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Memoirs: Moshe's Adventures, Part Two

By: Moshe Atlasowicz (Morris Josephson "M.J." Atlas)
Covers the Period Around 1910 in Radzilow

Table of Contents

[Click on arrows to go to any section or on links to go to any chapter]

Part One
Part Three
Preface:     Preface Chapter 11: The Yeshiva
Chapter 1:  A Small Town in Poland Chapter 12: My First Dilemma
Chapter 2:  Cheder Chapter 13: Bialystok
Chapter 3:  Deaths in the Family Chapter 14: Bialystok Yeshiva
Chapter 4:  Father's Remarriage Chapter 15: My New Dilemma
Chapter 5:  My New Cheder Chapter 16: Return to Bialystok
Part Two
Part Four
Chapter 6:  A Momentous Visit Chapter 17: A Girl From My Hometown
Chapter 7:  Getting an Instructor Chapter 26: Make a Decision
Chapter 8:  Fire Chapter 33: Home
Chapter 9:  Effects of the Fire Chapter 34: I Choose America
Chapter10: Malka -- My First Love Chapter 35: Parting
Chapter 6: A Momentous Visit

All the members of the family except Father visited me constantly. Not once during my confinement, did he come into the room. Except for the family, I had one other visitor. It was the principal-teacher of the Radzilowo Primary School. It was most extraordinary for him to visit any pupil, and certainly more so to visit one who didn't attend the regular day school. For three years now I had been attending his school, twice weekly, one hour per session along with the other boys that attended cheder. That was obligatory, and the Jewish boys regarded it as just another burden.

Having absented myself from the school sessions for a week, Pan Zalewski the principal-teacher, inquired about me and learned of my illness. He was the son-in-law of Pan Grabowski, a close friend of Father. Pan Zalewski came over late one afternoon, to the surprise of everyone, and inquired about my condition. He asked permission to see me, and his request was, of course, granted. He came into the room accompanied by the moome. With a broad smile on his face, he greeted me and felt my forehead. "Moshek," said he, "I've been missing you; the evening sessions just aren't the same without you. Hurry and get well. My wife is sending you her regards." He held my hand in his, again wishing me to get well soon, and left the room.

About thirty minutes later, he came into my room again, explaining that he had been detained by Father for a "glass of tea with delightful cookies and preserves." Soon after he left, Sarah, the moome and my two younger sisters came into the room.

The moome said, "You know, Pan Zalewski has a good opinion about you. He told Father that of all the Jewish boys who attend the two weekly one-hour sessions, you are the only one who's interested and learning. Sarah's eyes moistened, Later that night, Sarah and the moome came into my room and showed me a freshly baked cake just from the oven, "especially baked for you."

Pan Zalewski's visit raised my stature with everybody. "Even my brother-in-law, who had no particular liking for anyone of us children, came into my room that evening and asked me how I was feeling. How much that visit influenced Father's attitude toward me, if any, I was to learn later.

I was out of bed nearly three weeks before Passover, almost two weeks before cheder was out for the semester. At first, I felt dizzy as I tried to walk, and was assisted by my older brother and younger sisters, occasionally even by the moome. I continued to eat separately and different food. At times, I would catch Father looking at me. Whenever that happened, we each instantly turned our heads away, as if we were afraid for our eyes to meet. Not a word passed between us.

The cheder semester was due to and in two weeks, but nobody told me to return and finish out the semester, so I didn't. But I did go to school one afternoon, to attend the one hour session with the Jewish boys. Pan Zalewski beamed when he saw me. He immediately took me into his living-quarters, which adjoined the school-rooms, and left me there with his wife. Pani Zalewski, too, seemed glad to see me. "I would gladly offer you some goodies," said she, "but am not certain they're 'Kosher.'"

When Pan Zalewski returned, he said to me: "Have no fear of falling behind the other boys in your studies here. They've never shown much interest in what I am trying to teach them, anyhow. In fact, you have actually been held back on account of them. I regret that I couldn't spare you as much time as your interest really deserves." Pani Zalewski broke in: "But that isn't right. If he's interested more than the others, something ought to be done about it. Perhaps we should speak to Pan Ushk about it."

I left Pan Zalewski's house in high spirits. I was greatly encouraged by the more than cordial reception I had received from them. It was beginning to get dark, and I hurried toward the synagogue to attend the after-sunset service. It was early in April, and the weather was mild; it was a short but very pleasant walk. I was thinking about Pan Zalewski and Reb Michel; about my lack of interest in the cheder studies and the statement by Pan Zalewski that I had shown more interest in the school studies than any other Jewish boy. Why is it so? In my mind, I kept repeating this question. I walked very slowly, absorbed in thought.

