Chapter the Seventeenth.
I am looking for a shop. - A sudden flood. - My wife and children and the flood. - I've already found a shop . - Big regrets. - Troubles. - Christians. - Christian businesses. - Living among Jews and Russians. - Andreyevski Spusk [R. landing, slope]. - Jews of the 'obloves'. - The 'Litvak' in Kiev. - My assignment. - Mr. Leyb Shapiro. - The Police Officer Mikhailov. - Madam Rozenberg. - Mr. Hirsh Epshteyn. - Mr. Moyshe-Yitskhok Levin.
When the Shabes was over and the week had started I calmed down somewhat. And after calming down a bit I started taking an interest in business. I had several plans.
However, a good friend of my brother-in-law proposed that I enter into a partnership with a local dealer in grain. I would have to travel around buying up grain. That was something to consider. They advised me to remain alone in Kiev for the time being. As soon as I had 'worked my way up' and had enough income I could bring over my wife and children.
But I, being young and foolish, did not feel like staying in Kiev on my own, without my family. Solemnly, but foolishly, I declared that I had to be a father to my children and a good husband to my wife. They shouldn't be without me.
Since one of Kiev's most important lines of trade was bakery products, I decided to rent a bakery shop for my wife That way she could sit in the shop while I was looking for other business. My brother-in-law was also against my bringing my wife down to Kiev. He was right, of course.
But I didn't want to give in and he grew tired of arguing and told some brokers he knew to find me a shop.
I wrote to my wife telling her to sell all household effects and to come to Kiev around Peysekh. Easier said than done, it turned out, especially since I am such a good-luck specialist. Just at this time the Dnjepr rose and in several neighborhoods the streets flooded, especially the ones where Jews lived. Long-time residents of Kiev said that they couldn't remember such a flood for years.
My brother-in-law's guest-house, which was close to the riverbank, stood half under water. All the houses in the surrounding neighborhood were in the water; people punted around in boats through the streets. Hundreds of people were ruined; people were just laying around in attics with their children, because they had nothing to eat.
Of course it was only the poor that suffered, because the flood mainly affected the area housing paupers and Jews.
Renting a shop for my wife was out of the question.
I was roaming the streets all day long, watching this great flood. This was also something new for me.
Stools, macaroni-boards, tables, rolling pins [katshelkes] and other household implements floated around.
I told you that I had written my wife already before, telling her to come. Having seen the water a practical person would have written a second letter immediately, telling her not to come.
But I didn't and as could be expected she arrived with three small children in the middle of the flood. I managed only with great difficulty to get them to my brother-in-law's guest house, of which only the upper floor wasn't under water.
The third child was still a tiny mite and I had to carry it on my arm part of the way, the stretch along the bank, because no hackney could get through there11.
I had to scramble over constructions of planks and beams they had made to wade through the water on and I was trembling at the thought of, God forbid, falling into the water with the tike. At the same time I felt like a worthless idiot; who would get it in his head to have a wife come during a flood?
Not without difficulty did we cross the sea of water and not without problems did we survive those difficult days.
After Peysekh we started looking energetically for a store-annex-dwelling, a normal setup in Kiev.
I had the opportunity to take over a shop with inventory from a Jew living in a Christian street. It was obvious that man had done very badly there, for who would buy at his shop if there weren't any Jews around? Moreover, why would any Jew sell his shop? Like a real Menakhem-Mendl2, confused, excited, dazed, I snapped at the opportunity and took over the shop.
Only after having paid for the shop did I realise that I had been had by the shop-master. I had paid far too much for the stock. That really hit me in a bad way.
One "fine morning" we moved into the house-annex-shop - entering the house you came through the shop. After sitting in the shop for several days it became clear that it was in serious trouble, for nobody dropped in. Dark days were upon us, here we sat staring at the walls.
This was the beginning of a hard life with many regrets, with torments, with misery, with distress and suffering, that is far more vividly painful in a big city than in a village.
