A Memoir - Part 2 1908 - Father Arrives in America My father's first letter describing his journey and conditions on the ship was sad and heart-wrenching. My mother shed many a tear reading it. One could imagine what went through his mind. He was on his way to America to improve his lot and make a better life for his wife and children than the one they had in the shtetl. The ship had seen better days. I don't remember her name but it sounded [something] like "Luzitania," but then what's in a name? The voyage from London to New York took seventeen days and nights and the passengers were more dead than alive by the time they reached their destination. In mid-ocean the ship was thrown high and low and the passengers were frightened to death. "We're sinking, we're going down," were their cries. One can only imagine their terror. The Jewish passengers gathered to recite the Psalms and since father knew them by heart, he led the prayers, the rest repeating them after him. Not one of them expected to arrive safely in New York because on more than one occasion the captain gave orders to don lifebelts or have a lifeboat drill. Father recited the prayers with feeling, a mixture of Psalms, confession and Viduy, the repentance prayer (teshuva) before dying. The thought never left him that this ship had been deliberately sent out so that it would sink. The shipping company could then collect on the insurance. What did they care if several hundred people were lost? Luckily, my father was wrong. This was not the sort of ship HE had in mind, but it was enough to just think about it. No wonder, then, that when they saw dry land they went mad with joy and regained their spirits. They all said - and repeated this many times - that the Psalms had [saved them]. Although the ship was traveling at its normal rate of speed, the passengers were convinced that it was traveling faster as it passed by more and more [stretches of shoreline]. Then they started seeing buildings and knew that they had finally reached New York. The Jewish contingent assembled at one spot on deck and because their hearts were filled with joy, they began to sing. Father, who had been Bal Tfillah and could sing, motioned the others to stop singing. He began singing his own melody. He told them, "When I start singing 'I'cha dodi,' you answer 'tshiri biri boom,' and when I say 'Likrat kalaa,' you answer 'tshiri biri boom.'" They carried on like this for quite a long while. The non-Jewish passengers approached, seemed to like the song, though they couldn't understand it, but nevertheless joined in the chorus of 'tshiri biri boom.' Meanwhile, the ship drew closer to Castle Garden and people could be seen in the distance. The ship whistled and blew smoke from its only funnel. Then a small tug came alongside, attached itself to the ship and began towing it towards shore. The passengers became impatient. They couldn't wait to leave and put their horrific experiences behind them. They pressed together, peering down at the people below, looking for their nearest and dearest who would take them home where they would find a place to eat and sleep. It occurred to all of them that they would now have to build a new life in a strange land and learn a new language, which is no easy matter even in the best of times. But all these misgivings evaporated when they heard their names being called and knew that they would be rid of the ship at last.  Father stood to one side and waited for his name to be called, occupied by the sight of the huge buildings, comparing them to his shtetl and his family back home. Suddenly, he heard his name being called very clearly. All other thoughts vanished from his mind as he spun around and saw a dark-skinned man with a trimmed moustache standing next to him with a smile on his face. Father knew who he was in an instant, but before he could say anything, the man said, "I am Rachmiel, your brother-in-law." They fell into each other's arms. Father uttered a strange, unnatural cry. Both men had tears in their eyes. My uncle and father exchanged greetings. Father said he was well despite the almost thirty days it had taken to reach America. Then my uncle took him to where all the formalities required of new immigrants could be finalized. When it was all over, my uncle called a tall, strong black man to take the luggage, then summoned a taxi, which came at once. Father was thrilled that he was going to ride in an automobile for the first time in his life. The taxi took them to the railway station. It took quite a while to pass through the city and into the countryside, a distance of about 40 miles. Father could not take his eyes off the sights and the scenery. He saw cultivated fields with green stripes and lovely homes with different colored roofs. Many of the houses were surrounded by all types of tall trees. He saw long lines of plants and orchards heavily laden with fruit, like apples and pears. My uncle did not disturb him while he gazed out the window, but regarded Father who he thought should shave off his yellow beard so that he wouldn't look like a Russian. He then pointed to the mountain where Father's new home would be, a town with a name something like "Monte Christo." [In fact, it was Mount Kisco, Westchester County, New York - ed.]   