Chapter the nineteenth,
Mr Yisroyel Brodki's manager. - An un-Jewish affliction - A business matter. - Rice and raisins. - Obstinacy. - Drowned goods. - Sliding downhill - I move to another shop. - Boarders. - Lipski. - A play hissed off the stage. - Old injuries. - The "Maged of Harod". - His influence on people. - His sermon. - The Maged of Harod and Lipski. - A regrettable ending.
A new neighbor moved into our block, a very privileged person. He had been manager at Mr. Yisroel Brodski's sugar-refinery in Tsherkas.
He had earned twelve thousand rubles a year there and had lived with his family on the Tsjerkas estate. His wife was a close relative of Brodski and they had lived like royalty. They were short of nothing at that big house, even had horses and carriages.
The manager was a very capable man and managed both the estate and the sugar refinery exceptionally well. Brodski was content. However, he had one goyish fault and a bad one: alcoholism. And that's the kind of defect that will steadily grow worse, leading eventually to a sad ending.
The manager had not steered clear of such an ending: because of alcoholism he had neglected the job.
Mr. Yisroel Brodski had been forced to fire him. But because the manager's wife was a relative and because they had grown up children, fine sons and daughters, Mr. Brodski had settled an annuity of five thousand rubles on the manager.
Brodski's family came to visit often, even though the manager had been fired. After all, notwithstanding the fact that the head of the family had a pronounced weakness for alcohol, his household was a very decent one.
I became good friends with the manager and his family. I felt attracted to his intelligence, his openness, his kind behavor.
Unfortunately, there was nothing one could do to make him mend his ways. He would pop over to the nearby tavern for a glass of vodka regularly; sometimes he would drink about sixteen gasses of vodka in the course of the day.
Even when drunk he was good company, but he was nicer to be around when his head was sober.
I therefore made a point of visiting him early in the day, before he had been to the tavern. He understood that I preferred to find him sober.
Sometimes, if I hadn't been to see him yet, he would intentionally drop in at my place while on his way to the bar, to have a chat with me while still sober.
We liked each other a lot and once he offered me a job as a clerk [prikaztshik - R. prikaz - order; Hark. prikashtshik - merchants clerk].
I asked him what kind of business he had and he said that he was expecting a shipment of bakery products from Odessa, rice, raisins, almonds and nuts, worth a hundred thousand rubles. He would sell it to the local bakeries and also deliver it to other cities.
That wasn't just idle talk, as the reader might have expected it to be. Soon enough he handed over the shipment to me and I rented a big yard with warehouses to store the goods.
But it was the same old story again: his alcoholism interfered strongly with his business affairs and I was forced to rise very early, literally at dawn, in order to catch him still sober and talk to him about what we would have to do.
I have to say once more that he was an extraordinarily clever man. His words were pearls and he had a great influence on me. He opened up my eyes to many things. I got lots of experience through him, something badly needed by the young man from a small town I was at the time.
But sometimes he could be very stubborn. I remember an occasion which illustrates his obstinacy well. This wa situation: He had to deliver rice and raisons worth thirty thousand rubles to Yekaterinoslav and I had to rent a barge [a berline] to transport it.
I went through a lot of trouble to find a good boat and struck a deal with the master, to ship the goods for two hundred rubles.
When I met him and told him that I had found a very good barge, had reached an agreement, had given twenty five rubles earnest-money and that the barge-man would come that evening to make up a contract he seemed to be well pleased.
But in the evening, when I came with the barge-man to make up the contract, he told me that he had rented another barge for hundred and fifty rubles an hour ago and that this ship alone would transport the goods.
This saddened me, because I knew that it was impossible to get a good boat for under two hundred rubles and that my ship was a very good one. There was no use arguing, the deal was off. But afterwards I made inquiries and found out that his ship was an old one in very bad condition and that it would be very risky to transport such a load on it.
When I told him this he refusedto listen and just told me to load the goods onto the barge. But I didn't feel like risking such a fortune and flatly refused to have anything more to do with it.
He got angry and hired another person.
I recall that he loaded the barge with rice and raisons on a Thursday and that the barge went down in the water during that night.
After he heard the news he came running and arrived completely out of breath. This showed that he could be sober when the circumstances demanded it.
"Have mercy on me, save me! I am done for! I beg you. Now I realise that you were right. I will give you a reward [R. nagrada] of two hundred rubles if you salvage the sunken goods. It should be possible to dry the wares and to make some money on them. It's worth thirty thousand rubles!"
He was absolutely sober at that moment.
