The Pliskin Family
by Ikusiel Pliskin
with shorter narratives by
Jacob Pliskin and Sarah Pliskin Nehman
Edited by Marc D. Erlitz
At the request of my beloved children, I, Ikusiel Pliskin, born in 1854, have taken it upon myself to record my life story, my experiences, and also stories of my father, Israel Groinen Pliskin, and the stories my father had heard from his father, Ikusiel Pliskin, and grandfather, Reb Itche, the son of Avraham the Vilner (who became Reb Avraham Pliskin) our ancestors, so that we shall know who we are (our roots). My father had a family and a family letter; however, this letter remains in the Holy Land. This letter will be described when I tell about my father. I'm very pleased that you, my dear ones, have an interest in knowing who you are, the history of your family and the reason why our family name is the same as the city in which our forefathers lived, Plissa. You shall be proud of the information in this historical document.
The first Jew who arrived in Plissa, my great great grandfather Reb Avraham, born in the mid 1700's, came from Vilnius (Vilna). His name was Avraham the Vilner. In days of old, important Jewish people were given last names according to the the city from which they had come, because family names did not exist then. About middle-class Jews I will write later on how their last names were given. Vilna was then the capitol of Lithuania. Avraham the Vilner performed great business transactions with the Lithuanian government and became very rich. He was well known, a great Torah scholar, was also learned in secular studies, and had two famous sons. He was in Vilna one of the seven great leaders of the city. Every city, town, and hamlet appointed seven capable leaders who led their people, and whose job it was to appoint Rabbis--Shochtim, to supervise over Tzadaka --charities, and Talmudei Torah--Hebrew schools, and to see that poor children be given schooling, food and shelter. If a certain community was in need of a favor from the government, the procedure was to contact the group of seven leaders of the capitol of that specific land, for they had great influence with the government. My wish is also to give you an idea of how people led their lives in those days. My belief is that not only in Vilna did people live this way, but also in the whole of Poland and Russia. Our family Pliskin were devoted Chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov (Chassidim-Chassidic followers and disciples.) I will also explain the difference between Chassidim and Minxa Misnagdim. Going back to the behaviors of people in those days, the Lithuanian gentile (Muzik) was the property of the Porets (the ruler and usually tyrant ruling over everyone--who had the power, even over life and death); the Jew was also the property of the Porets. When the Porets would sell his terrain (town, city, or cities) automatically the Muziks of serfs would be sold along with his property to the new owner. Jews and gentiles were at the mercy of this Porets as were all his horses and cattle--he had the power to shoot them or hang them without a trial.
I will now relate to you an appalling tale that I heard from my father. About fifteen miles from Plissa there is a city called Luski. The Porets of Luski was called Graf Zobe. His custom was to go hunting in the forests three times a year, together with his family and friends. In order to test his shooting ability or workmanship, he used to force women and children to crawl high up on the trees, thus practicing and testing his shooting ability upon them. Whenever he shot down a woman or child from a tree, all the bystanders would shout hurray in approval--also the echo of all the shouters would travel through the entire forest.
When the Porets decided to turn the Village of Plissa into a city, and all the governors then knew that it was impossible to create a city without Jews, he ordered that a mill be erected, since through the city of Plissa ran a river. Moreover, he ordered a whiskey distillery be established together with a hostel where the governors (Pritzim) would be able to obtain lodging for a day or two, because Plissa was the center to all our neighbors who wished to travel to the great city of Polotzk. When all these preparations were finished, the Porets sent fifteen chariots with additional help to pack all the belongings of Reb Avraham, his wife and children. He sent two chariots with four horses leading each chariot.
He (Reb Avraham) had to come to Plissa whether he wanted to or not. He was presented with the above items--the distillery, etc. In addition, he was given the full authority of supervision of the income of the complete property of the Porets--and also the tasks of fund raising in the form of loans for the benefit of the Porets, because although the Pritzim were very wealthy, they were also extravagant spenders.
The greater the Porets was, and the richer he grew, the more he searched for a Jew as a minister or supervisor so he should be famous as a business personality and a great manager of interior affairs of whom they would boast to their colleagues. The less well-to-do Pritzim, would greatly revere these Jewish managers because through these Jews, they would learn how to deal in business and how to speak to the great Porets. The great Porets who sent for Reb Avraham was also a representative of the Lithuanian government; his rank name was Deshped. In Russian this rank was called Knias. Thus, Reb Avraham did great business with the Lithuanian government; it was for the above reason that the Porets picked on Reb Avraham's influence for this position as supervisor.
When Reb Avraham arrived in Plissa, a few Jewish families followed his example and settled in Plissa, too. In a short while, great business transactions began to take place in Plissa.
Reb Avraham had two sons. If he had any daughters I do not know; the younger son was the rabbi of the whole vicinity and was also its "shochet." He was also a great scholar, handsome, hardy, and everybody praised him. His name was Reb Velvel. My father possessed some of the texts of books of which he was the author. The older son was also a great Talmudic scholar; also he was vastly secularly educated. He was very religious, and he was the one to take over the business affairs from his father. His name was Reb Itche; he left over four sons and two daughters. They were married in Vilna, but what became of them I do not know. These four sons of Reb Itche were named 1) Shimsel, 2) Velvel, 3) Ikusiel, my grandfather and 4) Itche.
Shimsel moved to the town Kiblitz, and he had a son named Yosef Mordechai; and a daughter who later became my aunt. Velvel was the rabbi of the city and its "shochet."
Itche had three sons and one daughter. These three sons were great scholars, businessmen and famous people. They were Chassidim, (disciples of the holy Baal Shem Tov.) The Chassidim were the scholars who searched for an ideal in Torah study, as I will later explain. As I said before, Itche had three sons and one daughter, one named Lazar, who moved to Filipove, a large village near Drisa. Lazar had two sons named Dovid and Zalman; what became of the I do not know.
About Itche, I forgot to mention that he had two other sons. One of them Noson, lived in a mill, though I do not know where. Berel, the other son, was a Torah scholar. Berel and his children already called themselves after Berel's wife's name (Bailenson), because she handled the business transactions. Berel left a daughter whose name was Kashiel from Barishkowitz and sons .. one named Zorach, who was a Shocket in Plissa.
I described before how the Christian nobility behaved, and now I will describe how the Jewish nobility (scholars) behaved before the Baal Shem Tov revealed his philosophical Chassidic teachings.
Until the Baal Shem Tov emerged, all Jews were Misnagdim. The Misnagdim disliked the Jews who were not learned. They called them unlearned Jews, Bur, and Am Haarets. Although these ignorant people were very religious, these Misnagdim would poke fun at them saying, "what do these Jews know about religion?"--If he knows nothing, not even the meaning of the prayers. These deprived Jews sent their sons to learn a trade as shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths. These professions were as treif (unclean) as chazir (pigs). These sons were the ones to be drafted into the army from their particular cities. The period of devoting time to the army was not less than twenty-five years. The rich Jews looked for a groom for their daughters, an important young man. This in turn means that the groom should be a scholar.
These ignorant rich Jews, in order to find an intelligent scholarly young man would travel to the nearest Yeshiva. Here the rich man would ask of the Rosh Yeshiva to pick for him a great Torah scholar for his daughter.
The Rosh Yeshiva was already able to make a deal with the rich man, the ignoramus, and set a date for the wedding. The rich man would buy for his groom all the necessary clothes for the wedding plus expenses. They would then write to the chassan's (bridegroom's) parents to come to the wedding at the set date. If the groom's father would not be able to pay for the ride to the wedding, the bride's father would sent a chariot at his own expense.
The bride did not see the groom until the wedding. If the chassan was wise, he would find a way to his future father-in-law's house and look at his future bride, but this had to be done in secret so that the Rosh Yeshiva did not learn of this.
After the wedding, the young groom would continue his Hebrew studies. The parents would then begin looking for a business for the young couple. Upon their finding such a business, the young wife would manage it. The husband's name even in those days was called in reference to his wife; for instance; Chaim, the husband of Leah. So were called all people according to the name of the business manager.
However, upon the arrival of the Baal Shem Tov, he decided that the real religious Jew is really the ordinary layman. The shoemaker, the tailor, the blacksmith; the one who eats the bread at the sweat of the brow--he knows that G-d wants only a true heart.
When this ordinary Jew whistles and declares that he intends to worship G-d with his whistle because he knows of no other way to worship, this type of Jew is regarded with more esteem by the Almighty than a scholar who learns day and night, because the latter has in mind either honor to be derived from his learning, or through money.
The Chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov began to attract and befriend ordinary Jews. They would sing with them, dance with them, and even intermarry with the ordinary layman.
You can imagine that the Old Rabbi took a son-in-law whose father was an ordinary butcher. When being asked why he took a son-in-law from the family of a butcher, he replied that if a Jew has the understanding to give a nadden (dowry) for the amount of 10,000 rubles because he thinks that I am a pious Jew, I can then do with him a shidduch. (arrange a marriage.) Because of this, parents asking great scholars as grooms for their daughters stopped considerably.
As a result, the man of the household began his role as both the business manager and provider of a livelihood.
You can imagine what occurred then among those who opposed the Chassidism, better known as Misnagdim.
I shall now relate to you what my father told me. The city of Shklov and Moliev were in those days the pride of all the Jews. Its Jewish inhabitants were rich, scholarly people, and business personalities.
The old Rabbi and his son the Intermediate Rabbi went by, I do not remember exactly which city, Shklov or Moliev, so let's say Moliev. He rode through on Thursday night through the city of Moliev, where they were arrested. They were brought to the "Kohol Shtibel"--a Jewish courthouse. They were tied down, and were ordered to remain until Saturday night. On Saturday night, there was supposed to be a meeting to decide what was to be done with the "prisoners. "
The reason for the delay to Shabbos night was because all the rich men of the city came back to the city for Shabbos.
The Elders of the city took turns to guard them, for they would not trust any other person, lest they would be allowed to escape. The Chassidim (followers) did not know where their Rabbi and his son were to be found. Since these elders were also scholars, and in the "khol Shtibel" there were "seforim" (books of Jewish interest in Hebrew), these rich elders would learn from these Seforim as they kept guard on the Alter Rabbi and his son. Shabbos afternoon, as one of the elders was learning "Talmud" on guard, he suddenly could not figure out a passage in the Talmud and in vain were his efforts. The Alter Rabbi, upon seeing this man's plight, voiced his opinion as to how to solve that Talmudical problem. However the elder turned a deaf ear to his rescuer thinking, what could such a man know? And the elder tried going ahead with the passage but he became stuck again. This time he became annoyed and had no choice but to listen to the voice of his "prisoner." The Alter Rebbe then showed this scholar his own great intelligence and scholarliness. Upon hearing his logical and scholarly Talmudical explanation, the rich elder was astonished and replied to the Alter Rebbe, "I see that you are great in Talmudic studies, now give me a small discourse in Chassidic studies.
When the Alter Rebbe ended his discourse, the elder said to him, you are indeed my Rebbe, and as soon as Shabbos ended, he took a horse and buggy and traveled with the Alter Rebbe to Liady, where the Alter Rebbe dwelt.
I have forgotten to tell you about how the Pritzim behaved.
Although we mentioned before that the Porets was close to Jews and lent money to and borrowed from them occasionally, nevertheless, it happened many a time that when a Jew would ride through his estate and the Porets would have a fit, he would order the Jew to be taken from his buggy and be flogged for as long as he wished; no bit of mercy was of any avail. Afterwards, the Porets would order the Jew's buggy to be filled with beans, vegetables, and potatoes, have the Jew put on his buggy and sent the horses with the buggy on their way to the Jew's house. A joke went around about the Jews, that if a Jew would not have what to eat, his wife would drive her husband out on the road with his buggy, hoping for the chance that a crazy Porets would remand him, have him flogged and fill his wagon afterwards with food.
The Jewish intellectual, from the Misnagdim, did not behave much better than these Pritzim. We, descendants of Chassidim, should be proud of ourselves, for we are born with a delicate understanding and intellect.
Now I will tell you about myself. My name was given to me after my grandfather, Kusiel Pliskin, the reason being that my grandfather died the day that I was born.
My grandfather became the manager under the Porets of his town Plissa. He owned the inn, was well-to-do, was a scholar, and became very famous.
He once said that when we come along important people, then we see that we are great people, too.
My grandmother came from a family of scholars of Shklov, rich people, or from a family of intellectuals from Moliev. She wa a good-looking, intelligent, good-natured woman; her name was Bobe Sarah.