Father's kith and kin were waiting for him at the station. The first to approach was my Aunt Reise, who kissed him. Then the others came. A well-dressed man approached, shook Father's hand and led him to a car and drove him to my uncle's home. Here father established himself and lived for five years. He became a peddler and made a living by helping the well-dressed man who had met him at the station. He taught father how to sell his merchandise. His name was Sam Koslowski. Memories of  Aniksht The shtetl Aniksht lay sprawled in a beautiful valley on either side of the Sventa [Sventoji] River. On all sides were the homes of the Lithuanian Christians, but at its center only Jews lived. The shtetl was fairly large with a considerable number of streets and lanes lined by small wooden houses. In the middle of the shtetl was a large square where most of the business and commerce was conducted. The square was paved with large stones, which was most useful during the rainy season when people could jump from stone to stone without getting their feet wet.  In the middle of the square stood a large pump where people would come to fetch water. The pump did not discriminate between rich and poor, Christian and Jew.  Whoever came with an empty bucket left with a full one.  I could never stop marveling at how the pump could contain so much water. Market day was held in the square once a week on Wednesdays.  Not only did the peasants come to sell their produce but so did the merchants from the surrounding shtetlach.  On market day the square was a throng of people and unharnessed horses, so at times it was difficult to cross. There were also goats that the poor women of the village would deliberately set free to feed on the hay given to the horses.  The goats, poor things, were always hungry. The moment a peasant's back was turned, they would make for the hay. Before the Jewish holy days the market was particularly full. The peasants would sort out their best geese, turkeys, ducks and chickens because the Jews would always buy at least one for Yomtov.  Moreover, the women were especially anxious to acquire the fat schmaltz from a goose or turkey.  On these market days, the Jewish women would display their baked goods on tables. The peasants relished the pale, half-baked bulkes, which we called "meisim bulkes" (dead bulkes) and they called "perog."  They swallowed them in large chunks.  Yes, market days were good for the shopkeepers and inns which did a good trade in brandy and beer. At night, after everyone had left, the square looked like a pogrom had struck it, with a mountain of garbage and especially dung from the animals.  Silence would descend, except for the odd drunk who passed by singing a Lithuanian song.  More than once they would fall down in the street and lay there as if dead.   Next day, men and women would arrive with brooms and spades to clean up the square.  The dung was arranged in heaps and taken home, apparently to be used as fertilizer.  And the square would be spick and span again. Despite the fact that the houses and businesses of Aniksht were tsu derleiden (nothing to wonder at), the village itself was very beautiful.  One could be very proud of it.  To the west ran the river and a bridge across it which separated the center from the other villages. It was made of heavy logs, about 300 feet long.  The logs were guarded by giant iron sentinels that protected the wooden legs of the bridge to prevent winter ice from breaking them.  We could hear the knocks as the ice struck the iron, broke up, and the smaller pieces continued on down the river. The bridge was used not only as a means to cross the river, but also for relaxation.  It was a favorite spot where parents took their children and lovers strolled arm in arm half the night.  The bridge was always packed, especially on a Sabbath or a holy day festival. The shtetl boasted two forests, the "Yurzdiker" and the "Samnisker."  In the latter, amid the pine trees, stood the dachas or holiday resorts where many came to enjoy the fresh pine-scented air.  People with bad hearts or weak lungs went there to find relief. Life in Aniksht  [Leibe Skudowitz recorded his childhood memories of Aniksht, following his and his family's move there from nearby Skimian (Skiemonys), circa 1911 - editor.] Reb Velvel the Butcher Although Velvel the butcher was a resident of Skimian (Skiemonys), he was known in all the surrounding shtetlach, including Aniksht. - ed.  Who did not know Velvel the butcher?  Even from afar, anybody could recognize him with his torn coat, tattered hat atop his white head, and his pair of worn cowhide boots. The long coat covered his trousers and reached down to his feet. He had a patriarchal beard, white as snow, except where it yellowed near his mouth. His eyes were bright and he had a fine silvery voice. Nobody could help but stop to look at him, shake his hand and engage him in conversation because of his friendliness towards everybody.  