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Sefer Vladimirets

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Between Dream & Reality

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: David Burko

** Webmaster Note: The following translation was generously provided by David's daughter, Yael Burko Glaser.  We have presented it here exactly as it was translated for us.

Between Dream & Reality

I was very young when my family left the village of Tikovitz, where I was born, and moved to Vladimirets. I am completely unfamiliar with our departure from the village and our settling down in the new place. My first awareness, the first recognition of the world that each one of us nurtures in his mind, was evidently in Vladimirets. I remember it as a remnant of a dull vision, the vision of a winter day, frost flowers covering the glass windows, windowsills with artificial flowers, flowers that were made of cotton and paper cuttings. I am not even sure that in those early days I was aware of these flowers. It is possible that they were planted in my memory much later, and only in later years did it all become a complete picture in my mind. Through the lightly frosted windows one could sense what was happening in the distance. In my mind's eye, I can see a bright red sunset, with inflamed skies. I am sitting by the window, looking at the view with excitement. This is the earliest picture I have in my mind. From here on, new views seem to open, to become more coherent and more familiar.

From this point on, I remember the Vladimirets sky in more detail, but not through a frosted glass window. I remember clear skies, cloudy skies, odd shaped clouds such as trees or animals, shapes that lasted for a minute and then disappeared again. The whole town is a memory in my mind, with its streets, its fields, the children and the adults.

I hardly remember the days of the First World War during my early childhood. I somehow remember its end, and the memory is between a dream and reality. In my mind, I see throngs of soldiers. I was still too young to determine to what regiment they belonged. I remember one soldier carrying wood for heating. Suddenly, there were some unclear frenzied sounds. The soldier dropped his wood to the ground and started to run, followed by many others, who were running too. When I came home, I heard the adults talking and saying that the enemy army had retreated.

I remember one day, as we were sitting around the table, when my brother was telling us about a dream he had. In his dream, there was a very dark night, and suddenly, the sun was shining at midnight. Someone, a clever soul, found an explanation to the dream. The night was the war, the sunshine was the peace - the war will soon end and peaceful days are approaching…

Another vision is in my mind that is certainly more of a reality. A camel was towing a broken down military vehicle. This happened in the days of the Bolsheviks, those who were called the 'Borvesse' (the barefoot) ones.

The story of my brother Moshe is another one of these stories, where much of them I know from rumors. Moshe used to go to Dombrovitz to buy various products, mostly salt. Salt was very valuable during the war days. One night, some military men, who considered the ‘salt businesses’ as illegal smuggling, punishable by death, apprehended Moshe. The family was very concerned and frightened. At that exact time, my uncle Chonye, (my Bubbe Charna's brother), was hosting an important army officer. Chonye worked relentlessly until he convinced that officer-guest to interfere in the matter and save Moshe.

After all these part dreams and part reality memories, there are those definitively clear and familiar memories. The house we lived in, the yard and the neighborhood. I remember the house that belonged to 'Elkale the Piekarnitchka' (the baker), a short woman, hence her nickname. I know that a Polish family previously occupied my Bubbe Charna’s house. Charna was the famous midwife, known for her generosity. We moved into the house, together with Uncle Leib Teitelboim and his family, only after the Polish family had vacated the place. There were five huge rooms in the house, with a common kitchen used by both families. The yard had storage sheds and cellars, all full of grains, potatoes, barrels of pickled cabbage, goose fat, and barrels with frozen meat. There were fruit preserves in bottles and large jugs. Our family was quite well off.

My father's business, trading cattle, was evidently a successful business. However, the lifestyle at home was very simple and modest. My mother used to bake the bread at home, in the big oven. The flour for baking came from the flourmill, a windmill. First, we carried the rye seeds to the mill, and then we carried the flour back home. I remember the mill being out of town, beyond the Jewish cemetery, on the road to Dlogobola. I used to watch the movement of the mill's blades. It seemed to me like they were powerful enough to move even without any wind. Many people were always waiting at the mill. I liked to come there and watch the wonders of this 'factory'. The mill owners enjoyed the fees paid for their work, as well as the flour that remained between the grinding stones.

