Earth Of Palestine - Yiddish Tales

Earth Of Palestine - Yiddish Tales


Pen name of Judah Löb Lewin; born, 1845, in Minsk (Lithuania), White Russia; tutor; treasurer to the Brodski flour mills and their sugar refinery, at Tomaschpol, Podolia, later in Kieff; began to write in 1860; translator of Beaconsfield's Tancred into Hebrew; Talmudist; mystic; first Socialist writer in Hebrew; writer, chiefly in Hebrew, of prose and poetry; contributor to Sholom-Alechem's Jüdische Volksbibliothek, Ha-Shahar, Ha-Meliz, Ha-Zeflrah, and other periodicals.


As my readers know, I wanted to do a little stroke of business—to sell the world-to-come. I must tell you that I came out of it very badly, and might have fallen into some misfortune, if I had had the ware in stock. It fell on this wise: Nowadays everyone is squeezed and stifled; Parnosseh is gone to wrack and ruin, and there is no business—I mean, there is business, only not for us Jews. In such bitter times people snatch the bread out of each other's mouths; if it is known that someone has made a find, and started a business, they quickly imitate him; if that one opens a shop, a second does likewise, and a third, and a fourth; if this one makes a contract, the other runs and will do it for less—"Even if I earn nothing, no more will you!"

When I gave out that I had the world-to-come to sell, lots of people gave a start, "Aha! a business!" and before they knew what sort of ware it was, and where it was to be had, they began thinking about a shop—and there was still greater interest shown on the part of certain philanthropists, party leaders, public workers, and such-like. They knew that when I set up trading in the world-to-come, I had announced that my business was only with the poor. Well, they understood that it was likely to be profitable, and might give them the chance of licking a bone or two. There was very soon a great tararam in our little world, people began inquiring where my goods came from. They surrounded me with spies, who were to find out what I did at night, what I did on Sabbath; they questioned the cook, the market-woman; but in vain, they could not find out how I came by the world-to-come. And there blazed up a fire of jealousy and hatred, and they began to inform, to write letters to the authorities about me. Laban the Yellow and Balaam the Blind (you know them!) made my boss believe that I do business, that is, that I have capital, that is—that is—but my employer investigated the matter, and seeing that my stock in trade was the world-to-come, he laughed, and let me alone. The townspeople among whom it was my lot to dwell, those good people who are a great hand at fishing in troubled waters, as soon as they saw the mud rise, snatched up their implements and set to work, informing by letter that I was dealing in contraband. There appeared a red official and swept out a few corners in my house, but without finding a single specimen bit of the world-to-come, and went away. But I had no peace even then; every day came a fresh letter informing against me. My good brothers never ceased work. The pious, orthodox Jews, the Gemoreh-Köplech, informed, and said I was a swindler, because the world-to-come is a thing that isn't there, that is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring, and the whole thing was a delusion; the half-civilized people with long trousers and short earlocks said, on the contrary, that I was making game of religion, so that before long I had enough of it from every side, and made the following resolutions: first, that I would have nothing to do with the world-to-come and such-like things which the Jews did not understand, although they held them very precious; secondly, that I would not let myself in for selling anything. One of my good friends, an experienced merchant, advised me rather to buy than to sell: "There are so many to sell, they will compete with you, inform against you, and behave as no one should. Buying, on the other hand—if you want to buy, you will be esteemed and respected, everyone will flatter you, and be ready to sell to you on credit—everyone is ready to take money, and with very little capital you can buy the best and most expensive ware." The great thing was to get a good name, and then, little by little, by means of credit, one might rise very high.

So it was settled that I should buy. I had a little money on hand for a couple of newspaper articles, for which nowadays they pay; I had a bit of reputation earned by a great many articles in Hebrew, for which I received quite nice complimentary letters; and, in case of need, there is a little money owing to me from certain Jewish booksellers of the Maskilim, for books bought "on commission." Well, I am resolved to buy.

But what shall I buy? I look round and take note of all the things a man can buy, and see that I, as a Jew, may not have them; that which I may buy, no matter where, isn't worth a halfpenny; a thing that is of any value, I can't have. And I determine to take to the old ware which my great-great-grandfathers bought, and made a fortune in. My parents and the whole family wish for it every day. I resolve to buy—you understand me?—earth of Palestine, and I announce both verbally and in writing to all my good and bad brothers that I wish to become a purchaser of the ware.

