Page images
PDF
EPUB

did not afford sufficient opportunity. After tarrying awhile at the 'Yeshibahs' — Talmud schools — of Bialystock and Wilna, I went to Wolozin, where I studied five years. I then visited several seats of learning in various parts of Russia and Poland, finally returning home after an absence of almost ten years, during which my father — peace be to his noble soul! — died. During the course of my studies I frequently experienced great difficulties in obtaining admission into the various institutions owing to the restrictions and prejudice against the Jews. I had many bitter struggles to fight. In my own home I found conditions so strained, our people so oppressed, and feeling myself helpless to better the existing state of affairs, filled with disgust and contempt, I decided upon carrying out a plan which had long been formulating in my mind — to emigrate to America. I had long realized that though I had outranked most of my fellow-pupils in the universities, though I had, besides, a store of learning received in the ' Yeshibahs,' and it was not pride which told me that physically I was not their inferior, yet was I held in contempt — a creature unworthy their notice, and not only might I never hope for high position or honor, but the meanest peasant by the roadside was accorded more respect than I. How often the words of Cowper recurred to my mind:

"T is liberty alone that gives the flow'r
Of fleeting life its luster and perfume.
And we are weeds without it."

So it was my hope and prayer that in America, that land of freedom and equality, I might establish a new home and, as soon as expedient, send for my mother. There in her declining years, surrounded by peace and happiness, I had hoped to make up with increased tenderness for my many years' absence from her and all her suffering in our own land. But alas! it is not to be!"

Shebsl's voice thickened with suppressed tears and he was seized with a paroxysm of grief. After a few moments he continued: "I set out on my journey hopeful and rejoicing, but just after crossing the Prussian frontier at Wietkowa, where I had arranged with my mother that word from her should await me, as I had to stop at various places on the way, I received this missive," saying which he drew a letter from his pocket. Blinding tears filled his eyes, so he handed it to Reb Simche to read, which he did aloud. It conveyed the sad news that his mother, not wishing to interfere with his plan, had withheld from him her true state of health, but that the parting from her son, whom she now realized she might never behold in life again, had been too severe a strain upon her, so that her health broke completely immediately after his departure, and that she now lay upon her death-bed. The writer hoped this letter might reach him in time, and importuned him to return for a last farewell. Reb Simche's lips quivered perceptibly as he finished reading, and both Mrs. Pogoda and Golda were in tears.

"I at once turned my face homeward," continued Shebsl, "but scarcely had I set foot on Russian soil again, than I was confronted by a 'Straznik ' — police officer — with the usual 'Skoodeva!' —' Passport!' A shiver passed through me, for my passport, the constant renewal and presenting of which, at every turn and at all hours of the day and night, had for years been the cause of such indescribable discomfiture, and oftimes misery, for during my wanderings from' Yeshibah' to' Yeshibah' — from one seat of learning to another — I was just in the age of transition and had many delays and sometimes great difficulty in establishing my identity and right to my passport — with a feeling of exultation I had torn to shreds as soon as I had crossed the frontier. The consequence of my rash act speedily overtook me. Without any preliminary I was seized and thrown into prison. Next morning, chained to a wife-murderer, I was started on etape toward Ozerkof. When we reached Kalisz I was bordering on a state of desperation and know not what fearful act I might have committed had not God, in his goodness, sent you to me, Reb Simche."

"God created the darkness and gloom of night before the dawn of day," spoke Reb Simche, "that we should the more appreciate the bliss of light. A new era will spring up in your life, in ours, and in the life of all our oppressed brethren! Then, ah then, how sweet will be liberty!"

"Mee yitayn!" —"Be it so!" ex

« PreviousContinue »