There were also oil presses in town, powered by horses. Special oil was made there, mostly linseed oil. Cattle feed, called makucha, was made from the crushed residue. It was said that the oil had invigorating powers, as well as appetite enhancing qualities.  

The furniture in our home was very modest. We had couches that were not upholstered, a table, and very simple benches. There was a barn in the yard, with one or two cows and some chickens. I remember Hershel Zelig's house, next to ours, with its beautiful tall fruit trees, which reached out from his garden into ours, resting on our roof. Hershel would often tell us: “As a rule, the fruit that's on your side - belongs to you”.

Our neighbor's generosity was not enough for my friends and me. In keeping with the saying, 'Stolen water tastes sweeter', we preferred the fruit we could get without permission. My friends were Chonyo and Leible (Uncle Wollok's sons) and Yossle and Zalman (Aunt Hinda's sons). My father was taking care of these children; he was their guardian, since their parents were in America. However, my father was also away on business much of the time. The children were growing up not knowing that to 'fear thy father' meant something. I rather liked their attitude. I remember that one of my Wollok cousins liked pumpkins. He would pick them in the neighbors’ gardens and spread them on the roof to ripen in the sun. All the neighbors, the garden owners, ignored his wrongdoings. They were reluctant to have anything to do with this boy. When our neighbor, Hershel, would go to pray Mincha and Maariv - we, the group of cousins, used to climb over the fence and pick fruit from his garden.

A new profession became popular at the end of the war (World War 1) - making alcohol, in order to sell it to the 'Goyim' (the Gentiles). Many families adopted this profession. They produced alcohol from potatoes and from grains. We had a real workshop, in a special structure, attached to the house, hidden in such a way that passers by could not notice it. There were several primitive machines in that workshop, a few big barrel size tanks, some ovens, as well as some other equipment. The grains were cooked and the vapors distilled through special pipes, cooled down to liquids or to drops called 'the bitter drop' – all very valuable merchandise that would be sold. 

Fearing that the strong smelling waste by-product, called 'Briyha', would reveal the existence of the secret place, they used to secretly take out the waste at night, and bury it in the ground. I was not allowed into that workshop which was called 'the Shtieble' (the little house).

One night, the door to the Shtieble was left open. I seized the opportunity and I went in. I was standing there, watching the working equipment with great amazement. I saw a small tap. I found a small bottle. Just for the fun of it, I filled up the bottle. I managed to close the bottle tightly. I took the bottle, my little treasure, to bed. I hid it under my pillow… The next morning, when I left for the Cheder, I did not forget to take my treasure. On my way, I kept sipping and tasting the liquid in the bottle, trying to figure out what it was. By the time I arrived at the Cheder, the bottle was empty and my head was spinning. When I got to the Rabbi’s house, I lost my balance and fell down. Everyone present was alarmed, trying to help me regain consciousness. The empty bottle was found in my pocket, still smelling of alcohol, indicating to the 'first aid' people, who noticed the same smell on my breath, what I had been up to. I was taken home, where I was questioned and interrogated. I confessed and innocently told the whole story.  Some people, upon hearing the story, joked and said "We can predict that this youngster will like 'the bitter drop' when he grows up", meaning - this one has a future of a drunk. Other jokers had the opposite opinion, saying, "Since a few drops had such an effect on him, he will always stay away from the taverns when he grows up". As for my parents, they had their own approach. Thereafter, to be on the safe side, they locked up the workshop with seven locks. 

When thinking about the Cheder era of my life, I think about a very special period. We did not have color pictures. Our books were full of just letters and words. Perhaps that is why we used our imagination to add the missing colors. The Cheder I went to was a source of great teachings of values and a place of inspiration to people's souls.

