave the child a linen sack with fruit that he had always liked: fox berries – called agrast in the vernacular, glassy and transparent. The child took out one berry, looked at it, and saw that it resembled the tear that fell from the eye of the good maiden whose appearance was similar to an angel. He could not restrain himself, and cried more.

While this caravan was standing near Sinicki's orchard, two additional wagons approached and arrived.

In one of them sat the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Menashe Ginzburg and his daughter Perel. The rabbi of the city, a righteous, upright man, sat and whispered a prayer. A Torah scroll rested in his bosom, and his tallis covered the holy object. Meir “Kanbal,” brave, and corpulent, who instilled his fear upon the gentiles of the city and the villagers sat in the final carriage, with his small wife, Breina, beside him.

“Rabbi,” said Kanbal to the rabbi of the city, “You travel in front of me. I vow that not one hair of your head will fall to the ground.”

If Meir Kanbal promises such – one depends on him, for his nickname came from the gentiles of the city, who compared his might and power to a praised army commander from history, and imagined in their hearts a trait of cruelty which he did not have.

“Rabbi,” Kanbal again turned to the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Menashe, “It seems to us that you did not pay attention to us, to what we said. Please your request first to G–d, and then to us. And you, the community of Israel,” as Meir turned to those sitting in the wagons, “take what is in your hands, and go forth and camp.” He only uttered such words of urging to bring the travelers out of the black melancholy that had overtaken their spirits.

The caravan had not yet moved from its place when the sounds of the shouting of Hurrah came from afar. The travelers turned their heads in fear in the direction from where they had come, to the Minsk Street and saw that the skies were red from the flames of the fire.

The city behind them was burning.

The mothers sobbed discretely so as not to cause their children to be afraid. The fathers urged on the horses to drive the wagons.

A stray bullet, a harbinger of bad things, passed over the wagon in which the child was sitting.

“Woe to me, the girl was hit!” She dropped her head and fainted. The members of the household stood over her and restored her with cold water and drops of valerian. The mother opened her eyes and saw Father and her son hugging her.

“It is well with our infant, praise to G–d that He saved her,” said Father. He could not restrain himself and began to cry.

“You Berl, are crying!” smiled Mother, and wiped Father's tears.

They looked at each other, clasped their hands, and were silent.

[Page 498]

And the child, as this was happening, moved from his parents, approached Uncle Shayke who was driving the horses, raised himself to him, and said:

“And when, my Uncle, we will return to visit those placed that we did not get to?”

“Don't worry, little one, about those places. We are going to new places, large and wonderful.” The child cast his eyes afar, wanting to know about what plots were awaiting him.

“There – there, at the edge of the horizon, the Zelsia Forest, were two of the faithful companions ready to greet the child: the impetuous rabbit, with upright ears, will bring the little one into the secret language of the trees. The squirrel that leaps from branch to branch for its thick nut, will make nuts fall to eat and to play with.

Across the forest, further along the road leading to the city of Minsk – stands a train. The locomotive moved quickly, spewing forth its smoke. The chains connecting the wagons grated.

A shriek of the whistle and a wail of the siren. The world shook, and moved with the child.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 32:7 Return
  2. See page 31. Return
  3. Plomp means pump in Yiddish. Return
  4. Two obscure phrases. Hodu means India. The phrase Hodu Lashem Ki Tov means “Praised is G–d for He is good”. Aleinu means to us, or upon us. Aleinu Leshabeach is a reference to a thrice daily prayer. From Hodui ad Aleynu is a play on words that would mean from India to us – or something that comes to us from afar. Return
  5. Shor Habar – a mystical wild ox from the Messianic era. Return
  6. Isaiah 58:7. Return
  7. A reference to war––likely World War I Return
  8. See https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/evil–eye–in–judaism/ Return
  9. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitis_labrusca (Could also be gooseberries). Return
  10. The reason for the bandage is told later in this chapter. Return
  11. Perhaps a curse. Return
  12. See https://www.mishnahyomit.com/articles/Uktzin/310 Worlds Return
  13. Yaale Veyavo (may it rise and ascend) forms part of the prayer service of festivals and Rosh Chodesh. Return
  14. Klopot is troubles in Polish. Return
  15. A play on the words yomtov, meaning a festival, but also a first name. Return
  16. This sentence is repeated in Aramaic and Hebrew, with the sentence “and in the Jewish language rather than Aramaic:” Return
  17. Free in Polish. Return
  18. Kushi is a term for a black person. Return

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