Chapter the Third.
Education again. - A little deception. - My trip to Brisk. - Halbershtam. - The big lie. - I go to Bialistok1. - The voyage. - "Eight passengers". - The coachman. We suffocate. - A missing foot. - The mud. - A broken wheel. - "Volunteers". - Almost dead. - Bialistok! - The aunt. - A letter. - My weakness. - I go home.- Empty handed. - Back home. - The wandering life calls. - Warsaw.
In that period I knew one thing for certain: I had to forsake my wife and son, I had to go away and study.
It would no doubt be very hard on my wife, an orphan without father or mother, with a child on her hands. How could I leave her in the care of my parents, with my mother who was only interested in her 'Khoyves Halvoves2' and my father whose sentiments towards his daughter-in-law had grown icy ?
That was a great problem for me and I worried myself silly about it. I was not fit to go into business, not only because I was of good family, meaning that life as a businessman was not the proper thing for me, but also because a refined and honest person like me could not cheat for a living. Therefore the most sensible thing to do would be to study, something I had always wanted to do. Through study I would be able to support my wife.
I reckoned that I had it in me become a well educated person, able to support my wife and child in a respectable way. If I would take the step I certainly would complete my studies in three or four years' time, I would be a man with a safe future. In order to become a Rov, for example, you have to study ten to twelve years and even then you don't automatically get an appointment in a city3. But I also knew of people who had been able to provide for themselves immediately after finishing a course of study. I had made up my mind.
Though my reasoning was not a model of modesty, I realised that by remaining in a village we would all be doomed to stagnation. Once and for all I decided that, whatever the future might bring, I would do everything possible, brave hunger and misery, to keep my mind and spirit alive.
My wife said she agreed with me, but I understood that in her heart she would have preferred to be a farmer's wife or a good publican or a holder of some profitable license. Actually, we could easily have achieved such a career, because of my grandfather. Anyway, she understood that I did not have the character to stick it out for long in such professions, so she gave in.
Making a start was not easy at all. How does one leave his wife behind with her parents-in-law? She would be bored and ill-at-ease there, but I could not think of another, better place. What to do? I had to go anyway and decided to deceive her (for the sake of an education only of course), to think up a short trip and take off for a few weeks. That would give me an excuse to take some luggage with me. I could for instance go to Brisk, where I had an old friend, a Maskl, who was sure to advise me on how to reach my goal.
It was my second trip to Brisk for the sake of an education4.
In this city I had a rich and very hospitable aunt. I also had a friend there, Shmuel Meyerim's son, with whom I used to talk philosophy. He had been a child prodigy at Gemore studies and was a clever and original philosopher. He had also been in the habit of fasting during the shuvvi"m t"t [shin-vov-beys-beys-yod"mem tov"tov]5, every Friday and during the ten days of 'tshuve', repentance, between Rosheshone and Yonkiper. After his marriage, however, he had become a Maskl, and a very liberal and enlightened one at that, who very soon earned himself the name of 'apostate'. This Shmuel had urged me to study, something he would have liked to do himself very much but had been prevented from on account of his textiles shop which, as if to mock him, was doing rather well.
"I would rather have been a pauper who finished his studies", he complained and he meant it.
We decided that I would have to go to Bialistok, which at that time was the center of Haskole in our region. The Haskole movement of Bialistok was headed by a son-in-law of Zabludovski, Eliezer Halbershtam6 . He, a Maskl from Berlin had taken it on himself to educate all the youngsters of Bialistok. It cost him thousands of rubles yearly. To this end he received great sums of money from Maskilim and businessmen in his acquaintance. Though he was a manufacturer of textile himself, he spent more of his time on Haskole than on his factory. It was his wife who very competently took care of his business, while he did his own thing: taking youngsters out of the Study house and educating them. As mentioned, they were not stingy with money.
In those days, that is, in Halbershtam's time, dozens of divorces took place. Fathers-in-law would cause the divorce of those sons-in-law who they had originally accepted as husbands for their daughters on the basis of their being good Talmud students, devoted to religion, but who after marriage had turned into 'apostates'. A real revolution took place and the town got a name for being full of Haskole and education.