My first Cheder was with Yaakov Velichover. He was a good-spirited man, with an understanding of the child's soul. He gave us great freedom. We started learning before winter, just after the High Holidays. Yaakov Velichover let us build a Succah, and allowed us much time for playing. The second Cheder I went to was with Henoch, the Melamed (the Teacher). Here we already studied well into the long winter nights. It was like a step up for me, going home in the dark, with a lantern in my hand. There were many inspiring hours in the Cheder. Learning with melodies, tunes and inflection was very valuable. However, the desire for learning was not so great, and we would often get involved in mischief. We were pranksters, looking for any excuse to disrupt the day's program and to 'kill the day'. When Rabbi Henoch went to pray Mincha one evening, the children opened the container of kerosene in the kerosene lamp, and poured some water into it. The rabbi came back, saw the light flickering, and started working to fix the lamp. We enjoyed the time of idleness and inactivity until he realized that the liquid had to be changed. That particular evening was full of adventures. One boy was injured. As we described it, ‘his head was opened’. We administered first aid. We washed and cleaned his wound. One of the boys took a piece of bread, kneaded it in his hand, and then stuck it on the wound, like a band-aid. True ‘medical’ care!

There was a story about one of the boys, Yossle dem Glezzers (the glassmaker’s son). According to the story, on his way home from the Cheder, on a stormy snowy night, Yossle's lantern stopped shining. Yossle was lost and wandered to a nearby field. He fell to the ground and was covered by snow. His family, panicked and concerned that he did not return home, started searching for him. He was found the following morning. When Yossle recovered, he said that he had fallen asleep in the snow and had dreamt about Elijah the prophet, who told him not to be afraid. Elijah told him to be calm, and assured him that nothing would happen to him. Everyone in the Shtetle was talking about that story, especially the children.

Each of the rabbis we studied with was unique, each with his own virtues and shortcomings. Rabbi Yankle Velichover was treating the children gently, forgivingly. Rabbi Henoch was tough with the children. The children used to say that Rabbi Henoch favored me, since his wife was my father's sister. I never noticed it. Henoch was a chain smoker. He had a long yellow beard, and I could never determine whether he was born with yellow hair or his beard was yellow because of the cigarettes.

My third Cheder, the Talmud Torah Yeshiva, was already a higher-level school. Our rabbi was from the Shtetle of Sarny. We called him 'the Sarniker'. He was learned and knowledgeable, and very strict. There were stories about him, saying that when he was young he started to read secular 'forbidden' books. Someone even tried to convince him to leave Judaism. However, this attempt had the opposite effect on him. He decided to Lachzor Be'Teshuva (to Return in Repentance). It is well known that "in the place where penitents stand, even the righteous ones cannot stand".

He vowed that he would dedicate himself to teaching the Torah to children. He taught us Talmud, but his specialty was teaching us to love the Book of Books, the Bible. I remember that when he taught us about the merchants in the marketplace in Lod, I was able to visualize a market similar to the one in Vladimirets, with all its merchants and traders. We did not need the movies. Our imagination presented us with pictures whenever necessary.

Since the 'Sarniker' was not from our Shtetle, he was dependent on the students' parents for his meals. We called it 'Essen Kest'. Each week he was another family's guest. The student whose guest the rabbi was would bring the rabbi's food to the Cheder each day of the week.

I remember one day, when the rabbi had a severe toothache. There was no dentist in the town. 'Feldsher' Shidlovsky would do the tooth extractions. His tools were primitive, but he had 'good hands'. Our Rabbi was moaning and groaning, and we felt sorry for him. We tried to convince him to go to the 'Feldsher'. In addition to pitying our rabbi, we were looking forward to a few free hours.  

