Chapter the Fourth.
On the road. - The train. - The first 'impression'. - My uncle. - Mr. Yehoyshue. - His house. - Looking for an income. - Teaching is the only way. - Warsaw. - The Shas society. - The Shabes-guard club. - Litvaks. - Uncle's children. - I become a teacher. - A teacher that walks in the streets in the middle of the day. - On the road again. - Makarovitsi.
Traveling to Warsaw I was less exited than during my trip to Bialistok. I had given up all hope of studying. I had put the idea completely out of my mind. In Warsaw I hoped not only to find my family, but also some kind of income.
In the train, strangers were dressed in a way I had never seen before, it was a completely new experience for me. While on the train I got my first impression [urok - P. charm] of the great city. Opposite me sat a very well dressed man with a diamond ring with a on his finger. He asked me where I was going.
"To Warsaw", I answered.
He had obviously understood that I was a 'lord', a study-house-chap and, wanting to make a bit fun of me, he asked, "What is the purport of your trip to Warsaw, sir?"
I answered, "Looking for a job."
He again, "I presume you have folks there, relatives, sir?"
I said, "An uncle."
"Who might this uncle of yours be?"
"Mr. Yehoyshe Segal."
"What? Mr. Yehoyshue? May he go to the devil!"
He laughed rudely. At that moment I understood that there were people in the world that were quite different from the good and naive people of Kamenits and Brisk, people one had to be on one's guard with.
In Warsaw I went to my uncle, that very same Mr. Yehoyeshue the traveler had wished to the devil. I entered and introduced myself: "I come from Kamenits, I am a grandchild of Mr. Leyzer, the Rabbinical Judge1 of Grodno. My uncle, Mr. Yehoyshue, an old man, welcomed me and told me to sit down. Next he asked me how his brother was, the Rov of Kamenits, who, as I have told earlier2 had died during the cholera epidemic of '653, two years back.
I did not want to upset him, telling him that his brother had died, so I gave him the warm greetings of the Rov of Kamenits, whom I used to read for, in order to save his eye sight4.
The members of uncle's household, who knew about the Rov's death, were very grateful for this little lie of mine for uncle's sake, they gave me a warm reception.
I liked it very much at my uncle's. Uncle himself, a wise man, was often called on to arbitrate. When they had a conflict, the rich, the millionaires, would come to him to arrange a settlement. This was not done in the usual way, whereby each party went to a different mediator, both of whom would then choose a third party to negotiate between them - uncle passed judgment all by himself.
Uncle also made some money by arranging marriages. He was an excellent match maker. He had a big iron safe in his room, where he kept an enormous sum of money, both in bank paper and in gold, given in trust to him by the children of Zisl Epshteyn, because they had started fighting each other bitterly after Zisl's death.
Their trial had gone all the way to Petersburg and they had lost over hundred thousand rubles on legal expenses in the battle. Not having succeeded in sorting things out this way, they threw themselves at the mercy of Mr. Yehoyshue, asking him to settle things between them. So he had a meeting with them in Petersburg and indeed straightened them out. He asked five thousand ruble for the job and everybody was satisfied.
Many people visited him to ask his advice. No big businessman would commit himself to a partnership without consulting him. They would ask his opinion about business proposals and not until he had given his approval to a partnership, would they be assured that the it would be secure for a long time to come.
On Shabes evening these men of importance with their air of being in control would visit him to talk about the world. As a man of his time he was a true politician and he knew all his customers, big merchants, intimately. He knew their characters and could predict which merchant would make it big and consolidate his business or who was in for a sudden fall.
But as a rule he never spoke badly of anybody. One has to watch one's tongue, he used to say.
He also knew his 'shas' ['shishe sedorim', the six parts of the mishne and talmud] and 'poskim' [commentaries on the Talmud] and in his letters written in Hebrew he showed a lot of wisdom and humor. He was also a kindhearted person and therefore they never allowed him to carry any money. When he happened to have a few hundred ruble with him someone would straight away approach him with a sad story and he would hand the money over to him.