Another person I knew, also a Maskl, named Bergzohn, wrote me a letter for state-appointed Rabbi7 in Bialistok, another Maskl, who happened to be a good friend of Halbershtam. In that letter he said that I did not yet know any Russian and that I knew nothing besides Talmud, but that is seemed to him that I had it in me to become a good Maskl. He argued, that if a young man, coming from a village where he might make a good living for himself was so attracted to Haskole, to seeing 'the light', he might well harbor a great mind. Therefore he asked him to support me, to give me assistance ,etc., etc..
Having now a developed clear plan of how to proceed towards my goal I went home. On the way home I thought up a way to leave my wife in the dark. I would tell her that I had to go to Bialistok for a couple of weeks. As a pretext I fabricated a big and complicated lie, going like this: my aunt in Bialistok, the sister of my mother, a wealthy woman, had asked a brother-in-law of her husband, who was going to Brisk, to travel down to Vakhnovitsh, to see whether I was really as nice a young man as they made me out to be and if so, to take me along to Bialistok, where she, the aunt, would manage to get me a very decent position that would suit me well. This brother-in-law now, who was planning to go to Vakhnovitsh, I had happened to meet in Brisk. He had approved of me and had told me to go home to get my things and then to travel to Bialistok immediately.
It was a big and convoluted lie. To tell the truth, I did not find it easy at all to tell a lie for the first time in my life. I would rather have died. The mere thought of it made me blush, sitting there on the that farmer's cart. All the way I was struggling painfully, trying to come to terms with myself: should I tell my wife such a huge lie in order to become an educated person, or should I stay a villager, living amidst farmers and pigs?
But I overcame my doubt and made up my mind to carry out the plan sketched above with determination.
Having arrived home I immediately rattled off the story of the 'great news' to my wife: such and such, business, fortunate, met by coincidence the brother-in-law of my aunt in Brisk, took a liking to me, etc..
My wife was impressed by the good news and I felt even worse seeing how she got all excited for nothing about these good tidings which were just a pack of lies.
Of course I promised her that I would take her for a visit to Bialistok, this wonderful city full of Talmud students, Maskilim and other good things. My wife took it in quietly and was pleased.
With this setup I could make my preparations for the trip openly. I collected everything I might need, packed and ... took off.
I was crying all the way, tears and more tears. I was very worried about my poor dear wife, who had been cheated and left behind all alone.
In Brisk I briefly met with my Maskilim friends, but soon settled on a price for the trip to Bialistok, 18 miles8 from Brisk, with a coachman who had a coach with three horses. The fare was one ruble and fifty kopecks a person. My voyage to Bialistok turned out to be so extraordinary and difficult - even for those days - that it is worthwhile to give the reader an account of it.
When I asked the coachman how many passengers he would take on the coach he answered: "eight".
Eight persons, besides the cargo of bars of iron, packs, barrels, bags and the like! So I offered him a fee of three rubles if he would take less souls on board; otherwise we might suffocate. My coachman accepted.
When we took off shortly after we had about six people sitting in the coach, amidst a huge mass of goods. Traveling in some comfort was out of the question.
Feeling that I had no room to breath I started complaining:
"What is this? I paid you double so you would take less people, didn't I ? Didn't you say we would travel with a company of four?"
"You don't expect me", he answered rather offended, "to feed my three horses as well as my wife and six children on those few rubles of yours, do you?"
So I shut my mouth and after proceeding about a verst, we took in some more passengers When we entered Visoke, six miles from Brisk, we had, praise the Lord, fully ten people squeezed together inside the coach: Old men and women, young women, girls, lads. This number rose to twelve by which time we were sitting on top of each other.
One would shout: "Ah! my leg". another: "My hand!" No one could find his own feet, but the coachman just drove on, shouting "giddyup!" at his horses.
Not counting the weight of the passengers he must have had a load of about 4000 Russian pounds9. It was autumn and raining. The horses could not manage in the mud which was as thick as porridge. When eventually the horses could not get the coach through, the coachman started whipping and beating the poor jades, shouting his "giddyups". As soon as we came to a complete stand still the coachman ordered everyone to get out of the coach.
"But the mud! Look at it!"