I started looking for other sources of income. I introduced myself to people, the rich and wealthy. I hung around with them in the hope that something would come of it. But nothing came of it. This is because the only way to earn money around them would have been as a commissioner and, being the opposite of Menakhem-Mendl, I was no good at brokerage.
For that you have to be a frivolous person, a liar, a tattler [ployderzak]; my tongue was still naive, innocent or foolish.
I was hard up. Not having anything to do and not being able to sit in a shop without customers I wandered through the streets, taking in how the goyim lived. At times I would be overcome with jealousy. They lived in extraordinary clean, amazingly tidy way. Their shops were spick and span. Shopping at a goy's was very pleasant.
When you entered a shop owned by a goy the shopkeeper would take off his hat smiling politely. He would not cringe in front of the customer with heaps of talk. In general he would speak in a relaxed way, quietly mentioning the price. He wouldn't immediately throw things in front of you, but show the article requested by the customer with clean and manicured fingers.
Such treatment makes the customer either dependent on and trust the shopkeeper, and he will seldom leave the shop empty handed.
In my days the Russians were very solid merchants and extremely capable businessmen.
They certainly were not as honest as they seemed to be. Sometimes it was quite risky to buy a big consignment of goods from them, a risk not even fully eliminated by having a contract. They were always very clever at putting tricks into contracts, rendering them worthless when it came to it.
But that played only with big consignments of goods. Naturally, not all traders were like that; it would be an injustice to maintain otherwise. I knew lots of honest, very solid Christian merchants, business people, shopkeepers.
Jews and Russians lived together in good harmony, even if a Russian would occasionally, not even speaking in anger, flap out a: "Dammed Jew!" [zhid proklyati!].
It just came out that way, because it felt good.
Food sold very cheaply in Kiev. The population ate well. The Russians ate a lot and the Jews more than a little. But the Russians poured themselves full of vodka, like it was water.
Which makes me think of something else consumed on a massive scale: raspberries [malines]; a kind of fruit you have to develop a taste for first. When I had just arrived I couldn't eat them, I thought them horrible. Eventually, I got used to them and really got to love them.
Housing was relatively cheap and the house-owners did not wield such powers as here in Warsaw. If a tenant couldn't come up with the rent he would not be immediately evicted, like in "Little Paris". The landlord would bide his time: who knows, may be the tenant would pay up after all.
And normally the landlord was not mistaken about that, he would not lose on it, the poor tenant would pay eventually.
During the five years I lived in Kiev I never heard or saw that a landlord threw a tenant out of his house for not having paid the rent and I dare to maintain that despite the far reaching powers exercised by the Warsaw landlords over their tenants, the people renting in Kiev were far less in debt to the house-owners than they are in Warsaw3.
The Jews of Kiev treated the 'Litvak' coldly. This happened to be the fate of the 'Litvak'.
It was nothing serious though. The 'Litvaks' just pretended they didn't notice and ran the best businesses in town. The best and most beautiful prayer-house was the Lithuanian and the most distinguished Rov was also the Lithuanian. Indeed, he Lithuanian Jews played a prominent role in the city and they took much better care of the interests of their own people than rich Jews from other regions did4t.
In my time there lived a Lithuanian millionaire in Kiev, named Leyb Shapiro. He was from Minsk. He owned a soap factory in Kiev. He was a great philanthropist and his door was open to all miserable people.
Both he and his wife took a great interest in the homeless Jews, who regularly got arrested by the police during 'obloves'. They got many a Jew out of the dark Kiev jails, to return him home. You understand that such a shining example of goodness in a Litvak as Mr. Shapiro's was unique in Kiev.
All captured Jews were marched right past my shop on the Andreyevski Spusk5early in the morning, after they had spent an uncomfortable night at the police station.
They would bring them to the Police Commissioner. From there they were sent home under guard. The group of arrested would be mainly a mixture of old men, women, cripples and little girls.
It was my task to wait for those arrested. When they marched them past my shop I handed a few kopecks to the senior policeman [starshi gorodavoy], for which he allowed me to walk up with the arrested for a certain stretch.
While walking along I would ask them for their names and addresses, which I immediately passed on to Mr. Leyb Shapiro's household.
