Chapter the sixteenth.
I want to go wandering again. - The contract with Shemet. - My brother-in-law from Kiev. - I water horses. - A plan to move to Kiev. - Grandfather. - With Shemet. - Grandfather's reproof. - I sell the whole lot. - Only Kiev. - The voyage. - A first welcome. - 'obloves'. - I lay under a bed. - Fear. - Crying. - Disappointment and regret. A Jew arrested.
After Sloymele left I started thinking a lot of leaving my outpost. My contract with Lord Shemet was for three years. Actually one could stay with him forever, but it was his custom to give out contacts to all his leaseholders for three years only . He never wrote out a supplementary contract if someone decided to stay longer.
I could therefore have stayed in Kushelyeve as long as I liked, even after his death. His daughter would not have broken with the tradition unless of course she had wanted to sell the estate. I would have been sure of an income.
I might have gotten used to the place in the course of time and maybe life would have improved.
Around the time that I was trying to figure out how to get out of Kushelyeve my brother-in-law Arn Tsaylingold1was on his way from Pinsk to Kiev. The last mentioned city had started to attract a big influx of Jews in those days.
During the period of Alexander the Second one met with little obstruction settling there and many Jews moved to Kiev. Or actually, it was the river Dnjepr where Jews flocked to. Because Jews were mainly working in the grain-business, they transported their grain over this river to Yekaterinoslav, Nikolayev, Krementshug2etc.
Gradually Kiev grew into the main center of Jewish business. One didn't enjoy complete freedom there though. The police would frequently carry out their infamous 'Kiev man-hunts', which unfortunately have not abated even now3wBut it was possible for Jew a to 'exist' despite the restrictions. Where is it better? Its always a matter of degree.
At least artisans were allowed to live there and to ply their trade. It wasn't very difficult to obtain a 'Certificate of Proficiency'4either. Not much to worry about for
a glazier, an ink maker, a vinegar maker, as long as he was 'certified'. Members of the First and the Second Guild5had the right of habitation anyway. Normally these man-hunts, the so called 'obloves', did not lead to great successes for the police. Thanks to God, Jews had a much easier and better life than nowadays.
In the worst case you had to fill a hand, an ancient Jewish remedy. Other people had a shot at being a cook. Which man or woman cannot cook up a stew with some meat in it? That's how things were done and Kiev grew into a large Jewish community, with trade, business, crafts etc.
My brother-in-law had moved to Kiev to open a fine guest-house there. His wife managed the hotel while he went into other business. In those days there was no shortage of good business opportunities in Kiev.
My brother-in-law had been under the impression that I had struck it rich in Kushelyeve and it had never occurred to him to move me over to Kiev.
His father's house in Pinsk had burned down by accident . He was travelling to Pinsk to collect the insurance money, three thousand rubles. Once you are in Pinsk you can come down to visit us in Kushelyeve, which isn't very far6.He had made a point of dropping in on us unexpectedly, to catch us at our "daily life". And that's exactly what he did.
On a Friday, during the day, I was watering the horses at the well, pouring water from the well into the trough where three horses stood drinking. At that very moment my brother-in-law arrived unnoticed. He stood there for some time, watching me watering the horses and then sneaked away.
Later, while we were sitting in the room, he kept expressing his amazement about the fact that I, a young man who had spent time in the study house, knew how to handle horses. He even thought my drawing water from a deep well and my pouring it in a trough a marvel.
"I always thought you a softy [farshlafene brye], only good at writing a stylish long letter [mlitse-brivele] to me. But you are all right after all. Come with me to Kiev, you will do well there in business.
He began telling stories about hundreds of people who had come to Kiev "without any boots on" and who had become rich men, worth hundreds of thousands rubles in a few years time. In Kiev you could become a rich man "walking on one leg".
You can believe that my brother-in-law had no trouble convincing us and after his leaving we decided to speed up our departure from Kushelyeve and go to Kiev.
I was all for it.