Oh, what a commotion it made! Hardly was it known that I wished to buy Palestinian earth, than there pounced upon me people of whom I had never thought it possible that they should talk to me, and be in the room with me. The first to come was a kind of Jew with a green shawl, with white shoes, a pale face with a red nose, dark eyes, and yellow earlocks. He commenced unpacking paper and linen bags, out of which he shook a little sand, and he said to me: "That is from Mother Rachel's grave, from the Shunammite's grave, from the graves of Huldah the prophetess and Deborah." Then he shook out the other bags, and mentioned a whole list of men: from the grave of Enoch, Moses our Teacher, Elijah the Prophet, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Jonah, authors of the Talmud, and holy men as many as there be. He assured me that each kind of sand had its own precious distinction, and had, of course, its special price. I had not had time to examine all the bags of sand, when, aha! I got a letter written on blue paper in Rashi script, in which an unknown well-wisher earnestly warned me against buying of that Jew, for neither he nor his father before him had ever been in Palestine, and he had got the sand in K., from the Andreiyeff Hills yonder, and that if I wished for it, he had real Palestinian earth, from the Mount of Olives, with a document from the Palestinian vicegerent, the Brisk Rebbetzin, to the effect that she had given of this earth even to the eaters of swine's flesh, of whom it is said, "for their worm shall not die," and they also were saved from worms. My Palestinian Jew, after reading the letter, called down all bad dreams upon the head of the Brisk Rebbetzin, and declared among other things that she herself was a dreadful worm, who, etc. He assured me that I ought not to send money to the Brisk Rebbetzin, "May Heaven defend you! it will be thrown away, as it has been a hundred times already!" and began once more to praise his wares, his earth, saying it was a marvel. I answered him that I wanted real earth of Palestine, earth, not sand out of little bags.

"Earth, it is earth!" he repeated, and became very angry. "What do you mean by earth? Am I offering you mud? But that is the way with people nowadays, when they want something Jewish, there is no pleasing them! Only" (a thought struck him) "if you want another sort, perhaps from the field of Machpelah, I can bring you some Palestinian earth that is earth. Meantime give me something in advance, for, besides everything else, I am a Palestinian Jew."

I pushed a coin into his hand, and he went away. Meanwhile the news had spread, my intention to purchase earth of Palestine had been noised abroad, and the little town echoed with my name. In the streets, lanes, and market-place, the talk was all of me and of how "there is no putting a final value on a Jewish soul: one thought he was one of them, and now he wants to buy earth of Palestine!" Many of those who met me looked at me askance, "The same and not the same!" In the synagogue they gave me the best turn at the Reading of the Law; Jews in shoes and socks wished me "a good Sabbath" with great heartiness, and a friendly smile: "Eh-eh-eh! We understand—you are a deep one—you are one of us after all." In short, they surrounded me, and nearly carried me on their shoulders, so that I really became something of a celebrity.

Yüdel, the "living orphan," worked the hardest. Yüdel is already a man in years, but everyone calls him the "orphan" on account of what befell him on a time. His history is very long and interesting, I will tell it you in brief.

He has a very distinguished father and a very noble mother, and he is an only child, of a very frolicsome disposition, on account of which his father and his mother frequently disagreed; the father used to punish him and beat him, but the boy hid with his mother. In a word, it came to this, that his father gave him into the hands of strangers, to be educated and put into shape. The mother could not do without him, and fell sick of grief; she became a wreck. Her beautiful house was burnt long ago through the boy's doing: one day, when a child, he played with fire, and there was a conflagration, and the neighbors came and built on the site of her palace, and she, the invalid, lies neglected in a corner. The father, who has left the house, often wished to rejoin her, but by no manner of means can they live together without the son, and so the cast-off child became a "living orphan"; he roams about in the wide world, comes to a place, and when he has stayed there a little while, they drive him out, because wherever he comes, he stirs up a commotion. As is the way with all orphans, he has many fathers, and everyone directs him, hits him, lectures him; he is always in the way, blamed for everything, it's always his fault, so that he has got into the habit of cowering and shrinking at the mere sight of a stick. Wandering about as he does, he has copied the manners and customs of strange people, in every place where he has been; his very character is hardly his own. His father has tried both to threaten and to persuade him into coming back, saying they would then all live together as before, but Yüdel has got to like living from home, he enjoys the scrapes he gets into, and even the blows they earn for him. No matter how people knock him about, pull his hair, and draw his blood, the moment they want him to make friendly advances, there he is again, alert and smiling, turns the world topsyturvy, and won't hear of going home. It is remarkable that Yüdel, who is no fool, and has a head for business, the instant people look kindly on him, imagines they like him, although he has had a thousand proofs to the contrary. He has lately been of such consequence in the eyes of the world that they have begun to treat him in a new way, and they drive him out of every place at once. The poor boy has tried his best to please, but it was no good, they knocked him about till he was covered with blood, took every single thing he had, and empty-handed, naked, hungry, and beaten as he is, they shout at him "Be off!" from every side. Now he lives in narrow streets, in the small towns, hidden away in holes and corners. He very often hasn't enough to eat, but he goes on in his old way, creeps into tight places, dances at all the weddings, loves to meddle, everything concerns him, and where two come together, he is the third.