The Talmud Torah Yeshiva was in Laser-Leib's apartment. He allocated (free of charge) two rooms for the Yeshiva. Unfortunately, our poor rabbi had the misfortune of being a victim of the Feldsher's mistake. The Feldsher extracted a healthy tooth, instead of the bad one. The rabbi walked quite a distance back from the Feldsher's to the Yeshiva, suffering a double torture: The ailing tooth was still there, and the pain from the tooth extraction was now added. Meanwhile, at the Yeshiva, all hell broke loose. One of the boys had brought in the rabbi's lunch - a bowl of hot potatoes and a pitcher of cold buttermilk. As the boy walked in, he bumped into Yossele Baril. The two started to fight. Yossele grabbed a hot potato, and threw it at the boy. A piece of the potato landed in the boy's ear. He started to scream, dropping the pitcher of buttermilk to the floor. The suffering rabbi walked in during all that mayhem. Well… we ended up getting the whole day off.

Undoubtedly, the Cheder was very influential in nurturing a Jewish child’s soul, even though, in our days, it had lost some of its original values. On the other hand, my memories of Hassidism are very positive. My father was associated with the Stolin Hassidim. After their rabbi died, the people praying in the Stolin Hassidim’s synagogue separated in their ways. Some of the people followed the rabbi’s son, Rabbi Elimelech from Carlin, and others followed the rabbi’s other son, Rabbi Yochanan, from Lutzk. Each group claimed that only its rabbi received the father’s blessings to continue his legacy. Our family followed Rabbi Yochanan from Lutzk. My father and my older brother used to travel occasionally to visit the rabbi in Lutzk. Once every three years or so, the Rabbi would come to Vladimirets. This was always an exciting and moving event. The Shtetle would start its preparations several days before the visit. The Rabbi would usually arrive on a Friday, accompanied by followers from different towns. The town’s people, dressed in their best festive clothes, would come out to greet him. The synagogue services were attended by both the Rabbi’s followers and by others, curious Jews who wanted to see the Rabbi. When the visiting Rabbi was Rabbi Elimelech, he would receive a room at Reb Asher Israel’s house. Rabbi Yochanan would always be Schuch’s guest, in the home that was near the synagogue. The Rabbi would walk from the house to the synagogue with all his followers dancing around him, singing with excitement and deep devotion. I was always wondering about this contagious excitement and happiness. All that was still before anyone had had any wine. The happiness had come from their inner souls, like a kind of an awakening.

On these Friday nights, each of the Rabbi’s followers rushed home to have a quick dinner, so that he could rush back to the synagogue where, along the eastern wall, a table bearing the best of food and treats was set up for all the guests. People at the table would sing Chassidic songs as well as other songs that the guests had learned in different places. One of the important things during those evenings was to master the new melodies and songs. Yehoshua Bera and Avraham Veiner, both with a good ear for music, used to stand next to the Rabbi, teaching and learning songs. The Rabbi would hardly eat. He pushed away each of the plates he was given, so that hundreds of hands could reach over and take what was left on them. Whoever was lucky enough to grab something, shared it with the people close to him. The Stolin followers never did any studying on those nights. They were completely immersed in singing and dancing.

When the Rabbi went back to his room great happiness resumed in the synagogue, with more singing, dancing and hand clapping. The same rituals were repeated the following morning, on Shabbat. Grabbing some Kugle leftovers was very important. On Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night), all the out of town guests would leave and return to their homes. The Rabbi would stay in Vladimirets until Tuesday. Wonderful parties were held each night at the house where he was staying. The greatest party was the farewell party, held on the night before his departure.

I want to tell about a prank, this time conducted by the adults rather than the children. This incident does not diminish the beauty or importance of the Rabbi’s visit, but rather enhances it, adding vividness and genuineness to it:

The houses of Schuch and of Reb Asher Israel were next to each other. Reb Asher Israel was the Shub - Shochet UBodek (the slaughterer and the examiner). At the farewell party for the Lutzker Rabbi, the Chassidim decided to play a little practical joke on Reb Asher. Since my father was a Lutzker’s follower, I was told by a few Chassidim, “Come with us, David, we’ll do something important for the Rabbi”. They took me over to a tall ladder, which was leaning on Reb Asher Israel’s house and told me “Go up the ladder. You will find a hole in the attic’s wall. Go through the hole, where you will find some indiks (turkeys) and chickens. Catch as many as you can, and bring them to the person who will wait at the top of the ladder.”

