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The Song is Interrupted by Falk Zolf
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in English and turns to Yiddish. Falk Zolf's memoir of life in Tsarist
Russia as translated by Martin Green

The yeshiva ran for twenty-four hours a day. We even had such
dedicated "keeners", who would sit up all night and study. But for the
most part, in the early evenings, after a long hot summer day, you
would see groups of yeshiva-boys going for walks, taking in the fresh
air. At the same time, they would be having a discussion about today's
lesson, or various external problems. When night fell, they might sit
down again for an hour or so, to read "morality" from various little
books, from Reb Moshe-Khayim Lutzatto's "Mesilot Yesurim", or "Urakhot
Le-Tsadikim" and other such morality books.

This "studying morality" was always accompanied by a special,
bitter-sweet melody, which reminds one of the Tefilat Zekha from
before "Kol Nidrey". It serves to drive away all the distractions of
"this world", the temptaions of human weaknesses, bad habits such as
gossip, slander, pride, envy, hatred, narrow-mindedness, etc. It was a
kind of meditaion, a way of looking into ones heart, a contemplation
of ones own daily actions.

After meditations, we stood up for evening prayers. This was not just
another prayer, rather a great, burning supplication to God. You
prayed with heart, with feeling, and with purpose. Every word was
clearly articulated, with a special melody which reminded one of "Oy,
meh hayah lanu"; of "Exile of the Divine Presence", of the dark exile
of the Jewish soul...in this sublime moment, one felt as though one
was not alone, but rather a part of a greater whole, which follows its
own well-trodden path, never turning aside from the Sanctification of
the Name no matter what the temptation. Because in essence, the Jewish
Way stands in defiance of the Way of the World, with its glorification
of "might makes right".

It was good indeed to sit all day in study. It was good to sit and
study "morality", which helped you to contemplate all your deeds; it
was truly a pleasure to pray when "kol atzmoti tamornah elokim"; and
it was good to stand pressed close together with your fellow students,
listening with ears perked up to the words of the "Old Man", telling
one of his "morality tales".

Indeed, he would speak so softly, mysteriously...but those who already
knew his manner of speaking, would catch his meaning and know where he
was leading to. One had to be an understander of meanings within
meanings...he taught us to always be on guard, always to consider
"that which elevates and that which debases", because man has the
ability to raise himself to the highest level, because he is made in
the image of God...on the other hand, God forbid, there is no limit to
the depths to which he can sink.

And how good it was, on Purim and Simchat-Torah, to celebrate and to
dance together till the great morning. The always-serious
yeshiva-boys, the strictest Masoratics, would all at once be
transformed into a group of jokers and pranksters. To the joy over the
downfall of the evil Haman, and the even greater joy of the completion
of the Torah, there was simply no limit.

They would sing and dance with fire and excitement; eyes lit up and
cheeks aflame. The hundreds of yeshiva-boys formed one great, living
chain. The joyful singing rang out over the quiet streets of Slobodka,
all the way to the other side of the River Vilyeh:

We wait

We wait in anticipation

For the Lord, blessed be He

To liberate us from our exile

I had completely forgotten about my brother in Warsaw, who had been so
concerned over my "future". I was now far from him not only in
distance, but in my whole Jewish outlook. I had thrown myself into my
studies with all my youthful fire. I now thought about nothing else.
To my father, I wrote letters full of apologies, asking him to forgive
me for my "childish actions". I assured him that now I had experienced
the meaning of learning, of morality, and the future that lies in

My father also asked me for forgiveness. In his letters, he spoke to
me from the heart: told me about his constant, nagging worries, that
his children had to be raised in a state of need and deprivation; that
he had to spend his whole life dependent on the charity of his
employers; his "I" was never a whole "I". And he asked that I would
forgive him for the rage that overcame him on "that night of
Passover". He wrote more....that my mother, God bless her, was in good
health and sends her heartfelt greetings. And whenever she could find
someone to whom she could dictate a letter, she would write me
herself. Sometimes there would be a parcel with a three-rouble note
inside. The letter would say, "use it in good health; good luck in
yours studies, and write often..."

And so it went for two years in Slobodka. I made, in fact, great
progress in my studies. At the same time, I observed the commandment
of "gam mizeh al tanakh yadkho"...I quietly read Yiddish and Hebrew
literature: the classics, Mendele Mokher Seforim, I. L. Perets, Sholom
Aleykhem, etc. I also better aquainted myself with Russian literature,
such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Chekov, etc. When I came across a
hard word, I would look up the meaning in my Yiddish-Russian
dictionary. I also regularly read the Jewish papers, which came from
Warsaw, such as "Der Haynt", "Moment", and "Ha-Tsefirah". From the
press, I gained understanding not only of what was happening in the
Jewish world, such as the news of the infamous Beyliss Trial, but also
about events in the wider world. And I found for myself a kind of
balance between the Jewishness of the yeshiva, and with the so-called
"worldliness" which came from outside the yeshiva. They began to
co-exist within me in peace and harmony....

For this I was very much indebted to a fellow Zastavier, whom I had
met for the first time there in Slobodka. This was Aharon-Yaakov
Zeygermakher, a grandson of the Kamenetz rabbinical judge. He was a
good few years older than me, already a "resident" in Slobodka. In
fact, he had gotten married with the beautiful, aristocratic, learned
daughter of one of the managers of the Yeshiva (Mayerovitsch, if I
remember correctly), with whom he had fallen in love. (Now he is a
Rabbi somewhere in England.)

Of Aharon-Yakov it could be truly said, that as noble as he was in
outward appearance, just as noble was his heart....to put it simply,
"a good soul". He showed me a great deal of kindness and faith, like a
true brother. In all my times of need, he stood beside me (which was
no small favor, considering his "connections" with "the inner circles"
of the Yeshiva.).

From him, I learned that in order to be a whole Jew and a whole Man,
one must not only be able to swim in the sea of Talmud, but also in
the sea of Life. This was altogether different from my brother's
"philosophy". My brother in Warsaw, who wanted to save me from "the
darkness", as he called it, had essentially not understood that
Jewishness and Worldliness were inseparable....intertwined with each
other, like body and soul. But my friend, Aharon-Yaakov Zeygermakher,
the noted yeshiva-boy of Slobodka, better understood the essence of
Jewishness than my hot-headed brother.

I had hoped, that for the high holidays I would be going home to spend
some time with my parents, with family. The thought of this made my
blood flow more strongly in my veins. Oh, how happy they would be to
see me! And with renewed vigor, I re-applied myself to my studies.

But suddenly, all of my hopes and dreams were washed away. It was on
account of the great conflagration, the World War which broke out in
the year 1914. This tragic event not only made an end to my beautiful
dreams, but irrevocably changed the whole face of the earth. This
wild, violent storm tore me away by the roots, like a young tree,
tossed me about on its angry waves, hurling me up and down like a
cork. It was only by some kind of a miracle that I came out of it in
one piece....