Chapter the twenty third.
On the road. - Moscow. - Jews, like in Jerusalem. - In the prayer house. - At the Rov's. - What to do?. - Tavern, license, work on the field, teaching, shop keeping. - The Rebbe. - The Rov and the Rebbe. - Khsidim in Moscow. - Sing!!!. - I am in trouble. - I make the trip home.
Here I go, on the road again. Moscow, here I come.
Adieu, Charkov, with your "dear" Grodman, your stove-doors, your contracts and the whole lot! Moscow is next, a new episode.
In my mind Moscow was city full of Ruskies [katsapes] and I expected that Jews would be as hard to find there as a needle in a hay-stack.
But thanks God, that wasn't true.
On my arrival in Moscow, in the Radye street, right at the gate of the building I was about to enter, blessed be His sweet name, I ran into a Jew in a caftan as long and spacious as my father's vineyard. At my destination, an establishment with furnished rooms, it was bustling with all kinds of Jews straight from "Yidishland", with long peyes, dense eye-brows, hump-backed noses an fiery eyes, chatting pleasantly about the meat-taxes [karobke], about Rovs, about small-town affairs etc. etc.
Plenty of Jews, bless them. In the courtyard of the compound was a prayer house and up to six minyonim of Jews said their prayers there every day. From seven in the morning, from after prayers till noon, they would study there and the place would be humming forth the sweet melody of Gemore. Just like Jerusalem .
And there were Khsidim too. There was a Khasidic 'shtibl'. When I came in men were drinking 'lekhaim' to each other and they sang Khasidic songs.
The restaurant where I had my dinner was packed with Jews from several regions, both Khsidim and Misnagdim. It was jolly there and cozy. Jews eating, talking, talking, eating and though the air was full of smoke you smelled the Jewish dishes, Jewish roasts. Beards all over the place, beards, beards, beards.
It was a real treat to enter the prayer house in the evening, to watch them studying. It was a delight just to look at them. Spread throughout the city were dozens of small study houses, 'kloysters', where Jews were studying reading aloud. These mini-shuls reminded me strongly of the New Study house of Kamenits.
Later that evening I went to visit Rov Khaim Berlin. His place was packed with Jews too. There were merchants who had come for a rabbinical judgment as well an assortment of Jews, guests from everywhere. On a visit to Moscow they just came to pay their respects to the Rov. I waited until all guest had left and then handed the Rov Fried's letter.
He called in his wife and introduced me to her as a relative. They gave me quite a good reception. But soon it became obvious that his recommending me to the world of business would not be very helpful to me. What did the Rov know about business? And which businessman would give a hoot for his recommendation concerning business affairs?
I had only one last resort, to go with Fried's letter to the office of the sugar refinery.
But being the eternal bad luck kid that I am, when I visited the office I was told that the master of the house was traveling.
I met some merchants there who where looking for people, but they had just heard from the Rov's very own mouth that I was a 'decent' fellow and that wasn't considered to be a recommendation at all.
I became really desperate and started chewing my fingers.
In the past I had studied the principles of tavern-keeping and holding a concession, later on, when I had mastered the basics I had given up on it and started studying working the field.
Having become a "boke" in "avoydes ha-adoyme", an agricultural expert I ran away from the forest to the great city Kiev and started my studies in bakery. Having become experienced in bakery I had made a trip to Charkov to take up the study of railroad contracts, renovations, figures like Grodman and all types of worldly misery. But now? What was to be next?
My situation grew more critical by the day. I started regretting having left Charkov. After all, I had some kind of foothold there, but here I was kind of suspended between an unfamiliar sky and a foreign soil.
My dear friends impressed on me that I should get to know the Rebbe, who was at odds with Mr. Khaim Berlin like fire with water. The Rebbe had a big entourage of Khsidim, rich ones, big merchants, well to do civilians.
"It wouldn't hurt you", they said, "to pay him a visit and to make a point of telling him that you are related to Mr. Khaim Berlin, that you are walking the Moscow streets but that he. Mr. Khaim, is not able to do anything for you. You need a job and may be he can help you with that. You might mention to him that your father is an ardent Khosid."
This meant, trying to work my way in at the Rebbe by buttering him up.
But never mind, what else could I have done? I gave it a try. I went to the Rebbe, introduced myself as a relative of Mr. Khaim Berlin and told him that I had come to look for a job or some kind of business and that Mr. Khaim Berlin, of whom I had expected much, couldn't do much for me. I added that some good people had therefore advised me to introduce myself to him and to ask him to assist me.
The Rebbe asked me: " In what way are you related to Mr. Khaim?"
I explained to him what the connection was and made a point of summing up my complete pedigree, back to Mr. Khaim of Volozhin.