I reached the synagogue in time for the collective service. Without looking on either side, I walked up to Father's pew at the East wall. Father was there, as was my brother-in-law. Those occupying pews on Father's right and left greeted me cordially, as did the town's rabbi, Rabbi Akiba [Goldberg], whose seat was third from Father's. "Moshe'le," said he to me, "I've missed you and am glad to see you well again." The only one who didn't greet me was Father. Everybody's eyes, I felt, were focused on me, and I felt embarrassed. Being conscious of the fact that almost everybody in town, except perhaps Pan Zalewski, knew the nature of my illness, I felt humiliated. These feelings were mitigated by words Pan and Pani Zalewski spoke to me earlier that evening; they helped me to regain my self-respect.

On the third day of Passover, the first day of Hal Hamoed, a visitor came to our house; he called to see me. It was Reb Abraham Jonah, a tutor.

"Glad I found you home," he said to me, "as I wish to speak with you." He said that he had been approached by Father regarding his enrolling me in his cheder. He knew, he said, about the difficulties I had had with Reb Michel, and he thought it advisable to have a personal interview with me before making up his mind whether or not to take me in. "Understand," he continued, "every tutor wants to feel that his pupils are making progress, that his efforts are not being wasted. Any teacher that lacks such ambition is not worthy of teaching. I understand you do have a good head and comprehend easily. If you'll make up your mind to learn, I am sure you will do well. If you'll promise me that, I shall be glad to have you as a pupil.

He was obviously waiting for me to answer his question, but I didn't know what to tell him. The Talmud was far removed from my periphery of interest; I was afraid to even touch it again. I looked at him and said, "Reb Abraham Jonah, I can't say, I don't know; I am not sure."

"Well," he said, "at least you are sincere, that's good. Suppose you think this over and let me know in a couple of days. Yes?"

My entire mind was now occupied with the problem of "back to cheder." The moome tried to talk to me. "Reb Abraham Jonah is right. With the good opinion Pan Zalewski has about your ability it is puzzling and disappointing that you have been learning so poorly in cheder. All you really need to do is apply yourself. Reb Haskel thinks so, too. Why don't you make up your mind to do it?"

Two days later, I went to see Reb Abraham Jonah, and was told by his wife that I would probably find him at the synagogue. It was nearly midafternoon; I saw him seated at a table, concentrating on a volume of the Talmud that lay open before him on the table. Stopping a few feet away from him I watched him. He was a tall, blond man with a blond, short and square beard. He was broad shouldered and weighed about 200 lbs. He was deeply absorbed in study, but after a fell minutes, he paused, leaning back. I utilized this pause and addressed myself to him, saying, "Reb Abraham Jonah . . . "

He turned his head and stared at me, startled, "You want to speak with me?"

I answered, "Yes, Reb Abraham Jonah, I should like to tell you what I've decided about cheder."

"Yes, Yes, I remember now, you're Reb Joseph's boy, Moshe. Good, go on."

I began to stammer, which was not my habit. Nevertheless, I managed to tell him that if "Father wants me to go, I have no choice in the matter, and I shall go to cheder."

I had barely finished when he broke in, somewhat annoyed, "That is not good; without applying yourself, you will learn little." After a moment he continued, "Perhaps, you'll change your attitude; I hope so. The 'zman (semester) begins the first Sunday after Passover."

The cheder was situated right across from the school and Pan Zalewski's dwelling. The new tutor, I observed, was more methodical in his work than Reb Michel. He devoted the first week mainly to organization. He examined each pupil not only for actual knowledge, but I seemingly didn't disappoint Reb Jonah too badly; for when I had finished, I detected a barely noticeable smile on his face.

During the second week, the cheder boys resumed the weekly one hour school sessions. At the first attendance, Pan Zalewski entered the classroom and began to call the rolls from the lists submitted to him by the tutors. As he came to my name, he motioned for me to come over to his table. He greeted me and asked that I remain after class was over.

He took me into his apartment, where his wife greeted me with her customary warm cordiality. Pan Zalewski, looking straight into my eyes said, "Moshek, with your keen mind and interest in the subject I am teaching here, it is a pity that you are not receiving real instruction. In the space of one hour, which I have to distribute among so many boys, there's very little I can devote to you individually. What you really need is private instruction or to enroll in the school as a regular student. I have already discussed this with your father. Has he discussed it with you?"

I told him that he hadn't, and he promised to speak to Father again, soon. He gave me one of his books to read. It contained short stories most of them suitable for children. Neither our parents nor the tutors would have permitted their children to read stories. In their stern outlook upon life, it would have been regarded by them as, first, a waste of time and, second, as tending to divert the children's minds and attention from their studies of the scriptures and the Talmud.

When I returned to cheder that evening, I learned that my being detained by Pan Zalewski had aroused considerable curiosity. Reb Abraham Jonah asked me what Pan Zalewski wanted with me, what he had discussed with me. My answer was that he wished to know whether or not Father had discussed a certain matter with me. That evidently reassured him.

My interest in the subjects studied in cheder again began to lag. I felt that I was doing somewhat better than at Reb Haskel's, but not as well as I should. The tutor spoke to me quite frequently about my supposed capabilities, which he assured me I possessed in a generous measure. "Think of how much more you could learn," he would say admonishingly, "if you would but exercise just a little more will power and wouldn't permit yourself to be diverted from your studies here." He didn't know then, and neither did I that there was something in store for me that would cause me to divert my attention from the studies in his cheder even more.