Now he threatened not just the horses , but also us with his whip, so we started crawling out one by one. A clamor arose, when the feeling returned in legs, hands and other limbs everybody started crying. "God, it hurts!" Of some the feet had gone to sleep, some had numb hands, others sore bottoms. The coachman shouted: "Hurry up, move it, you thoroughbreds and lords! Or do you want me to help you a bit to get out!
But after everyone had got out of the coach somehow, the horses kept standing there, not able to move on. The coachman started shouting again: "Come on folks! Give us a hand pushing! If you don't help out we might be stuck here until after shabes."
I was the first to start pushing the coach, although I felt like I had not had any feeling in my hands or feet for the last twenty four hours. After all, I was a healthy young man. All my bones were aching, but that was no excuse not to help pushing. Thank God, the horses managed to get out of the mud.
"Hurry up! get in!", ordered the coachman, "We are leaving."
But now a new problem arose: everyone tried to get themselves a better place in the coach. They started pushing, pulling and fighting each other. The shouting was deafening.
I did not feel at all like crawling back into the coach. If it had been daytime, I would rather have walked. But it was night, I did not know the road and I had heavy luggage. I decided to first wait outside 'till the fighting cooled down and then, when everyone was seated, I would somehow cling on to the coach and ride along.
But the fighting did not stop. The shouting became louder and louder until the coachman finally shouted at the top of his voice, like a highwayman:
"Get in the wagon, right now!" He added in a slightly less loud voice, but with mean mockery: "My dear lordships, please sit down in the coach. If you don't, I will get the horses started in front of your eyes, leaving you stuck here in the mud. Why fight about it, my lordships, a seat is a seat."
The coachman's shouting had its effect. Everybody settled down somehow and I clambered up onto the box where I sat down next to the coachman, with my legs dangling down holding on to the seat for dear life in order not to fall off. God forbid, falling down would mean a certain death. In this fashion I traveled for a couple of versts. Of course I lost all feeling in my hands and legs and got wet through and through; inside the coach it would at least not have rained on me.
Eventually we reached a village where we put up at an inn. Here everyone got out groaning and moaning like patients in a hospital ward for critical cases:
"Oh, my hands; oh, my feet; oh, my head!..."
Inside the inn it was damp and dark, the only light came from a small oil lamp. Farmers and their womenfolk were sitting around a large table, drinking bottles of vodka, eating dark bread with it. On the long and wide benches people lay snoring. Here a Jew, a Jewess, there a shikse. There wasn't any space left to lie down, to get some rest. All the places on top of the big stove were taken as well. Only the woman who ran the place and her maid were up and about. The coachman entered and shouted (he obviously was not able to talk in a normal voice):
"Good evening, dear woman, have you got anything to eat for my passengers!"
"What would you like?" asked the woman, letting herself in for it.
"What would we like?" thundered the coachman through the room, "what kind of question is that? Tell us first what you've got and then we can ask these people here what they would like. I've got an assorted pack of passengers here. Some are just ragamuffins, but others are decent family men or, (here he pointed at me), respectable young men". "What would you like, my young man?" he addressed me. It seems that the three ruble I had paid him in vain had some effect after all.
"I would like some tea", I said.
Meanwhile the 'passengers' had stretched themselves out, either on the floor, or on unoccupied edges of a bench.
The maid lit a fire in the stove and they fetched a big pitcher with water for tea.
The coachman took charge of his passenger, commandeding with a roar: "Come and eat!" They went out to tidy themselves up before eating, but there was no water, so he ordered one of his less well to do passengers, someone who had paid less for the trip, to go and fetch lots of [angro - Fr. en gros] water together with the maid. The water was brought without delay, but now there weren't any free tables. All the tables were taken by farmers and their wives, who were getting drunk and singing. So the coachman shouted to the publican, demanding a table.
But where would she get a table? Before long someone came up with an idea: planks and a barrel could serve as a table. The coachman ordered the second rate passengers to get the barrel and planks and they made a table with them.
But some of us could not eat at all. The herring was salty and smelled foul. The fried eggs came without enough spoons. So, hungry and worn out as they were, they had to take turns with the spoons.
I for one did not eat at all, I couldn't get anything down my throat, I only craved tea. They didn't have any tea though, just hot water with broom-leaves10.