When he carried money with him, his wife would be on guard, watching him like a hawk, but nicely, quietly and tactfully.
My uncle's first wife had died when he was still a young man. He had a son and a daughter by his first wife. His second wife was a daughter of the 'writer' [soyfer] of Warsaw. This second wife always addressed him with the utmost politeness, her whole life long, ever since the day of her marriage:
"Would it please Mr. Yehoyshue to take his meal... If it suits Mr. Yehoyshue, that ..."
The children of both wives would tiptoe for him. If he spoke, all the children would stand to attention, like Khsidim in front of their Rebe. His two daughters, young ladies, were well brought up and it was a real pleasure to be with them. Those few weeks that I spent at my uncle's made a deep impression on me and I will never forget them. It was like paradise to me, living among good and nice people. I had always considered myself quite a polished young man, but in their house I learned what refinement and good behavior really meant.
Uncle's family took a liking to me. It worried them that I did not have a position, that I had nothing to do.
One day uncle said, " I wonder whether teaching would be something for Khatskl. He is too naive for business. I would advice him to take up teaching for the time being, until we find him something else... In Warsaw you can make quite a decent living teaching...
Uncle, ill at ease, gave me a quick glance.
I felt the colours changing on my face, from white to red and to white again.
Teaching!.. - It hit me like a load of bricks - Dear me!..
Uncle started to tell stories about teachers, who had made it big in Warsaw and who had gone from teaching into big business, huge factories etc. etc. Many of them had become very rich. People with the right spirit never got stuck in teaching, only losers stayed teachers for ever. A teacher with personality was valued here [? hie=hige] and there was no reason to be ashamed.
That is how uncle attempted to smooth over the heavy impact of his teaching proposal. He gave me another quick glance.
There was nothing I could do. When uncle told me he thought teaching the right thing I only could agree with him... but that night I could not fall asleep. It kept going through my mind, I will become a teacher, I will become a teacher... But if uncle says it's right, there was nothing I could do.
"Uncle", I said to him, "If I become a teacher..."
"Don't worry", he answered, " No one will respect you less for it, not at all.
Unexpectedly, on a Shabbes day, one of his sons told me that his papa wanted to have my level of knowledge examined. There would be a scholar coming to interrogate me. I did not like the idea at all: an interrogation, really, I wasn't a school boy!
But refined people know how to present things in the right light and they explained to me that they only wanted to ascertain what level of students I should cater for. I could not object against that, so I agreed. After an hour or so an elderly gentleman arrived and my uncle brought me to a special room. They gave me a Gemore5 Bave-Metsie6 and the man told me to start on the very first chapter, opening with the words: shnaim okhezin [?] betalles ["shin-nun-yud-mem alef-vov-khet-zayen-yud-nun beys-tes-lamed-yud-tov"], "two people hold on to a talles, prayer shawl", about the method of 'eyd ekhod', one witness7, a text with the toysefes8 en the Maharsho9 I gave him the alternative interpretations and did it quite well. He told Mr. Yehoyshue that I was capable..., my uncle was satisfied and told me I could remain in Warsaw as, well, a teacher.
Now I could hang around in Warsaw until after Sukes10. That would be the right time to get students. Gradually I forgot about 'teaching' and my mood improved. Being in good spirits I would often go for a walk with Mr. Yehoyshue's son Khaim-Leyzer. This Khaim-Leyzer showed me around in Warsaw, acquainted me with all the local customs, introduced me to Khsidim and Rabeim. Mr. Yehoyeshue's household was of course Misnagdic.
He also showed me the local study-houses and I used to say prayers with him in the First Litvak Association 'Sham' in the 'Frantsiskaner' Street. In that study-house all the well-to-do Orthodox young men came to pray. They were the kind that would have cashed in dowries of sixty to eighty thousand rubles. They looked funny to me, with their long robes, fur edged 'shtreyml' hats and curled peyes [side curls]. Young men with not so much as the shadow of a beard were sporting heavy long dangling peyes, which seemed to have a life of their own. The richest young men were clad in satin kaftans and had white stockings and slippers on. On the Nalevski, the Frantsiskaner and the Gzhibov you would meet such young man in droves; girls on the other hand would have deep décolletés.