Chapter 7: Getting an Instructor

One day after the school sessions were suspended for the summer months, the moome said to me, "Moshe'le, after you finish eating, run over to Reb Zalman the Scribe; he has something to tell you." I was curious and was on my way promptly.

Reb Zalman was called the "Scribe" because he could speak, read and write both Polish and Russian quite well and was the only man in town that knew how to draw up contracts and petitions to the higher Government officials. Father, in his numerous business ventures, frequently required his services. He was a very pious man, but his knowledge of Jewish subjects was meager. I had seen him quite often in the past, but had never spoken to him, or he to me, On the way over to see him, I was fairly certain that I was to pick up some legal document from him and deliver it to someone else, though I had never been asked to do that before.

Reb Zalman took me into a very small room, about seven feet by ten, which I later learned was his "private cabinet." In it, I saw one chair, a very small table, about twenty-four inches by thirty, and an old sofa. Crudely-made shelving, in a corner, extended all the away to the ceiling and was crammed with books. He invited me to sit on the sofa, seated himself in the chair, and began to speak. "Moshe'le," he said, "your father has spoken to me about you. He wishes for me to discuss with you about your taking private instruction from me in whatever subjects you and I will decide on. I should like for you to consider the following questions: First, would you like to take such instructions? Second if you are agreeable, what subjects would interest you most?" He passed for a few moments and then continued, "I've never been an instructor, but I shall be glad to exert myself in order to help you, that is, if you will cooperate with me."

I asked, "What about cheder?"

"Naturally, you will continue to attend cheder," said he. "Of course, I shall have to discuss the entire problem with your father, but I have already thought about it. I am suggesting two lessons per week. I think Sunday and Wednesday would be more suitable for you. It will be necessary to allow you time off from cheder attendance in order for you to prepare your home assignments. I shall speak to your father after I've heard from you. Think this over and let me know soon."

With great effort, I tried to show outward calm. I told him, while my heart was nearly leaving me, that I had already decided, that I would be very glad to receive private instruction from him. He was very pleased, and said he would discuss with Father about adjusting my cheder schedule in harmony with the two weekly sessions with him. "You must be allowed," he said, "adequate time to prepare your homework, in addition to the time required for the sessions, one hour each time."

He examined me for Russian, Polish and arithmetic, gave me a list of books and tablets to obtain, and told me the first session would take place next Sunday.

I returned to cheder that afternoon nearly one hour late. Reb Abraham Jonah stared at me for a moment or two, displeasure plainly written on his face. I felt certain he would question me for a reason for my being late, and I was ready with my explanation. He didn't, and all the boys wondered why. They were surprised even more when I told them that, beginning next Sunday, I would absent myself quite regularly for at least two hours, perhaps even every day.

The sessions with Reb Zalman lasted throughout the Spring-Summer semester. In the Fall, when the evening-sessions at school for the cheder boys were resumed, I began to attend them also. Pan Zalewski at once noted the progress I had made, and he separated me from the rest of the boys. He paid me particular attention, and concentrated on supplementing my studies with Reb Zalman. On one occasion, he asked me to convey his greetings and compliments to Reb Zalman, saying that he was a fine instructor. Reb Zalman, in turn, sent his compliments to Pan Zalewski for his efforts in supplementing his teaching.

But my learning at cheder suffered seriously. At reviews on Thursday, I always trailed the boy with whom I was paired, although everybody knew his capacity for learning was inferior to my own. At times, during such reviews, Reb Abraham Jonah would stop at a passage and address himself to me, "I want you to recite this alone," he would say, "just for a while." My recitations almost always disappointed him. He would shake his head and murmur to himself, and yet loud enough for me to hear it, "no wonder, no wonder, they are stuffing his head with the devil knows what!"

Reb Jonah was reluctant to enroll me for the ensuing semester. He balked, arguing with Father that my daily abstentions tended to create an unhealthy atmosphere in his cheder. But after much prodding from Father, he finally agreed to enroll me again. I learned this from the moome, who pleaded with me to pay a little more attention to my cheder studies. My other teachers, Reb Zalman and Pan Zalewski, seemingly were pleased with me. That, too, I learned from the moome and sister Sarah. But I soon faced another problem. My friends, particularly one, Zishka, whose mother was Rabbi Akiba's [Goldberg] sister, became, estranged from me. To them, my regular abstentions from cheder were something out of the ordinary. Some of these boys were even asked by their parents not to associate with me too closely; they were cautioned about my being an evil influence.

I found myself practically isolated from my friends and, as a result, devoted still more time and attention to my studies with Reb Zalman and Pan Zalewski. The only spare time that we boys had was on Saturday. I borrowed some books from my instructors and, instead of joining my boy friends for long strolls, I devoted my spare time to reading those books. Most of the books were for children.