Reb Velvel was also a Baal T'fillah, or cantor, a scholar and a very wise man. When he chanted the prayers all hearts would melt with the pleasure of hearing his sweet melodies. In the women's gallery they would burst into tears listening to him. Even the men's eyes would moisten and their faces would glow. I could understand how all heaviness left their hearts as they momentarily forget their poor, hard existence. He created a tremendous impression as he intoned S'lichot. When he came to the words where the enemy occupied Jerusalem and how the people defended it like heroes, he would repeat the words, "Yom gavar haoyev, vetikhah ha'ir." Reb Velvel lived with his wife Chava-Dina in an old house. He would do a little slaughtering - an ox, a calf, a sheep, a goat and even a he- goat which he would pass off as mutton because his customers were the poorest of the poor and hankered for a piece of meat. As a butcher he made a precarious living. He was too kind-hearted and although his customers often did not have the money to pay, he never refused them or made them give back the meat. The result was that he could not buy any fresh animals for slaughter. Were it not for his children in America, who sent him a few dollars now and then, he would have been unable to keep the wolf from his door. When my mother was in dire straits with four children to feed and my father away in America, Reb Velvel would turn up at our door with a chunk of meat. My mother could pay him later when she received some money.  As the saying goes, he had a heart of gold. No wonder he was liked and respected for his kindness and selflessness. On Fridays he was elated because Chava-Dina would bake his favorite - plaited pastries and bulkes for the Sabbath. He would go to the Beth Medresh and return to greet his wife joyfully. Her Sabbath baking was done and its aroma permeated the house. Chava-Dina would greet him with a smile and tell him, "Velvel, go and wash your hands, everything is ready." When he came to the table he would see a beautiful bulke lying on the tablecloth. Chava-Dina would bring him a pot of cooked liver with potatoes and onions and pour it into a wooden basin. Reb Velvel would say "Hamotzi" and begin eating with great gusto. When he finished the one bulke, his wife would immediately give him another which he would finish just as quickly. When that was finished, he would shyly ask, out of respect for his wife, "Have you perhaps another bulke?" She would hand him another which he would finish off and then say ever so softly, "Chava-Dina, have you perhaps another 'skozhitzte' bulke?" Good woman that she was, she never refused him and thus it went on until all the bulkes were finished. Leibe the Balegole Although Leibe the balegole was a resident of Skimian (Skiemonys), he frequently conducted business in nearby Aniksht and was known there to its Jewish residents. - ed. Towards the mountain, on the southern side of the Beth Medrash, stood quite a presentable house, built with good solid logs. There were fine windows all around and a chimney in the middle of the shingled roof. On one side of the house was a big stable in which there was not only a horse but a cow as well. Around the vast piece of land upon which the house stood was a high, robust fence that no one could scale over or dig under because of the stones that clogged the ground beneath it. The fence prevented one from seeing the garden, or what fruit trees or other plants were there. The house belonged to Leibe the balegole (coachman), or "Shmoges," the nickname by which he was known. The nickname suited him. Though it has nothing to do with miserliness or evil, it has a lot to do with grossness and ignorance.  He lived there with his wife Michle and youngest son, Notele. His remaining children had emigrated to America. Leibe was a tall, sturdy man with a long blond beard and short sideburns, with a hat like the Russian soldiers wore.  What he wore over his clothes I cannot call a coat or jacket, so I will call it a waistcoat. His entire appearance was comical in the extreme and everyone knew him to be a fool and an ignoramus. The most he could do was to read Ivri, which he had learnt in the local cheder. He was an honest enough man, but to do anyone a favor, that was out of the question. He was a miser who did not want to know anyone else's troubles. He kept himself to himself. His wife Michle soon became like him and adopted his miserliness. Their son Notele was my friend and we always played together very nicely. Notele's mother pampered him and made him something to eat every few minutes. She would give him an egg or a cookie, or make him latkes from wheat flour and sprinkle them with sugar. Whenever she gave Notele food she would call him away from me so that I shouldn't see.  In short, she would never allow me into the house. He would emerge only after he was finished eating. Although I was still very young, I understood what was going on, and the fried latkes would tease my appetite.  