I do now know for sure if I knew her, but I think I did know her. Either I believe I knew her or else I just heard of her from the description of others. She had two sons and one daughter, of whom the oldest son was my father, or your grandfather. The daughter was my aunt Chava; the son was Mendel. Mendel, my uncle, married Sheitel's daughter. Sheitel was, in turn, my father's uncle. Mendel became divorced from his wife. Mendel, my uncle, left toward Frankfurt-Demain together with a young man from Disna. Upon arriving in Frankfurt-Demain, they both went to the synagogue to learn they were both very learned. It did not take long, that the Rabbi of that city befriended them, and took a liking to them, and told them that he had a daughter. "My dear young men, the time has come for you to meet my daughter, and for her to decide who of you two best suits her taste," he said. So it was--a date was arranged and the Rabbi's daughter was introduced to these young men. The question of choice was put before the maiden. She chose my uncle Mendel.
The Chassena (wedding) took place not long afterward; and the dowry from the Rabbi was a beautiful vineyard. A while afterward, my uncle opened up a weaving factory; he would travel every year to Russia with his materials, and would buy other textiles from Russia. My father carried on a correspondence with him until the Russo-Turkish War, after which we do not know what became of him.
**Now, about my aunt Chava. I heard her name only once. Upon receiving a letter from her once, my mother asked my father, "Who is the letter from?" My father replied, "The letter is from Chava." She wanted to make a "shiddach" with us. She boasted of having nice daughters, and she was ready to give meaningful dowries. She was quite rich. I saw her once on this occasion. I had to travel to Oshva near the city of Drissa. In order to get to Oshva in those days, I had to travel first to Disna, from Disna to Drissa by train, and then from Drissa to Oshva by horse and buggy. I arrived at Drissa on a Sunday. I went to the fair, and found a wagon that was bringing firewood to sell. With this sled he would bring me to his home. From his home he would harness a good sled and bring me to Oshva.
On the way, riding to the driver's home, the driver said to me that he will bring me to an inn where there were Jews, and he will go to his home to care for some things. It was winter and very cold and he brought me to an inn.
Upon entering I noticed that the inn had a large cold room, without a wooden floor, and two non-Jews were sitting along a long table and drinking whiskey.
In the room it was as cold as the outside. I did not, however, see anyone of the proprietors. I looked for another door to the other room. With much frustration I managed to find it. I enter through that door and behold, in that room it was brightly lit and warm. A man about fifty was playing with a young child.
I approached this Jew and asked him if it was possible to obtain a samovar. He answered, no! I asked again perhaps, you have a good drink of whiskey, he answered again, no! and extended his hand to me saying "Shalom Aleichem." I did not take his hand and replied, this is your kindness, give me better a samovar, so I should be able to warm myself, I will pay you as much as you want. I continued walking around the room, until I warmed myself a little. Now that you are not angry, he continues, Shalom Aleichem, where are you from? I reply, from Disna.
"Perhaps from the suburbs of Disna?" he inquires. "Yes, from a small town near Disna" I replied. "What is the name of the town?"
I reply in question, "Do you know the towns around Disna?" "Yes I know of them," he answered.
"I am from the town of Plissa. "
"Who are you in Plissa?" he further questioned me.
"Who do you know in Plissa?" I questioned in return. "I have a brother-in-law in Plissa."
"Who is your brother-in-law?" I inquired again.
He replied, "Israel Brinom is my brother-in-law. Why, do you know him?" I replied, "I know him."
"How long are you away from Plissa?" he asked. "Two or three days," I replied.
"How is he?"
"He is alright," I replied.
"What kind of business is he in?"
"His business is to learn Torah and pray," I answered. "He asked again, "And who are you in Plissa?"
I am Sverdlov, and answering thus, I tried to look away so that he should not notice that I am laughing. I wanted to bluff a little to my aunt as well.
Standing from far, I notice there entered a good looking lady with a royal outlook, tall with a well-tailored look. I thought to myself could this be my aunt, for as it seemed to me, she resembled a Melamed (poor old teacher), and she had the look of a royal duchess, about the age of forty or forty-five. She seemed to want to take the child from him. He said to her, go first ask about your brother, for here before us is a young man from Plissa. She replied, asking "Who is he from Plissa?"
His name is Sverdlov," the man replied.
The lady turned to me, and said to her husband, "you can be talked into believing anything. "
Then she turned to me saying, "Come over here, my dear young man."
I did not hurry to call her, so she started walking towards me. I started walking towards her. She hugged me and started kissing me saying, "You are Yekusiel!" I reply, "Yes."
She took the child and she called me along to follow her. They did not let me go on my way that same day.
I asked my aunt Chava whom she resembled in looks.
She answered that she is the exact copy of her mother, my grandmother.
Now we'll begin to tell of my father, your grandfather. He married at the age of thirteen.
Your grandmother, or my mother, was eight years old at the wedding. It so happened that my grandfather Yekusiel was on business trip in the city of Disna. A big tumult had taken place in the city, namely that the greatest Shochet of the city suddenly died of cholera. His name was Barigin. He was survived by a wife, four children, two sons and two daughters.
My grandmother was asked to come to a meeting in the city, with regards to what to do with the surviving family.
The oldest daughter was married in Disna to Urates Moshe Shenkman. The latter was from a fine, rich, Chassidic family. One of the two sons, Menschem Barigin, was given over to a blacksmith as an apprentice. The second one was given to a carpenter as an apprentice. My mother, the second daughter of the Shochet, was taken and brought to Plissa by my grandfather Reb Yekusiel Pliskin, when she was five years old.
I forget to mention, that Motes Moshe was survived by two sons. One was named Yosef Shenkman, who lived in the city Disna and was a fine person and the owner of a beer brewery. He had educated children. About the other son, I do not know anything.
Thus, when my mother Reise Mirka became eight years old, and my father was thirteen years of age, they were married. They were commanded that they must go to sleep on time, and both in one bed. They set aside for them a separate room. In those days, it was the custom that the bride's hair was completely shaven off, and she was clothed with a white bonnet called a heibel (a bonnet that covers the hair of the head completely.)
My mother, as it seems, was quite mischievous. One evening, when my grandfather was coming home from his evening prayer, Maariv, at the shul, he noticed that his young, thirteen year old son is sitting at the porch, crying. His father asked him, "why are you crying?"
PAGE 13; MISSING PGS.14-17**
My father had four sons and one daughter, 1- Yosef Dovid, 2- Yakov Mendel, 3- Yekusiel, 4-Esther, 5-Zalman Ber. Yosef Dovid was the oldest. Then Yakov Mendel; then is Yekusiel, your father, then comes Esther, and last is Zalmon Ber.
Yosef Dovid married in Luboke, his wife's name was Chava Mariashe. What children, how many and what became of them I do not know.
Yakov Mendel married someone from Chashnik; her name was Esther Bashia. They had oHne son named Rachmiel Leif. He settled in Copenhagen. Zalmon Her married someone from Pinsk, into a nice Chassidic family. His wife was called Esther Leah. She died, and was survived by daughter named Sorke; she is in America. His second wife was from Lepla, the daughter of a shochet, from a very fine chassidic family. Her name was Yudasse. Their children were: 1) Sarah Risha, 2) Reise Mirke, 3) Israel Froinon.
Esther married someone from Nevel, by the name of Yekusiel Chanin. She has two sons, 1) Leirk Chanin and the second one came to Vilna, his name I do not know. Yekusiel Chanin died at a young age. Esther remarried in Rokshitz where she bore two daughters.
Now I shall tell about myself, Yekusiel Pliskin.
In my days, when my father was about sixty years old, he did not do business anymore.
Yosef David, Yakov Mendel together with my father, sat down to learn gemorah and Chassidus in order to bring Moshiach. They used to travel twice a year to see the holy Rebbe. My father was very famous in our world and revered by everyone.
I forgot to mention how we lived. Our first house measured eighty-four feet by eighty-four feet. It was a corner house. It was on the main street; it had a large gate, and a large basement about twenty-eight square feet where ice was kept cool during the summer. In the yard there were large stables for horses and stables for eight cows and twelve goats. We also had a large storehouse to keep dry lumber a whole year.
We had a silo to keep hay and oats. The windows were ten feet tall. I do not remember how many windows there were in a room. There were fourteen rooms in the home. Tbe Padmurik from the house was eight feet tall. About thirty feet away from the house there flowed a river facing the front of the house.
It also had a large concrete cellar. We had a team of good horses and driver.
In front two rooms we had a bar; and we had an underground tunnel in the cellar. The bar was tended by our mother, and my sister and I used to help her. Yosef Dovid, Yakov Mendel, and our father were occupied with learning; and with traveling to the Rebbe twice a year. (Because of this the business kept going downward until its termination.) Yosef Dovid with his family, and Yakov Mendel with his family were all supported by our father.
Chana Marioshe, the wife of Yosef Dovid, took care of the kitchen. This meant that when we wanted to eat we would have to ask Chana Marioshe for food. More than once, my sister and I remarked to ourselves that Chana Marioshe feeds her own children a bigger portion of kugel than she gives us. Cheese and sour cream were also given to her children in bigger portions.
Shabbos the procedure was as follows: Father and mother sat at the head of the table. At the left of our father sat the sons according to their ages. First Y osef Dovid, then Yakov Mendel, myself and Zalmon Ber. On side of mother sat the women. Chana Marioshe did not sit at the table. She together with the maid distributed the portions and served. At the table sat Yakov Mendel's wife, a Jewish housegirl, and Esther. Upon our arriving from shul, father would bring along from shul, for kiddush, the rabbi, the shochet and the shammess. The table was set with chopped herring, pickles herring two or three other kinds of fish and many biscuits. After a while the maid would remove the empty plates, and would once again bring out liver, but not chopped, just slices garnished with onions and peppers. there was good Tsimmes meat and cold Tzimmess. Whenever father asked that kugel be brought out for the guests that was also done. This was also the kiddush. By the kiddush we would sit at the opposite side of the table in the same order I mentioned before.
Our father would also ask us, Esther or me, that we should sing something. Whereupon, Father, Esther and I would sing very nicely.
Zalman Ber would also try to come and sing along, but we would drive him away. Even though he had a very good voice, he was nevertheless a very young child and would mix us up with his singing. He would then create a lot of noise. However, mother would usually quiet him down. When she couldn't she would pick him up and sit him on her lap. When this did not help she would hand him to the maid. The maid would take him out to the street. She would take along barley and oats, call over the geese and ducks at the water nearby, then she would throw them their food, when the child would see this he would quiet down, for he loved to feed the animals.
We knew how to sing many songs, because whoever would enter the city, a cantor, a rabbi, a collector they would all come to visit our father. As long as these people would stay with us it would be very merry and joyous on occasion. These beggars would teach us the nicest songs; our father would not allow them to leave until we had learned the songs they sang.
Once something funny happened. A middle-aged Jew of about forty or forty-five years old came to Plissa on business to look over the forests of Plissa. It was close to the afternoon prayers (Mincha) the guest tells my father that he has Yartzeit on that same afternoon and he wishes to doven (pray) in the shul. My father tells him that he would not have ten people to doven with him. Whereupon the guest replies that the would like to daven in the shul even alone if it is necessary. So my father and I went along with him. Where Y osef and Dovid and Yakov Mendel were then, I do not know. As we were nearing the outskirts of the city, the guest tells my father "I see it is quite an inhabited town, so we can have a nice minyan (congregation often people).
My father explains, "but they are all very busy people."
The guest replies, "Nevertheless, they will come."
When we heard what he had to say, we began to laugh; he laughed along with us. Upon entering the shul we found nobody but ourselves.
He approached the altar, and when he opened his mouth it did not take more than five to ten minutes for the synagogue to fill to capacity, both the men's and women's section; not a living soul missed shul that day. From this man I learned the song "Polnes" which you all know.
I will tell you how greatly my father was revered. At first the "Pritzim" were required to give a quota of soldiers from the Jews and non-Jews under their jurisdiction. Naturally, the sequence was to give to fill the quota non-Jews instead of many Jews. Afterwards, a new law appeared that the quota of Jews was to be given and filled separately. However, they were allowed to hand over "Poimenicks." This mean that every town would grab Jews from journeying on their way, riding even from far away places. Although they would be forty or fifty years old, they would alter their ages and draft them for the quota account of the city which grabbed them. Later on, a law was passed forbidding this practice too, and "Achvatknikes" were allowed to be given, meaning they would hire a "tramp."
They would make up with him to give him two hundred rubles, and sometimes three hundred rubles; they would keep him in town and give him food and drink. There used to be a saying then that "he has it as good as an Achvatnik." In addition they would also catch a "Yungen" in case the first was not good.
One day as I was going home from "Cheder" to eat supper, as I approached the house, I heard a big commotion in the house. As I ran into the house, I saw a woman on the floor, kissing my mother's feet and crying. Five or six children are with her, crying along with her. In addition, an old father and mother are crying, too. I couldn't comprehend what was taking place. I approached the maid and she was crying too. I certainly could not come close to my mother, as she was also crying. So I had to stand and wait for the outcome to this affair. With great effort we managed to break this woman away from my mother, and I heard my mother trying to comfort her saying, "I will bring my husband here but stop your crying." My father descended from the "sharka" or attic (he used to learn there), and he went into his room on the lower level, where he would receive guests.