In the study house I mentioned, the Shas-Association, they would constantly criticize the Khsidim. You would find the most fanatic Misnagdim there. The fervor of the Khsidim against the Misnagdim had resulted in hot Misnagdic feelings against the Khsidim.
One of them, named Eliohu, a grandson of the Goen of Vilne, a wealthy and learned young man, was the absolute leader of the Shas people. He wore a long silken [zeydene ripsene] kaftan, white stockings and beautiful slippers. His peyes, not very long, but curled, gave him an additional charm. With his outer appearance he had attracted lots of followers.
He was an ardent Misnaged and he was always laughing and joking about the Khsidim and their Rebbes. My presence was of course much appreciated in his circle, because I was knowledgeable about Khsidim. I had a good time. Every day I would go to say my morning prayers and after these prayers, but especially between the mid-day 'minkhe' and the afternoon 'mayrev' prayers, a large group of young men would gather around me while I talked my head off. I was a godsend to them and they to me. The crowd would laugh about the examples I gave, about my characterizations of Rebbes and even about the wildest fantasies I concocted. Every day they would criticize another Khasidic work written by some Rebbe.
Only on one issue, namely the Shabes-guard, did the Shas youth form a united front with the Khsidim. There was an Organization for the Protection of the Shabbes, whose aim it was to protect Jews from disruptions of the Shabes. These Shabes-guardians would exercise more pressure on the poorer classes than on the rich.
This big 'Shomere-Shabes' organization had branches in all Khasidic prayer houses and every prayer house would take its turn in carrying out inspections to ensure that there was no trade during Shabes, no buying or selling etc.
Sometimes it would not be a pretty sight to see how such a foolish 'kept' son-in-law on 'kest', would take it out on a poor miserable street-vendor, because she would be out in the streets with her baskets a bit too late.
On the day of the eve of Sukes, during the afternoon, Eliohu came in running at the study-house where the Shomere-Shabes was gathered, out of breath, like he had escaped from a fire, shouting:
"Men, the street-vendors are still out on the street, making money, come quickly, let us disperse them!"
The whole bunch of silk clad youngsters poured out into the street and I followed them to see how they would chase away the women. In those days there wasn't an underground sewage system yet. The women sat next to each other on the sidewalks over the whole length of the street with their feet dangling in the open gutters, trying to sell the few left over grapes and other fruits that people need for the high holy days.
Their merchandise was not of the best. It was overripe, and if they didn't succeed in selling it very soon it would not be worth a penny afterwards. But the young men started emptying out their baskets into the gutter. A big tumult arose, the women cried and pleaded:
"Can't you see, there are buyers standing over there, ready to take what we have got, just give us a minute."
But they did not listen to them.
I could not stand the sight of it, so I spoke to their leader:
"Mr. Eliohu, you fail to take the situation of these poor miserable women into account and you are causing them a loss. Would it not be more reasonable to put together the money needed to compensate [oyflegen zikh tsvishn zikh fil es iz un batsoln] the women for those leftovers that are bound to spoil over the holidays and send them home? Just throwing their goods out is not a very nice thing to do..."
But the more I said about it, the more I went down in their esteem; they even began to suspect me of having been involved in the affair in some way. They finished their work and returned to the headquarters of the Shas Association. There they said the afternoon prayers and after that they wanted to discuss what happened. But these 'kest' children had to go home for their meal and our debate was postponed until the next day, the holiday, during the day.