When they had all had some refreshment, the passengers scrambled back to the coach, trying to grab a good place for themselves. Only fear of the coachman kept them from inflicting severe bodily harm on each other. I tried to regain my place on the box, but climbing up I saw that it had been taken by a new passenger. There did not seem to be any place left now where I might squeeze in. I had no other option then to complain to the driver:
"Master Yankev, you took my three rubles, saying that we would travel with four people only. I don't care whether we have eighteen or a hundred or a thousand now, but make some room for me, give me a place to rest my head!"
"This time the coachman felt sorry for me and he ordered: "Come on folks, make room for the young gent. You've all got to make some sacrifice, three rubles he paid me!..."
He started pulling at peoples' hands and feet, not caring whether it was a man's, woman's, a young lady's or a maid's.
But they did not give in, on the contrary, a riot broke out. They all started shouting: "Look at our fine lad, Mr. 'la di da'. Fine lads like him should stay home!..."
It became a revolt against the person in charge, the coachman. They outright threatened to tear him to pieces.
"Why did you have to take so many passengers?, they fired at him., "You did not have room to put them. And if you had to take passengers, you should not have taken upper class types, posh lads still wet behind the ears."
Hearing all this abuse I said to the coachman:
"I'd better walk."
The coach man gave me a sharp derisive look:
"Well, my dear", he replied, "you're a clever young fellow... It's better to walk than to be cramped in like a herring in the coach... We've got some rough fellows in there... You're better off walking."
Though I didn't feel much like it, I had to follow his "friendly" advice. I started walking alongside the coach. Because I had heavy clothes on it was hard going uphill and since the rain was pouring down I got drenched While stepping over a ditch the heel of my shoe was caught behind a tree stump, it came off and the whole shoe sole with it. Walking barefoot over tree stumps was just impossible. My feet came to a halt and almost in tears I started pleading, begging them to make some room for me in the coach. The coachman and the passengers finally took pity on me. Everybody made himself a bit smaller and thus they created a bit of space for me in the coach. We moved on for a couple of versts, folded up and pressed together like herring, every individual silently hoping that we would halt at an inn soon, the coachman to tend to his horses and we to stretch our tortured stiff limbs for at least a couple of hours.
But fate struck and suddenly one of our wheels collapsed. The coach turned over and we were all propelled out of it. Miraculously this happened at a place were the mud was very deep, otherwise we might have died there and then. Men fell and on top of women and women on men, everybody started shouting, crying, wailing. I had a man falling down on me head first; he hurt his head hitting me painfully in the chest. Women cried, men moaned. Especially the coachman groaned a lot about his dire loss. He waited until the crowd had composed itself a bit and then addressed them, with his voice finally at a low volume, saying:
"Folks, please help me, I beg you, to take the broken wheel off the wagon. I have to bring it away to have it repaired... in the next village..."
But the passengers lamented:
"We are all dead tired, we are broken by the trip and by our fall, we have not had anything to eat, nothing to drink; we aren't fit to help you.
The Coachman now implored them,
"Have pity on me, I might be stuck here with my three horses for a long, long time. I'm afraid that I'll never make it home in time for Shabes."
All right, but how to proceed? We all took ahold of the wheel, trying to lift it up, but it was no use, it was just too heavy. We did not know what to do. The coachman suggested that we should drag out the bars of iron and all other heavy pieces of the load, one by one. After doing that it would be easy to take the wheel off. That's what we did, and the coachman went off with the wheel, leaving us behind with the coach and the horses in the middle of nowhere, stranded like Robinson [Crusoe] on his island.
To stay out all night in the open, in the cold and dark, with no food or drink, like out in a desert, is not a real pleasure. We had been on the road for more than forty-eight hours, our third night! It was a bad mixture of passengers, nobody got along with anybody else, a truly ill-assorted company.
That night just would not pass, it lasted as long the Diaspora of the Jews. Dawn came haltingly, as if it had to be forced out, but still no sign of a coachman, no wheel in sight.
I decided to address the group:
"Listen here, it's no good just sitting here in the coach without anything to eat or drink. Who's coming with me to look for the coachman?"