"But why didn't you come to me straight away?", he said putting on a reproachful expression and shaking his head, "I certainly would have found you a position with a local millionaire. After all, we go back to the same 'geonim' and 'tsadikim'. But I am afraid that Rov Khaim has spoiled things for you now."
I kept my mouth shut, but an icy and painful cold shot through all my limbs.
"Well, never mind", he said in a kindly way, do come in and let us have a look at you, may be we can think of something.
I didn't have another choice and I went to visit the Rebbe often. His house was packed with people, Khsidim, even more than there were Misnagdim at Mr. Khaim Berlin's. The only difference was, that at Mr. Khaim's the Misnagdim would sit or stand according to protocol. Everybody knew his place and when two people were talking a third one would not interrupt them. At the Rebbe's they didn't observe such rules. They had group-discussions where everybody would speak at the same time. One would out-shout the other and this one would take the place of a third one and so on. No distinction between rich and poor there, between old or young; everybody the same. There always was a cheerful bustle.
The Rebbe invited me of course to come to the shtibl for prayers, to strengthen the ranks of the Khsidim, and so I did. In the shtibl they said prayers in a vivacious and noisy way and the only thing that was missing was a Mr. Yisroel. Songs straight from the heart resounded, they made their voices heard [tarereyken>Comp. Hark. tarabamken - to beat the drum], they sang, they jumped, they danced, they pushed each other, they laughed and they drank 'lekhaim', just like long ago in Kamenits. And this gaiety was, God forbid, not faked. A Khosid is a real good humored person. To him God is great, His world is great and pleasure can be found in everything.
That's why you always find a strange kind of joviality among Khsidim, a happy sense of security, as if there is no "Jewish Question", is no Diaspora. But maybe I should not refer to such highly important issues in my description. Let me say it in simpler terms: just as if there were no wives or children.
Whether they at home, or in the shtibl, or in a restaurant or visiting the Rebbe, the carry a kind of Jerusalem atmosphere around them. If a neighborhood warden appears: "Here, take this and make yourself scarce. Go and leave us in peace."
I could have sworn that the bunch of Khsidim, that happily crowded the Rebbe's house, had no idea about the restrictions Jews were under or of the plagues scattered over them by the hand of the supreme power. I never once heard them breach the subject, a regular theme with Misnagdim. The same over and over: God is great and his creation is great and nobody can touch me!
But in Mr. Khaim Berlin's place there was bitter talk about politics, civil servants [R. tshinovnik], police, check points [pasortn], limitations, evil edicts, the Diaspora and many other such things. And those dreary Misnagdim would knit their brows in a even drearier way.
If I hadn't been in such low spirits, I would have made a full recovery at the Rebbe's. That happiness there alone could give you the strength of a giant. Shabes there was a spring of joy. This joy would start on Friday evening. On Friday evenings lots of Khsidim would come together and they "celebrated" at the table till twelve or one o'clock at night. The Rebbe would give Khasidic religious instruction, his eyes wide open, his hands spread out on the table, his beard dancing up and down. After every part of his sermon they sang Khasidic tunes. As soon as he stopped speaking his Khsidim started singing. Meanwhile they ate from the food on the table.
The same thing went on again on Shabes, all day long. The said their prayers at the Rebbe's. On Shabes evening the singing became more intense, they sang at the top of their voices. In case someone got lazy and stopped singing, they soon got him back singing again by slapping him on the shoulder, saying: "Come on, why did you stop singing, come on Zelig, (or Mayer), sing!!!"
I became very intimate with the Rebbe and visited him often. He thought I was a 'Maskl' and did his best only to bring up subjects that he thought would please me.
But he didn't get me a job and I think that deep in his heart Mr. Khaim was more concerned about my situation than he. Mr. Khaim probably understood better what the anguish of poverty meant than the Rebbe. Moreover, Mr. Khaim didn't have a secret agenda, while he, the Rebbe was only friendly to me because he wanted to buy my soul, I mean, wanted to make me a Khosid, hoped to add another member to the Khasidic fold.
Another interesting circumstance was, that Mr. Khaim knew that I spent day and night with the Rebbe, with whom he "balanced on the sharp edge of a knife", as they say in Lite.
In Mr. Khaim's house they called the Rebbe a "horse-thief" while in the house of the Rebbe they called Mr. Khaim a "villain". Nevertheless, Mr. Khaim had no objections to my visiting the Rebbe: Who knew, may be I would find help there. It was just possible that I would succeed in getting a job that way.
With the passing of the days it become more and more clear to me that my staying in Moscow wouldn't even get me a snuff of tobacco. Here I was in between two Rabbis, looking for business. Just the right spot to look for business. I felt myself to be completely redundant in the world, like someone who had the door slammed in his face. And so I went back to Kiev.
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