After each such occurrence, I would run back to my house heart sore and play by myself. But Notele would not leave me alone; he would come running over to my house to play. The impression he and his mother made on my young mind was far from good and after a few such occurrences, I stopped going to him altogether. Yet I could not chase him away when he came to play; he simply did not understand what his behavior meant to me. Leibe the coachman used to go to Aniksht and bring back fruit to Skimian. One day my mother asked him to bring her a few clay pots from Aniksht which she had bought there and intended to sell to earn a little extra [money]. When he delivered the pots, Mother was short five kopeks. She told him that she was expecting money from her husband in America, money which he sent her every three months. Leibe did not understand, or did not want to understand, and kept insisting that she should pay him. When she couldn't, he would give her a mouthful and leave. So it happened that one morning when Leibe the Shmoges was on his way to the Beth Medrash, he saw my uncle (my mother's brother) stop at our house.  He happened to be coming from another shtetl where he had bought some merchandise and had decided to drop in on his sister and her children.  The Shmoges thought that here was a good opportunity to get the money that my mother owed him. Wasting no time, he strode into our house without a hello and demanded his money, just like a robber. Mother stood petrified, as though turned to stone, white as a sheet and uttering not a word. She was terrified as though from a sudden peal of thunder. My childish heart beat with fear. Then my uncle took a small purse from his pocket, turned it upside down and out fell a ten kopek silver coin. He handed it to Leibe who took it without a thank you or goodbye and left for the Beth Medrash to go and pray. My uncle was also pale. He and Mother spoke about their health and life and how Bobbe and Zeide were faring. Then he took his leave of us and left. As he drove away, my mother sat down on a bench and burst into bitter tears. Even with my childish understanding, I knew why she was weeping. I embraced her and also began to cry. And so, without a word, we wept together. I now live in Aniksht, and I am now very happy. I don't know anyone yet. Now and then I venture out into the street and see the station in the distance. I hear a train whistle, see smoke from afar, especially when the train driver maneuvers forward and backwards. I try to gauge the distance and decide that it must be approximately twice the distance from our house in Skimian to the priest's oak trees. I cannot go further because I don't know where to go and there is unpleasant mud all over the streets. I see the street on which we live. I can see that from the one side, it stretches far, far away, but not from the other side, where massive cobblestones have been laid and where the mud puddles are smaller. On the other side was a pavement, so to speak, made of thick planks that were just wide enough to allow one person to pass along. But if one were to meet another coming the opposite way, both would have to hold on to each other to avoid getting their feet in the mud. Moreover, some of the planks were loose and one had to be careful to avoid stepping onto them. Nevertheless, Aniksht seemed to me to be a proper town. It boasted more attractive homes with large windows and shingle roofs, and others with porches and steps leading up to the houses. The Train Station The train, being in the town itself, was a big plus. From here one could travel to anywhere in Russia, even to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, provided one had the proper permission, especially the Jews.  The train interested me greatly and I longed to see it close-up. Zeide gave me my first opportunity to do so. On the first Sabbath, as soon as he came home from shul and had lunch - usually tsholent - accompanied by blessings and singing, he turned to me and said, "Come."  He took me by the hand and we began to walk. It was a distance of about a viorst, and it was here that I first saw the main street, the square and the so-called marketplace, paved with big stones and surrounded on all sides by shops and a few double-storied buildings. We walked past the shops and came to a bridge across the River Sventa and after that, the long street inhabited by the Lithuanians that led to the stadium. When we arrived at the station, the train was due any moment. Zeide told me the train was coming. I looked and saw a large machine coming forward and dragging a large number of coaches behind it. I didn't take my eyes off it for a second until it came to a halt. I saw the coaches, the windows, the chimneys and even the wheels.It gave me great pleasure to see it so close. Zeide held my hand and told me we must wait until the train departed and not to take fright when the whistle blew before it moved off. I watched the people getting on and off, then the train gave a long whistle and began to move, blowing steam. When we returned home I told the others what I had seen and how exciting it had been. Cheder and Other Things I have very little to say about my new