A few volunteered and we went to the nearby village. There we asked whether they had seen a coachman with a wheel. They told us that the blacksmith was not home and that the coachman had gone to another village. We dragged ourselves to the other village and, thank God, there we found him with the blacksmith. Around four in the morning the wheel was finally ready. When we came back at the coach some older couples started crying; they were faint with hunger. They had not had any thing for over twelve hours, no food, no drink. About six people in very low spirits because of all the misery they had already gone through set out on foot towards Bialistok, about five miles away. After suffering a lot of misery and pain we eventually made it, but barely. This little pleasure trip had lasted over four days and nights!
I arrived at my aunt's a complete wreck. I was hurting all over. I gave my aunt quite a fright. She thought I was ill:
"What ails you, my Khatskele", she said in despair, wringing her hands. "I'll call a doctor."
I told her that I did not need a doctor, that I was in good health, only a bit damaged by the trip.
But I looked like a ghost. My aunt, who had a good heart, was very worried about me. I stayed in bed for two days, completely broken, all my limbs aching. As soon as I had recovered a bit I spoke to my aunt about the purpose of my visit to Bialistok. I told her I that I had come hoping she could help me to establish myself somehow, that I was planning to settle down here and that I thought she might be of great help. I kept from her that I was planning to go over to the Haskole. It would have been foolish to shoot my mouth off about Haskole to this very devout lady. My dear and pious aunt considered educated people to be just like goyim, like villains.
My aunt remarked that a sudden voyage was not the right approach towards such a goal. She said that it would have been more appropriate to write a letter first, inquiring whether it would be useful to come and whether it was likely that something could be arranged. But it was too late for that now of course, what was done was done.
Since you are here now anyway, she said, you just stay with me and take some more rest. To start a business, she explained, would be almost impossible; one would need several thousand rubles to set oneself up in a business, and I didn't have that kind of money. It would also be hard to find me a decent job, because I was young and inexperienced, had only learned Gemore. Nobody knew me and I did not have any skills; I did not even speak any Russian or Polish. As for a minor position, that would not be suitable for me. But, she said, never mind, don't lose heart, God will help you somehow...
My aunt talked to me for a long time, but my mind was on other things.
I recall that after that Sunday I went to the State-Rabbi with the letter Bernzohn had given me. Having read the letter he looked at me kindly and told me to visit him on Tuesday. He said that he would discuss the matter with Halbershtam and he wished me success with my plans.
I went home in very good spirits.
On Tuesday I visited Rabbi again and he immediately told me the good news that Halbershtam was willing to support me until I finished my studies and that he had invited me to visit him. He wanted to get to know me personally, so he could discuss with me how best to arrange my education. I don't have to explain how exhilarated I was. It seemed I had achieved my goal straight-away!
When I returned to my aunt's I was bursting with joy. The only thing left to get over with was to give my aunt a hint that I was about to engage on the type of learning that she considered as kosher as a pig.
"So what ?", I thought to myself, "Once I have finished my studies she will be satisfied. Even fanatic Jews respect fully qualified doctors, lawyers, engineers. And not a little either, they rather envy them. They only hate educated paupers who did not get a diploma. Such people they consider to be apostates or whatever else is bad in this world."
I just told her how I had visited the State-Rabbi and for what purpose, how this 'Rabiner' had introduced me to a local rich man, a Maskl, who was going to support me, show me the road to knowledge etc.
This news hit my aunt like a bullet in the heart.
She pulled herself together saying: "Aha! The 'Rabiner' and Halbershtam are going to help you! Those villains, those apostates that have led all the young men astray, they who made a ruin out of Bialistok. Ai, ai, for heaven's sake!"
She let me have it without mercy.
The next Shabes I received a very sad letter from my my wife, saying that my father was angry with her for having let me go to Bialistok, that city of apostates, and that he was very worried that I would go of the road there, led astray from the straight road. He was going out of his mind from fear and eventually he had told my wife that she should get me back to Vakhnovitsh.
He had even called in the help of my mother, though he normally never discussed anything with her11. It occurred to him that he might make my wife get me away from Bialistok, back to the village,with my mother's assistance. He had told my mother about that Halbershtam, 'the great apostate', who spent fistfuls of gold in order to turn all the youngsters of Bialistok into apostates. He told her how this had already resulted in hundreds of divorces and that he was very much afraid that Khatskele would turn apostate too.