Within a few months time, before New Year7, I liquidated all my assets; I sold off the cows, the calves, the oxen, the horses, the wagons, the hay and similar things a farm owner has, on after the other, not caring about prices, just driving out the cattle to be rid of them.
When I had finished selling I sent a message to my grandfather, asking him to go with me to the Lord to reach an understanding. For the Lord it came as a surprise, He had counted on me staying on in Kushelyeve for ever. My grandfather came and I terminated my contract with the Lord.
The Lord said to grandfather: "Your grandson is making a stupid mistake, giving up Kushelyeve. Your grandson quite underestimates what he is throwing away. I have had several offers of twelve thousand rubles for the farm. But I don't like haggling. I might have leased my own place to your grandson one day. I am already old, I can't be worried with such things anymore and your grandson is decent fellow. But, if he doesn't want to, if he is in a hurry, running away from there, well, let him run and good luck to him."
Grandfather grabbed on to this: "You're seriously thinking about giving up your place".
"Well, yes," said the Lord, nodding his head.
"In that case he won't leave!" said grandfather with conviction, "He is staying."
Shemet, getting angry, said: "No, he won't. He is out of my good graces now. The moment he wants to leave he is finished as a leaseholder with me."
Grandfather was beside himself.
"Why? Why?", he afterwards said to me with distress in his voice. "You would have been happy. It's a crime. You would have made it.
He couldn't get over it.
"What is it in a big city that attracts you? What do you think a city is like? They struggle and fight there to earn a penny. You will see, you will be sorry one day for leaving the trees of Kushelyeve. Such a Lord, to let go of such a Lord. You know what it means to make an income in a city - and here he pierced me with his eyes - I wish to God it wasn't true, but the time will come that you'll tear your hairs out because of it.
But I didn't listen to grandfather. He could say what he wanted, I was going to go to Kiev. A big city, lots of people, you could speak with people there, meet with others, debate, speak about lofty subjects. I didn't care a bit about Kushelyeve,
Grandfather went home grieved and I finished off my village affairs.
When everything had been sold I moved my family to Kobrin. My wife and child would wait there for the time being, while I got settled8. I went to Kiev by myself.
I arrived in Kiev on a Friday, early in the morning and proceeded in good spirits to my brother-in-law who kept a guest house on the bank of the Dnjepr. When I had found my brother-in-law I soon noticed that he didn't look happy [foygldik]. He wasn't radiating cheerfulness as he had done during his visit to Kushelyeve. When I asked him what had caused the change he answered that this winter Vaynshteyn had gone bankrupt with a debt of six and a half million rubles. His bankruptcy had caused an upheaval in all of Kiev, because Vaynshteyn's affairs affected everybody else9.
He had not only caused large banks to go bankrupt , but also private individuals for over three million.
In this tidal wave of bankruptcies three thousand rubles cash of my brother-in-law had been swept away. He had moreover lost business contracts that used to earn him up to five thousand rubles a year. At the time I arrived all his affairs had, thank God, been taken care of, but in Kiev commerce was in shambles and my brother-in-law hadn't any business left but for the guest-house and it wasn't easy to make a living from the guest house only, especially since he had got used to living high.
Considering the high hopes I had come with this was quite a welcome. I had arrived in Kiev at just the right time. I had mannaged to get here, here I was. Kiev was waiting for me.
I had exchanged Kushelyeve for the big city and here it was, Kiev.
All of a sudden I was overcome with disappointment and despair. Suddenly I felt like I had been struck with blindness. What had I done? How could I have thrown to the wind a well established life as a farm owner? Why had I risked it? How was I going to provide for wife and children now? For what possible reason had I, a village Jew come to a big noisy city to look for a business? Who needed me there? Who was waiting for me there? Who would pick me up here, big bargain that I was?
My despair must have shown, the people in the house noticed it and my brother-in-law eventually gave me a good talking to.
