Maladzyechna Home Page
Maladzyechna Stories Menu
I Become a Slaughterer and Cut....My Finger
From Falik Zolf's autobiography Translation by Martin Green http://www.onforeignsoil.com
My auntie had once again started to look for a career for me. All at once, she came up with the idea of making me into a slaughterer. Because she thought that compared to being a teacher, like my father, or a Hebrew tutor, like I was now...that it would be much easier to be a slaughterer. Now there was a trade!....from such a trade, you could always, earn a piece of bread! She started harping on me, that I should take her good advice; that I should learn to be a slaughterer.
I was aghast. "What do I look like?! I, who wouldn’t even hurt a fly on the wall, should suddenly go to cut throats? God Forbid! Under no circumstances will I become a slaughterer! I’d rather even that my whole life I should starve!"....
But my auntie, the Cantor’s Wife, who was known to be a little stubborn, was not moved by my protestations. And she quickly pointed to her favorite example....her son:
"Look at him... if such a good, quiet boy could become a slaughterer, the surely so can you. It certainly wouldn’t do you any harm".
And so it went, day in and day out. And no matter how much I or my uncle asked her to leave me in peace, that she should drop the subject of me with the "slaughtering" - nothing helped. Once she had gotten something into her head, she simply had to see it through. And in this case she had a special motivation: once I was committed to being a slaughterer, I would inevitably be in constant contact with holy workers: with rabbis, with cantors, other slaughterers, whether I wanted to or not...so I would have no choice but to always remain an observant Jew. In this way, she would ensure that her poor sister should have at least one son, who would stand by the Torah and Judaism....
She followed me around with her constant refrain night and day...by eating, sleeping, waking, and going to sleep again....until she finally convinced me. Such was her tenacity.
I agreed to try it almost as a lark, just to see what my hands are capable of. It didn’t take long before I could easily sharpen a one-sided blade. What was much harder was when the blade was two-sided. For this, my uncle, as a slaughterer, was also a great expert. Even the village butchers had to admit, that his blade "sang like a fiddle".
With my newly-discovered "talent", my uncle was very pleased.. First, he had someone to accompany him to the slaughterhouse, because with two it's always more cheerful. And second, while I was standing there sharpening a knife, he would have someone with whom to chat. And when he would run his fingernail over the blade to see if there was anything left of the nick that he himself had made, to test the extent of my progress in "the art of blade sharpening"......and then he would say, with mock seriousness, "A shame, a shame that the Lord of the Universe didn’t see fit to bless you with a voice, otherwise you'd be eligible for the great calling of cantor-slaughterer..."
Meanwhile, my cousin with the rabbinical certification in his pocket, coached me in the intricacies of the tractate "Kholin", which he knew down to the last detail, and also the section of the "Yoreh De'a" dealing with ritual slaughter. And so I was almost a slaughterer. All I needed now was to start practicing how to slit throats....but this detail, I kept putting of for later, later...because the thought that I, with my own hands would have to slit the throat of an innocent beast...it made my blood run cold. I couldn't bear the thought of it. And as often as my auntie tried to push me, that I should get down to the "real" work, I used to get out of it each time with a different excuse.
But one time, when I was standing in the room in the slaughterhouse which was set aside for the slaughterer, peacefully sharpening my knives....suddenly my uncle burst through the door from the killing floor....the place of "final judgement" for the unfortunate, mute tongues. He shouted at me:
"Falik, take your knife and come with me!"
The call came to me so unexpectedly, that I lost my tongue and couldn’t think of anything to say. I followed him as though I were not a slaughterer, but in fact a dumb animal, being led to the slaughter!
The sights and smells of fresh, hot blood, entrails, lungs, and liver hit me over the head. The shouts of the butchers were mixed together with the mooing and whinnying of animals. From massive iron hooks, there hung, with their heads down and their feet up, cows and oxen in various stages of being dismembered. Butcher’s apprentices stood around with long sharp knives and pointed files in the legs of their blood-soaked boots, and quickly tore flesh from bones.
My uncle led me to a living, throbbing young ox, which lay tied up on the ground. A butcher's apprentice was holding back the head to expose the bare neck. A second one was holding the feet. I held the hairy, throbbing, neck with my trembling left hand. I could feel under the soft, smooth fur that life was flowing through its veins. And that feeling of warmth suddenly rushed through me, and I felt hot all over my body. Then I couldn't see clearly or hear what was happening around me. Everything was suddenly a blur, dark and confused. The whole slaughterhouse, with the butchers, the hanging cows still oozing life, began to spin like a carousel before my eyes. The cement floor seemed to drop out from under my feet. I felt that I was sinking into a deep pit, full of blood....
I saw a strange hand make a swipe across the neck of the young ox. My not-dead "sacrifice" let off a wild bellow, with a crazy howl. I flung the knife to the ground, and quickly ran from the killing floor. My face and hands were soaked with the blood of the ox, which was mixed with the blood from my own bleeding thumb on my left hand.
My auntie, seeing my wounded, bloody thumb, immediately rejoiced! She saw in it a kind of sign, " a finger of God"...
She argued excitedly, that it must have been the spirits of my ancestors acting on my behalf. "We'll see that your wounded finger heals "properly"...you'll be an a real cripple, and therefore, God willing, you will be exempt from military service.
But this time, my auntie’s stubbornness didn't help...not only did my finger get better, but I was, once and for all, finished with the slaughtering business...
* * *