The next day they all gathered in the study house and we engaged in debate. During half an hour I talked for all I was worth, making clear that this was no way to behave towards poor street vendors and that such behavior was not an example of true devotion to God. As a result of the ensuing discussion I won over a big group who agreed with me. But some of the more affluent ones, including the leader Eliohu, stuck to their opinion. They had been acting in accordance with the religious laws and they said that I had begun to stray from the road. The more fanatic guys that had supported my view at first went over to the other side one after another. Those that agreed with me stood by me. Eventually it dawned on me that the affair might negatively affect my prospects in teaching. People distanced themselves from me more and more as time went on. How concerned should I be about having a bad name?... How important was my reputation [tsi hob ikh es badarft]?
It certainly did have a negative effect [un azoy iz take geven]. Some people withdrew their children because of it, though they had wanted me earlier.
During my stay in Warsaw I was confronted with the feelings of hate of the Polish Jews towards the Litvaks, a hatred that one might expect between two peoples at war, something I had never met with before. If one Litvak had committed a crime, all of Lite would be accused. The contempt for this infertile plot of land called Lite was beyond description.
Previously, before the uprising of '63, Warsaw used to have a day-permit system. All foreign Jews, those not registered in Warsaw, had to pay fifteen kopecks for each day. Fifteen kopecks was of course a prohibitive sum sixty years ago and as a result only very few Litvaks came to Warsaw. In those days Odessa was the only town where Litvaks used to look for work, though Odessa was further away from Lite than Warsaw. There wasn't any other big city where the Litvaks could go to. But even when they were few in number the Litvaks were hated by the Polish Jews. The Poles had only one name for them: Litvak pigs.
After the uprising Warsaw opened its gates wide to Jews. They didn't have to pay visitors fees. Moreover, around that time the first two Russian railroads had opened: Warsaw-Petersburg and Warsaw-Terespol, both passing through Lite. As a result a considerable number of Litvaks came to Warsaw within a few years time and the hatred against them increased.
But how did they get the name 'pig'? Why not 'swindler' or 'thief' or something else? The explanation is a simple one. Lite is a poor region, no industry, infertile soil, sandy. The landowners were poor as well. When Litvaks came to Warsaw they would lead a very frugal, poor and miserable life and live on bread with onions, some radishes or garlic and cold water. It made no difference whether they were earning a lot or little, the Litvak did not give up the lifestyle he had been accustomed to in a poor country. That is why the Poles honored the Litvaks with the name 'Litvak-pig'.
And this name has stuck to them to this very day, even though nowadays the Litvaks are smart enough to eat and drink well. They have copied the Warsaw style of luxury life in every detail, love to show off, going to the theater and wasting money on a big scale.
My uncle's children introduced me to several households. In all of them they would constantly use the terms 'Litvak -pig', especially the women. Every woman had another bad story about Litvaks. But the Litvaks did not get away with being honored by just one bad expression, an even more wonderful title was bestowed on them: 'tseylem-kop'
This title they got because of their preoccupation with education. While the Polish Jews lived in a kind of limbo where the Rebe reigned supreme the Litvaks produced many Maskilim with fancy bombastic names who woke up the dormant Jewish world and prodded it to become educated.
Warsaw had also a group of Jews that took to culture. They already showed the first signs of assimilation, like yellow withered blades of grass sprouting from barren ground. They were completely cut off from the Orthodox, wore short clothes (the women did not wear wigs) and spoke only Polish, no Yiddish. The Orthodox Jews called them 'Germans', a mild way to call them 'goyim'. The Orthodox would take great care to ensure that their children would never talk or meet with 'German' children, to prevent the 'Germans' from making 'goyim' of their children.
But the Litvaks formed a mixture. There was not any outward distinction between Ortodox and intelligentsia. Their long kaftans did not safely distinguish the Orthodox, because there were also very devote Jews who dressed European style. Haskole and religion went more or less together. Someone in long dress might be an unbeliever of the worst kind, while someone in short clothes might be a very religious person.
After the Polish uprising all kinds of Litvaks flooded in and the Polish Jews did not know who was who, could not tell a religious man apart from a Maskl or an apostate. Therefore they were much afraid of the Litvaks, they feared that they would negatively influence the Polish Jews with Haskole and atheism. In that time the expression 'Litvak tseylem kop11' was first coined, to indicate that one should not associate with them.