This room had adjacent to it another room where there were two beds. My mother called in the woman who was laying on the floor into this room. I also managed to steal myself into that room because I still did not know what was happening. However, my mother noticed me there and chased me out. I was angry at my mother for that, but still I went out from the room. Then I heard the door of the room open; the woman was holding a letter and was happy. My father said to the woman, "As they will notify you that they cannot help you, you should return and I will go immediately with you to Disna." I was given lunch and I left the house toward the cheder, but I left unhappy. Firstly, because I would not have a reason to give my rabbi for being late to class, and secondly I wouldn't have what to tell my friends. As I was walking, thinking to myself, I hear the maid, Chaike, shouting for me to return home.
When I returned home, my mother told me I should not tell anyone what happened at the house. But I managed to be allowed not to return to cheder that day. I also demanded to be told what all the crying was about. My mother replied that I shall know in a week or two.
Two weeks later, coming home I see that in the house there is a great commotion. The same woman with the children are there together with a young man, who is the husband of this woman. Now I understood what had taken place. From the people of Plissa, this young man was caught to serve as a soldier to fill their quota. And whenever my father wrote a letter to the people of Plissa, he was let out free. This is how greatly revered my father was in Plissa.
We have elaborated too far, before we mentioned about the Sabbath's Brocha (the prayer making after the davening services). After the Brocha, we small fries used to leave the house to play during the summer season. During the winter, we would have enough room to play in the house. Two hours later, we would be called in to eat dinner.
At dinner my mother would already be sitting next to my father, who then related to us about the beginning of our family, because then all the strangers had gone, such as the rabbi, the shochet or the shammes.
Unless there would be other strangers that would be staying at our house, we would have not hurried to eat dinner because we were not hungry, but for two reasons we did not want to miss being at the table. For one, we loved to hear my father's stories, and second, we loved the noodle kugel. The first course would be chopped liver and "Puchar." "Cholent" followed, and then the kugel. whenever Chana Meriashe would give us less of a portion than she gave her own children, we would peek at their plates in a hidden manner. We wouldn't talk with our mouths, only with our eyes. Our good mother would, however, notice this and she would say, "children, keep still." Afterwards, they would serve cholent meat. This we would not eat at all, but nevertheless we had to stay seated at the table. Firstly, we had to sit until then because father and mother were still sitting at the table, and secondly to teach us how to behave in the presence of strangers, and also because of etiquette, how to hold a spoon and a fork. All these teachings took place on Shabbos at the table, after the Shabbos afternoon nap. My father and mother would get up and a few of the city dwellers would gather at our house for tea. Then we took the cholent from a big pot and we would serve everyone tea while they discussed many things.
I was born in the year 1854 in the town of Plissa, during the holiday of Shemini Atzeres, the twenty-third day of Tishri, which corresponded to the month of October.
In my time, my father's position was on the way down. I, your father and grandfather, will tell you about my life, and about my two marriages--also why I wanted to travel to America. How I aspired that my children should journey to America. But who and what I am, meaning my mistakes and blemishes I cannot write to you, because each person counts his wrongdoings for virtues. Even if a person finally sees that he did wrong, he tries to find ways to clear himself or rationalize his mistakes. Then my virtues I do not want to write about for the same above reason. This, to tell about my virtues I leave to you.
About my early youth I haven't what to write--a great or lesser mischievous child is the same. I'll begin to write from the age of ten or twelve years old.
Naturally we went to cheder. I'll tell you about my cheder. My Rebbe's name was Berel the Melamed. He was a tall and skinny man with a slight beard. He was a nervous person and used to snuff "tabak." When my father was a youngster about my age, he learned under him also.
The Rebbetzim's name was Bobe Toibe. She was the grandmother of the city. "The Bobe" used to be called then a midwife.
My friends used to tell me that she also snuffed "tabak," and she hid her tabak box in the pocket of her apron. She was, however, a good woman. More than once she used to plead to the "Rebbe" on our behalf, that he should not hit us.
Although the Rebbe never hit me, instead he would threaten and scare me that he would hit me. The Rebbe would always postpone hitting me, so I thought that he just forgot to punish me. However, a while later, the daughter of the Rebbe whose name was "Perke" told me the reason. "Do not cry, my father will not hit you," she said.
"Why not," I asked, "why wouldn't he hit me?"
She replied, "Because your mother asked my father not to hit her children be healthy nonscholars than sickly scholars."
However he would do this, if a student had to be punished, he (the student) would unfasten the hooks of his trousers, pull them down and sit lying on a bench. Children like me, there were probably more, whose good parents had asked the Rebbe not to hit them. These children used to be given the task of holding the hands, feet and heads of the ones who had to be given a spanking. And we, the ones that held the punished one, as the thrashings would come down, we would cry along with the one that was being spanked. The Rebbe had two kinds of spanking tools. For children of age eight or nine he had a stick eight or nine feet in length. At the tip of the stick there was a long piece of heavy skin, cut to the size of wide long noodles and these "noodles" were banged down with nails to the stick, this was called "Tzipline." For ten to twelve year olds, children who learned the "Gmora" (Talmud), these he would not tell to remove their trousers, firstly because the student would not listen, secondly the Rebbe wouldn't be able to put him down either, and thirdly the lad would be more agile and stronger than the Rebbe. For those students the Rebbe would have another tool called, "Suchedrebke." This was softer and longer than a bath brush. Whenever the Rebbe would give a swing with this at someone's back, this strap would wind around the body of the recipient like a snake.
The Rebbe was not completely at fault. Let us look at who the Rebbe was. This was one of the "Kloiznikes," who became the son-in-law of very wealthy people, or as they were called "Shmalts gribbers of accumulations of fats and riches." These accumulations eventually dry up, and the fathers-in-law were not able to continue to support their sons-in-law. As a result, the young man had no other choice but to look for a teaching position. This young man was already "broken" because these young Klozniks they would fix up with women who are not good for this world and not for the world to come. I know of a cousin of mine, whose mother was my father's sister, he was called Israel-Zalman Kapelushrink. He was fixed up with a wife who had a hole in her cheek. When she had to eat she would have to hold her cheek with her hand so that the food would not fall out. He was a learned man, and is a Rabbi somewhere, I do not know where. As I am writing now, I am reminded about two sisters of my father. One was from the town of Druye, this Kapelushrink was mentioned before, and the other from another town named Leiple, by the name of the Harderesha. Her children live in Riga. Anyway, this type of young man would come to ask to be entrusted to him children to learn with them. whenever the father or the mother of the child would tell the young man that their child is a great trouble maker whom they cannot control. Also, the father or mother would come to the Rebbe and complain to him that their son played on the Holy Shabbos with "Shkotzim," gentile children; and that the shkotzim tore off his hat from his head and threw it on the roof, and that their son continued to play with them, without his hat on. He also learned from his shkotzim how to whistle. The mother would not leave the Rebbe until the Rebbe would not spank her child. He had to do what he was told, otherwise he would not be rehired for the following term.
However in more intelligent houses, it was different. For instance, in my house, by my mother, whenever the Rebbe would come to ask to teach us, she would ask us first if we agreed. If she liked a certain Melamed or Rebbe, and we were not happy with her choice, she would talk us into accepting him. However, if we told our mother that we didn't want to attend Cheder with this or that child, to this she would not listen.
Our mother would make up with our Rebbe, that more than eight children should not be in the class, and that this or that child she does not want in my class.
Naturally for an eight-child class, they would pay as much as the income for a fifteen-child class. Afterwards, my mother would make up with the Rebbe that after his class was over, he should notify her who were the members of the class. However, we always learned under the same Rebbe.
My father never mixed in about us. We, during our lives, never heard from our father not a good word, not a bad word. Our mother never raised her voice toward us. We never heard a curse. We never heard our father argue with mother. We were not in the room with our father. If we ever fought among ourselves in the house, our mother would exclaim, "Children, you father is in the next room." That would be enough, and we would leave the house and continue outside.
Once there occurred a nice story. Our "shul" was very large and roomy. Our father had built the shul. It had in addition a bath house with a warm "Mikvah." Because before that, the women would go to immerse themselves in the river, where they would chop a "prolavke," which is to bore a hole into the frozen ice, and the woman would then immerse herself in the water. However, when the shul was built and a Mikvah installed, the women would not have to go through the above hardship, for now they had a warm Mikvah in which to immerse themselves.
The shul was very spacious. We boys would go to play there Shabbos afternoon. We really didn't have a better place where to play, that is, during the time that all the parents would sleep Shabbos afternoon. After the Cholent and the kugel, they would sleep heartily.
You probably wonder why we had no better place to play, and why Shabbos afternoon of all days. The reason was because the rest of the week we would have to go to cheder at eight in the morning until the evening; during the summer and winter until eight or nine in the evening, closed up in a narrow dirty and dark Cheder. We had no worries, so we wanted to play and fool around in the street of the "shtetl" which was small and everyone would know us. We could not fool around, for as soon as they would see us being mischievous, they would warn us saying, "wait I will tell your father what you did, or your mother or older brother," and we would then get into trouble.
Although on us no one would tell, for when someone would come with a story to our mother, she would exclaim, "what do you want from them, they're children, and children have to fool around, 'Reciting Thilim' they already do all week long." As for going to the outskirts of the "shtetl," there we would be afraid of the "shkotzim" (gentile boys), therefore the only place left was the shul. In shul, "Matis the Shames" would give us trouble. Although he was a Pliskin, nevertheless, he was a stern man. The best game we played was during the time between Mincha and Maariv. It was not necessarily so for me. During that time, my father would take me with him to the front, where they would sing, and I had to sing along. This took place when my father would come home between Mincha and Maariv.
Whenever it would turn dark, that was when the fun started for us. This darkness period would last a long time, and we children knew that Shabbos night, we "daven" Maariv very late. This happened because on Shabbos the wicked people in heaven are not punished or burned for the various sins they performed on earth, and in order to have pity on these wicked souls we would prolong the Shabbos day by extending the time to daven Maariv and lighting a fire very late.
By Jews, everyone is considered wicked the first year after death, that is the first year everyone has to go to "Gahenim."
Once, Zalman the cobbler became angry at Matis the Shames and cried to him, "Why do you not watch that these young Shkotzim should not turn the shul upside down?"
Matis replied, "But what could I do, if the whole mischief is led by the children of Israel Groinen. Why they even lost my "tefillin" and my siddur was torn from its binding. Everyone knows that when one starts with tales about children's mischief, everyone has another story to add to the previous one."
If it hadn't been for Zalman the shuster, who opened his mouth, all would have been quiet.
They decided among themselves that Matis the Shammes, should tell Israel Froinim, my father, what his "Tannefare" is doing.
My friends, the boys came running to me, and one tried to beat the other at breaking the news to me over what happened in shul. The boys were very much afraid of what would happen. They were afraid that I should not get a spanking. The boys swore on their own lives and the lives of their parents how they heard that Matis the Shammes was going to tell my father what happened in shul. Other boys remarked how they heard with their own ears that Chaim the Blacksmith jested that Israel Froinim is going to beat him so that he will remember that beating for the rest of his life. The brat, everyone has "tsores" from him.
The Rabbi, the Shochet, and the more important townspeople were not among the talebearers. Whenever my friends told me of those developments, my heart began to beat like a clock, tick-tock.
However, I listened to them and a fake laugh came out from within me. All my friends were waiting openmouthed, for what I would say next. I replied, "First of all, my father will not be home for this Shabbos, and perhaps not even for the following one. And who knows, by then Matis the Shammes may die." One of the gang called out to me, saying "Maybe your father will die by then."
It is true then that an older boy gave the intruder a shove, saying "his father is a good father. He never hits his son, let my father better die, the thief, for when my mother sticks up for me, he not only hits me, but her too."
My father arrived the following Shabbos. On Friday we were let out from Cheder after lunch. On my way home, I notice that our "Zdereftzick" runs toward me (this word means a young pony of five or six months of age. I will later explain how this pony came to us.) The pony was licking my hands looking for sweets, sugar or candy, that we taught him to eat from our hands. We also taught him to stand with his forefeet on our shoulders and thus remove our hats from our heads. However, the usual procedure was that he would return the hats, but this time he galloped away with my hat. It was not our pony's fault, for his mother, my father's horse, had just called him after he took our hat, and our pony, forgetting that I was not allowed to walk under the sky without a hat, forgot to return it. I, however, remained standing in the middle of town without a hat on. To go home then without a hat on I was afraid, as it was I was in a lot of trouble, that Matis the Shammes would come the following day to complain to my father about me. If now I would go through the town without a hat on, I would be nothing better than a regular "goy." I even put both my hands on my head in order to keep it covered, whenever my best friend comes running towards me, the one who had said, "maybe your father will die before Matis comes to him with the news." My friend wanted to give me his cap, but I did not take it. For if he would get caught without a hat on, that he would be going into the street without a hat on, he would then be liable to receive a harsh beating from his mother.