I have known him a long time, ever since he was a little boy. He always struck me as being very wild, but I saw that he was of a noble disposition, only that he had grown rough from living among strangers. I loved him very much, but in later years he treated me to hot and cold by turns. I must tell you that when Yüdel had eaten his fill, he was always very merry, and minded nothing; but when he had been kicked out by his landlord, and went hungry, then he was angry, and grew violent over every trifle. He would attack me for nothing at all, we quarrelled and parted company, that is, I loved him at a distance. When he wasn't just in my sight, I felt a great pity for him, and a wish to go to him; but hardly had I met him than he was at the old game again, and I had to leave him. Now that I was together with him in my native place, I found him very badly off, he hadn't enough to eat. The town was small and poor, and he had no means of supporting himself. When I saw him in his bitter and dark distress, my heart went out to him. But at such times, as I said before, he is very wild and fanatical. One day, on the Ninth of Ab, I felt obliged to speak out, and tell him that sitting in socks, with his forehead on the ground, reciting Lamentations, would do no good. Yüdel misunderstood me, and thought I was laughing at Jerusalem. He began to fire up, and he spread reports of me in the town, and when he saw me in the distance, he would spit out before me. His anger dated from some time past, because one day I turned him out of my house; he declared that I was the cause of all his misfortunes, and now that I was his neighbor, I had resolved to ruin him; he believed that I hated him and played him false. Why should Yüdel think that? I don't know. Perhaps he feels one ought to dislike him, or else he is so embittered that he cannot believe in the kindly feelings of others. However that may be, Yüdel continued to speak ill of me, and throw mud at me through the town; crying out all the while that I hadn't a scrap of Jewishness in me.

Now that he heard I was buying Palestinian earth, he began by refusing to believe it, and declared it was a take-in and the trick of an apostate, for how could a person who laughed at socks on the Ninth of Ab really want to buy earth of Palestine? But when he saw the green shawls and the little bags of earth, he went over—a way he has—to the opposite, the exact opposite. He began to worship me, couldn't praise me enough, and talked of me in the back streets, so that the women blessed me aloud. Yüdel was now much given to my company, and often came in to see me, and was most intimate, although there was no special piousness about me. I was just the same as before, but Yüdel took this for the best of signs, and thought it proved me to be of extravagant hidden piety.

"There's a Jew for you!" he would cry aloud in the street. "Earth of Palestine! There's a Jew!"

In short, he filled the place with my Jewishness and my hidden orthodoxy. I looked on with indifference, but after a while the affair began to cost me both time and money.

The Palestinian beggars and, above all, Yüdel and the townsfolk obtained for me the reputation of piety, and there came to me orthodox Jews, treasurers, cabalists, beggar students, and especially the Rebbe's followers; they came about me like bees. They were never in the habit of avoiding me, but this was another thing all the same. Before this, when one of the Rebbe's disciples came, he would enter with a respectful demeanor, take off his hat, and, sitting in his cap, would fix his gaze on my mouth with a sweet smile; we both felt that the one and only link between us lay in the money that I gave and he took. He would take it gracefully, put it into his purse, as it might be for someone else, and thank me as though he appreciated my kindness. When I went to see him, he would place a chair for me, and give me preserve. But now he came to me with a free and easy manner, asked for a sip of brandy with a snack to eat, sat in my room as if it were his own, and looked at me as if I were an underling, and he had authority over me; I am the penitent sinner, it is said, and that signifies for him the key to the door of repentance; I have entered into his domain, and he is my lord and master; he drinks my health as heartily as though it were his own, and when I press a coin into his hand, he looks at it well, to make sure it is worth his while accepting it. If I happen to visit him, I am on a footing with all his followers, the Chassidim; his "trustees," and all his other hangers-on, are my brothers, and come to me when they please, with all the mud on their boots, put their hand into my bosom and take out my tobacco-pouch, and give it as their opinion that the brandy is weak, not to talk of holidays, especially Purim and Rejoicing of the Law, when they troop in with a great noise and vociferation, and drink and dance, and pay as much attention to me as to the cat.