"To begin with", he said, "you ought to behave like "a mentsh", a grown up. You haven't suffered at all from the bankruptcy, so why be down-hearted? Maybe God will help you in Kiev."
And in the afternoon he took me out to the prayer house of the Khsidim of Karlin10, to cheer me up. And it was cheerful in the 'shtibl', my despair faded away. Men were clapping their hands, stamping their feet and welcomed the Shabes in a jolly way. I wasn't used to such a racket anymore and the walls seemed to me to be clapping along and to join in the singing the 'lekhu-geroneno'.
All sad thoughts had gone from my mind. Back home I happily sang along the 'Sholem Aleikhem' with my brother-in-law and when we sat down at the table we were with a congregation of twenty Jews including great merchants, rich shopkeepers, important brokers and the like. The table is well lit, candles burning; nice cuts of fish on white plates. The company said 'kidesh' and after this benediction they started on the meal and engaged in a long conversation.
But what were they talking about?
My God, about 'obloves'!
The Police catches Jews! Catches, catches, catches them.
Catches them? What?
I had always known that Jews have problems, that they are slandered, that they carry a heavy burden, a bitter yoke, but that Jews were also caught without me ever having heard of it ... Cold perspiration appeared on my forehead. The police catches Jews! Catches, catches, catches them.
"You don't know about that kind of catching?" said someone to me, noticing that the subject was new to me. "Last year they arrested a whole shul full of Jews right in the middle of the 'Kol-Nidre'11. A whole synagogue full of Jews. Do you understand? A shul full of Jews.
"So, if a Jew doesn't have the right to live here, he has to hide?" I asked rather foolishly, not sure of myself while cold terror went through my bones.
"Well, what do you think? Hide, of course."
This left me in complete despair.
It appeared to me that my brother-in-law had ruined me, had murdered me without using a knife. Why hadn't he told me in Kushelyeve that they caught Jews in Kiev. I certainly wouldn't have gone, not for a million, not for a billion. They catch Jews!!!
The most horrible thoughts kept churning through my mind.
"Why did you bring me here?" I suddenly asked my brother-in-law in a bitter tone.
"Calm down, don't be upset." my sister-in-law mixed in, "We pay money to the police commissioner; he gets his own and he doesn't bother us. They don't catch at our place - and even if we have an 'oblove' here once in a while, they will let them go the next morning. The inspector gets what he wants, cash in hand, cash in hand.
Meanwhile I realised that the people present were making fun of me, they chuckled.
"Why be so afraid?" One of the guests asked, "After all, you are a Jew and a Jew should be used to that kind of thing."
Now several people started telling me that they had never been caught, had never spent one night in the can [koze, see oytser: 470] and, thank God, they managed. Not to worry [nishkoshe], still a long time to go 'till the coming of the Messiah. In the meantime one had to spend night in the can and make money.
The company started singing Shabes song [zmires], like they were in Jerusalem. I clenched my teeth and thought, 'what will be will be'.
However it became quite obvious that my bad luck was not the only to have reached Kiev, but that my 'shlimazl' was one among a million-myriads, because it didn't take long before Kiev favored me with the delight of an 'oblove'.
At eleven o'clock sharp, while we were in the middle of eating a fruit-stew [tsimes] which happened to be very good, we heard the bell sound loudly. It had been rung with a self-confident hand, not the way a guest would have rung - and everybody jumped up from his chair with a deadly pale face.
"It's an oblove!", someone uttered in a choked voice.
The very people that had spoken so bravely about 'obloves' before, now all got nervous in the midst of their fruit-stew.
My sister-in-law, who had a great dose of common sense, took me by the hand whispering: "Hurry, an oblove, I'll hide you."
And dragging me behind her she started running.
But everybody was on the run, even the rich ones, the important ones, the brokers, the shop owners, all ran in panic. It seemed that sitting in the can wasn't such a little matter as they had maintained before.
My sister-in-law ran into a bedroom with me. She brought me to the bed and told me to crawl underneath.
"Get under it, go, don't feel embarrassed."