So I asked him to fetch my own hat, and I went home. As I entered the house I told Chana Mariashe, the wife of Yosef Dovid, that I did not feel well. She asked me what was the matter, and I answered that I had a headache. She told my mother about it.
My mother came to me immediately, and she asked me what hurt me, while she felt my forehead. She said, "He has no temperature." Ten minutes later, mother came again and this time she brought along her medicine. Sains leafs and warmed cabbage is what she brought. I would perhaps have much rather suffered from receiving my father's beating than having to taste my mother's medicine. Suddenly, G-d performed a miracle. At that moment Ma received a message that Pa was calling her, and that gave me a chance to quickly spill the medicine given to me. When Ma came back she asked me if I took the medicine. I replied "yes," and at the same time I asked for something sweet to remove the horrible taste in my mouth. I made sure to make the necessary gestures of faces for such a horrible taste. I received very little to eat that night, because Ma was under the impression that I had an upset stomach. I, however, did not go hungry, I managed to swipe something or other from the kitchen. This carried on until Shabbos when Matis would come. Matis always came when Pa would wake up from his nap. Whenever Matis came, the maid brought a glass of tea for him, and I overheard that Matis had asked her to tell Pa that he wanted to talk to him.
Pa asked Matis to come into his room. What they said in there, I do not know. After they finished, Ma came into my room and asked me how I felt. With these words she helped and soothed me much more than with her medicine. For if my father would have taken the talebearing seriously, my mother would have said, "just wait until your father gets a hold of you for being so mischievous in shul."
A few hours later a whole bunch of boys came running to me happily, and they all want to tell me first, until I quieted them down. This is the story: On Shabbos after Mincha, Zalman the cobbler asked Matis the Shammes, "Did you see Israel Froinom?" Matis did not answer Zalman's question.
The tailor remarked, "why do you not answer Zalman's question, and you are angry at him for asking?"
Matis replied, "you are right, I am angry." "Why are you angry?" they asked.
Matis answered, "He was able to lead me to a bundle of Tsorres." "What did Israel Froinom say to you?" they asked impatiently.
He said that a child who does not fool around and is not mischievous is not a normal child. Whenever I mentioned the damages that he caused in shul, he offered to pay for them completely. Reize Mirke added that I should not dare to raise a hand to her children, or even to throw her children out of shul, for they can then easily catch a cold.
Zalman the shuster replied, "Ha! I would not listen to her, I would knock his head off."
Matis replies, "Yes, you but not me."
Here Shumel, the tailor, intervened saying,·" And why not you?"
Matis replied, "Just look, today Ikusiel is not in shul, and the shul appears dead, not a sound. When he is there he sings, and everyone sings along. Have you forgotten that the shul is no one else's property but Israel Groinen's, his father?"
In addition, from Reize Mirke I benefit more then from anyone else. Shumel the tailor then asked, "What do you mean, she sends you Chanuka gelt and Purim gelt?"
"Certainly she sends me. If it would not be for Reize Mirke, I would not have enough to make Pesach."
They all quieted down; no one had anything to say or add. This is all that my friends, the young boys, told me upon listening in.
My father owned a beautiful, good and intelligent horse. (Why do they call him a horse if he is intelligent? Because he lets himself be ridden upon.) My father wanted to have a pair of similar horses, but the opportunity did not present itself. Until one day they brought a horse, the perfect match to the one he had. The driver had to leave because his wife took ill, and my father had to buy the horse without the driver's advice. When the driver returned, my Pa boasted to him that he managed to buy a horse, the exact replica of ours, and they both went to look the new horse over. When the driver noticed the horse, he exclaimed this is nothing but a female horse, and within a few weeks she will give birth to a pony. The driver added that the following Sunday he will take this "Klatche" and sell it. Upon hearing this, we rushed to our mother and with great trouble, we managed to convince our mother not to sell the horse. This is the story of how we came to own a pony.
The years passed by quickly. I was now fifteen or sixteen years of age, a little more grown up and serious; it did not look right to fool around. One day my Rebbe said to all the children in Cheder, "Children go home." This happened during the summer three or four in the afternoon. Everyone ran out of there as if there had broken out a fire.
I was held back by my Rebbe in the Cheder. When everyone left, my Rebbe said to me let's go right home. Upon arriving home my mother greeted me saying, "Go into your father's chamber. Father needs to see you." I asked my mother what does father need me so urgently for? Mother replied, "I don't know," with a slight grin on her face. She led the way and bid me to follow her. I entered the chamber, and behold, father is sitting at the table, the Rebbe alongside, with two strangers, one older man and one younger man.
I went over to the window, where upon my father said to me, "My son, you see two strangers, greet them with 'shalom." I greeted them, and I noticed a "Gemora" is lying on the table. My father questioned me, "What Gemora are you now learning?"
I replied to the question.
He opened the Gemora and asked me, "About what does the Gemora discuss here? What does Rashi comment upon it?"
At first I answered in a sleepy tone. However, after I warmed up, after a few seconds, I began answering more livelier, and I wanted to continue further. My father said it was enough. I noticed that the Rebbe was very proud of me, and that my father and the two guests were also quite satisfied.
Throughout our discussion in learning, I noticed that the maid has brought in a tray of delicacies and a few bottles of the fine liqueurs.
The complete procedure of events looked a bit strange to me; to test me, and in the presence of strangers. When my father closed the Gemora, I wanted to leave my father's study, but I noticed that my mother brought in a piece of corn cake, and she said to me, "My son, please do not leave yet. Father still needs you here." I ate my portion of cake, and father said to me, "Now sing a pleasant melody." I sang for them as I felt. Then I noticed that the two visitors and mother were wiping their tears. I sang very well when l was a young lad. Afterwards my father said of me, "Now sing a happy song." This time I sang a "march." In the middle of singing the march, I noticed that the city dwellers are coming into the room with their wives clothed in their Shabbos clothing. Now I really began to wonder what was going on.
I slipped out of the house, and as I stood on the porch for a few moments, I noticed the maid coming towards me saying, "Come inside. You are being sought." I asked her, "What do they need me for?" She answered smilingly, "Go inside, they will let you know."
I went inside, but not too happily. I entered the chamber where everyone was, and behold the shochet was there, who was our cousin. He grabbed me, hugged me lovingly and wished me "mazel tov." I didn't have the chance to ask her what was the occasion of the "mazel tov," when the shochet grabbed me by the hand and said, "Behold the Chossom" (bridegroom). Everyone then sat around the table while the shochet lifted me up in the air, and a few seconds later, sat me in between my father and the older of the two strangers. I lift mine eyes and notice that the tables were set with delicacies and liquors and the Rov takes from his "Sartuk" a yellow handkerchief, just like the one that he uses to wipe his nose with when he snuffs snuff (tabak). One half of the handkerchief he held in his hand, and the other half he motioned me to grab, and he said to me, you're accepting this transaction. He then takes out a large document and reads "Tuovin". I sort of wanted to cry, but I held myself back with restraint. Meanwhile, while the Rov finished reading the Troyin, plates were flying all over, and they ended up broken on the floor. It became very noisy and they started to kiss each other, saying "Mazel Tov." It became very lively and they started to say "Lecha," one to another. I overheard the shochet's wife asking my mother have you seen the "Kalla? Is she a pretty girl?" My mother answered that Israel Groinom and I saw her. A nice girl but an older girl. "How old did she seem to be?" the Shochet's wife again inquired. "About eighteen," my mother answers. The Shochet's wife exclaims, "that is not an older girl. What does she do, this girl?" My mother answered, "Her father owns a large mill near Kublitz, and they bring from there flour, barley, and herbs. They own a large store where these goods are sold. This is a large business. "How much 'Hadden' is being given?" My mother replies "Five hundred Rubles." My mother came over to me, said Mazel Tov, and we kissed each other. My mother said to me, "You, my son, you have a beautiful Kalla." My Merchuten also approached me, and said Mazel Tov too. He kissed me, handed me a watch, and said to me that for Pesach he will send for me to see the Kalla.
Time passed and two days before Pesach a buggy with two horses came for me and I journeyed all the way. Upon arriving in the courtyard, my Mechutan, his wife and their son came to greet me in the courtyard. I descended from the wagon, and we all kissed each other. They then led me into a nicely decorated room, and asked me what I desired, whether I would like ,a cup .of tea or a meal. I answered "Whatever you will serve is fine with me." Pesach elapsed and the Kalla I saw, but I was not able to converse with her at all. Tuesday, before departing, I was standing near the fence of the grocery store house, and I noticed my Kalla trying to lift up a sack of flour on the scale in order to weight it, and there is no one to give her a hand with it. I, at once, entered the storehouse and helped her with it. My Kalla then asked me, "How do you enjoy Kublitz, our city?" I answered, "A very muddy town." She again asked, "Is your town any dryer than this one?" During this particular time, it is dry by us. She again inquired, "If so, where would you like to live?" I answered "Wherever you will be." In short, at the age of seventeen I was married. I had a good natured, intelligent, good-looking wife. Children were born, however, they were skin and bones and did not survive more than three or four months. We had five children and they all died. I lived with her for six or seven years. Throughout this time, we had two fires. She died in a period of three or four hours. Upon standing up from Shiva ( the mourning period lasting seven days.) Shneur, the cobbler, approached me asking if he should search for a shidduch (match) for me. I replied in the negative, saying that I would like to rest up for a few years. The cobbler Shneur told my father about my decision. My father wrote a letter and sent it with the cobbler to the town of Zarkushene, and wrote in it to someone that he would like his daughter, whose name is Zisle Reize, to be the wife of his son. This person, later to be my father-in-law, answered that he has to ponder over the matter. About a half year before the death of my wife, there were great rumors that overturned the world literally, namely that a grandson of the Baal Shem too was journeying through the different towns, and among his great miracles was that he had the power to make the dead live again.
My father was very angry at the Chassidim of those towns who let such rumors go by unchallenged, thus, helping innocent people become misled. It is not proper for the Misogdim (the enemies of the Chassidim) to let them think that Chassidim are so naive to believe these stories, and this person is lying. First of all, the Baal Shem had no surviving grandson at that time, and even if there were, they certainly did not have the power of holiness of the Baal Shem Tov. In short, my father took a trip to Sharkuzene and conferred with the important Chassidim from there. My father-in-law, Abraham Michael, was also among those present. It was decided that my father was to visit the Holy Man, talk things over and find out more about his character. The leaders of the city were afraid to let my father go to argue with the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, lest they tear him apart like a herring in their arguments, because, firstly many people made a livelihood because of this "grandson" and the miracles, such as the Shamoshim and others, who would be furious if they would be deprived of their situation. Secondly, there were also many "coarse" Jews that came for miracles, and they were liable to do anything against the opposition of their revered Holy Man. In order to avoid any trouble, a few Baal Batim entered the house of the "Holy Man" with my father, and a few others peeked through windows, to see what would happen. Whenever my father entered the chamber in which the "grandson of the Baal Shem" dwelt, he was given a chair to sit, and they both conversed. Afterwards, my father said "Now, won't you say some "Torah?" and the Holy Man obliged. My father then exclaimed angrily, "You are a moron, you got to get a beating and be thrown out of town. "
You have no idea of what occurred next. My father was carried out, and from there he was quickly taken into the house of my future father-in-law. My father was very well greeted and welcomed at my father-in-Iaw's, and your mother, my dear wife, served my father tea. My father, noticing this young lady, asked Abraham Michael, our grandfather "is this your daughter?" He replied "Yes, this is my older daughter." My father inquired, "Is she betroved yet?" "No," he replied, and asked "Perhaps you know of a nice young man for her?" Father answered "It could be." Father then came home and sent a letter to his Rebbe about this alleged "grandson of the Baal Shem Tov" and reported on the gullibleness of the Chassidim for accepting this imposter as their leader. Then my father sent a shadchem to match my brother, Zalman Ber, to this young girl. My father-in-law, however, refused the match. Afterwards, when my wife died, my father send a "shadchen" to my father-in-law to take me as his grandson. My father-in-law journeyed to Liady, to see the "Rebbe." Upon having discussed the whole situation with the "Rebbe," the Rebbe replied that he had already received a letter from Israel Groinom of Plissa that in your town lodged a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, and that you greeted and accepted him like a.Rebbe. We concluded the above subject, and I told the Rebbe that I have an older daughter and that they are matching her with the son of Israel Groinom, who was widowed from his wife without children. The Rebbe inquired "and Israel Groinom wishes to have his son betrothed to your daughter?" My father-in-law replied, he had sent a shatchum to us. "So why do you hesitate," the Rebbe inquired, "do you know who Israel Groinom is, a great scholar, a great Chassid, a pious and clever man? Go home, accept the match, and have lots of luck. When my father-in-law came home, he at once wrote a letter to my father that he accepts the match with everything.