In fact, all the townsfolk took the same liberties with me. Before, they asked nothing of me, and took me as they found me, now they began to demand things of me and to inquire why I didn't do this, and why I did that, and not the other. Shmuelke the bather asked me why I was never seen at the bath on Sabbath. Kalmann the butcher wanted to know why, among the scape-fowls, there wasn't a white one of mine; and even the beadle of the Klaus, who speaks through his nose, and who had never dared approach me, came and insisted on giving me the thirty-nine stripes on the eve of the Day of Atonement: "Eh-eh, if you are a Jew like other Jews, come and lie down, and you shall be given stripes!"

And the Palestinian Jews never ceased coming with their bags of earth, and I never ceased rejecting. One day there came a broad-shouldered Jew from "over there," with his bag of Palestinian earth. The earth pleased me, and a conversation took place between us on this wise:

"How much do you want for your earth?"

"For my earth? From anyone else I wouldn't take less than thirty rubles, but from you, knowing you and of you as I do, and as your parents did so much for Palestine, I will take a twenty-five ruble piece. You must know that a person buys this once and for all."

"I don't understand you," I answered. "Twenty-five rubles! How much earth have you there?"

"How much earth have I? About half a quart. There will be enough to cover the eyes and the face. Perhaps you want to cover the whole body, to have it underneath and on the top and at the sides? O, I can bring you some more, but it will cost you two or three hundred rubles, because, since the good-for-nothings took to coming to Palestine, the earth has got very expensive. Believe me, I don't make much by it, it costs me nearly...."

"I don't understand you, my friend! What's this about bestrewing the body? What do you mean by it?"

"How do you mean, 'what do you mean by it?' Bestrewing the body like that of all honest Jews, after death."

"Ha? After death? To preserve it?"

"Yes, what else?"

"I don't want it for that, I don't mind what happens to my body after death. I want to buy Palestinian earth for my lifetime."

"What do you mean? What good can it do you while you're alive? You are not talking to the point, or else you are making game of a poor Palestinian Jew?"

"I am speaking seriously. I want it now, while I live! What is it you don't understand?"

My Palestinian Jew was greatly perplexed, but he quickly collected himself, and took in the situation. I saw by his artful smile that he had detected a strain of madness in me, and what should he gain by leading me into the paths of reason? Rather let him profit by it! And this he proceeded to do, saying with winning conviction:

"Yes, of course, you are right! How right you are! May I ever see the like! People are not wrong when they say, 'The apple falls close to the tree'! You are drawn to the root, and you love the soil of Palestine, only in a different way, like your holy forefathers, may they be good advocates! You are young, and I am old, and I have heard how they used to bestrew their head-dress with it in their lifetime, so as to fulfil the Scripture verse, 'And have pity on Zion's dust,' and honest Jews shake earth of Palestine into their shoes on the eve of the Ninth of Ab, and at the meal before the fast they dip an egg into Palestinian earth—nu, fein! I never expected so much of you, and I can say with truth, 'There's a Jew for you!' Well, in that case, you will require two pots of the earth, but it will cost you a deal."

"We are evidently at cross-purposes," I said to him. "What are two potfuls? What is all this about bestrewing the body? I want to buy Palestinian earth, earth in Palestine, do you understand? I want to buy, in Palestine, a little bit of earth, a few dessiatines."

"Ha? I didn't quite catch it. What did you say?" and my Palestinian Jew seized hold of his right ear, as though considering what he should do; then he said cheerfully: "Ha—aha! You mean to secure for yourself a burial-place, also for after death! O yes, indeed, you are a holy man and no mistake! Well, you can get that through me, too; give me something in advance, and I shall manage it for you all right at a bargain."

