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MATIA SON OF PESACH (Zavodnik)
BY MARIS COHEN , New Haven.
Kurenitz was a tiny shtetl, nevertheless, it was greatly diverse. Learned
men, merchants, store owners, vagabonds, tradesmen and handymen, wealthy and
poor, I don't need to tell you that for every wealthy man there were dozens
of poor. There were numerous personalities that deserve to be mentioned here
however I will concentrate only on one person, Matia Pesach's. Matia did
have a last name but we only found out about his last name in the U.S. In the
U.S. they called him Max Zavodnick. In the old shtetl, we were not used to
last names. It was unnecessary. There, we called each other by the name of
the father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother, or their vocation or craft.
We knew each other as laibe mashe's, Yehuda Zushe's, the Yechiel Kalman the
doctor, Michael the forester, Ara the fisherman, Penia the metal merchant,
Shimon the oilman. Asher the haberdasher, Mordecai the taylor, Eliyahu the
smith, Yarochmiel the shoe repairman. There were two other Yarochmeils that
were also in shoe repair, so we would call them little and big Yarochmiels.
The other was not big and not little. Just Yarochmiel the shoerepairman The
same way as the old people were named, so were the young people named.
Yoshka Chaim's, chaim Zalman Elya Yehoshua's, Baroch Vigdaras' (Zukerman),
Mendel Faiga's (Alpert), Havas Rasile's (Shapiro- Alperovitz), Zalman
Nachum's (Kastrel ?), Leybzke Lea Atka's, Zertel Pinis' and Sara Reyzel Dvora
Shlomo Sheyna Feigas'. If you just said Sara Reyzel Dvoras' , people would
not know the one you are refering to.
In our town, no one knew last names nevertheless, the generation ties never
ended and no one was ever lost.
Matia, son of Pesa was a very unique person. A simple guy who could
hardly read and write, on the other hand he could play various instruments.
Violin, flute, clarinet. Matia would write songs and sing them during
celebrations. In his nature, he was a comedian and his rhymes
Were always very original and charming. How was given this "gift of music",
no one could answer. No one else in his family was a poet or musician.
Matia in his essence always was attracted to some far away place. His eyes
had the statement of restlessness and a deep desire of wondering. He was a
tall man, skinny and dark.. His appearance was something of a gypsy. In our
town, there was little respect for such people. The people of our town
didn't understand or appreciate him, until one day when he did something that
changed everyone's opinion. In the year 1890 all of a sudden there was
inflation in prices and in the whole region the money lost its value. All
the products became extremely expensive and people were starving. We found
out that the merchants of the farm products took all the products and took
them to a nearby town, Smorgon, to sell them while we were asked to starve.
One day when there were ten carriages full of products on Smargon's street
ready to be taken out of town, The drivers were sitting in the inn of Yeuda
Zusha's drinking alcohol, Matia stealthily went to the carriages and cut the
sacks and let all the produce fall to the ground, for the townspeople to use.
In this way, he revenged the townspeople's being left to starvation and none
of the produce left the town. Everyone was very worried and Martia hid
somewhere. However, he couldn't hide for too long. When he came out all the
merchants beat him mercilessly. Nevertheless, everyone in town was extremely
Thankful. We realize that Matia of all people fought the fight for the town.
Everyone respected him for that. Here in America, Matia had many
profession. For some time, he was a policeman travelling on bicycles around
New York making sure the Kosher butchers and restaurants were truly Kosher.
After a while he became a street musician. He would compose songs and would
wander the streets of New York singing. Many of his songs became later songs
that other singers sang in entertainment halls. The subject of his songs
were usually tragic events. Matia would compose a song for every tragedy
that occurred. In 1906 when the earthquake in San Francisco destroyed a
large part of the town, Matia dedicated a song to the event./ When General
Sarkhoum was burned in the port of New York (a cruise ship with hundreds of
kids aboard,) Matia arranged a song for the event. Also, when Russia lost
the war to Japan, there was an original song for it. What was the root of
the choice of Matia to sing about miseries and tragedies? Maybe, his life
was very tragic in that he never reached the lofty desires that his soul
yearned for. Whatever reasons it is his songs were always sad as his
appearance was. Occasionally, Matia would come to New Haven. New Haven was
the original settlement of the people who came from our shtetl. The first
settlers in 1880 and 1890 chose it as their "haven".. Each time Matia will
reach New Haven, there was a feeling of holiday. We all knew that he would
put some excitement in the atmosphere that was so boring in our suburban
sleepy town. We were never disappointed.
Matia died in 1925 in New York City. He was 52. He left behind a son, who
was an engineer and a daughter who lived in Philadelphia. When the daughter
was young, she was among the most beautiful girls of Jewish New York. Lets
Remember Matia son of Pesa, a native of Kurenitz with this memorial for our