I myself did not know about the entire matter, even about my father asking about Zalman Ber, and later about me. One day, my father asked to see me. Esther came in to see me, and she said to me, "Yekusil, father wants to see you." I did not answer her. She came closer, and noticed that I was leaning against my two hands and crying. She left to tell my father that she found me crying. My father came down to see me and asked me to come up to his room. He had a room on the upper level of the house where he used to study. I ascended to his study and he asked me why I was crying. I replied, "Because I have lost my wife and children; at least had I been left with one child from her. Without children, my life is not worth a penny to me." He handed me a "sefer" (hebrew book) and showed me what was written in it. In this sefer it was written that it is impossible to obtain good things without some bad things that preceded the good. Upon having looked through the text, my father explained it to me further, saying, "Hear me, Yekusiel, what I have to tell you. I have been to the Zsarkushene, where a Jew asked me in for tea. A nice-looking, good-hearted Jew, clever, and a stage agent. Although he is not rich, he makes a comfortable living. He has a daughter, who served me the cup of tea. Upon noticing the young girl, I was astounded. She is as beautiful as a princess. In my life, I have not seen such a beauty among our Jewish brothers. I conversed with her, and I got to like her very much. I would like to have her as a daughter-in-law. A girl such as this is an adornment in a house. I had, then, sent a matchmaker for your brother, Zalman Ber; however, her father refused the match. Today I received a letter from her father that she is interested to have you as his son-in-law. Now listen--although Kasriel Barishkowitzer is ready to give five hundred rubles to her daughter's suitor, there is, however, no comparison between his daughter and this beautiful young girl (Kasriel's daughter is the mother of the Pliskins whom you knew in Riga.) Listen to what I tell you. Take this girl, she will be your consolation in your life." I did not reply. In the Gemora it is written that when a person remains silent after being told something, it is as though he is in agreement with what he was told. I descended from my father's study. A while later, I ascended to my father's study once again and said to him, "Father, do as you see fit." At the same period of time in which my father communicated with this girl's father, Tzippe, Nochum's mother also managed to obtain this girl as a match for her son Nochum (Nochum was the teacher who learned with you in the town of Boltzes.) My father-in-law, however, refused. Why I do not know. We had made up to meet about halfway between Plissa and Zsorkushue--I, my father-in-law Abraham Michael, and his daughter, the kalla. About midway between the above towns there lived an aunt of mine who was my mother's sister from her second father. Her family name was Lazar from Palnovich and they lived in a mill there. Her first name was Chana Chaya. To this site I had to come from Plissa, and my future wife from Szarkushue. We arrived, but the kalla was not in sight. A messenger arrived saying that the kalla refused to come, and if anyone wishes to see her, they must come to her home. She gave directions on how to get to Szarkushue, and with whom to stay, being that in Szarkushue there weren't any hotels. So we continued on to Szarkushue, and we arrived there about three or four in the afternoon. About two hours later we were sent a message to come to my future father-in-law, where we found a large crowd gathered. Tea was served to the guests. I saw and noticed young girls and young married women, but I failed to recognize my kalla. However, one young girl seems to be doing nothing at all but facing the crowd in the dining room ,and she seemed to be staring at me. I stared back at her; however, I did not believe her to be my kalla. My father had told me that she has the appearance of a princess; however, she resembled a queen more than a princess. Our host, with whom we were staying, was also present at the affair. He approached me asking, "Do you know who the kalla is?" I reply negatively. He answered, "she is the one sitting close to the door, facing in this direction." I look to his eyes and I remarked, "you must be jesting." "I am absolutely serious, she is your kalla. Why do you not believe it?" he inquired." "A girl like that does not need me, she looks like a queen." "You will soon convince yourself," he added.
The Rabbi took out a handkerchief and handed me half of the handkerchief. The father then exclaimed to his daughter the kalla, "Zisle Reize, please come to the table." The Rabbi, then, handed her the other end of the handkerchief which she took.
The following day we were invited for dinner. Upon having finished half the meal, my kalla picked herself up and returned to the place where she had stood the night before, because from there she was able to see me best. I also looked at her there. I noticed her large and beautifully brilliant eyes. She motioned to me with her brilliant eyes, to exit through the front door of the house, into the house. She also motioned to me from the street to converse a bit, had we not been noticed by her brother Yosef Leib. He was very fanatical, and on top of it all, not very clever; and he followed me right into the street. So as soon as we saw each other, her brother came out and ordered her to go back inside, which she did. Naturally, this incident hurt us very much. A few hours later, the kalla approached me, asking "You most probably would like to recline after the meal." I certainly agreed. "Come and I will prepare a bed for you," she continued. Upon entering the room, my kalla asked me, "How are you enjoying the local environment?" "I enjoy only your company" was my reply. She smiled at my reply, then my brother-in-law entered again and asked her once again to leave the room. She left my room. Afterwards, we corresponded with each other by mail. One day I received a letter from her asking that I come out to them for Shabbos if possible, since her parents are traveling to Drinsk for eight days. I replied at once that you should know that between me and you there is no such thing as possible or impossible, and that I am coming to her at once. I was with her for Shabbos until Sunday afternoon when I left for Drinsk to buy merchandise for the store I had. We were finally married.
Now I shall elaborate about my wife's family. From which town my brother-in-law came from, I did not manage to find out, only that in Druye he had very rich friends. Their name was Finkelstein, the nicest people in the city. They were also learned people and Misnagdim, or perhaps not Misnagdim. My father-in-law was a Chassid. My mother-in-law, your grandmother, was from Vitz. I knew her father, my wife's grandfather. He was a great scholar, a diamond of a person. As I was standing under the Chuppa with your mother, it was then the style to look solemn because it is the day that God forgives the couple for all the sins they committed. Her grandfather jokingly came over to me, pinching me in the nose saying, look, we are giving you such a beautiful kalla and you are yet angry? His father was now in Vitzby, the name of the Lozar the Great because he was a great scholar and a great Chassid.
In those days it was the style of Nicholas, the Czar of Russia, to travel through the above area, the town of Vitz. Lazar the Great would have to spend all his time with the Czar throughout his stay in Vitz. There once was an instance in Vitz when four Jews of Vitz were sentenced by a court to death, in such a manner that their bodies should be cut up into four pieces. The Elder of the city imposed upon Lazar the Great, for him to prevail upon the Czar to free the man sentenced to such a horrible death. The Czar was then visiting maneuvers in Moscow. Your great grandfather went to Moscow, straight to the site where the maneuvers were taking place. He was given a designated place where he could meet with the Czar. Why, he even possessed a saber give to him by the Czar with his name engraved upon it. Whenever he was seen by Czar Nicholas, the latter took him by the hand for a stroll. The Czar then asked him, "What is the trouble?" "Tell me the truth," and Lazar the Great told him the complete truth. The Czar asked him to go home. When he returned to Vitz, he already heard of the Czar's decree, namely that the old decree should be carried out, with the condition that Lazar, your great grandfather, should stand by during the complete procedure, the reason for this punishment being that Lazar had come to ask a favor for such wicked people. What the transgression of these four Jews was, I do not know. Your great grandfather used to say that it is better to be cut into four pieces than to see someone undergo such punishment.
Your mother had two wonderful brothers. Their names were Yosef Leib and Meyer Hirsh. There were in all three sisters. My dear wife was the eldest, she was born in Szarkushue, the twelfth day of Shevat, 1860. She passed away in America, Rochest 9(?), the second day of the new moon of Adar in the Jewish year 5680, or the twentieth day of February 1920. My dear wife Zisle Reize lived to be sixty years of age. The second sister's name was Sarah, and the third Gittel. We have nine children, they should all be healthy. Ben was born in Irmonovetch on January 30, 1880. He was married in Riga on January 1, 1905, to Clara Abramovitch from Liba. They have two sons and one daughter, they should be healthy. The elder son Avraham(?) Chaim was born on May 16, 1906 in America (in Syracuse.) The second son, Israel, was born on April 7, 1908; the daughter Eide was born in Syracuse on April 22, 1912.
My daughter Ella was born Chol Harmes Sniklos, September 13, 1884. When she became four or six months we entered Riga. She had two children; one daughter Nera Shlevoik who was born on December 31, 1907, in New York. One son David Shlebik, who was born on October 10, 1918, four days in Mera, was married to Mr. Hesh. She gave birth to a child by Mr. Hesh on May 16, 1929 in New York; the child's name was David Groinom.
Ella was married to Herb Shlevik on June 25, 1907. My daughter Lina who was born October 29, 1885, was married in Riga to Zork Siegal on August 15,1915. She gave birth to a son Meyer Itche (Isidore) on June 21, 1916. She also gave birth to a daughter on September 3, 1926.
Zork Pliskin was born in Riga on December 1, 1881. He was married to Pennia Schlossberg on September 10, 1910 in Syracuse. Sarah Pliskin was born on July 16, 1911, Daniel was born October 29, 1913. Robert Leroy was born September 1, 1917, Irving was born July 1, 1924. Ralph was born August 28, 1929. (My daughter Sara Bratah was born on January 29, 1880 in Riga.) She was married to Tzoi Weiner, on July 10, 1921. She gave birth to a son Bobby on January 10, 1922. She also gave birth to a daughter Helena, on February 11, 1925.
Avraham Michael Pliskin was born in Riga on September 17, 1893. He was married in Riga to Keila or Katherine on September 28, 1925. A son was born to them by the name of Leon on November 9, 1926. Ralph and Rotbistle were born on January 11, 1929.
Sam was born in Riga on June 3, 1898. He married Tila Krizik on May 30, 1926. They had a son named Roy. Roy was born in the year 1927. Mendel (Milton) was born February 6, 1930 in Flushing.
Mary was born in Riga on September 22, 1895. She married David Lerner on June 8, 1921. They bore a son named Roman on May 10, 1922. They also had a son named Babry on July 23, 1927. Irving was born in Riga on April 6, 1900.
All these are my dear beloved children and grandchildren. They should only receive the blessings that I wish upon them.
Now I will tell you what caused me to leave my wife and children and go to Riga. A few years after our wedding, I went to visit Riga. Among many households, the families would remain in the small towns while the head of the household would go to the big city, Riga, on business. My father-in-law would also travel to Riga while his family would remain in Szarkuzne. He was afraid that his children would be badly influenced if they were away from their Jewish religion in the big city. In his later years, my father-in-law moved with the whole family to Riga.
Upon returning home from Riga for the first time (between Chanuka and Purim, planning to return after Pesach to Riga), I went to see my father (because by then I was already not living in the same house with my father), and behold, at my father's a Din Torah was taking place (my father passing judgment.) A young couple was standing along side my father. The man's name was Abba Shlomas. I was born on the same day that he was. He was an inhabitant of Plissa. His wife was from the town of Schashuik. People used to say about this town that it was one quarter of the size of Riga. The outcome of the case or ruling was that my father gave them lodging for six months in order to determine who was right. The accusation by the husband was that his wife was a squanderer of his money, mainly that she would buy two herrings for Shabbos. That would amount to a sum of three kopeks. One of them she prepares for the Friday night meal and the other for Shabbos afternoon meal. On the first Shabbos they just quarrelled; however, on the second Shabbos, they hit each other. When this occurred, the young women came with a bitter heart to my mother, that my father should delve into this matter.
I now must tell you how people lived then. What people ate is immaterial, but I'd like to explain how people ate. In Plissa, there were only two families that ate with a full set of utensils, namely, a knife, fork, two spoons, etc. These were our family and the Tzipe family. There were two families that dealt with people of large cities. The usual custom in Plissa was that they would serve on the table a large earthen pot, and everyone would serve himself from this pot of soup, with wooden spoons. Meat was served by the head of the household by tearing the meat apart with his hand and everyone would take from the large plate with his hands. However, the young woman, Abbo's wife, was from the town of Schachner, a larger town than Plissa was simply because there lived there rich merchants who had business dealings in Riga. This young woman had brought along wedding gifts to her house, nothing less than silver spoons. She had also bought porcelain pots and dishes; perhaps the forks and knives too. As a result, she could not just serve the first course on Friday night; she had to use the knife and fork for something, so if fish was too expensive, at least serve a herring. She was brought up this way, and she couldn't do otherwise. As a result, her husband claimed she was a squanderer. Upon noting this and another scene, namely seeing two Jews arguing in the market place over two pennies, and still other scenes of young children playing silly games, I could not stand such petty arguments and games, for I had been in Riga and there people wouldn't argue over ten kopeks, even, in fact, in the small towns where there were not any schools for the children to attend.
Upon coming home I said to my wife, "Manninke, with the Almighty's help if I will have a good year we will move out from here to Riga." I told her the story of Abba. In addition, I told her what may become of our children, living among such people without schools. Your mother replied with a flat NO to my suggestion. Why not? I inquired. She did not give a reason for her refusal. I reasoned that she was afraid that her children would not remain religious Jews in the big city. She could not tell me her reason because everyone claimed that since she came along, I was definitely not as religious as I had been (that she had made me an atheist.); namely, that until I married her I went along dressed in a long coat, the trousers tucked into the labels of my boots, with long sideburns (curls) with a large garment from which hung long tzizis. The collar of my shirt was about four inches long and tied dawn with strings. A few months after our wedding, I had to travel to Polotzk for merchandise. She wanted to come along to Polotzk, to which I agreed. From there she brought nice ivory buttons and she resewed my shirts so that the shirt would be fastened with buttons of with the strings... She trimmed the collars of my shirts down to modern size; also upon the sleeves she made cuffs. My sideburns also trimmed down. She also brought from Polotzk a short suit. Also she brought a smaller garment with short tzizis. She also coaxed me into placing the trousers over my boots. The tzizis I was asked to keep inside my trousers. In short, a whole revolution took place in my house.