Education was one thing, short clothes another, but a combination of education and short clothes was as goyish as a 'tseylem-kop'. So much for the origin of their second title.
As I mentioned earlier, My uncle's son often took me out for a walk. While walking he would show me the vibrant life of Warsaw and answered all the questions I was constantly firing at him, provincial ignoramus that I was.
I remember how one day, while I was strolling with him along the Galevski, I ran into Yisroel Fridberg, the son of Khaim Fridberg, a young man a bit younger than me. He was dressed in the style of the 'Germans'. Of course we embraced each other and started talking enthusiastically. He told me that his father had moved to Warsaw shortly after the uprising. They were living here now. The young man was very pleased to see me and invited me to come home with him. His family used to be very close to my family. I was also happy about the meeting and promised that I would visit him soon. When this short and pleasant conversation had come to an end I looked for my relation. He wasn't there. I looked around, in every direction, but could not find him anywhere. I asked Fridberg, "Do you have any idea where that young man could have gone?"
He laughed and said, "Don't you realise that he made himself scarce as soon as he saw you embracing a 'German'? It got too hot for him [he took off to 'vu fefer vakst' - where pepper grows.]
I didn't understand him at all. I said good by to Fridberg and went home. There my cousin jumped on me telling me outright that if I would ever again, while walking with him in the streets, meet with a 'German' and stop to talk with him, he, my cousin, would never go out with me again, because it was most embarrassing for him to be standing with a 'German". He added that if I wanted to go into teaching in Warsaw, I should not meet with 'Germans' or have anything to do with them. If families heard about it, they would take away their children from me, even if I had the knowledge of a Goen.
That incident depressed me considerably. My whole intention had been to mix with Maskilim in order to gain some knowledge and now I found myself in a situation in which I had to stay away from the very people that might enable me to fulfill my plans. It was forbidden to meet with an intelligent person.
If that was the situation I might as well live in a village - it hadn't worked out12, what good was it to stay in Warsaw? In a somber mood I started telling myself, that I should take up some kind of business in the village, a shop or a concession, and that would be the end of it. Better to be half human in a village than to be a teacher here in Warsaw, a hypocrite, a fanatic amongst fanatics. I was not up to that, I had suffered enough in that respect from my father.
I was suffering from remorse. I had tormented myself trying to find a job in a big city. Why take the trouble? A man cannot get what he wants by force. I decided to go home.
However, I could not follow up on my decision straight away: They had already arranged a group of students for me. I could not behave like a pig, my uncle hat worked hard ... I was obliged to start on it...
Thus Sukes passed. I could not visit Fridberg. Though I really liked him a lot, it could not be done under the circumstances .
My career as a teacher was based, praise the Lord, on six fine boys, who would study gemore with toysefes under me, for fifty ruble a boy. That was not nothing for a provincial young man in those years.
I had rented a classroom in the Frantsiskaner street and on the Tuesday morning after Sukes I sat down on my teacher's chair. At nine o'clock sharp the boys arrived, with their silk hats, white stockings and long curly peyes and took their places around the table. I, seated at the head of the table, opened the talmud at the 'bave-metsie' tractate and started out ... But at that very moment I started crying, a sea of tears. I was sobbing and had to leave the room. I could not control my tears and when interested passers by asked me what I was crying about I sniffled:
"I've got a very sick child..."
Eventually I regained control over myself, went back into the classroom and began teaching. I had a few boys who were rather dense and it took quite a lot of suffering on my part to drill a column of the talmud into their heads. Obviously they had misinformed me by praising the mental faculties of my pupils too highly.
On Thursday I went out during the day to do some shopping, which took me a few hours. I had left my charges behind in the classroom, telling them that I would be back in about an hour. But when I didn't return after an hour, those spoiled brats went home telling their mothers that the Rebe had gone out into the street early in the morning, to buy 'goods', and that he had not returned yet. To make things worse, while out on the street one of the mothers had seen me. She considered it a major crime that I had been out in the street in the middle of the day, during class hours.