My friends' shunning me caused me much anguish, as making new friends was out of the question. I was not allowed to fraternize with boys "below" my family's social strata. There were occasions when Father punished me for playing with boys of artisans and craftsmen. "Is he your equal?" he would ask me.

Eventually, I came to understand that the limited number of boys approximating my age whom I regarded as my friends were boycotting me for more than one reason. Like their parents, they, too, were convinced that I was neglecting my religious instructions and, therefore, was straying from the rightful path. But there was also a feeling of envy on their part, for I was enjoying privileges which were not accorded them. Furthermore, I was acquiring knowledge of subjects that seemed mysterious to them, and it provoked their curiosity as well as jealousy.

Chapter 8: Fire

One Sunday morning, early in October, sitting in Reb Abraham Jonah's cheder, lacking interest in what the tutor was teaching, I looked out the window. It was about 9:30 A.M. just about the time when people from the surrounding villages and hamlets would be flocking to town in order to attend Sunday morning's services at the Catholic Church. I saw Pan Zalewski, dressed in his Sunday best and some gentlemen of his noble stratum strolling back and forth in front of the school. Suddenly, they turned back and began to run toward the market place, with many others following behind them. Presently, people began to run in the same direction from everywhere, and shouting, "Fire! Fire!" Our tutor, instructing us to remain inside until he returned, ran outside. In less than five minutes he returned and, saying that the town was on fire, dismissed us.

All the boys ran to their respective homes. Behind the northwest corner of the market place, heavy, dark smoke was billowing from a peasant's barn. The peasant's barns ringed the town, adjoining one another. All of them, as well as the peasant's homes, had thatched roofs. The barns contained the harvested crops in their original state. The thrashing of the grain and peas usually began later in the season. Because of these facts, the Fire began to spread rapidly.

The "Buda," the structure that stood in the center of the marketplace which housed the town's fire-fighting equipment, was not disturbed. No one, it seemed, took the initiative to make use of the equipment, there not being, a trace of the firefighting organization that was supposed to be so efficient during fire-drills. The market place was then crowded with wagons and carriages, parked by people who had come to town to worship. A rapid mass exodus of these visitors began immediately.

In spite of the bright sunshine, the sky soon became overcast with a heavy layer of smoke. Everybody was interested in but one thing: to salvage all personal belongings and remove them to a safe place where the fire could not possibly reach them. Many families carried their belongings to the meadow, to the river banks. When I reached the house, I learned that Father had left earlier that morning for Szczuczyn, the county seat.

Our house had a cellar. It was quite spacious, had brick walls and an arched, brick ceiling with a horizontal steel door that opened up to a brick flight of stairs leading down into it. It was regarded as fire-proof. All of us got busy and filled every inch of the cellar with whatever we could put into it. Then we teamed up with a neighbor who had a wagon and one horse. The two families pitched in and worked harmoniously, taking all the removable property out to the home of Willie the Render, near the river bank, nearly a mile from the town's outskirts. I went along with the first load and was left there to watch. The two families made several trips until they had every article belonging to both families removed to the safe place.

The fire continued to spread. Nothing was being done to check it. The Catholic Priest invited the Jewish families that lived on the street close to the church to store their belongings inside the church and church courtyard. The church was situated about 150 feet from the nearest building. "Besides," he reasoned, "my people would not allow their church to burn down." Several Jewish families accepted the invitation and the Priest's prediction proved true, the church didn't burn. In fact, the whole street leading to it as well as the one downhill to the synagogue, remained intact.

At dusk, I decided to return to town and see for myself what it looked like. I was forced to do much detouring, as there were whole streets on which houses were burning on both sides.

Reaching the market place, I saw that on the south side of the place, all the houses were burned to the ground. On the east side too, all the houses, except one long brick building which housed a bakery shop, a saloon, a food-store and four apartment dwellings, were razed. On the north side, three houses, extending from the northwest corner were in flames.

There, a host of men, women and even young children were working as a team, determined to stop further devastation. The fourth house on the north side of the market place caught fire. A number of men stationed themselves on the sloping roof of the adjoining fifth house. The women and children drew buckets of water from the well in the center of the market place and carried the buckets to the fifth house and began passing the buckets from hand to hand to those stationed on ladders leaning against the roof, to those on the roof, and, finally, to those on the roof top. After three hours the efforts of the team were successful.

In other places, the fire stopped naturally, having to cross spaces that were too wide to ignite other structures. Had the fire not been stopped on the north side of the market place, the rest of the dwellings on that side as well as all the dwellings on the east side of Church Street would not have been spared.

Nearly half of the town was destroyed by the fire.

Many children whose homes where destroyed were brought to our house to spend the night All the beds were turned over to the elderly women and the sick. Together with some other children, I slept on the floor of the dining room. More children slept on the floor of the drawing room. Most of the men were up all night, putting, out as much of the still-burning debris as they could.

During the night, an emergency conference was held in Rabbi Akiba's [Goldberg] house. According to established custom, only the recognized leaders of the Jewish community were invited to attend. The "shamos" (sexton) called at the house to inquire whether Father had returned home. When he finally did, he immediately hurried over to the Rabbi's house.