Caring for the oblove-Jews was in those days one of the most important concerns of the Jews of Kiev. This was the procedure followed, because nobody could help a person while under arrest. [es hot zikh shoyn azoy oysgearbet. vorem a yid hot nisht gekont nisht helfn a yidn, vos men hot gekhapt]
Someone from Mr. Leyb Shapiro's house would run to the Police Sergeant of the Podole district, Michaylov, put coins in his hand and thus reach the objective. To pay bribes daily built up to quite a lot and people rightly said that Sergeant Michaylov was "plastered with gold".
In the same period the millionaire Rozenberg, a brother-in-law of Baron Ginzburg6opened up two cheap Jewish eating-houses.
There was a great need for these soup-kitchens, because the city had quite a lot of paupers walking the streets. They didn't have a job and they were always short of "ringers" to buy a warm meal.
Madam Rozenberg was a very interesting lady. She was a lady-philantropist with a real warm heart, really a charitable person.
Every day she drove down from Kreshtshatik to Podole, to the soup-kitchen, in a handsome carriage with a team of horses and a footman. She would bring a pretty chest, tied up on the back of the carriage.
In the soup-kitchen she would collect written request from the different characters there, such as stranded intellectuals, fallen merchants, disabled workers, famished commissioners and the like, to put these in her box.
These requests were written out in advance and had been approved by the Lithuanian Rov.
If, for instance, someone needed to travel and had no money for the fare, he would write such a request. The Rov he usually went to for approval would then question him to find out if he really intended to go on a trip and really had no travel money. If satisfied he would put his stamp on the request.
Next such a person would visit the soup-kitchen and hand the request over to Madam Rozenberg. At home the lady would go through the requests and normally everyone received aid.
Mr. Yisroel Brodski7would give her a lot of assistance with this. The Brodski house was truly a center of charity and community work.
Also an extremely fine person was Mr. Hirsh Epsteyn, a man with a heart of gold. He was the kind of Jew that really could not eat, drink or sleep because of the poverty of others, because of someone else's misery, someone else's suffering. He himself didn't have a lot of money, but he knew how to collect money and how to hand it out to the needy in a nice way, unnoticed, silently.
He was a man of whom it could be said in truth that other people's suffering was his suffering, another's hardship his hardship, he found no rest because of this. I think that the Jews of Kiev, yes, the very air of the poor people's streets, ought to keep his memory alive throughout the generations.
Lots of other good, fine people, good-hearted Jews of Kiev come to my mind, but there is no space or time to list them all.
I can only say that I had the good fortune to know a whole lot of great, devoted and fine Jews during my stay in Kiev. They knew how to live, they knew how to die. They were committed to their people until their last breath, like daring brave soldiers.
But how could I fail to mention, how could I leave out a such a special and dear man like Mr. Yitskhok Levin? At present, at the time that conversions and assimilation dance their dark and repulive dance in the streets of the Jewish poor, he stands out even lighter and brighter in my memory, warmer, nearer.
This Mr. Yitskhok Levin was actually from Karlin and I remember him especially because of his successful son, Mr. Shmuel Levin88, who lived in Kiev and who was one of the most prominent activist in the community.
Mr. Shmuel's father, Mr. Yitskhok Levin fired away charity like shot and in several cities he build 'talmud-toyre' schools9. Besides 'talmud-toyre' schools he had another hobby: He liked taking up poor children in his house. To shoe and cloth them, to feed regularly and to educate them was his greatest delight.
This hobby cost him quite a lot of course. His 'talmud-toyre' boys didn't have to walk around in rags, God forbid, like they sometimes do in Jewish cities. No, well shod and clad they were and their former paleness caused by hunger had been whipped off their little faces completely.
Mr. Moyshe-Yitskhok had also a box for requests hanging on his lectern in 'shul'. Every day, while taking off his talles and tfiln, he went to the box at his lectern and I don't have to add that he took care of the requests.
And something strange: Mr. Moyshe-Yitskhok was a very tough businessman. He wouldn't let go of half a penny. Whoever dealt with him would have a hard time.