Who would not take a risk to do something for the Rabbi? I went up to Reb Asher Israel’s attic, where he kept his chicken coops, and took some ‘loot’. One of the Chassidim went over to Reb Asher Israel with the fowl, woke him up and told him that he had some chickens that needed to be slaughtered. Reb Asher Israel, who obviously could not recognize the chickens as his own, did as requested and slaughtered them all. Good food was cooked with the ‘loot’ that same night. Rabbi Yochanan’s Chassidim viewed this prank as some kind of victory of their own rabbi over the followers of the other rabbi.

When Rabbi Yochanan left town, Reb Asher Israel was told about what had happened. He was paid handsomely, double the price, for his chickens. He had no choice but to accept the ‘absolution’ compensation. 

Both Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Yochanan used to go out for walks in the field. I was very attracted to these walks. I used to run after the Rabbi and his Chassidim, always impressed with their seeming to be thinking deep thoughts, with a kind of noble expression on their faces. Two Chassidim were by the Rabbi’s sides, holding his arms. The Goyim who passed by were impressed by the sight. They stared at the people for a long time.

I was among those who were close to the Rabbi, able to learn all the tunes and melodies. We would practice and rehearse them until we knew them well. My uncle, Leib Teitelboim, once went to visit the Rabbi for one of the holidays. He learned a new melody there. One Friday night there was a Chassidim’s party where my uncle wanted to sing the melody, but alas, he forgot the tune. Although there were many other tunes that everyone sang, he was very frustrated. He went home quite saddened. Later that night, we heard beautiful singing coming out of my uncle’s room. We were sure that he had remembered the tune and he was singing it. We were amazed when, the following morning, he told us that the tune came to him in his dream at night. He was amazed to learn that we had heard him sing late at night and that we were sure he was awake.  

The Cheder and the Chassidic atmosphere continued to be a part of our being. As we were getting older, we started pondering our future. What was the purpose of our life in the Shtetle? Those who left to study in Yeshivot would come home for the holidays with some sadness in their eyes. Those who left for Vilna would come back rejoicing and full of hope, influenced by the new trends that were prevalent in the world in those days.

I was at a ‘crossroad’ point in my life. My affluent parents envisioned my future in the Shtetle. They expected me to continue in the family tradition, but I felt attracted to something else, although I was not yet clear as to what that ‘something’ was.

Meanwhile, a Ken (literally - a nest, used as the name for the place where youth movement activities take place) of HaShomer HaTzair was established in our Shtetle. They preached for values with which we were familiar from the Chassidut: Fraternity and comradeship, unity, mutual assistance, joy of life, moral values. They taught many songs and melodies. All those attracted us. The youth movement was like ‘a new jug for old wine’. We felt there was a purpose to our life. We became enthusiastically active and devoted. Concurrently, HaChalutz and Beitar were also established in our Shtetle. We felt we were following our parents’ footsteps - we chose new ‘rabbis’ for ourselves. Each youth movement vied to gain more members. We tried to keep our Ken cleaner than the others did, with more fun activities than the others did, with singing, a special necktie, a badge, etc. I, the one who was the singing expert, worked relentlessly to recruit new members to our Youth Movement. The children, sought after by each youth movement, were not very interested in ideology issues. They came for the fun things.

I was sent to an out of town Directors’ meeting, where I was given a special badge - Chazak VeEmatz (Be strong and of good courage!). Upon my return to the Shtetle, I was considered a ‘national hero’. Everyone knew that it was given to me in a special ceremony. Moreover, I also had a document certifying the fact that I had received the badge. I also had the honor of shaking hands with the heads of the famous directors and organizers of the Moshava (the farming community established to prepare the Chalutzim (pioneers) for agricultural life in Eretz Israel). So there I was, proudly walking around in Vladimirets, with that enviable badge (over a colored cloth background) pinned on my breast pocket. 