The following morning, a meeting of all the Jewish residents was held at the synagogue. As usual, only married males participated in the meeting. The losses were serious. The insurance coverage was low.

At the meeting, an appeal was made to find accommodations for the families that had become homeless and for funds for the destitute. Many hands were raised; pledges of donations were made and offers to share dwellings with the less fortunate. As the meeting continued, two out-of-town men walked into the synagogue, straight over to the Rabbi. They shook hands with him and said something to him quietly. Smiling, the Rabbi announced that the two gentlemen were from Szczuczyn and that they had come as a committee from their town's Jewish community, bringing with them a wagon-load of fresh breed, to be distributed among the needy.

Later that same day, two more wagon-loads of bread, from Jewish communities from still other towns, reached Radzilowo. A hasty meeting, called together by the Rabbi, decided to donate one wagon-load to the Catholic Priest, for distribution among the non-Jewish victims of the devastation.

The Priest met the small committee of Jews that presented him with the wagon-load of bread with a broad smile. He thanked them profusely and praised their thoughtfulness for the plight of their Christian fellow-sufferers. And, during the months that followed, it seemed that, whenever Jew and non-Jew met, their greetings were more cordial than ever before.

Chapter 9: Effects of the Fire

For several weeks after the fire, the boys were free from cheder, but finally, it reopened. I resumed my studies with Reb Zalman as well as attending the evening school sessions. But the overcrowded dwellings and the impoverishment of a considerable number of the population made normal attendance at cheder and school quite difficult. Schedules were often altered. There was fear of a possible epidemic, and we were constantly warned about the necessity for cleanliness. Naturally, my learning during that semester suffered considerably.

In the spring of that year, Father sold the house and bought the lots of the last house that burned down on the north side of the market place. He made plans to go into the lumber business, and was making the necessary arrangements. The nearest place where lumber was available was Slucz, a village about three miles from town and the seat of a wealthy squire who owned a large estate, a Vodka distillery and a saw-mill. But the operation of the saw-mill was not steady, and the selection of the lumber was rather limited.

Father bought some timber in a forest about fifteen miles from town. He had the trees felled, cut up into logs and transported to town. He rented a very large vacant lot, where the logs were unloaded, and for the sawing of the timber, he hired a team of six Lithuanians. Working as a cooperative, they converted the logs into all kinds of boards and other building material.

Father had begun to speak to me again soon after the fire. During, the Passover holidays he called me over and said, "I shall have to avail myself of what knowledge you have acquired; I shall need you during this semester to keep a record of the logs that will be delivered, to sign receipts, and to record any material purchased by people from my stock."

He showed me the system he desired. When he returned from the forest on Thursday, I was ready with my report. He seemed pleased with my work. My friends, who had been avoiding me, now actually sought my companionship. To them I was performing the duties of an adult. In spite of my being busy with so many duties, I considered that spring and summer as a vacation, and I enjoyed it.

In June of that summer, Father began to build our new home, and it was my duty to issue to the builder whatever material he needed and to keep a record of it. There was much reconstruction in progress that spring and summer, and father's new business flourished.

We moved into our new home before the high holidays, about the first day in September. Between Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur Day, Father called me over and spoke to me, for the first time in my memory, in a consultative tone. He said, "l should like to hear from you some suggestions about your future education. Pan Zalewski and Reb Zalman have good opinions about you. My own experiences with you have been far from gratifying. The same goes for your tutors, Reb Michel and Reb Abraham Jonah. Both recognized your aptitude, but resented your attitude. According to them, you are resisting cheder studies. On the other hand, Pan Zalewski and Reb Zalman assure me that they had never observed those traits in your conduct with them. That indicates that you possess two different attitudes. Why is your attitude in cheder so antagonistic? I listened to Pan Zalewski and sent you to Reb Zalman, but is that a tachlis (purpose in life)? I should like to hear what you have to say in the matter."

For once, I sympathized with him. Realizing that I had been a source of worry to him, I was careful not to anger him, and I hesitated to say anything. "I don't know what to say. I just like to study what I am taught by Pan Zalewski and Reb Zalman. I can't explain why, but those subjects appeal to me."

"But you must return to cheder," he said. "A Jewish boy must acquire education. It not only behooves us. Providence saw fit to deprive us of our ancient homeland, and the kiyum ha'umah (continued existence of the Jewish people) depends on Jewish education. Without it, we shall disintegrate." He turned his head, absorbed in thought, and after a few moments continued, "I have spoken to Reb Abraham Jonah. In his opinion, your attending the sessions with Reb Zalman has a demoralizing effect on his other pupils. He feels that if you didn't resume the sessions, you would probably apply yourself more to the subjects at the cheder. Tell me what you think about this."

I said, "I shall do as I am told. But I should like very much to go back to Reb Zalman and, of course, attend also the afternoon sessions at the school, together with the other boys. I hope I am permitted to do so."