But the fine gentlemen are better at it than me. They are all underneath the beds already. I followed their example. Under the bed I heard my under-bed companions panting and I heard their hearts beating. I wasn't as frightened as they were. I had hardly had time to get scared.
A strange picture: underneath the bed lay men with full beards, fathers of children, respected merchants, panting, sounding like thirsty geese.
Listening carefully I heard the police pacing heavily through the neighboring room and speaking in harsh voices.
"They are looking", I thought, "they might find us; pull out a bunch of fine Jews from under the bed."
But this time the 'oblove' was not a 'heavy' one at all because the 'good' inspector was in charge; he was there in person. Only because he had to catch someone had he, to save face, arrested a poor man who happened to be visiting my brother-in-law. It is even possible that the man had volunteered for this job, for a price.
When they left we crept out from under the bed. A pretty sight we were. Our best clothes were covered with cobwebs and big stains from the dust and our noses were smudged.
Only now did fear strike me; I gave up all feelings of shame, I started crying in a loud voice. I must admit that those tears were unmerited, foolish tears. Since the 'oblove' hadn't been terrible at all I had no call for crying and certainly not so loudly. I must have looked repulsive and stupid.
I think that when he saw my tears my brother-in-law regretted even more than me that I had come. I kept them up all night, I just couldn't quiet down. My brother-in-law tried everything, but to no avail. And the next morning I was still pretty much in the same condition. I couldn't eat or drink and something kept haunting my heart.
They handed me over to the guests, ordering them to calm me down. They told me stories about millionaires and humored [getentelt] me like a child. My sister-in-law fetched the poor man from the neighborhood police office.
"So what! There is nothing to it!" He said bravely on his return.
"You see," said my sister-in-law laughing about my fears, "he has been in the can and doesn't cry."
"What did you tell them there?" I asked the man.
"I told them that I had just arrived and would be leaving soon." the man said good-naturedly.
I looked at the man thinking: It's over. What else could I do now? Am I any better than that man? He suffers, to earn a living. I'd better start suffering myself. I forced my self to become calm. I didn't know then that I would only get a real taste of fear in Kiev later, that this fright was nothing compared to what would follow, that my heart would be shaken up plenty and that I would cry bigger tears yet.
1Husband of Peshe, an older sister of Kotik's wife. His wife stayed with this sister in Pinsk, after her parents had died. See Vol. I, Chapt. XX.
2Kremenchug, Jekaterinoslav = Djnepropetrovsk: cities on the river Dnjepr . Nikolayev: a Black Sea port.
3Text: "obloves": Police would round up Jews without a residence permit, including old people, invalids, women and children, to be deported from the city to the Pale of Settlement. In 1910 about 5000 Jews were expelled from Kiev. See footnote to Vol. II, Chapt. XXV.
4Text: "remeslene". See footnote to Vol. II, Chapt. XXV.
5The first Guild: Licenced merchants. The second Guild: Certified Artisans.
6There was a railroad from Pinsk to Bereza.
7New Year here obviously is not Rosheshone, but the first of January. The Kotiks had arrived in Kushelyeve two and a half years earlier, during the second half of May. They celebrated two times Peysakh there. Moyshe stayed with them for about a year, during their second winter, from after Sukes until Rosheshone.
8Text: kind. We know that Kotik had two boys left after his family suffered from typhoid fever. When his wife joins him in Kiev she arrives with three children.
In Vol. I, Chapt. XXVI we learn that Kotik has family in Kobrin, namely Yoshe Minkes, who was married to Aster-Gitl, the daughter of the Rov of Kamenits, a brother of Kotik's mother's father. Comp. note to chapter XIII.
9Text: waynsteyn > Weinstein.
10Khsidim of Karlin: r' Aharon Perlov the Great of Karlin (+1772) ; r' Shloyme Ha-Levi of Karlin (+1792). They were disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch.
11kolnidre: prayer recited on Yom Kippur eve.
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