"You know our Khatskele," he had said, "the boy always wants to question everything, even such elevated matters as religion. The lasts thing he needs is an acquaintance with Halberstam. Khatskele is already half an apostate as it is, a theoriser. Halberstam is on the lookout for just such boys as our Khatskele. It's all his wife's fault, she's got too high an opinion of herself. Being a shopkeeper or holding a license isn't good enough for her. I am terribly worried. It is wrong to let a young man go to a city of apostates. It will poison him. She should not have let him go."
He spoke that way of course only because he was dealing with a woman.
"I really must advise you to put more pressure on his young wife. If you do, I am sure she will succeed in bringing him back; after all, if a woman sets her mind on something, she will achieve it."
My noble father could not bring himself to be hard on his daughter-in-law. For the sake of the Faith and Judaism he had handed over this unpleasant task to my mother. And my mother, may she enjoy the hereafter, had done her best.
Of course the result was that I received a sorrowful letter from my wife in which she described all the upset and misery she had to endure at home in painful detail.
This letter made an enormous impression on my foolish mind. I turned white, which caused rmy aunt to become alarmed, she imagined the worst. I handed her the letter and while she read it through a smile appeared on her face. She understood that the contents of the letter were powerful enough to drive me away from Bialistok, back home.
This letter made an end to my hopes, to my only ambition. I was very young and foolish at the time and on an impulse I decided to throw away all my wonderful dreams, about education, learning, diplomas. Nothing to do about it, it was all over. I can not, may not, destroy a human. My wife would die there, I had to go home. I would not keep my appointment with Halbershtam.
Yes, I decided go home.
I wrote a short letter to Halbershtam, in Hebrew, saying that I had received a letter informing me that my father was very ill (another lie), urging me to return home earlier than planned, not allowing me time to visit him to say good bye. I thanked him profoundly for his benevolence and told him that I would never forget him.
Having finished this letter a reaction set in: I would return home empty handed. Fear about my future got a hold of me and I felt mentally so devastated, that it would have been physically hard for me to return home immediately. My aunt noticed what condition I was in and kept me from leaving.
"Stay and rest", she said looking me in the eyes, visibly satisfied by the turn things had taken, "Stay and rest. You can go later..."
I remained at my aunt's and listened to her stories, old stories about a shop that had stood in the middle of the market and about a man who had been very honest and about Rabonim who had all enjoyed her hospitality, invited to one of her lunches in grand style when they were passing through. She loved organising those lunches. She knew all the Rabonim personally and all about the affairs that had brought them to Bialistok.
One day my aunt entered the room crying and I, alarmed, asked her,
"Aunty, what's wrong?"
"I don't understand it", she said crying, "Rebe Ayzl from Slonim is in Bialistok. I visited him to invite him for lunch, but he refused!.. How could he, me, Rov Leyzer of Grodno's daughter; as if my family counts for nothing! I, the granddaughter of Rov Hilel, grand daughter of Rov Yekheskl, Rov Zalmen, Rov Khaim of Volozhin12 ... Ai, ai, ai. It does not suit him to come to lunch with me! ...
Since I could not stand to see my aunt's suffering I volunteerd to go to Rov Ayzl to ask him why he did not want to visit her. She liked the idea.
"By all means, you go, my son!..."
I went and asked why he had insulted Rov Leyzer's daughter by refusing to attend her lunch.
The Rebe answered, choosing his words carefully
"I know her to be quite a holy daughter and a very clever, devout woman, but I never visit anyone for lunch. I eat whereever I am lodging."
"But," I replied, "if your refusal affects a lady so strongly that it makes her cry."
He smiled, and said:
"Crying, my son, is very powerfull. With tears women get everything done from men. So she is crying? Well, tell her, that aunt of yours, to stop crying. I will visit her tomorrow to take my evening bread with her."
I told my aunt the news and she was so happy that she did not know how to thank me. The great Rov Ayzl of Slonim was coming!
Before this occurrence, even before the arrival of my wife's letter, my aunt had sent out letters, sounding out the possibilities of finding me a job. Soon after the lunch affair a reply arrived from a relative, who wrote that he was looking for an accountant. He asked whether I knew bookkeeping and if that was the case, I should come over straight away. He was also looking for a manager, because his present manager would be leaving in three months' time.