I was the talk of the town, and they claimed that she made me into a free thinker. She also ordered gardeners to plant flowers near our windows, and so it was done. One evening, we had a visit from the nicest and most important people of the town, Berel Yakov, the Shochet, a learned man and one of the most affluent in town. Another was Pirchel Tzippes, the supervisor of Plissa. They brought(?) through the fence and uprooted all the flowers.
Because of this, Zisle Reize would not let me attend the weekly lecture on Chassidus, a Saturday evening given by Hirchel Tzippes. Of your mother they would say that she is not religious, and that she influenced her husband to be a "gay."
The following year, business had improved as I came to Riga. I began to write to my wife that she should sell out and move with the family to Riga. She would not hear of it for no money in the world. At last I wrote to her that she should consider this to be the last letter I would write asking her to move, and it would be the last remittance of money. She did not reply for another month's time. I thought that I would go crazy. This she did in order to break my obstinacy. But I did not give in. This caused me great heartache, until I received a letter from her asking me for money and that she would sell out everything and move the family to Riga (the same hardships I was given by her when I decided to move to America.) Upon arriving in Riga, new hardships arose. Zalman Ber, Yakov Mendel and Esther's two daughters all came to me in Riga. Nochum Tzippes also came along.
Now I will tell you about my father. Upon becoming eighty years of age, he began to think about going to Palestine. He came to say farewell to me. I do not remember whether Zalman Ber and Yakov Mendel were already here with me then. He said to me that the pension that he would be given from heaven throughout the remainder of his life, I should be so kind as to send it to him in Palestine, and that after his departure from this world he would pray that this investment should be returned to me. His commentaries on Torah he asked me to mail to him there, but he, together with five or six learned people of the town, went and made or ordained him as their Rabbi.
On Shabbos he was called up to the Torah, with the title Horav Reb Israel Zalman. Great quarreling erupted from this action. On Sunday, Doctor Raphael Leib, along with Ichiel Nosson (although he was my father's second cousin, not from my father's side, however) left town and came back with another Rabbi--to tell the truth, my father, with his following, did not act right. Even the people who followed my father also did not give him the right. My father's followers were the scholars of the town and also the leaders of the town. They claimed that they, and only they, knew what a Rabbi should be, and that they (the townspeople) ought to rejoice over the scholars' wise choice. Everything would have turned out alright had it not been for the new inhabitants of Plissa, who were very arrogant. They were, for instance, a blacksmith, a glazier, and two new cobblers. These, along with the youth, enticed the elder community. They were really in the right. They claimed that, although they are not the scholars nor the ones to reply upon for such a delicate choice, nevertheless, "you could at least have consulted us in your choice," they claimed, "for we are the ones who will buy the candles for Shabbos from the Rabbi, and yeast for the baking of our Challas." For it was the custom that throughout the week they would use kerosene to light their homes. On Shabbos, they used candles and blessed over them, and they bought yeast for five kopeks and baked the Challas, also candles they bought for five kopeks. Truthfully, if the Challas came out good, the town was peaceful. If however the Challas did not come out right, and the candles had melted down before the husband arrived from shul, let it fall into the sea what the Rebbetzin had wished upon. The Rabbi was also given the income of the baths, two or three rubles a month. He would also have to travel to the villagers around Plissa. There they would contribute to him chick peas, potatoes, kasha, and sometimes he would be given a chicken for the Holy Days because he would journey to them a week or two before Yom Tov whenever the Rabbi would not have enough fuel to heat the house. There were two alternatives--either to make a pause in the reading of the Torah until the money for fuel was raised, and no one was able to go home until they would complete the Reading of the Torah, and afterwards the Mussaf Prayers. And every inhabitant was given a tax as to how much to contribute after the Shabbos, and no one was allowed to bargain down this tax, because they were in a hurry to go home to eat, to go home before the reading of the Torah and recite a blessing. In addition, the committee would collect everyone's tallis, and after Shabbos they would all come with their quotas in order to redeem their tallis. Whoever would not pay their share of ten or fifteen kopeks, would not get his tallis back, and let them just try to "daven" without a tallis. For such behavior, he was given a great punishment-- namely, that after his death it would be announced openly that he once "davened" without a tallis. This was recorded in a Remembrance Book. Nevertheless, after all this, "Reb" and a "Rebbetzin" still did not have what to live from.
However, it still would not have been so bad, was it not for a blacksmith from Viazyn, Ephraim Rogozhin, who was married to my father's cousin (A blacksmith was quite a good profession then.) This blacksmith became angry with my father for also receiving an ordinary "Aliyah" to the Torah on Shabbos. As a result, he revived the whole incident with the Rabbi, with that fluent biting tongue of his. I remained neutral. Upon my asking my father, how he could have erred as he did, he replied that if he would have called an open meeting, his choice (the Rabbi) would certainly have not been engaged, for they would not have given my father the satisfaction of accepting his choice. But now, that act had been performed, and the Rabbi had been called before all "Harav Israel Zalman," then the new Rabbi, had taken his post officially. Now that they hired another Rabbi, so we have two Rabbis, and that's all, he added.
My father further told me that for Israel Zalman to remain the Rabbi of Plissa indefinitely, it was not his wish because Plissa was a small town without the ability to support a rabbi. What my father really wanted was that Israel Zalman should obtain his experience and fame in Plissa, after which he will be able to obtain a better position in a bigger town or city. This was so because people knew that Plissa was a town of scholars, and for a Rabbi of Plissa it would be easier to get a position elsewhere. And so it was--he did get a position as Rabbi, if I remember correctly, in Reshitze, which was a big town and it paid a comfortable salary.
However, by the time Israel Zalman left Plissa it was about a year or more later.
Meanwhile, in Plissa a big argument erupted. Raphael Leib, the doctor, would not treat the people who were on my father's side. Whoever came to him, and held with my father, Raphael Leib the Doctor, would tell him to go to my father, and that "Israel Froinom (my father) should cure you." You can imagine what great cries and excitement erupted from this. Even if the patient would swear to the doctor that they will be on his side, it would not help. I, as I said before, was neutral. I would go to this doctor and plead with him saying, "Why should you punish the small children? It is no fault of theirs." Even this did not help, until I said to him, warning him, that I would bring another doctor to town. After that he did not consider me neutral and would not even talk to me.
The adherent leaders of the other rabbi were Raphael Leib the doctor and Yechiel Nosson.
I, along with my wife, Zisle Reize, journeyed to visit Szarkushuen where we made arrangements with the Scharkushne doctor, Shimeon, to come to Plissa and offer his services. He was more of a doctor than Raphael Leib, and was also a bit of a Torah scholar. In short, he was a cultured individual, much more so than Raphael Leib. The arrangements consisted of presenting the doctor with two rooms plus food, given to him by my father, and I would provide him with the drugs and medicine. Among the medicines mostly used by the doctors was one to remove an evil eye cast upon a person, by reciting a certain rendition (poem or similar.) The specialists at this were my grandmother Sarah, who acted also as a midwife, Schneur the cobbler, and Berel, the tutor. This service did not cost any money. (By us and by the Trippe's, this practice was not regarded as being effective. If this practice did not help, they would visit the doctor, who would charge twenty-five kopeks for his services. The medicines usually issued were an enema, castor oil, seuis leaves, warm cabbage, and "bankes."
I will tell you what the "bankes" were. They were metal glasses in which were inserted a lit candle with fire for a short while, and this was applied to the area where the pain existed. After the "bankes" had contracted the flesh of the body, the doctor's assistant takes a sharp razor and cuts the contracted flesh in a few places. Afterwards, the "banke" is applied again in the same place, and it absorbs a lot of blood.
Another medicine was called "Piyafkes." These were sort of little sakes or leaches, the length and width of a finger. These were placed on the site where the doctor advised, and how many of these he ordered to be placed. The "Pyafke" sucks the blood until it's full, and then falls off. It was announced in shul that they succeeded in getting a doctor Shimeon, who would cure anyone without a fee. In short, about three or four weeks later, both Raphael Leib the doctor and Yechiel Nosson died. They were both not more than forty-five or fifty years of age. After their death, things quieted down in Plissa.
Shimeon the doctor remained in Plissa for a period of five or six months after which he left town and sent a young doctor to replace him. Although he was only an intern, nevertheless, he was a capable young man. He was a bit of a Torah scholar and he was able to "daven" for the "Anud" (pulpit) on Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, and was also able to read direct from a Sefer Torah. Since my father would always "daven" and "Lim" for the "Anud," and there now emerged a competitor to him, a quarrel was started. Because of the above stories, I began to dislike Plissa, and these happenings caused me to decide to move to Riga.
The trip I made to Riga I made from Disna, traveling along with a caravan of corn, which was journeying from Disna to Riga. It only cost me one ruble.
I traveled in a week's time. Upon arriving in Riga, the wagon train supervisor arranged for me an escort to lead me to Avraham Michael Kreitizk, and promised my escort a nice tall drink for his bother. He picked a lively young man who brought me to my father-in-law.
He ran into the house before me, exclaiming excitedly,· "Reb Avraham Michael, I deserve a good drink for bringing to you an important guest, your son-in-law from Plissa. The one bringing the good tidings was, however, astonished to see that the people were sort of scared or worried about their son-in-law of Plissa. Everyone even left the room into which the news were brought. The young man left without a drink of schnapps.
I looked around the room and noticed that my mother-in-law with her two girls were hiding in the dark bedroom. If you recall this was by Leitef's the street Suriolenski. My father-in-law disappeared to the front room. I did not panic. Being in the kitchen and noticing a mirror, I took out my comb and combed out my beard and hair. I also had my lint brush in my briefcase where I carried my tallis and teffiIin. I sat around waiting for someone to come out of hiding but to no avail, no one emerged. I entered the dining room when my father-in-law left the front room. Hirchel, from Fitspek, a boarder at my in-law's front room, came towards me, giving me Shalom Aleichem, and told me that my father-in-law would be coming in to see me soon. Meanwhile, he exclaimed, "Children, put up your samovar to boil, in honor of your brother-in-law." This was about nine o'clock in the morning, but nobody showed up yet. After a while, my father-in-law emerged, giving me Shalom Aleichem. He further inquired as to why I did not inform him that I was moving to Riga. My answer to him was that I was afraid to write to him letting him know of my decision to move, lest he, upon hearing of this, would move out, too, to a site where I would not be able to locate him. Listening in to this conversation was also our Vitebsker neighbor, who enjoyed my answer very much. He came towards me, took me by the hand and led me into the front room where he slept and shook my hand. He said to me, "You are very clever. Your reply was very well said. Do not be downcast, you will earn a livelihood here in Riga, and I will teach you how," after which he asked me to sit down. When I had answered the above words to my father-in-law, he immediately rose and walked out to the front room once again, feeling angry with me. When the Vitebsker took me into the front room and asked me to have a seat, my father-in-law, in turn left the front room and went into the dining room. From afar I noticed my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law stealing themselves out of the dark bedroom toward the kitchen. I however, pretended not to have noticed anything. The Vitebsker served his table with a half a bottle of Bronfeu along with three cups and cake. He then called in my father-in-law and said to him, "Won't you join us for a L'Chayim in honor of your guest?" He nonchalantly said to my father-in-law, "He will earn a livelihood here, he is quite a handy fellow. " He then asked me to join them with a drink of "bronfen." I mentioned that I would like to go find my mother-in-law and the girls, for it is a pity for them to remain in hiding for so long. Why, what would I do to them, that they should hide from me? Upon leaving the front room, I noticed them from afar in the kitchen. My mother-in-law kissed me. Sarah also kissed me. They both also inquired about Zisle Reize and the children. I then returned to the front room, followed by two ladies. I then inquired that how is it that my father-in-law is so angry at Zisle Reize that he does not ask about her health nor about the children. They did not reply to my question. I sat down by the table and had a drink and then another. Turning to my in-laws, I said to them thus, "Do not be afraid for I have come to you to stay in Riga. The city of Riga is as much mine as it is yours. I will not trouble you to eat here. However, if you are still willing to lodge me and to eat here on Shabbos, until I will begin to earn a livelihood, it will be fine, and if not I will leave right now. For I have here close acquaintances that once lived in Plissa." My father-in-law asks, "And who are they, these acquaintances?" "Bimish Zinger and Yakov Shuchnisu," I replied.
"I know them," he added.