Our discussion ended with Father saying that he would give this problem some further thought and let me know his decision within the next few days.

Reb Berl had the reputation of being a great Hebrew Scholar and a noted tutor. At this time, he was quite advanced in age, about sixty eight, and was suffering from asthma. Despite his age, he had little gray hair. He was no longer vigorous and no longer maintained in his cheder the iron-discipline of the past. He was living in a two room apartment, and his cheder, reduced to just a few pupils, occupied a corner of the somewhat spacious kitchen-dining room.

Soon after Yom Kippur, Father said that he had discussed with Reb Berl about enrolling me in his cheder, and was expecting to hear from him. Having heard about his strictness with his pupils, the prospect of having him as my next tutor frightened me. In my desperation, I felt the need of some encouraging words from someone. It was senseless, I thought, to consult with Reb Zalman, as he either sincerely believed in Jewish education like Father, or pretended to believe in it. I decided to pay a visit to Pan Zalewski's.

Pan and Pani Zalewski welcomed me with their usual graciousness. Pani Zalewski remarked that I looked depressed and asked me what was wrong. I told them of my desire to continue with my studies under both Pan Zalewski and Reb Zalman, and of Father's planning to send me to cheder and to discontinue Reb Zalman's instructions. Pan Zalewski remarked that it would be a pity. "You have done quite well under him," he said. He promised to speak to Father soon and make no mention of my visit with them.

The next day, Pan and Pani Zalewski paid us an "unexpected" visit. The moome, always a fine hostess, served tea with lemon, preserves and cake. Pan Zalewski and Father then withdrew into the drawing room and were secluded for about thirty minutes. Formally, I did not then know, nor did I ever learn, the nature or the subject of their discussion, but I had a good idea as to its substance.

A few days later, Father called me into the drawing room and said to me, "You are a very difficult problem for me: it is disturbing my peace of mind. Pan Zalewski is taking a keen interest in you, although I fail to understand why. He suggested to me something which I rejected on the spot; nevertheless I have been thinking about it. Pan Zalewski wants me to send you to his school, for regular attendance, and he is willing to arrange the subjects so that you would not have to attend on Saturday. How would that appeal to you?"

I hardly could betray my elation. Is it possible I asked myself, that I might be sent to regular school? I answered quickly, "I should like it very much."

"Well," said Father, "I am still considering it. But before I make up my mind, you must agree to go to cheder, too, and promise to take the teaching there more seriously. I shall discuss this with you further."

During the remainder of the Succoth holidays, I experienced mortal fear lest my hope of becoming a regular school pupil come to naught. I dared not ask father for fear of being told that his decision was negative, ending my hope.

The moment finally arrived. It was in the evening after the holidays. He called me into the drawing room and said, "I have decided to make an experiment, so remember it is just that, and it is subject to your applying yourself to the cheder studies. I have discussed this with Reb Berl. He has agreed to enroll you in his cheder as a special pupil. Your cheder schedule will be as follows: Sunday, there will no school, all day. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, you will attend cheder from 3:30 P.M. until 7:30 P.M. You will thus have an extra hour and one half, in addition to your study periods at school, within which to prepare your home assignments. (In winter, the boys were let out from cheder at 9:00 P.M.) Reb Berl has agreed to give you special attention during the weekly one hour school sessions for the cheder-boys, which you will, of course, not attend. I know full well that my friends of the (Jewish) community will not react kindly to this, and they'll be right. Reb Berl himself expressed surprise at my even thinking of this plan, and I assured him that I was expecting you to apply yourself to the subjects he's going to teach you, if only in appreciation of what I am doing. Now, I say to you, if you are really eager to learn worldly (secular) subjects, then you should be willing to pay the price of learning our own too. Do you promise?"

I promised that I would concentrate my efforts and apply myself to both. He looked at me sternly and said, "I am convinced that I don't have to admonish you regarding your learning in school; your desire for that is known to all of us. In the morning go see Pan Zalewski for instructions. In the afternoon, go over and see Reb Berl. Again, remember that this arrangement will depend on your attitude in cheder."

I was overjoyed, and slept little that night. In my imagination, I pictured to myself how, in time, I would be well educated, perhaps even as well as Pan Zalewski himself. (I couldn't imagine anyone possessing any higher education than he.) I was up earlier than usual the following morning and did everything within my power to conceal my excitement and impatience. But the moome was cheerful and full of smiles as she prepared me for my visit with Pan Zalewski. Her behavior seemed to indicate that she had a hand in Father's decision.

At 8 A.M., I reported to Pan Zalewski. My visit with him was brief but very cordial. The fall semester had been in progress for about three weeks, but he assured me that I would soon catch up. He gave me a list of items to buy and told me to come back as soon as I obtained them. In less than thirty minutes, I reported back to him.

He assigned me to a seat and then introduced me to the rest of the pupils, about 150 boys and girls, all Polish Catholic. They stared at me during the rest of that day. I was the first Jewish youth ever to attend regular school with them. All of them and their parents knew Father and me; Father was held in high esteem by the non-Jews in the area.