The news that I had been out in the streets soon reached my uncle's household and they were puzzled by it:
What was a teacher doing in the streets during the day?
That was my first shot at teaching.
I was in a pretty gloomy mood. Since I had nothing more to lose anyway I went to see Fridberg, whom I told about my situation in detail.
"Here I am brother", I complained, "a teacher, and a fine job I have made of it."
Fridberg heard me out and then unfolded a completely worked out plan. It went as follows: I should travel to Makarovitsi, in the Grodno region [oyezd], where a relative of mine lived, a rich fellow, a steward on a the estate of a landowner. He was a very good man and a Maskl and he would certainly give me a job.
I liked the plan very much and immediately gave up my teaching position.
My uncle told me that I was a fool, that many young people struggled for years in Warsaw to get such a job.
"Teaching is just business", he tried to convince me, " you will be sorry if you give up teaching."
But my fantasies had taken a flight and I did not heed my uncle's words.
1Text: moyre hoyroe.
2see Vol I, Chapt.27., p. 315.: der ershter tog sukes ... His name was Abraham Dov Halevi. see Vol I, Chapt IV.
3comp. Vol I, Capt.27., p. 312.: di groyse kholere fun 1866-tn jor. p. 314.: in brisk zaynen geshtorbn fun elul bis kislev ... [at the end of 1865].
4See Vol. I, Chapt. XX, p. 265, l. 14-36,p. 266, l. 1-3.
5gemore - explanation of the mishne in Aramaic (finished about 500 C.E.) Here the word is used as an equivalent of 'talmud', containing both 'mishne' and 'gemore'.
6'The second Gate', name of the second mesekhte (tractate) of the fourth seydre (order) of the mishne (the 'zezikn', on civil and criminal law etc.). The bave-metsie has ten chapters. This first 'mishne' (paragraph) of the first chapter is often used to introduce beginners to the talmud.
7eyd ekhod - an issue discussed in 'bave-metsie 3b-4a' -usually the court requests two witnesses for a testimony.
8toysefes - 'supplements' commentary on the talmud, created from the 12th to the 14th cent. C.E.
9Maharsho: A rabbinical authority (poysek), r' Shmuel Eydels (Samuel Eliezer Ben Yehudah Halevi, Poland, 1555-1631), who wrote a 'peyresh' (commentary) on the talmud (Khidushe Halakhot or Maharsho), printed in most editions of the talmud.
10School would start after Sukes. Comp. Vol. I, Chapt. VIII p. 139, l. 4: ... opgegebn mikh in kheder nokh sukes. Also Vol. I, Chapt. XVIII, p. 243, l. 16-17: oyf morgn, nokh sukes, ..., bin ikh gekumen .... lernen mitn nayem melamed.
The students in a kheyder or yeshive learned during two 'zmanim', semesters: 1. from after Sukes till the beginning of the month Nisn; 2. from after Pesekh till the eve of Rosheshone (according to Niborski; Assaf gives Tishebov and the 15th of Shvat as final days of the semesters).
Comp. also Vol. I, Chapt. I, p. 57: The children never had free-time, but for the holidays: Purim, Pesekh, Shvues, Rosheshone, Yonkiper and Sukes. Altogether 26 days a year.
11Niborski quotes I. Bashevis Singer: "a litvak hot oyf alts a terets. zey taytshn oys di toyre vi zey viln. deriber ruft men zey tseylem-kep." The meaning of 'tseylem' is: image>image on a cross>cross. The expression, as explained by Kotik, seems to indicate that a Litvak was a 'cross-bench' figure. Comp. tseylem-eloykim - 'God's image', someone with a Jewish physiognomy; also: 'drey-kop'.
12Hebr.:'k'asher avadti - avadti' - when luck has run out, your out of luck; what else can I do, I've had it!
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