"Why do you go on at me with your 'after death,'" I cried angrily. "I want a bit of earth in Palestine, I want to dig it, and sow it, and plant it...."

"Ha? What? Sow it and plant it?! That is ... that is ... you only mean ... may all bad dreams!..." and stammering thus, he scraped all the scattered earth, little by little, into his bag, gradually got nearer the door, and—was gone!

It was not long before the town was seething and bubbling like a kettle on the boil, everyone was upset as though by some misfortune, angry with me, and still more with himself: "How could we be so mistaken? He doesn't want to buy Palestinian earth at all, he doesn't care what happens to him when he's dead, he laughs—he only wants to buy earth in Palestine, and set up villages there."

"Eh-eh-eh! He remains one of them! He is what he is—a skeptic!" so they said in all the streets, all the householders in the town, the women in the market-place, at the bath, they went about abstracted, and as furious as though I had insulted them, made fools of them, taken them in, and all of a sudden they became cold and distant to me. The pious Jews were seen no more at my house. I received packages from Palestine one after the other. One had a black seal, on which was scratched a black ram's horn, and inside, in large characters, was a ban from the Brisk Rebbetzin, because of my wishing to make all the Jews unhappy. Other packets were from different Palestinian beggars, who tried to compel me, with fair words and foul, to send them money for their travelling expenses and for the samples of earth they enclosed. My fellow-townspeople also got packages from "over there," warning them against me—I was a dangerous man, a missionary, and it was a Mitzveh to be revenged on me. There was an uproar, and no wonder! A letter from Palestine, written in Rashi, with large seals! In short I was to be put to shame and confusion. Everyone avoided me, nobody came near me. When people were obliged to come to me in money matters or to beg an alms, they entered with deference, and spoke respectfully, in a gentle voice, as to "one of them," took the alms or the money, and were out of the door, behind which they abused me, as usual.

Only Yüdel did not forsake me. Yüdel, the "living orphan," was bewildered and perplexed. He had plenty of work, flew from one house to the other, listening, begging, and talebearing, answering and asking questions; but he could not settle the matter in his own mind: now he looked at me angrily, and again with pity. He seemed to wish not to meet me, and yet he sought occasion to do so, and would look earnestly into my face.

The excitement of my neighbors and their behavior to me interested me very little; but I wanted very much to know the reason why I had suddenly become abhorrent to them? I could by no means understand it.

Once there came a wild, dark night. The sky was covered with black clouds, there was a drenching rain and hail and a stormy wind, it was pitch dark, and it lightened and thundered, as though the world were turning upside down. The great thunder claps and the hail broke a good many people's windows, the wind tore at the roofs, and everyone hid inside his house, or wherever he found a corner. In that dreadful dark night my door opened, and in came—Yüdel, the "living orphan"; he looked as though someone were pushing him from behind, driving him along. He was as white as the wall, cowering, beaten about, helpless as a leaf. He came in, and stood by the door, holding his hat; he couldn't decide, did not know if he should take it off, or not. I had never seen him so miserable, so despairing, all the time I had known him. I asked him to sit down, and he seemed a little quieted. I saw that he was soaking wet, and shivering with cold, and I gave him hot tea, one glass after the other. He sipped it with great enjoyment. And the sight of him sitting there sipping and warming himself would have been very comic, only it was so very sad. The tears came into my eyes. Yüdel began to brighten up, and was soon Yüdel, his old self, again. I asked him how it was he had come to me in such a state of gloom and bewilderment? He told me the thunder and the hail had broken all the window-panes in his lodging, and the wind had carried away the roof, there was nowhere he could go for shelter; nobody would let him in at night; there was not a soul he could turn to, there remained nothing for him but to lie down in the street and die.

"And so," he said, "having known you so long, I hoped you would take me in, although you are 'one of them,' not at all pious, and, so they say, full of evil intentions against Jews and Jewishness; but I know you are a good man, and will have compassion on me."

I forgave Yüdel his rudeness, because I knew him for an outspoken man, that he was fond of talking, but never did any harm. Seeing him depressed, I offered him a glass of wine, but he refused it.

I understood the reason of his refusal, and started a conversation with him.

"Tell me, Yüdel heart, how is it I have fallen into such bad repute among you that you will not even drink a drop of wine in my house? And why do you say that I am 'one of them,' and not pious? A little while ago you spoke differently of me."