I was reluctant, I was still angry about his obstinacy.
Later, when his wife and children implored me to rescue the goods (implying that I was a capable rescuer), I changed my mind [far in breyre] and undertook the salvaging of the rice and the raisins from barge stuck [farzetsn - plant, pawn] in the water. I rented a large yard, bought big tarpaulins, hauled out the soaked goods, spread them out on the tarpaulins and dried them.
I needed a lot of people to do the job. But I managed somehow to get the goods dry and in that way I saved with much pain and trouble about five thousand rubles from twhole load worth thirty thousand.
This shook him up badly and he started drinking even more.
But the Brodskis, taking pity on his wife and children, kept frequenting the house of the former manager.
One day, while the Brodskis were just visiting his house, he entered the room dead-drunk and fell down on the floor. That made a deep impression on the Brodskis and they never came again.
He kept drinking heavily for another half year and than died.
Alas! Such a clever, such a kind man he was! Yes he succumbed to a un-Jewish affliction: vodka.
My business went, how shall I say it, 'holekh vekhoser', steadily worse. I struggled on for two years in the Andreyevski Spusk and then moved to another street. I forgot what the name of the street was, I only remember that I ran a smaller bakery shop there.
I was already out of funds, for one thing and the other reason was that it wasn't the kind of place to run a booming big scale business: there were simply no customers. Only poor people lived there.
Following the custom of people with a tight purse I rented a house with a few extra rooms for boarders. Soon enough a young man came to rent a room from me with a private entrance.
It was a young man who was preparing for his university entrance examination. I checked him out and liked him. Not only was he knowledgeable in Talmud and could hold his ground in a 'phsetl', a hair-splitting argument on the Talmud, he was also a resourceful, lively creature.
He told me that he was the son of a Rabbinical judge in Vilne and that he had been considered to be a child prodigy. However, he had wanted to get a secular education and had run off to Zhitomir, where he went to Rabbinical seminary1the governmental when Mr. Khaim-Zelig Slonimski was the director there.
When the institute was closed down he went to Kiev, to go to university. He didn't care what he would have to do for it, he was determined to finish university, period!
But he had no money to live on ...
Being a healthy and enterprising fellow he rushed off to Brodski flour-mill, which stood on the bank of the river, and begged there to be given sacks with flour to carry from the mill to the storehouse and to be paid like all daily laborers: sixty kopecks a day.
They hired the boy and he carried sacks with flower all day.
However, in the evening he would wash up, put clean clothes on and go out to get to know students, to look for people wanting a private tutor [urokn: R. urok- lesson]. He got himself students, who would pay him sixty rubles a month in all and meanwhile prepared himself for the examination. When he had found these students wanting lessons he quit the flour.
The amazing thing was, that this young man had time for everything. During the evening we would often pass a few hours just talking.
At that time an anti-Semitic theater company arrived in Kiev and played in the Garden Theater, performing a play that was very offensive to Jews.
Lipski, that was the name of my lodger, though he already knew the contents of the theater piece, went on purpose to a performance with his comrades, to hear how Jews were insulted on the stage.
He came home hurt and incensed. They had insulted Jews in a rude and nasty way on the stage. The goyem had a lot of fun. The theater had been full of them, they had applauded shouting "bravo" [bravo patshn - applaud] and there had been no one to give a cat-call. There were only a few stray Jews in the audience, who had not dared to whistle.
My young man was a sorry sight.
This piece was performed evening after evening.
What to do about it? How could we get all Jewish students and just young men to come and give the bird to this piece of trash laced with stupid and gross anti-Semitism?
I asked the lad whether Eliezer Brodski knew him, whether Brodski had ever taken notice of him at the mill. He answered that one day Eliezer Brodski had come to the mill and had seen him carrying a bag of flour over his shoulder: He had recognised him as a Jew and had been perplexed. "What have we got here? A Jew daring [otvazhen>R. otvazjivatsa] to carry sacks among tramps [bosyakes>R. bosjak] ! " He had shouted. Then he had asked him how come he hadn't got an easier and better job than carrying sacks. After all, Jews were notoriously weak .
"So, you understand," he said telling me the whole story in one breath, "I said to him that I had come to take my entrance examination for the university and had nothing to live on at present. I work for you during the day, I try to make connections in the evening and I study during the night. Next he took fifty rubles from his pocket and offered them to me, but I didn't accept them and told him that I didn't take alms and only wanted to earn money with work. I hate the rich," he added with a bitter, forceful grimace. "I don't want their favors."
But I had an idea.