cheder [in Aniksht]. One cheder is like another, but for me it bore no comparison to the one in Skimian. Whereas the Skimian rebbe, Reb Hirsch, was dedicated head and soul to the children and was keen to give them a sound foundation, the Anikshter rebbe was indifferent to the children and taught them superficially and without devotion. It can be said that he loved money more than he loved children. He was also stricter with the children and his wife was even worse. She watched us like a hawk to see that we made no mess and that we did not eat her sunflower seeds. We would spend the whole day in fear and trepidation, afraid to say a word to each other until it was time to go home. But naturally in summer Aniksht was livelier than Skimian, especially on our street, the longest one in town. After school we would play on the street and I made new friends. We  played all sorts of games, like hide-and-seek and running races. A favorite game was to run with a wheel and prod it with a stick. We would play until late, then come home exhausted and go to bed. To tell the truth, Zeide's house was no pleasure to live in. The best rooms and the dining room were let to the family Panovke, which consisted of a father, his two daughters and two children. One of the sisters was a photographer and the other was in business, neither of them very successful. Their father did nothing except walk about looking neat and prosperous and would keep peering at his watch, which be wore over his abdomen as was the fashion in those days. What remained for us was one large room with two windows and a small passage. One window looked into Zeide's workshop, and to this day I cannot figure out how we all managed. It wasn't too bad in summer when we could go out to play, but in winter we were compelled to stay indoors. It is difficult for me to describe how we lived and how we suffered, if not from hunger then from lack of privacy. I hope that those who read this, should I be worthy enough to finish it, will understand how difficult it is to describe the past. Even if one could, one would be loath to dwell on these things for the sake of ones children and grandchildren. They would no doubt be most distressed to read of their father's and grandfather's hard lot. But we children would play and run around until late at night so that when we went to sleep, we slept like the dead, despite the conditions in which we lived. We had no worries about the present or the future. The People of Aniksht The shtetl boasted two rabbis, several melamdim and a yeshiva with many students. The Jewish population consisted mainly of workers and artisans, especially felt boot makers and many "water people," so called because they were engaged in guiding wooden rafts [of logs] on the river to the village Yaneve. There were coachmen, cobblers, tailors, blacksmiths, porters, orchard minders, gardeners and peddlers. There were also many shopkeepers and merchants dealing in grain, flax, wool and linseed. The ragmen bought old tattered clothes, especially linens and woolens. They would also buy hog hair and all kinds of animal skins. That's how the shtetl lived. There were no millionaires in Aniksht, but, naturally, some lived better than others. Somehow, everyone managed to survive and nobody starved - Heaven forbid. There is much to be written about the shtetl and I may write a book about it some day, but, before I forget, I should like to mention that there were no fewer than six synagogues. These were filled not only on the Sabbath and the festivals but every day as well. There were three minyanim, the first early in the morning. Young and old would come to prayers, but the shul was also a place where Jews came to discuss their problems and news of the world by those who read newspapers. Zeide would return from shul and tell us what news he had heard, particularly those pertaining to Jewish affairs. The shtetl had a large bath house and a mikvah, which was attended by men and women - separately, of course. There was the "hekdesh," the poorhouse which was a haven for the local poor. Jews from elsewhere would also go there for something to eat and a place to sleep over. There was also a slaughterhouse. It was said that in winter, during the bitter frosts, hungry wolves would come, drawn by the smell of blood. Although I personally never saw it, I believe it was true because the same was said of other shtetlach where wolves would lie in wait for a cow or horse. To the south was a third forest where the Beth Olim [cemetery] was located. During a funeral, the coffin would be lowered near the Beth Midrash to which the departed had belonged. If the departed had been an honorable man in the shtetl, a "hasped" was made for him, extolling him as charitable and kind. If he had been a simple yet honest man, they would stop for just a little while. The Chevra Kadisha would walk around rattling money boxes and everyone would drop in a coin. They would chant non-stop, "tsdaka tatzil memavet!" (charity will save you from death!). Pesach arrived. I noticed how busy the household became, with all the washing and scrubbing