"Ett! It just slipped from my tongue, and the truth is you may be what you please, you are a good man."

"No, Yüdel, don't try to get out of it! Tell me openly (it doesn't concern me, but I am curious to know), why this sudden revulsion of feeling about me, this change of opinion? Tell me, Yüdel, I beg of you, speak freely!"

My gentle words and my friendliness gave Yüdel great encouragement. The poor fellow, with whom not one of "them" has as yet spoken kindly! When he saw that I meant it, he began to scratch his head; it seemed as if in that minute he forgave me all my "heresies," and he looked at me kindly, and as if with pity. Then, seeing that I awaited an answer, he gave a twist to his earlock, and said gently and sincerely:

"You wish me to tell you the truth? You insist upon it? You will not be offended?"

"You know that I never take offence at anything you say. Say anything you like, Yüdel heart, only speak."

"Then I will tell you: the town and everyone else is very angry with you on account of your Palestinian earth: you want to do something new, buy earth and plough it and sow—and where? in our land of Israel, in our Holy Land of Israel!"

"But why, Yüdel dear, when they thought I was buying Palestinian earth to bestrew me after death, was I looked upon almost like a saint?"

"Ê, that's another thing! That showed that you held Palestine holy, for a land whose soil preserves one against being eaten of worms, like any other honest Jew."

"Well, I ask you, Yüdel, what does this mean? When they thought I was buying sand for after my death, I was a holy man, a lover of Palestine, and because I want to buy earth and till it, earth in your Holy Land, our holy earth in the Holy Land, in which our best and greatest counted it a privilege to live, I am a blot on Israel. Tell me, Yüdel, I ask you: Why, because one wants to bestrew himself with Palestinian earth after death, is one an orthodox Jew; and when one desires to give oneself wholly to Palestine in life, should one be 'one of them'? Now I ask you—all those Palestinian Jews who came to me with their bags of sand, and were my very good friends, and full of anxiety to preserve my body after death, why have they turned against me on hearing that I wished for a bit of Palestinian earth while I live? Why are they all so interested and such good brothers to the dead, and such bloodthirsty enemies to the living? Why, because I wish to provide for my sad existence, have they noised abroad that I am a missionary, and made up tales against me? Why? I ask you, why, Yüdel, why?"

"You ask me? How should I know? I only know that ever since Palestine was Palestine, people have gone there to die—that I know; but all this ploughing, sowing, and planting the earth, I never heard of in my life before."

"Yes, Yüdel, you are right, because it has been so for a long time, you think so it has to be—that is the real answer to your questions. But why not think back a little? Why should one only go to Palestine to die? Is not Palestinian earth fit to live on? On the contrary, it is some of the very best soil, and when we till it and plant it, we fulfil the precept to restore the Holy Land, and we also work for ourselves, toward the realization of an honest and peaceable life. I won't discuss the matter at length with you to-day. It seems that you have quite forgotten what all the holy books say about Palestine, and what a precept it is to till the soil. And another question, touching what you said about Palestine being only there to go and die in. Tell me, those Palestinian Jews who were so interested in my death, and brought earth from over there to bestrew me—tell me, are they also only there to die? Did you notice how broad and stout they were? Ha? And they, they too, when they heard I wanted to live there, fell upon me like wild animals, filling the world with their cries, and made up the most dreadful stories about me. Well, what do you say, Yüdel? I ask you."

"Do I know?" said Yüdel, with a wave of the hand. "Is my head there to think out things like that? But tell me, I beg, what is the good to you of buying land in Palestine and getting into trouble all round?"

"You ask, what is the good to me? I want to live, do you hear? I want to live!"

"If you can't live without Palestinian earth, why did you not get some before? Did you never want to live till now?"

"Oh, Yüdel, you are right there. I confess that till now I have lived in a delusion, I thought I was living; but—what is the saying?—so long as the thunder is silent...."

"Some thunder has struck you!" interrupted Yüdel, looking compassionately into my face.