Our Ken expanded its activities, new directors and counselors were active: We viewed Shlomo Reznick, whose sister was the first to immigrate to Israel, as closest to Eretz Israel; Shmulik Burak was also one of the important people in the Ken. Even I was the head of the Ken for a certain period.

We started an era of activities: Trips, ideological discussions, games. We suddenly discovered beauty in our vicinity – the scenery of the fields, the woods, and more. People started going out to Hachshara (preparation for being pioneers and living in Kibbutzim) and joining HaChalutz. We invited out of town lecturers. We very much wanted to impress people and make our movement more significant in the eyes of the town’s people.

We suddenly viewed many things, even those that had already existed in the past, in a different light. They seemed different to us. Take for example, Chassidic singing. The melodies that the Chasidim used to sing in the synagogue sounded different when young people hiking in the woods sang them. We started admiring the Goyim who were toiling the land. We were craving difficult agricultural work. Even the post-office became something special – many of us would go there on Shabbat to receive the news – through letters and newspapers. We were now ‘more connected’ to the big world.

On the other hand, some things became less ‘radiant’. At the Shabbat table at home, there were ideological arguments, discussions, differences of opinion, especially if the young people belonged to different organizations. I remember my father bemoaning and saying “We only have one Shabbat per week, one and only. Please do something to keep from desecrating it. Please stop your disputes at the table”. 

My grandmother Charna, the midwife, lived to a very old age. She was more than one hundred years old when she died. She stopped working as midwife when she was ninety years old. Her daughter Breindle, my mother, took over the job. Indeed, my mother inherited not only her mother’s profession, but also her traits of kindness and generosity.

In Bubbe Charna’s days, people were afraid of Ayin Hara (the evil eye). They never disclosed how many months pregnant the woman in their family was. This was true when my mother took over. Nevertheless, she knew who was ready to give birth, even though people kept it a secret, by just looking at the women. Late at night, I would sometimes hear knocking on the door and a whispering sound calling Breindle, Breindle. My mother would immediately get up. She usually knew who would be the one tapping on the door. If the knocking on the door did not wake me up, I would wake up when my mother came to take the small leather bag with all the midwife’s instruments, which was hanging above my bed. Usually I was among the first to know of a new birth.

My mother carried out this sacred mission of delivering babies for fifteen years. I use the term ‘mission’ since most of the times she did it without being paid. Depending on the families’ means, she sometimes received a small sum of money that she would save and use for charity only. She never took money from poor women.

Every Friday my mother used to finish her housework early. She then went around the Shtetle, giving out food and money to needy families. We never asked her who she went to, and she never told us who the needy families were, so as not to embarrass the families. 

Many women, including my mother, used to do charitable work. We probably never appreciated it at the time. When I think of it now, I admire their fortitude and humbleness. They never sought publicity or respect for what they did.

Knowing this about my mother, helps me understand my cousin Yoel’s story. Yoel escaped and survived the Vladimirets slaughter during World War ll. When he came to Israel, he told me that he had been at my parents’ house on that Friday, the day of the extinction. With the rest of the people in the house, he had been expelled to the big empty lot where everyone was gathered. He remembered my mother telling him: “Let us not fear, Yoel. It is true that we are being led to our death, but remember that we are getting there just before the time of the blessing of the Shabbat candles. This is a great privilege”. Yoel told me that she had spoken about us, her children far away, the whole time, saying, “Who knows what has happened to them.”

When we were young, we did not appreciate the things we saw. Times just seemed more or less normal. We were immersed in the youth movement activities. We thought we discovered a new world, a world our parents could not understand.  We were not interested in our homes and the values therein. We were seeking travels and sailings.

There was no river in Vladimirets. There was a very big lake in the town of Ojiro, about 12 kilometers from us. In the middle of the lake, there was a wonderful island with a beautiful forest. We used to sail to the island, light bonfires, sit around them and sing. We would put up tents and stay late, until the wee hours of the morning. It was an era of dreaming and romanticizing. We felt closer to heaven than to earth. This was the time when courting started and the first young couples were created.