and preparing a bedroom for the matzah which was due to be delivered at any moment. Zeide called us and gave us each a kopeck and told us to by sweets. But he had no sooner given me mine, then he asked for it back. He took my kopeck, looked at it and told me it was as old as I was. He showed me the date, 1904, and now it was 1911. After that, I could work out the age of every coin. After Pesach, Mother told me that after a week, I would be starting cheder with Moshe Malater. I felt very strange - a new cheder, a new shtetl and new friends. I thought of my old friends in Skimian and wondered if I would ever see them again. The Fire Brigade In Aniksht we had an inspector of police named Semianov and his assistant, Papulski. After him came the constable, the uradnik, Tropimov. He was supposed to be a sergeant but that title would be in bad taste; uradnik is much better. Such a title, more suited to a czarist functionary, rings more vulgar and more murderous. Little wonder that the shtetl was in fear of him. One day Inspector Semianov called the young people of Aniksht together and suggested they organize themselves into a fire brigade. The majority of the youth registered and began training once a week, drilling under the leadership of Semianov. Before long the shtetl not only had a fire brigade but a competent, well-trained wind orchestra. They also managed to acquire a few carriages to which they attached water barrels, each with a water hose. Although they had no official uniforms, everyone had to have the minimum requirement, namely, an axe with a point on top and a proper fireman's helmet with a red stripe around it. The equipment was kept in Avraham the Sotnik's house, which apparently belonged to the town council. On top of the house was a bell of considerable size, which would ring in the event of fire. Everybody became petrified when the bell started ringing, especially in the middle of the night. From time to time the fire brigade would have a rehearsal, a maneuver, and run into the street with barrels full of water and horses harnessed up. On each horse rode a fireman and, judging by the excitement, one could imagine there was a real fire and anyone not in the know would keep asking where the fire was. It was particularly good when Semianov held a "mayuvke" in the summer. All the firemen would gather and march to the forest, dressed in their red-striped helmets. In the road was Semianov dressed in his best uniform, a light gray tunic with silver epaulettes, silver buttons and navy blue trousers tucked into his shiny boots. And all this with his fashionable Russian hat with its double-headed eagle emblem certainly made an impression on everyone. Imagine, a real pristav (policeman) in the shtetl! Out of fear, everybody would salute him. After Semianov came the bandleader, then the barabanchik (the drummer), then the musicians and, finally, the firemen. It was a proud sight. If one couldn't give them credit for ever putting out a fire, at least they livened up the shtetl by playing Russian marches. The streets would fill at once and small children would run alongside. We too would run out of cheder to join the parade and, needless to say, the rebbe would punish us for this stolen pleasure, and we would pay dearly. As I said, they put on quite a show but they could never be trusted to extinguish a fire. The houses were built of wood and the fire brigade could never arrive in time to save a burning house. Even if it could, half the water in the barrels would be spilt running over the bumpy cobblestones, and what remained would be totally inadequate to save a burning house. I remember the first fire in the shtetl, when Mother woke us with the words, "it's burning!"  The alarm bell was ringing and we dressed quickly and began to pack the cushions, sheets and other things. But when I looked out the window, I saw it was not our house that was on fire, but a reflection from a fire in one of the other houses. You can imagine the panic. A fire was no small matter.  Every house was made of wood and they were all in danger. The firemen ran with the horses along the cobblestones towards the fire but some of the straw roofs were already ablaze.  Fortunately, the wind blew the fire in the direction of the fields, so there was not too much danger for the shtetl.  But fear and panic were enough to keep everyone awake and watchful for the rest of the night.  Some of the houses did burn down but the firemen worked all night to contain the blaze. 1912 In August 1912, Mother called me to her and told me that she had enrolled me at school.  