"I will put it briefly. You must know, Yüdel, that I have been in business here for quite a long time. I worked faithfully, and my chief was pleased with me. I was esteemed and looked up to, and it never occurred to me that things would change; but bad men could not bear to see me doing so well, and they worked hard against me, till one day the business was taken over by my employer's son; and my enemies profited by the opportunity, to cover me with calumnies from head to foot, spreading reports about me which it makes one shudder to hear. This went on till the chief began to look askance at me. At first I got pin-pricks, malicious hints, then things got worse and worse, and at last they began to push me about, and one day they turned me out of the house, and threw me into a hedge. Presently, when I had reviewed the whole situation, I saw that they could do what they pleased with me. I had no one to rely on, my onetime good friends kept aloof from me, I had lost all worth in their eyes; with some because, as is the way with people, they took no trouble to inquire into the reason of my downfall, but, hearing all that was said against me, concluded that I was in the wrong; others, again, because they wished to be agreeable to my enemies; the rest, for reasons without number. In short, reflecting on all this, I saw the game was lost, and there was no saying what might not happen to me! Hitherto I had borne my troubles patiently, with the courage that is natural to me; but now I feel my courage giving way, and I am in fear lest I should fall in my own eyes, in my own estimation, and get to believe that I am worth nothing. And all this because I must needs resort to them, and take all the insults they choose to fling at me, and every outcast has me at his mercy. That is why I want to collect my remaining strength, and buy a parcel of land in Palestine, and, God helping, I will become a bit of a householder—do you understand?"

"Why must it be just in Palestine?"

"Because I may not, and I cannot, buy in anywhere else. I have tried to find a place elsewhere, but they were afraid I was going to get the upper hand, so down they came, and made a wreck of it. Over there I shall be proprietor myself—that is firstly, and secondly, a great many relations of mine are buried there, in the country where they lived and died. And although you count me as 'one of them,' I tell you I think a great deal of 'the merits of the fathers,' and that it is very pleasant to me to think of living in the land that will remind me of such dear forefathers. And although it will be hard at first, the recollection of my ancestors and the thought of providing my children with a corner of their own and honestly earned bread will give me strength, till I shall work my way up to something. And I hope I will get to something. Remember, Yüdel, I believe and I hope! You will see, Yüdel—you know that our brothers consider Palestinian earth a charm against being eaten by worms, and you think that I laugh at it? No, I believe in it! It is quite, quite true that my Palestinian earth will preserve me from worms, only not after death, no, but alive—from such worms as devour and gnaw at and poison the whole of life!"

Yüdel scratched his nose, gave a rub to the cap on his head, and uttered a deep sigh.

"Yes, Yüdel, you sigh! Now do you know what I wanted to say to you?"

"Ett!" and Yüdel made a gesture with his hand. "What you have to say to me?—ett!"

"Oi, that 'ett!' of yours! Yüdel, I know it! When you have nothing to answer, and you ought to think, and think something out, you take refuge in 'ett!' Just consider for once, Yüdel, I have a plan for you, too. Remember what you were, and what has become of you. You have been knocking about, driven hither and thither, since childhood. You haven't a house, not a corner, you have become a beggar, a tramp, a nobody, despised and avoided, with unpleasing habits, and living a dog's life. You have very good qualities, a clear head, and acute intelligence. But to what purpose do you put them? You waste your whole intelligence on getting in at backdoors and coaxing a bit of bread out of the maidservant, and the mistress is not to know. Can you not devise a means, with that clever brain of yours, how to earn it for yourself? See here, I am going to buy a bit of ground in Palestine, come with me, Yüdel, and you shall work, and be a man like other men. You are what they call a 'living orphan,' because you have many fathers; and don't forget that you have one Father who lives, and who is only waiting for you to grow better. Well, how much longer are you going to live among strangers? Till now you haven't thought, and the life suited you, you have grown used to blows and contumely. But now that—that—none will let you in, your eyes must have been opened to see your condition, and you must have begun to wish to be different. Only begin to wish! You see, I have enough to eat, and yet my position has become hateful to me, because I have lost my value, and am in danger of losing my humanity. But you are hungry, and one of these days you will die of starvation out in the street. Yüdel, do just think it over, for if I am right, you will get to be like other people. Your Father will see that you have turned into a man, he will be reconciled with your mother, and you will be 'a father's child,' as you were before. Brother Yüdel, think it over!"

I talked to my Yüdel a long, long time. In the meanwhile, the night had passed. My Yüdel gave a start, as though waking out of a deep slumber, and went away full of thought.

On opening the window, I was greeted by a friendly smile from the rising morning star, as it peeped out between the clouds.

And it began to dawn.

Excerpt From Yiddish Tales By Helena Frank