I came home lunch, ate hurriedly, and was the first pupil to return to school. The distance from home to school was less than four-hundred feet, and walking between the two points took about one minute. When my first school-day was over, every Jew in Radzilowo knew that I had been enrolled as a regular pupil in the school, "together with the other goyim," a hint that I, too, would inevitably become a goy.

Immediately after school let out that afternoon, I went to see Reb Berl. He stared at me, then said abruptly, "Cheder begins next Sunday."

My curriculum in Reb Berl's cheder consisted of the Scriptures with "Rashi" commentary and Prophets. For one hour every evening, I was to "follow" his teaching of the Talmud to a small group of boys. On Saturday afternoon, I attended cheder with the rest of the boys for about one hour.

My exact status as a Talmudic student under Reb Berl was never clearly defined. I was never given any assignment as I had no study periods, like the rest of the pupils. On Thursday, at review, Reb Berl only occasionally called on me to recite very briefly. I felt that I had been joined with the group for whatever I might learn accidentally. Whether or not that was true, that feeling seemingly had a beneficial effect on me. I lost my fear of the Talmud, and I no longer regarded it as an unbearable burden placed on me. I began to listen to Reb Berl's explanations of some of the philosophically complicated passages with interest and absorbed them fairly well.

The boys and girls at the school were, for a long time, quite indifferent toward me but gradually I began to feel that the fact that I was the only Jewish boy among so many Polish Catholics was being accepted by them. Even before the Christmas holidays, I became friendly with some of the schoolboys. One of them, Stiepan (Stephan) even visited me at our house.

During one such visit, Zishka and another Jewish boy came over to see me. Stiepan complained to me of a toothache, and Father overheard it. He offered him some vodka, a drink which was believed to have the property of easing the pain when held on the affected tooth.

The other Jewish boy said to Father, "You certainly are showing concern for that 'shaygets!' [a Gentile boy]." He spoke in Yiddish, and father answered him in the same language, "Why not? He's just like any other boy, and to his parents, he means just as much as any one of you to your parents." The boy lowered his eyes, feeling embarrassed.

Most of the Jewish community was very critical of my attending school, and some didn't hesitate to express their views to Father, in unreserved language. One of them, Reb Yisrael Mejer, was more outspoken than anyone else. He was a frequent visitor to our house because of the two daily newspapers "Der Itoment" in Yiddish and the "Hazfirah" in Hebrew, which Father subscribed to. Reb Yisrael Mejer was too miserly to subscribe to a newspaper himself. Leaving his business, a retail fabric store, to his wife and daughter to manage, his wife was recognized as a better business manager than he, he would often come to our house to read Father's newspapers.

He was in the habit of bringing up the subject of my schooling, even in my presence, showing open hostility. He often warned Father if he didn't stop my schooling, I would unquestionably wind up a Mumer Leachis (one who spites God), or perhaps even a Meshumad (a willing convert from Judaism; an apostate).

Father was clearly provoked and always annoyed. On one such occasion, he told Reb Yisrael Mejer he was a shoteh (one who lacks sense). Finally, when that failed to have its effect and Reb Yisrael Mejer continued with his angry criticism, Father said to him, "Listen, have I ever intervened in your plans for the education of your own Moshe? Why, in the name of heaven, don't you leave the upbringing of my son to me?"

On another occasion, Father said to him, "I am not God's bodyguard. If Moshe should disobey His laws, or act contrary to His will, He will deal with him in His own way."

Chapter 10: Malka - My First Love

One Saturday afternoon, as I stepped out of the house to go to cheder, two girls, somewhat younger than myself passed me. I knew who they were. One was the daughter Reb Zorach, a friend of father's; the other was the younger daughter of Gitel Laks, whose husband had deserted her.

I knew both girls quite well. The town was small, and the Jewish community was tightly knit; every Jew knew the rest of the Jewish community. I had seen these girls and others often, but had never paid any attention to any of them. It was mid-winter; there was a lot of snow on the ground, and it was quite cold. Malka Laks wore a fur-lined coat, fur cap and fur muff, and in my eyes, these made her look quite charming.

I stopped and watched them until they reached the Northwest corner of the market place and turned right. That was the first time that I had been attracted by feminine beauty, and it bewitched me. From that moment, I dreamed about Malka. Suddenly, she would appear in my mind, and always in the same outfit. I developed an intense desire to see her often, to look at her.

Her mother operated a food store on the Northeast corner of the market place, with a nice dwelling in the rear. She was regarded as a. clever woman. Her father, Reb Jose Mordecai, belonged to the prominent group of the community. According to one version, Malka's father deserted his wife Gitel, because she had continually ridiculed his excessive religious zeal, and that she was much less fanatical in her religion than her husband. If that was the true reason, his deserting Gitel was purely vindictive since according to Jewish law, a husband can easily divorce his wife. He left no trace of his whereabouts, and she remained single for the remainder of her life, but managed to provide for herself and her too daughters quite well without any help.