Reading this letter I realised that I could not apply for the job, that I had to put the idea out of my mind. If I was good for anything at all, it would only be as a lease-holder of a farm. But to get a lease one needs a considerable sum of money. I would therefore be fated to take over a shop or a license and to die a villager...
There was nothing left but to go home. But my aunt came up with the idea that I should go to Warsaw. Warsaw was a big city, she said. We had an uncle there, a brother of grandfather Leyzer's, named Yehoyshe Segal, a man with a good name, a good person. He would certainly help me out. Besides him we had other relatives there:
"All first class family, may God protect them, all well connected," my aunt assured me, "You certainly should go there, Khatskele, that's what I advise you."
I said, that I would have to go home first, to talk things over with my wife. I should hear first what she had to say.
"Sure, by all means, go and talk things over with your wife," my aunt agreed.
My aunt would not let me return home with a coachman,
"You must go with the mail coach, Khatskl. Well to do people travel by mail, it's comfortable."
And so I did. She found me a travelling companion, a contractor [podriodtshik], and I traveled with him. We paid twelve rubles each. We were due to arrive in Brisk within twenty four hours . It goes without saying that my aunt had given me the choicest provisions for the road. The trip to Brisk, as opposed to the trip from Brisk to Bialistok, rivaled the Ganeyden as described to me by my teachers. However, in one respect it was much worse. Traveling with the coachman I had been full of sweet hopes about studying and graduating. Now I rode without any hope left, with a heart empty and desolate as the Asian tundras.
I arrived in Vakhnovitsh around midnight. I knocked on the door. My father's bedroom was next to the door. When my father recognized my voice he refused to open the door. Only after I had kept knocking for a long time did he wake up my sister and tell her to wake up my wife and tell her to open the door. I could hear all of this going on from the other side. It struck me as odd and painful.
My wife opened the door and immediately broke out in tears, crying so violently that it frightened me. It was a combination of two kinds of crying, the one about my absence, the other caused by suddenly seeing me back, crying from sorrow and crying from joy.
In order to make her stop crying I started to tell her, how the aunt's brother-in-law had 'misled' me in Brisk, making me believe that my aunt would set me up in business as soon as I visited her. She, the aunt, had only told him that she would like to meet me, for no particular reason. She had wanted me to visit her since she was too busy to go away from home. She had insisted on paying my travel expenses and that was all there was to tell about my trip. When my wife had calmed down a bit, I told her that my aunt had advised us to go to Warsaw, where we had a lot of distinguished family who could be of assistance to us and that I would be able to find a job there, etc., etc..
That is how I discussed matters with my wife.
My father, who was very pleased that I had left that city of apostates, improved his attitude towards me. He had obviously decided to approach me in an altogether different way. Thus far he had always been very distant with me, now he had come to realise that this had been absolutely wrong. He tried to get closer to me, he used another tone with me, even his facial expression changed, became lighter, warmer, more affectionate.
"You should look around for a business," he told me, "a license, a shop, or whatever."
"But father", I faintly objected, "Do you really believe that I have it in me to become a businessman? Do you think I am suitable for a village business? I have set my mind on Warsaw, father. In Warsaw I 'll be able to settle; we have lots of relatives there. My father was afraid of big cities and it was a long time before he gave his consent. He consulted my grandfather, who straight away advised us to wait until summer, until Johan-time13. That was the time that new contracts were made up for properties; may be I would have a chance to bargain for a small property. I would probably not have enough money for that, but they might find a way to help me out.
Due to this advice I stayed in Vokhnovits where I started to take an interest in my father's farm. I threw aside my books, even those about philosophy which I always used to read stealthily when my father was busy with something. Several months went by in this manner.
I was of great assistance to my father who got in the habit of visiting Kamenits to have a talk with his fellow Khsidim, leaving me in charge of all the tasks required on the farm. He was very content with my work. I did my best and even instituted innovations. If he had not had a partner father would never have let me go.