The time of the Hachshara brought us down to earth. Those days meant hard work. I went to Hachshara in Ludmir. My parents were unhappy with my planning to go far away from home and work so hard. While trying to convince me not to go, they made sure I had a new set of clothing, as befitting an affluent child. Soon after I arrived at the Hachshara I lost my new clothes. I became equal to all the others. I worked as hard as everyone else, slouched like everyone else, and went hungry like everyone else.

When the time came for me to join the army, I had to go back to Vladimirets. A few of us left together for Vladimirets. Since we had no money for the fare, we walked fifty kilometers from Ludmir to Kovel. We did not know our way, so we followed the horses and carriages, those carrying flour from Ludmir to Kovel, through the woods and the open fields. Our clothes were raggedy and dirty, our eyes were red after a sleepless night. I tried to comfort my friends by telling them: “Listen, if we are lucky, all our troubles will be over when we get to Kovel. I have a cousin who lives there. I do not know his address, but perhaps we will run into him. And then… we’ll be fed and we’ll get money for the fare we need to continue our trip home”. On and on I went, telling my friends about this cousin’s wealth and generosity.

We arrived in Kovel, a town by an intersection of roads, in the early hours of the morning. Scruffy looking people, like us, were a common sight in the town. At about 11 in the morning, as we were all standing on one of the streets, I saw my cousin, standing and talking with a few Jewish men, all elegantly dressed. “I found him,” I told my friends, “there he is”. My friends already knew whom I was talking about. Without hesitation, I walked over to the group of men and, perhaps impolitely, called out “Hey, Moshe”. I was shocked when Moshe simply ignored me. I did not understand why he did it. Deeply insulted, I walked away, vowing that even if he would later offer me the best of everything, I would never accept it. The only thing that bothered me was what I should tell my friends who were anxiously waiting in the distance, expecting help and rescue. Well, I told them that I made a mistake. I said that the man was not my cousin. We all continued our trip by foot.

The following Pesach, my cousin Moshe came to Vladimirets. With a kind smile and an embarrassed look, he approached me. “You Redhead, how dare you smile at me” I yelled at him. He proceeded to explain to me and to the family that he had been in the middle of important negotiations with those men. My greeting had been offensive. I had looked frighteningly terrible. He was shocked and embarrassed. However, he had immediately realized that he was wrong. He started looking for me, wanting to invite me to his house where I could wash and eat, but I was nowhere to be found. He kept telling us how upset he was. He had not intended to be bad. Eventually, we made up. I was getting ready to leave for Israel. I did not want to bear a grudge. 

The summer of 1934 was the summer of the big fire in Vladimirets. Like many other houses, our house was also burnt. We moved to Kundes’ house, outside of town. For me, it was a summer of soul searching. I was about to leave my home, my family and my Shtetle. The sights of the burnt town, the piles of ashes, all contributed to deeper thoughts and ponderings. I went to say good-bye to people who could not come to me. I went to many homes. I remember saying good-bye to Velvle Kanonitch who was sick and bed ridden. I remember his sad, heavy looking eyes and his words: “Listen David, I doubt that I will ever have the strength to get out of this bed. However, God is kind, even with the sick. He gave the terminally ill the ability to bless. You should know that the blessing of the sick is a great blessing. My blessing to you is that you should succeed wherever you go, in everything that you do.” My eyes filled with tears. To this day, I sometimes think of that scene of my saying good-bye to Velvle Kanonitch.

Many of my contemporaries, as well as those who were not my contemporaries, considered me fortunate. I felt it especially on the day of my departure. The house was full of family members and friends. Even the empty lot around the house was full of people coming to bid me farewell. I saw silent sorrow in their looks, as if asking ‘…And what will happen to us?’

Many people escorted me for quite a long way. Some even traveled with me all the way to the train station in Rafalovka, to see me off on my way to Eretz Israel.


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