"Listen here, Lipski, if it was for the benefit of the Jewish Nation, wouldn't you go and see a rich man?"
"Yes, so what?" he said.
And I said: "You go to Lazar* and tell him the whole story about this anti-Semitic group, propose that he buys up several hundred tickets, to be distributed among the Jewish youth and that way you will have your whistlers."
"For sure, that's an idea!" He agreed excitedly [a idee, kh'lebn! hob er zikh a khap geton.].
And it had success. Lipski went to see Lazar and came back to me with the good news: He was going to buy two thirds of the total number of tickets and send al of his clerks to distribute the tickets among Jews. Everybody willing to whistle would get one.
Soon the operation was running smoothly like a well oiled machine.
The next day youngsters went around handing out the theater tickets for free. Lipski worked full steam, there was no limit to his joy.
That evening, when the company started acting there smutty little piece all the Jews started whistling and stamping. The volume of the whistling was terrifying.
The Head of the Police was present in the theater. He was certainly afraid of a big scandal and he just ordered to stop the play. About twenty people, students and other Jews, Lipski among them, were arrested.
Naturally, they paid a visit to the Governor-General the next day. Lazar went with two other millionaires and they informed him that the play instigated hatred between etnic groups, that it set up people against each other and similar things.
The Governor-General sent for the director of the company and told him that he had to leave Kiev and his district within twenty four hours. They set free the arrested.
Of course, this wasn't a very significant event, but our happiness was without bounds. It's something, to succeed.
This Lipski opened up my old wounds concerning education. Every time I had a chat with him I would be pained by the fact that I had lost my youth, energy and courage, had lost my fantasies about becoming a 'rabiner', about the great things I would do for the community, had lost my hopes and dreams.
Here was a young man free and healthy. I was jealous of his strength, his determination, his fervor, enthusiasm. He was sure to get somewhere in life. But I? I am tied down, jailed, groping for a meager livelihood; a man with beaten thoughts and dreams. Yes,I envied him from the bottom of my heart, so much that it hurt.
You see, that's what it takes - I reflected in awe. You've got to carry sacks, give private lessons and prepare for your entrance examination. That's having character: you carry sacks, you get an education. I was too weak for both, education and carrying sacks; that's why I got stuck in the middle of the road, no way forward, no way back.
At times, going through such heavy minutes, I would find myself an excuse such as: I have wife and children, I married too young; wives have great power, they keep you from things. But such an excuse wouldn't do much to lessen my pain. It was just a lame excuse.
I got along very well with Lipski. Sometimes we would have conversations until the early hours of the morning. Lipski was one of the very first Socialists that in those days started to spring forth here and there in Jewish circles. From the sixty rubles he made monthly he would share thirty to forty with his poor friends.
He always ate coarse black bread with a slice of herring, washed it down with tea; he wouldn't spend more than five kopecks on his dinner. He learned well and knew a lot and soon became popular with the local youngsters.
Pearls of wisdom came from his lips, his thoughts were full of ardor, his mind was as bright as a spring day.
He also had a warm Jewish heart and this warmth was felt by his comrades. Christian students regarded him with deep respect.
If I can call my first lodger a successful person, my second one was far more so and much more important. I am talking about the famous "Maged of Harod", who lived in Minsk.
Around the time of the theater incident he happened to pass through Kiev. Naturally Mr. Leyb Shapiro immediately paid him a visit and invited him to stay in Kiev for a couple of weeks.
Since a Maged and especially the Maged of Harod gets a lot of visitors they needed a decent place for him to stay and to receive guests.
It was Mr. Leyb's idea that he should move in with me. Mr. Leyb knew that I was looking for a lodger and when he proposed it to me I was pleased to agree.
So, the Maged took up residence at my place.
I don't have to tell you of course that the Maged was a great man and a distinguished scholar, extremely clever, very well read and with an an ability to speak greater than anything I had ever heard in my life.
His tongue was his armor, his artillery, his canon and he knew how to set his audience aflame.
People only had to hear his speak to become enthusiastic, ecstatic. His influence on people was immense.
Since he was a very pious Jew, all spirituality, he lived in a very poor and simple way. He ate for instance only black bread with pickled gherkins and that all week long. On Shabes and on high holidays he would permit himself to eat better, because it is a commandment to partake of: 'boser-vedogim' - meat and fish, and 'kol hamaydanim' - all fine dishes.
He would eat his meager "meal" of bread and gherkins twice daily, at noon and at six o'clock in the evening.
My house was constantly full of people.
Having finished his bread and gherkins he would address them.