His partner, Mr. Yankev, was a man with money, a simple fellow with little religious learning, but, an honest character, who had invested quite a big sum
Unfortunately his sons and sons-in-law started mixing into the affairs of the farm and that made my life quite unpleasant . As a result there was no place left for me. These young people wielded their influence more and more and I withdrew. My father praised me for it, saying that I was a really good businessman. I was, he said, a calm person, who knew how to retreat at the right moment. These young men understood even less about farming than I and had moreover a smaller share in it than we did, but I realised that working together with them could only result in a quarrels.
Around Johan-time grandfather visited all the lords of his acquaintance, looking for a small estate for me, but he did not find me one. Meanwhile the summer had passed. It was, thank God, already the 'reshkhoydesh' of Elul14 and no farm for me. Grandfather told me that someone else in my position would have gone for a bigger farm, ignoring the limitations of his funds - it was the normal thing to do. But I had made clear from the beginning that there was no way that I would commit myself to a dubious venture and I refused. As soon as we had reached this stage, I started talking again about going to Warsaw... The Diaspora Jew in me woke up: I had to go, to go and wander.
My father gave in. I was allowed to go to Warsaw. He relied on our well-to-do relatives there, trusted that they would help me, prevent me from straying from the straight road.
In those days we already had two railroads: Warsaw-Petersburg and Warsaw -Terespol. The railway fare from Brisk to Warsaw was three rubles. No more coachmen! I took to the road half Elul and was convinced that this time my father would treat my wife more kindly. After all, I was traveling with his knowledge and he had no reason to be afraid of apostates in Warsaw: Relatives, family!..
1Bialistok = Bialystok
2The Duties of the Heart by Bekhaye Ibn Pekude. See Vol. I, Chapt 29.
3Comp. Vol I, Chapt. XXIV, p. 296. ba mir iz farblibn, az ikh zol zikh ersht nemen tsum lernen behasmode [mit flays] ... biz ikh vell hobn smikhes oyf rabones. Un far mir a shtot oyf rabones iz geven zeyer laykht tsu bakumen. In mayne tsaytn hobn r' Khaim volozhiners [1749-1821, founder of the yeshive in Volozhin, where he was succeeded by his son Yitskhok 1790-1849] eyniklekh geshpilt a groyse rolye ba yidn, un di r' volozhiner rosh-yeshives veln mir shoyn gebn a shtot, un mayn sheyn yung vaybl vet zayn a rebitse.
4See Vol. I. Chapt. XXVII.
5See Vol I, Chapt V, p. 117: dos heyst: yeder vokh fun di di parshes 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 un 20: shmoys, voeyre, ba, beshalakh, yisre, mishpotim, trume, tetsave.
6See: Vol I, Chapt. 26. p. 312. Eliezer Halberstam (1819-1899) arrived in Bialystok in 1833 and was "one of the first of the ten greatest Hebrew modern writers and poets in our land" (Nahum Sokolow in the introduction to Halberstam's book, Aley Higayon ve-Kinor, Warsaw 1895). On him see: Herszberg, Pinkas Bialystok, I, 214-20. [Assaf].
7Text: "rabiner": 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.
8135.5 km. One old Russ. mile = 7.46760 m. = 7 verst.
9One 'pud' = old Russ. measurement, equivalent to approx. 16.381 kg; 100 pud = 1638 kg. The pud = 40 funtn; 1 funt = 409.5 grams.
10bezim-bletlakh : there are no leaves on the twigs of a besom, just like there were no leaves in his tea.
11For a description of the mother, see Vol. I, Chapt. XI.
12r' Eliezer Halevi (...-1848); the father of the writers mother. See Vol. I, Chapt. IV.
- Hilel Fried of Grodno (...-1833); father in law of r' Abraham Dov Halevi, her father's brother.
- Yechezkel of Bobruysk; the father of r' Eliezer Halevi; her grandfather
- Rov Zalmen [Eliyah ben Salomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna, 1720-1797 ] was the father of the first wife of of Rabbi Yechezkel of Bobruysk.
- Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821), founder of the Yeshive of Volozhin (1802), was a disciple of the Gaon of Vilna; his daughter Esther was the second wife of R' Hillel Fried.
13Joannis Baptistae (June, 25) ? [Assav] > St. John the Baptist, June 24.
14reshkhoydesh elul: New Moon; the beginning of the month elul, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar, coinciding with August / September.
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