I received the news with fear and trepidation. I wanted to study and knew that I had the ability to comprehend quickly and well. So said Reb Hirsh, the Skimianer melamed, and confirmed by the Anikshter melamed, Moshe Melater. But, I thought, how will I start to learn Russian if I don't even know a word and have no conception whatsoever of the language? I was fearful. I also thought about being suddenly plunged into the middle of so many strange children, and what's more, with girls! But Zeide and my sister urged me and gave me courage, telling me not to be afraid. They even promised that I would have new clothes and that all would be well. A few days before school began, Mother took me to Leizer the barber. [After my haircut,] he pinched my cheek and told me to have a look in the big mirror. I did and could hardly recognize myself. With a round little head cut clean, rosy cheeks, white teeth and blue eyes, I felt bold, happy and full of bubbling energy, and I thought that no matter what happened, I must go to school. Two mornings later, Mother took me to school and handed me over to the teacher, Shaye Lock. I spoke to him in Yiddish and he answered in Russian. Since I could not speak Russian, he called one of the older pupils over and told him what to do with me and show me where I should sit. I followed him and was led to a bench which seated three. Two were already taken and I was the third. From all sides the children looked at me, some staring as though they wanted to eat me up. The older pupil told me that on this first day I should only [observe], and on the way home he would give me a note with the supplies to buy: a pen, a pencil and a Russian book for beginners. He warned that I should be silent and not speak to anyone and that school was very different from cheder. I nodded and promised to do as he asked. And so I remained sitting alone, quietly, and just observed what was going on. This gave me a chance to examine the class. I was curious to see how big it was and how many desks it contained.  Slowly turning my head, I counted 18 desks in one row, and since there were two rows, I calculated there was room for over 100 pupils. But not all the seats were occupied, so I estimated there were approximately 80 children present. I looked around at the walls where various pictures of landscapes, towns, animals and big maps were hung. But more than anything, I kept casting glances at the wall over the bima where the teacher sat at a big table, and where a huge portrait of Czar Nikolai II was hung, with his carved eyes, beard and whiskers. I counted six windows, which faced north, and three doors, one of which, the important one, faced the street and was reserved for important visitors like the inspector and others. The second door was the children's entrance and the third led to the teachers' private room where they worked. An electrics class [was taught there where] batteries for electric bulbs were kept. Our teacher, Shayeh Aronowitz, was quite young, probably in his thirties. He had a wife and two children, a girl, Yentatshka, and a boy, Samotshka. The class was divided into three sections: the first, second and third [the beginners, the intermediate and advanced, respectively]. The teacher sat at his big table on the bima speaking and keeping an eye on the class and teaching each section separately. When he was busy with one section, he gave the other sections different types of work, such as writing or drawing. When the children made a slight noise as they whispered or said something to each other, the teacher would shout, "tsishe," which meant "silence," and the entire class would fall silent - deadly silent - as everyone looked toward the teacher with miserable expressions and looks as innocent as babes. In this way the hours passed slowly. [At the end of the school day] everyone stood as one of the older students said a prayer for the Czar. As we walked out, one of the older students handed me a list of necessities that I should bring to school the next day. When I'd gotten home and eaten lunch, I went straight to the bookshop and bought everything on the list. The next day, when I got to school, I knew I was already one of them. At the end of the term, I passed well and was promoted to the second section. Then came the holidays, which lasted until the new school year. We were free to enjoy the spring and summer, the sun and the fresh air. For the children, the holiday promised a time of pleasure and warmth. Summer in Lithuania, who can possibly describe what it was like and what it meant, especially for the children? Running barefoot in the streets, picking may from the trees, visiting the pine forest for fresh air, swimming in the river, sometimes rowing boats. Occasionally, the children visited the forest to pick blackberries or were daring enough to pick peas from the fields of neighboring peasants. Not to mention the berries and fruit that would be ours for the taking, like blackberries, cherries, agressen, weinperlech and strawberries. And what about the plums, apples and pears that were cheap and plentiful? For one kopek one could have a veritable feast. In the vegetable gardens there were spring onions, radishes, carrots and cucumbers. I still savor them today. I don't know why, but everything was so tasty back then. Perhaps we were famished. Whatever we ate we relished in full. Today, we still have those wonderful fruits and vegetables but we don't even deign to look at them. And so the days passed, one after another, until autumn crept up and we began to talk about starting lessons again. [CONTINUED - “A Memoir - Part 3” ]   Jewish Life