Here ended our conversation, but they didn't answer me.
He then gave me three rubles upon which I was to issue him notes. Although he did not need me to go to get the notes for he was going there (in that direction) himself, he still wanted to try me out to see if I was capable of finding the place on my own. I took the three rubles, and I proceeded to the destination even though I did not ask anyone in the house where the bank was, nor where you buy the notes.
I left the house and in the street I found a Jew whom I asked where to go. The Jew replied saying that I should go with him because he is also going to buy notes. We both went there and returned shortly. Afterwards I went to the bathhouse after which I walked to Shul, for this was Friday evening. Upon entering the Shul and as I began looking around, I beheld a young man approaching me asking, "Are you from Plissa?" I replied, "Yes." He then hugged me and kissed me and exclaimed, "My uncle Yekusiel! " You can imagine what commotion this created, how many "Shalom Aleichems" I had to accept, and the entire Shul was literally mine.
The name of the Shul was the Kopister Shul named after a Chassidic Rebbe who then lived in Kopist. The congregants knew my father, my brothers, Yosef Dovid, Yakov Mendel and me, too. The congregants would often see us in Kopist, by the Rebbe. The above mentioned young man was a son of Yosef Dovid, who then lived in Dvinsk. People would say that Dvinsk and Riga were just like one street. This young man's name was Yakov Leib Pliskin. He was married to Musie, the daughter of Chaim Ber, the winemaker in Riga. He died in Riga even before you had become mature. I do not recall how many children survived him, however, his oldest son lives in New York. His address is not even known by his own mother. She would constantly complain about her son.
Upon leaving from Shul, my nephew and I waited in the balcony for my father-in-law to pass by the ShuI. My nephew, along with other people of the Shul, asked my father-in-law to let them join the guest for the Shabbos meals. He refused, however.
The following day, after arriving home from Shul, I met a stranger at my in-laws who had come from "Brocho," or snack. at the request of my father-in-law. They were sitting in the front room. I made Kiddush and we spoke for a while, after which the stranger left. My father-in-law jested to my mother-in-law saying, "Go be smart, this young man was constantly after Zisle Reize's hand in marriage; the only drawback was his family. Now this young man is a prosperous business man."
To this my shviger added, "And what was wrong with Nochum Tzippes?" (who was Melamed by us in Riga) who at that time was doing fine in Plissa; it is the Divine Will for us to get stuck with this man, what could we do?"
I did not even want to reply. First of all, Nochum's father-in-law gave him five hundred rubles worth of dowry. To me, however, they promised three hundred rubles of which they only paid two hundred rubles. Lately my father-in-law came to our store, and he nonchalantly took back from Zisle Reize the two hundred rubles without my knowledge. Until today I did not mention this to anyone, so what I did was to pour myself another wine cup of whiskey and I gulped it down. My father-in-law was not a fool, for whenever he saw me drinking the "braufen," he realized that I wanted to get even with them; so they both remained seated silently. The following Sunday I wrote a letter to my wife with a full description of the developments at her parents' house. About a week later, upon arriving at my in-laws, I noticed something funny going on, for my mother-in-law was crying and my father-in-law was noticeably downcast, sitting in a corner. At first I became worried and inquired what was doing and I received no reply. So I became more worried and I began shouting "woe to me, perhaps something happened, a catastrophe with my family, I beg you, show me the letter." My mother-in-law then replied, "they are all well." I then asked for the letter, but I was told that the letter was not addressed to me, but to them. "So what are you crying about," I inquired. She replied, "for what reason did you have to write about our conversations with you?" I answered her saying, "I love Zisle Reize as dear as my own life and I wish that she should be happy. Since you and she think that Nochum Tzippes would be a more compatible match for her, I would rather that she not waste her life with me and I would give her a "get," even though my life with her is very great. I awaited her reply. This is what I wrote her. Now if she wouldn't write to me saying that she desires a get, it would be a sign that she too loves me; so I ask you, why must you meddle in the affairs of a man, his wife and their two children, may they be healthy. What then is the matter? You do not particularly like me, so I can pick myself up and leave, you do not have to be bashful before me, if you wish it so I will gather my things at once.
It just happened that I had come to have dinner (not my father-in-law's, Heaven forbid, but my own, some bread, butter, and a few kopeks worth of water). That day Rosenberg had two wagons full of seed standing in his backyard, all ready to be weighed and taken over by him. As I was holding my belongings in my hand, my father-in-law enters shouting "the seeds are ready to be weighed, kindly, young man, go help unload." I reply saying, "I do not have time to go unload for I have to tend to my moving--kindly get someone else to help. My fatherin-law then went into the kitchen shouting at his wife as to why he carried on such a conversation with me. She in turn came in crying to me that I should please go weigh the seed, and she grabbed my packed belongings away from me. I went there where I found my father-in-law; as soon as she saw me, he ran home. It was then very nasty weather. I accepted the seeds and then went home where I was availed with a tea drinking session. This reception did not occur since I had come to stay with them. Afterwards, they did not let me go buy supper outside for myself, as I was used to, whenever I went for my belongings to retire for the night. I found that my packed belongings had been unpacked and placed neatly in a commode. My mother-in-law approached me, asking that I do not move out from their residence, and added saying "the old one does not want you to go live elsewhere, only with us, here. He is already old and cannot arise early in the morning and wishes you to stay." I then did not have the heart to refuse her. After this incident, things improved greatly, namely, they now would prepare my bed for reclining, and whenever I would be delayed due to working long hours, I would always find bread and potatoes awaiting me in the kitchen, because not always did I have a chance to bring food home with me. Once, as I arrived home to eat dinner, behold I heard a terrible shout, my father-in-law is screaming almost insanely. The kitchen door happened to be open. As I remain standing, I overheard him shouting "a plate of soup costs three kopeks, and here I am old and sick. How can I support him?" I again overheard my mother-in-law replying quietly, "firstly, he eats dry food all day, and secondly, I don't cook more for him that I cook for the entire household." Nothing helped now, no excuses or explanations in the world. Then I entered, when everything quieted down. Upon entering the dining room where I found the plate of soup, I sat and ate only what I brought along, the plate of soup I did not touch. Sarah entered the room and noticed that I was abstaining from the soup. She inquired from me, "how come you aren't tasting the soup?"
I answered, "because your father wishes to sell this soup in the market place for three kopeks (in Riga's market restaurant the price for a plate of soup was three kopeks). You can further tell him that tomorrow he can go pick up the mail himself." In Riga's Moscow Sabre there was only one post office from which to make mail pick-ups. The attendant would open at nine in the morning, at which time people would arrive to collect the mail. Those who paid a yearly fee for the mail service were not charged at the rate of three kopeks per letter as were charged those who did not pay the yearly fee. Sarah replied to me saying, "what will you accomplish with your refusal to get the mail; the result will be that I will have to go." In the end, I continued going for the mail. After working for him and earning the sum of thirty dollars, I asked him for the money. His reply was that when he had it he would give it to me, which was a lie, for money came in every day and he had it constantly. When I wanted to leave him to get employment elsewhere, I encountered great opposition and they would raise the roof with shouts and so forth. In short, working for him was like serving a sentence, doing hard labor. For such a crazy fellow, I have not seen in my whole life. He was also crooked in his business dealings. whenever my accounts showed he owed me fifty or sixty dollars. I pressed harder to be given my money. I would tell him that my wife and children did not have what to eat. He would answer that I should not worry, when I would return home, I would arrive with a lot of money and be received as a welcomed guest.
Once I told him that I was planning to go
home. I usually would go home about a month before Purim. I gave him a
bill totaling one hundred dollars. He took the bill and did not say one word. I wrote
home when I was planning to depart. The day before my departure, I began
to pack my belongings. Sarah came over to me saying, "Father left today
and I do not know when he plans to return. He left twenty-five rubles for
you which is all that is coming to you. This is what he asked me to tell
you!!" From my bill, it seems he deducted for food that I ate by him on
Shabbos, and for the use of inappropriate lodging on a cot. I took the
twenty-five rubles, naturally,
and said to Sarah, "He deducted from what was coming to me, for eating the Shabbos meal and for lodging on that cot." I left toward
This incident I did not discuss with my dear wife. Whenever we would converse together once in awhile, neither I nor she ever wanted to talk about her parents. The following year, I once again returned to my in-laws. My brother-in-law would send me to the train station to pick up the shipments, and I would usually answer saying that I have no time for that. On the side, I also began to find ways to enter the lumber business. I became acquainted with a log dealer who was a pauper and a swindler. That year it happened that logs were very cheap and nobody wanted to buy logs. I once ascended the platform where the merchants stood, where I noticed from afar a good friend of mine from Szorkushue. Upon seeing each other, we both rejoiced immensely for we were good friends. I asked him about his presence here and he replied that he came to Riga with a big load of logs. We walked over to appraise the shipment which consisted of very coarse goods, but which were, nevertheless, very expensive. He stood to lose his shirt. In short, I introduced him to my acquaintance, the swindler. I asked the swindler to rent a special sawmill and buy off the logs from my friend and bring them into the factory. The factory would pay half the value of the logs in the meantime. So it was. I was to be the mediator between my friend and the swindler. Afterwards, when the logs were cut into lumber, a receipt signed by the person from Szarkushue was needed to let any of the lumber be sold or taken out. That was how my career in the lumber business began. After that I became too busy to come home, so what I did was to write home for Zisle Reize to prepare herself and the children to come settle in Riga. She did not want to come to Riga, under any circumstances. Zisle Reize did not want to live in the same city as her father--this was my understanding. I never saw an older child such as Zisle Reize sit down with her father to discuss a certain topic, as other children carried on their relationship with their father. His wife, my mother-in-law, was treated by my father-in-law in a sadistic manner. As I entered the lumber business, I reached the highest standard of knowledge about the cutting and processing of logs and lumber. Once I came home to Riga from a location out of town. Approaching the sawmill I was greeted very amiably by my associates. They all sounded out, "It is very good that you've come, my Pliskin, we were just speaking about you." They explained that Abrlomo Zalman Berline, the wealthiest of the Berline family, bought a gigantic forest for the price of one million rubles. It was the object of the owners to erect a sawmill on the premises. As a result they were seeking for a manager for the sawmill. For this position many people were applying, Jews and non-Jews alike. We have all applied, we don't know, however, in whom they are interested, in Jews or non-Jews. We would like you to apply for the job, and if they will refuse you the position we will know that they seek only a non-Jew, for with you they will not find any fault.
(More was not found recorded.)
RECOLLECTIONS OF HIS CHILDREN JACOB AND SARA ABOUT THEIR FATHER IKUSIEL
By Jacob Pliskin,
son of Ikusiel
For the benefit of my children, I have decided to put down a few facts about my life, my youth, a little of my parents, brothers and sisters, wife, children and their struggles for existence. I was born in the City of Riga on December 1, 1887, in a house located near the Dina River on Smolenskaio St., in an upstairs apartment that consisted of five rooms. The reason I know this is because we moved into this apartment twice, the second time when I was a boy of about five or six years old. From my mother's description, I was a very good child, and never cried; my grandmother had to chase my mother home to feed me, she used to take advantage of my good, nature. I remember things that happen to me, or with me, since I was three years of age. A good many people do not believe me, but I am quite sure. I remember on my third birthday that my parents made a party to cut my long hair, for that was the custom of Chasidim and my parents were Chasidim. I also remember that the guests gave me money which was draped in a bag that I carried over my neck. I remember that my sister Lina who was a couple of years older than me, insisted on getting some of this money and she was not pacified until I gave her some of the money. I also remember we had a black dog by the name of Jack. I remember when my older brother came back from Plissa where he lived with our grandfather. I remember a lot of little things between then and my fifth year.
When I was taken into cheder (Jewish School), I remember my first day in cheder. My mother took me there. We lived at that time in our grandmother's house, for grandfather's mother's father died a little prior to that. I vaguely remember his death. He died in Kulpishick, so my mother took me to cheder to a rabbi by the name of Asriel. He lived and conducted his school in an attic apartment with one window facing the river. We were fifteen to eighteen children besides his wife and married daughter.
Contrary to all Rebbes of that time and all times in Jewish life, he was a very kind man.