He seemed to have two personalities: one that of a brutal businessman, the other all silky, of an angel, dedicated to the service of his own people.
May be he was only a brute in business in order to be able to afford to be an angle to his people, to the poor 'talmud-toyre' boys, to the down-cast and broken souls, to important institutions of charity.
If, once in a while he lost money in business he would always say: "Never mind, my people will help me out."
Once there was a fire at his place. He calmed everybody down while it was burning saying: "Not to worry, my people will put it out."
With "his people" he meant the hundreds of boys of the "talmud-toyre', all the dismal and destitute Jews that used to fill the box at his lectern with hundreds of requests, the people at the main charitable institutions and so on.
"Come on, don't worry, my people will help me out." - It was his standard expression.
And indeed, his people proved faithful and grateful to him. During that fire Jews came running like a swarm of bees and they did put out the fire.
Another time they stole an enormous sum of money in bank-notes at Mr. Moyshe-Yitskhok's. When he heard about it he remarked quietly: "Don't get upset about it, my people will find what was stolen".
He had success, within a very short time they found the thieves with the money. Only a little was missing.
He was triumphant about it: "Now you see, how my people take care of me? You see?"
And everybody had to listen to his attestation that goodness will always be requited with goodness. - Didn't this prove it [veho raye], they had found the stolen money.
It may be clear that in my time the aid to the poor and destitute Jews of Kiev was organized extremely well. During the winter all the poor received aid in the form of firewood and bread. With Peysekh a lot of money was handed out for matses, enabling poor people to sit at their table in peace.
During religious holidays the good Mr. Epsteyn had no life of his own. He would run around visiting donors, present them with calculations of how much would be needed, how big the army of paupers was. He would collect money like water and hand it out like water.
Mr. Hirsh Epshteyn knew well how to give to a poor man in person in a nice way.
Mr. Hirsh Epshteyn's giving hand never hurt a poor man's feelings, a poor man's sensitivities.
That was something not easy to achieve and a rare gift. Just goodness doesn't amount to much.
What is needed to make it valuable is a goodness of heart and a lot of inner qualities. One has to be very sensitive.
For that reason I must conclude that the finest Jew in Kiev, during my time there, among the many fine and great Jews, was this man of gold, this cordial Mr. Hirsh Epshteyn.
1This infant [text: brekl] must have been born in Kushelyeve, after the death of the 4th child.
2See footnote to the Introduction of the Second Volume.
3L. Prager, in the Encyclopedia Judaica, writes: "A lifelong communal worker, Kotik founded numerous welfare societies. In the Haskalah tradition, he published brochures in Hebrew and Yiddish, among them a plan whereby tenants could become home owners (Di Lokatoren mit di Virtslayt. 1909)". For Kotik's social activities in Warsaw, see also: "Yekhezkl Kotik un zayn kaviyarniye" in: A. Litvin (= Hurwitz, Sh.), (1862-1943), Yidishe Neshomes (6 vols.), Farlag "Folksbildung New York"; 1917. , N.Y. ; Vol. IV., pp. 1-11. [according to the P.S. written "a few years before the publication of the 'memoirs'].
4Kotik was a 'Litvak' himself of course. In "Yekhezkl Kotik un zayn kaviyarniye" (see previous note) he is described as the leader of the Lithuanian community in Warsaw.
5The "Andreyevsky Spusk" runs from the "Andreyevskaya Tsjerkov" (the Andreyev Church) down to Podol (the Jewish quarter).
6Baron Ginzburg: See Vol. I, ChaptVII: Gintsburg
7He owned a sugar factory in Tsherkos (see: Chapt XIX). One of the five sons of Meir Shor from Brody, who, when he settled in Zlatopol, in the province of Kiev, changed his name to Brodsky. The family owned a chain of sugar factories, one situated in Demievka outside Kiev.
8Shmuel Levin ???
9Litt.: "study of the Thora". It was a type of school financed by the community and frequented by the children of parents who couldn't afford paying for private teachers. The subjects taught were Khumesh and Talmud.
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