But, my God, the speeches he gave! Liquid gold they were. I would stand there dumbfounded, just listening and listening. You must understand[dakht zikh], I didn't care at all for his subjects: religion, devotion, worship of God, God and God again. But the way he spoke! I felt my heart beating.
Of course Mr. Leyb Shapiro was around day and night, tending to him like a servant.
After some time they tried to convince him that he should give a sermon in the grand synagogue of Kopukhin. The Maged of Harod eventually agreed to it.
The people then set to work to get a plan ready in time for maintaining order during the sermon, because thousands of people might attend. They were very apprehensive that it would turn into a catastrophe.
Pious young people took on the respomsibility for keeping order.
Lipski, as an apostate and socialist, was of course suspicious of the Maged and he never once entered the Maged's room. But I wanted to bring the two together. Two generations. That would be something.
But Lipski was strongly against it: "I am telling you, he's a crook. Why do you bother about a fraud?. I don't want to have anything to do with him, that fake."
He refused to be introduced to him.
On the evening of the sermon the shul was packed with the finest Jews in town. Even students came to listen to him and many other bright young people.
He stood on the bime, the platform, seconded by me and Mr. Leyb, standing on either side. He spoke for one and a half hours. It was one of his standard sermons, interspersed with oral bolts of lightening and on a multitude of subjects, astronomy, the origin of the world, physiology, ethics etc., etc..
In seemed to me that this particular sermon was not much of a success. He didn't get the young people enthusiastic. Didn't hefeel well? Or were the young people in a contrary mood which the words of the Maged failed to dispel?
The grand master of oratory was obviously not content with his sermon himself. He became depressed and left the shul biting his lip.
It must be added that pious Jews were very content with the sermon.
The Maged became embittered and while in this bad mood he announced that he would take it on himself to engage in public discussion with the greatest apostates of his time to triumph over them.
I was a bit concerned about that. How could he be so sure? But I told him that there was a certain Lipski living right here, in a side-room, a young man who had been a child-prodigy but who had, loy-oleynu, not thanks to me, become a great apostate. I said that I would call him in, just as a matter of curiosity, and that the Maged should engage in a 'vikuyekh', a debate with him.
I said that I would be most pleased if the Maged would triumph over him, so he would give up being an unbeliever and apply himself better to his studies and get more tangible results [zikh nemen besser tsum lernen. a sakh mer. takhles]. And not without some secret irony I added that whatever I had tried, it had been in vain. He didn't give in. The lad had a strong mind, an iron will.
The Maged looked at me for a moment and then told me to call him in.
I did. This time Lipski agreed and he came in. His self-love had got the upper hand of him: the old Maged had taken it upon him self to conquer him. I made some room for him to sit down, just opposite the Maged and the people who happened to be present became silent and cocked their ears.
The impetuous Lipski didn't wait for the Maged to begin but was the first to start talking.
Only then did I dawn on me that the whole thing, my own initiative, was a foolish mistake. It's impossible for two generations to reach an agreement in conversation. Two generations can only come to an understanding on the mute pages of history, but not as two living representatives of these generations.
Lipski was excited from the very start, started trembling, shouting and even laughed loudly about the Maged. With the impudence of a proud, gifted and hot-blooded youngster he did not give the Maged a chance to speak a word.
The Maged had turned pale and couldn't find anything to say. Lipski took advantage of the situation and kept heaping it up, milling away like a wind mill.
The end was even worse. When the Maged finally managed to say something about miracles Lipski jumped up, spat on the floor, brazen-faced called him a stupid old goat and ran out of the room.
That was totally unexpected, very nasty and rude.
People were too ashamed to lift their eyes to see how the Maged was doing. But suddenly the Maged stood up and said:
"I am leaving tomorrow."
The Maged didn't want to speak to me anymore of course and what was worse, I lost my truly dear friend Mr. Leyb. Mr. Leyb had come to the conclusion that I had been completely to blame for this ugly scandal, because I should never have taken in such an outrageous [oysgethonenem] young fellow as Lipski as a lodger - period.
The next morning the Maged took off without even saying good bye. I still get really upset when I think about it, that because of me the Maged lived through several unpleasant minutes while in Kiev.
But a practical advice: Never bring an old and a young person, two generations, together in debate.
1Text: 'rabiner-shul'. In 1835 Nicolai I had decreed the institution of the "State Rabbi", the so called 'rabiner'. These officially chosen Rabbis had followed an education at a governmental institute with a not exclusively Jewish curriculum. These schools were run by Maskilim and the seminars of Vilne and Zhitomir were the most important.
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