He never touched us, never, as much as yelled at us, and we loved him dearly. I attended his class for two semesters, then I had to go to another cheder for higher learning. My next teacher turned out to be my uncle, my father's oldest brother, Jacob Mendel. He was by nature a good person but as a teacher he was brutal, had no patience, and he could not understand why we could not understand as much as he did. He used to beat us and especially me, for I was his own. He devoted less time with me, therefore, I did not know as much so he used to beat me. Somehow he figured that there would be no reproach from anyone, but one morning my mother on changing my underwear noticed blue and red marks on my body and she put two and two together. She knew very well that none of the kids on the street did it, for all the kids were my pals. Although mother believed that the rabbi should spank us, this was too much. This was the last I attended school with my Uncle Jacob Mendel. He was a peculiar person, some sort of a dreamer. A tall slim person, very learned, knew the Talmud and the different Hebrew gamoras. He used to always lead the discussion groups in the synagogue every evening. In order to do that, you had to know something. I can assure you, for none of the other guys were as you might say in Jewish "proste youngon." We had a Rabbisoka diploma but did not want to be a Rov for fear maybe he would make a mistake and inform someone incorrectly. His married life was not a happy one. He was married twice. I don't know what happened to his first wife. I know he had a grandson from the first marriage whom I helped leave Riga by boat to England. I understand that he lives in the U.S.A. in Denver, Colorado. I have tried to communicate with him but he did not answer. His wife (lived within my time) was a little woman. She had one son named Rachmiel Leib. He was my brother Ben's age and they did pal together. He was by far a better-natured fellow than my brother. His mother used to peddle at the market to make a living. When I was a youngster, she used to bribe me with all kinds of goodies to tell her what is being said about her in our house, so in order to get a little more I'd make up fantastic stories for which my mother used to beat me. He, the uncle, was a quiet fellow and she used to nag him. He could not stand it, so he would not come home for days. He'd stay at the synagogue nights and read. Finally she got some kind of a disease, a swollen tongue, and could not talk, so she would write to him argumentative letters which he would ignore. This disease finally killed her. My cousin married a girl and after a while left for Denmark, Copenhagen, where he opened a paper box factory. That was his trade. He became rich, brought his father there to where he became a choir member in (?) the synagogue. They are both dead now, but my cousin's widow has children and she is alive and very well-to-do.
I hate to stop to describe my uncle who had something to do with my young life, at the time I stopped attending cheder with Uncle Jacob Leib. We were not badly off; father had a steady job in Bolders, a little town not far from Riga. He was night manager of two lumber mills. Mother used to sell dress goods remnants. She made out pretty good at any sale. I don't remember any time in my life, in Russia or in this country, that mother could not conduct some kind of a business. Father lived at the lumber mill and came home weekends. He was very lonely, and I must confess I was his favorite, so it was decided that I should live with him and attend cheder there, and believe me the arrangement was O.K. with me. Father was always free with food and good food, for meat was cheaper there, there was no "karopke" there. Now what is a "karopke"? It is a tax imposed by the Jewish community on meat and other necessities of life to maintain the synagogue, rabbis, free cheders, old age homes and other Jewish institutions, with the consent of the government. As a result, meat was 20 to 25' a pound more, which was a lot. In Holders it was 5 to 6' a pound. Father was a good-looker and a jolly fellow, and loved to sing in the evenings. He had a good voice and was very proud of my singing. There was a small Jewish community across the river in the town called "Ust Dninsk." Don't mix this up with Dinsk, which was a large city with a lot of Jewish people, around 40,000. What hurts me now is the way I used to steal the few pennies that working girls had for lunch money. They always kept it right in front of their knitting machine, but I did steal it. Well, they say the hand is quicker than the eye, poor kids, I can still see their tears. They used to work twelve hours a day doing back-breaking work, for six to seven rubles a month. Yes, I mean a month, and then I, the snake, would steal their few pennies away, boy I am still blushing from shame. However, facts are facts. That week the old man I suppose decided once and for all that he was getting sick of complaints. He stayed over and Monday morning dragged me to cheder, then he sent a couple of kids out to get a good broom made out of swatches. He stripped the broom, then the leaves he soaked in water for awhile, put me down with my buttocks up, lowered my pants and boy, I'll never forget the whipping. I never cut anymore buttons but stealing money, that was difficult. They did everything, they even called a policeman who was to take me to jail, but it didn't do any good. Finally, once Father, while sleeping with me in Bolders, told me a terrible story that happened to a kid that stole. The rough treatment they get in jail, well, that did it. But I was lonely. I had no playmates, so I used to play Rabbi and go around with a strap beating up posts (supposedly my scholars) and sometimes a window or two would get a beating. As you can judge, I never did get away with it so easily. Finally we had to move to a different quarter and the business did not go so good and we were struggling. Mother had to devote too much time to the business and we kids were being neglected, so father decided to take us away to Bolders so Mother could work up the business. The first job Father had gave him a house for us to live in. I must stop and describe the house and its location, because I think I spent two years in that house, and that were the happiest and most pleasant time of my youth.
The house was located at the edge of thick pinewoods about one mile from the mills where Father worked. It was a long building, about one hundred and fifty feet. The front consisted of two small apartments which we occupied (it used to be the office of a business, at one time), the back was a long barn; it had been a storage house at one time.
From our woods we could see the railroad track and trains running by occasionally. The land was sandy. Next to this building was another equally as long as the one we occupied but very low, no walls, just a roof. About half a mile from us was another big house that was occupied by Russian workers--men only. Father brought us there but could not stay with us. He had to sleep in the day time, for he worked nights so he still kept his apartment in the mill, a small apartment.
My sister Olga was the oldest. She must have been about twelve years, Lina was ten and I was eight, Bertha was six, AI four and Mary two. Lina used to go to school, so Olga and I were the managers of the house. We came early in the Fall. After being there about a couple of weeks, Mother came to visit us and brought us a young black pigeon she found on the street. We were delighted with it and kept him. We found out it was a him (we found that out later). In the house he became very tame, then father brought a few hens. We were delighted with them. A week later mother came again with a goat without horns. Well, we were the wildest bunch of kids you ever saw. We hugged and kissed that goat, it was our pride and joy, but for almost a week the goat gave us heart trouble, she was homesick and wouldn't eat or drink. Finally she got over it and we became the greatest of pals. I used to go out and get special grass for her, share our food with her and she used to eat from our table. Once she wandered out to a special grass patch that belonged to the railroad track inspector, so he grabbed her and would not give her back to us. We all came crying and begging. We gave him all the money we had on us in the house, we were afraid to tell father for fear he would scold us, but he never would however. One weekend our oldest brother Ben and our cousin Rachmiel Leib, the one that later migrated in Denmark, came to stay with us. Our brother Ben was not permitted to stay with us because he used to abuse us. We told them what happened with the goat, so they decided to get even. We led the goat to the field of clover and they hid in the grass. When he came running for the goat they jumped on him from two sides and gave him a good beating. He could not make out who they were, for he never saw them before. Soon after, they left, warning him not to molest us. He never did again.
We children were very happy. We played in the open. We used to go berry picking and looking for mushrooms in the pine woods. We had lots of fun. Of course, I was the man of the house, I chopped the wood, brought in the water, took care of the livestock (goat and chickens). Gradually winter approached. The weather got colder and snow began to fall on the ground and we had to stay inside. Being right in the open, our house was not a very warm one so Father brought us an iron oven stove, put it in the middle of the living room and extended the chimney pipes all over the house so as to get more heat. Of course in our part of the country there was no coal. We heated our houses with wood. In well-built homes there was a large oven made out of fire bricks built in such a manner that each should come out in a room. If there was more than four rooms then there was another oven a little smaller and more fancy like, sometimes round, with white tile. Ordinarily, those ovens on a cold day were made once a day in the morning. The oven was piled up with logs and the wood burned to ashes. It kept the house warm all day. On extremely cold days we burned twice as much wood, for it was plentiful from the mill. During the night the house used to get cold, and in the morning it was bitter cold and the girls would not budge out from under their blankets, so I, the man of the house at eight years old, would crawl out of bed and light the iron stove. In no time we would have a nice warm house. We were far away from stores and everything else, and there was no Jewish stores around anyway, so Father used to bring groceries to us, or one of us would travel to Riga for groceries (but bread we would bake ourselves). At the beginning, Father would mix the dough for us and set the bread in the oven and we took care of the rest. The bread was usually pumpernickel, black bread in round large loaves. After awhile, Olga started to do the bread mixing. Once she forgot to put salt in the dough. Being afraid that father would scold her (I don't know why we were worried over it, he never did). She begged us to eat more bread and hurry up so that she could bake another batch, then he would not know.
Written by Sara Pliskin Nehman, daughter of Jacob Pliskin
My father, Jacob Pliskin, commonly referred to as Jake, was the fourth child born to Kerschil (Ikusiel) and Zisle Reiza (Delia Rose). My earliest recollection of him are of his constant singing and story telling. My father had a beautiful tenor voice and he sang all the time at work, in the car, at entertainments, and even in his sleep. Many were weird experiences because of this sleep singing. Guests sleeping over in our home were always startled by a singing voice in the middle of the night. Some thought he woke for prayer. When I was married and living on a farm, my parents would often drive out late at night unexpectedly. They lived sixty miles away, our door was never locked and their room was always ready. I would be awakened by the sound of singing and smiling sleepily I would know my parents had come to visit. When I got older, I realized that singing for my father was an emotional release since not only was there merriness in his songs but often a profound sorrow and grief.
Story telling was another one of his
outstanding achievements. We children and even adults never wearied
hearing the stories of his colorful adventurous life. Dad was a creative
ingenious person--filled with ideas, schemes, dreaming of adventure,
and living it as much as circumstances would allow.
My purpose in writing this addition to the Pliskin family biography is to retell the stories my father once told. I know that the facts of time and places are not accurate. I am presently visiting with his younger sister Marian, and she will aid me in some of these facts. Since I feel that the stories are the thing, to the best of my ability I shall write them down. Dad himself wrote of his very early life, herein enclosed. I understand that he got involved in the revolutionary movement at the age of fifteen. He joined the Revolutionary Socialist party which was outlawed by the Czar. It was an underground movement. Young people gathered together in darkened rooms and out of the way places to discuss the overthrowing of the Czar; to plan on ways of educating the masses; to search for ways of obtaining freedom from the oppression of the times. This was around 1905. It was a crime punishable by death or exile to Siberia to be caught in such activities. It was also a crime to own, possess or distribute literature expounding such views. The primary reason that the youth, both Jew and Gentile, of Russia organized into groups of revolt was because of the brutality of the pogroms. The pogroms were organized military attacks by the Russian government upon the defenseless Jewish community. They would come on horseback and with guns. The Cossacks would descend upon a ghetto neighborhood, kill, rape, plunder, and burn (as an aside, it is an interesting act that the children, born of the rapings of these young defenseless girls, were adopted and brought up by the Jewish community). The youth, both boys and girls, gathered into groups to plot ways of protecting themselves and their families. The richer families often gave their support so guns could be purchased. An Aunt recalls that one day about twenty young men gathered in their home, dressed in black Russian blouses, carrying guns and at a given signal they went into the street, stationing themselves on various corners. When the Cossacks came galloping down the street they were met by gunfire. The guns were fired into the air, but the impact of the shooting was so great that the marauders were frightened away.
Dad tells about a time when word was received that a Jewish old age home was to be burned to the ground with all the inmates inside. A crowd gathered around the building in silence, helpless. Dad was there wracking his brains--what to do! The Cossacks arrived on horseback. All was quiet and tense. Suddenly Dad spied a round rock on the ground. He bent down, picked it up, and shouted--I have a bomb, I'm going to throw - one, two, three. The Cossacks scared, wield their horses and left. It was during this period that Dad met and became especially friendly with my mother, Fannia Danielana Schlossberg (Fanny, the daughter of Daniel). He often met her at meetings or visited her home. Her mother was a widow with five children, and was very sickly and poor. One winter day he went to visit Fanny and was shocked to find the house freezing cold and her mother sick in bed. There was no money for food or fuel. Their situation was dreadful. Jake had a friend, called Herman, whose father owned a lumber mill. He went to him and explained the plight he had found Fanny's family in. Herman said "Come with me, we'll get wood from my father." Jake was amused, "your father is a tight wad and we will never get any wood from him unless we have money and I'm broke." "So am I," replied Herman--but I know a way. Herman's father lived on an island in an isolated part of town and was at home when two good doers arrived. They explained the situation to him and he laughed. "If you've got money you can have wood, no money - no wood - and that's final." "Alright," Jake said, "Herman, join me in a song," and at the top of his voice he started to sing "Arise you prisoners of starvation, arise, you wretched of the earth." In great agitation, Herman's father implored, "Stop! stop! The police will hear! They will put me in jail! (such revolutionary songs were also against the law)." "Do we get the wood?" inquired Herman--"no money, no wood!" Again we began to sing, "Arise you prisoners" - at the top of our voices. "Alright, alright, be still, I'll give you the wood." Thus, through a song, were those good Samaritans able to obtain enough wood to temporarily, at least, alleviate the terrible cold from my grandmother's house.
DAD'S POEM FOR MOTHER
"If in the years ahead, you stand alone, whisper my name and I'll come to your side and all those golden memories we own will press about you in their tender tide within the lonely exile of your heart. I'll come with love as I have always done, no solitudes of life can ever part us from the warming of our true loves Sun. I'll hold you in the cling of my embrace, you'll know my kiss, roughhewn as walnut bark, yet sweet as a tamarind on lip-face; the light will come and there will be no more darkness. Closer than breath or slight of touch, I'll stay, believe me love, I'll not be far away."
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