Gitel's house was only about two hundred feet from ours, but there was no hope of my visiting there especially to see Malka. My only hope was to see her passing by on the street, which didn't happen too often, because of my busy schedules and my studies. The only time I could hope to have a glimpse of her was on Saturday, when young boys and girls, separately, of course, would be seen strolling on the market place and other streets. Even on the Sabbath day my schedule restricted any hope of seeing her.

In the morning, I would attend the Sabbath service, then the Sabbath meal. At 3:30 P.M., I was due at cheder; at 5 P.M. at the evening services. Then followed the evening meal; the third Sabbath meal; and the after-dark service. Between the Sabbath meal and 3:30 P.M. I usually read some of the school assignments. I was not allowed to write on the Sabbath day. Even the reading of my assignment was looked upon by Father with disfavor. "Reading for pleasure on the Sabbath day is one thing; reading something that has been assigned to you may be interpreted as performing a chore, and is something else," he once said to me. Nevertheless, after that, he never again objected to my reading on Saturday.

One Saturday afternoon, my friend Zishka invited me to take a stroll with him. The weather was mild, and we went "down hill," past the water-mill, over the two wooden bridges, then over the third small, concrete bridge, which was circular inside, like a huge tube about eight feet in diameter, and past Reb Feive's Brick Kiln and home, on the outskirts of town. Suddenly, to my great surprise, I saw Malka, accompanied by two other girls, walking in the opposite direction.

I slowed down and looked at her. One of the other girls saw me and whispered something to Malka. She turned her head toward me, smiled at me and continued on her way. The other girls began to giggle. I remained still but turned in the opposite direction, and watched the girls as they walked away. Zishka, startled, asked me whether Malka was my girl friend, continuing, "A girl friend at your age? I am one year older than you, but having a girl friend has never occurred to me."

We continued walking, and Zishka continued to talk. I had been so deeply impressed by the fact that I had seen Malka again and surprised that she was as beautiful as I remembered her that I paid no attention to what Zishka was saying.

Eventually I realized that he was bargaining with me. He was demanding something of me for his promise to keep quiet about the scene that he had witnessed. "Imagine," he said, repeating it several times, "how much our friends would like to learn about this! Now, if I should agree; mind you I didn't say that I would, but if I should agree to keep this to myself, it ought to be worth quite a lot, to you." I told him that blackmailing a friend wasn't exactly consistent with true friendship. Laughing, he replied that the price he asked was reasonable. He would take my pocket hair brush, with the mirror on its back. It was imported from Germany, and it had been given to me as a gift.

It hurt me to part with it, but I could hardly haggle with him. If my admiration for Malka were to become known, I would immediately become a target of ridicule among all my friends. Zishka was a shrewd and talented boy; he had a good character and came from one of the oldest and finest families in town. I agreed to the condition, and we shook hands on it, I then handed him my beautiful little hair brush, which I always carried with me. He took it in his hand, fondled it, and said, "You know, I really like it very much; It's very pretty, and I shall regard it as a gift from you. But do you really think that I would have told anybody about you and Malka if you had not given me this brush?"

I said nothing to him, but my heart was full of mixed feelings. I was glad that I had seen Malka.

Later that evening, Zishka came over to see me. I was busy with my school assignment and, anyhow, felt unkindly toward him. He said he didn't wish to interrupt me, so he would be very brief. "I am sorry for what I said to you this afternoon," he said, barely audible, so the others in the house would not hear. "Our bargain," he continued, "stands; have no fear about that. But here's your brush back. It was wrong for me to even ask you for it, let alone take it."

I continued school to the end of the scholastic year, and my regular, full time, cheder schedule began the next day, continuing until the first week in September. At the approach of the high holidays, cheder was dismissed. The vacation between the Spring-Summer and the Fall-Winter semesters is the longest, lasting about four weeks. My own vacation was much shorter. School began the first week in September. During that month, I absented myself from school for about ten days, due to the holidays.

During the summer, while school was out and I attended cheder full time, Father had made it a habit to quiz me on some of the subjects I was studying at cheder. This usually happened on Saturday. He never complimented me, but since he never criticized me too severely either, I assumed that I didn't do too badly. My grades in school, I knew, were more than satisfactory.

During one such quiz, Father said to me, "Reb Berl is very critical of your going to school; he is of the opinion that it tends to distract your attention from your cheder studies. Perhaps he's right, but if you continue as you have under him, the arrangement will stand."

As the end of the Winter-Spring semester at cheder and the scholastic year at school was approaching, Father learned from Pan Zalewski that I would graduate in June. He was glad. At last, he would no longer give his friends any reason for their continual criticism. I, too, was glad that my graduation was near. Secretly, I hoped that Father would see fit to send me to the Gymnasia. This hope was just wishful on my part, but something unforeseen happened that even prevented my attending my own graduation.

Memoirs donated and reprinted with the permission of Paul Atlas and Scott J. Atlas. Edited by Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.