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In Slobodker Yeshiva by Falk Zolf
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In Slobodker Yeshiva by Falk Zolf
in English and turns to Yiddish. Falk Zolf's memoir of life in Tsarist
Russia as translated by Martin Green

Spring 1912, Slobodka

My brother the freethinker, who wrote to me in his letter from Warsaw,
that "the whole world does not consist only of Jews, and the whole
wisdom of the world is not found only in the Gemorrah", had made a big
mistake. The Slobodka Yeshiva was a whole world in itself! And if not
the whole world, then it was, at the very least, the center of the
world. So it appeared in my eyes. Hundreds of yeshiva-boys, from the
four corners of the word came together here. All roads led to
Slobodka. All the Jewish communities and all the Jewish settlements,
from every country, wherever they might be, North, South, East, or
West....they all sent their sons here to learn the Torah.
Slobodka...this was the present-day Sura, the Nahardai and the
Pumbadita (the great Yeshivas in long-ago Babylon).

Even the Holy Russian City of Moscow was represented here with her own
yeshiva-boy. This was the millionaire's son, from the famous Peresik
family. He came dressed in a fine coat, with golden buttons, with
tassles on his hat, as befitted a Moscow millionaire'son...but as soon
as he crossed the threshold of the Slobodka Yeshiva, he quickly shed
the trappings of "the Gentile", and changed into common clothes...he
had come here to study, together with all the other yeshiva-boys.

They came here from outside the country, even from Germany and
Austria. Over there walked a slim, fine-looking boy with dark eyes,
like a Gypsy, who had come here all the way from the distant, high
Caucasus, or possibly from somewhere in Bukhara. He didn't know how to
speak a word of Yiddish, and studied the Gemorra in its Russian
translation, or in his Sephardic Hebrew. Without a doubt, Slobodka was
a true "ingathering of the exiles". David Varshever, a former
yeshiva-boy from Warsaw, then a resident scholar in Slobodka, was
right when he said:

"They all come here sooner or later..."

The great "Masortic-Yeshiva", which bore the name "Knesset Yisroel",
was packed with hundreds of boys. But these yeshiva-boys did not
resemble the ones in Brisk. Those ones had "yeshiva-boy" written all
over their faces...the way they dressed, the way they moved, all their
gestures and habits. But here in Slobodka, they had the look of real
big-city religious scholars. All of them were smartly dressed, their
clothes clean, stylish and well-tailored. On their heads - fedoras;
or, in the warm summer months, straw hats, all in the latest style.
Almost all carried walking-sticks. Even on their faces, not a trace of
the old ways...if there should come along a yeshiva-boy from Poland,
wearing a long black gabardine, he'd have to get rid of it right
away...it wouldn't be too long before they'd have him looking like a
proper Litvak...

And wherever you went and wherever you stood in Slobodka, you saw
nothing but yeshiva-boys. You heard the quiet, mournful
gemorrah-melody. You got the feeling, that the whole world consisted
exclusively of yeshiva-boys, who had no other interest in life, and
who sought no other "future" for themselves, than simply to study and

As soon as I arrived in Slobodka, I was required to report to "the Old
Man", as they called him, Reb Notte-Hirsh, the director of the
Yeshiva. I showed him my letter of recomendation from our Kamenetz
Rabbi, Reb Ruben Burshteyn, in which he asked that I be admitted into
the Yeshiva, and that they should provide me with an allowance, or
stipend, in order that I should be able to sit and study in
tranquility, because, as everybody knows, "the Torah shall be in front
of his eyes".....and he said on my behalf, that with good supervision,
I would grow into a student of wisdom...

From there I went to the Head of the Yeshiva, the renowned master, Reb
Moyshe-Mordekhay Epshteyn, the Slobodka Rabbi. He had with me a little
chat about my studies. He let it be known that here in Slobodka, they
would not let me stumble. And at the earliest opportunity, they would
provide me with a young, well-to-do student, who would pay me for
teaching him. This, together with the monthly allowance from the
yeshiva, would provide me with my income. Soon I had worked out my
entire budget...so, with my mind at ease and with a light heart, I
began to apply myself to my studies...and in fact, with great