Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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M a r k — G r a n d f a t h e r o f Yiddish L i t e r a t u r e
79
he to get out of the clutches of Avreml the Lame? There was a
saying in those days that man consists of three elements: his
body, his soul and his passport. If the lad had any papers at all
they were in the possession of the leader of the beggar band,
who apparently set great value on Sholem Yakov as a means of
getting more alms. What is more, our young wanderer had to
be careful not to be caught by the snatchers or by prospective
brides, because wherever they went Avreml wanted to marry
off his young companion in order to earn a match-making fee.
It was impossible to run away because of the danger of falling
into the hands of the “ snatchers” who hunted on all the roads.
Then a miracle happened. The horse lost a shoe and Sholem
Yakov was sent to retrace the band’s itinerary and look for the
horseshoe. As he walked back down the road, a large wagon
carrying a cantor and his choir overtook him, and as it passed
a young man jumped out and called: “ Sholem Yakov! Sholem
Yakov!”
An old friend from Kapulia or from some Yeshiva had recog­
nized him, and he was taken into the wagon and carried to
Kamenetz in Podolia. He did not become a choir boy, but
remained in Kamenetz. Where? In that wonderful and unique
institution, in the house of study, the club, the inn for the
homeless called
bes medrash.
At that time there lived in Kame­
netz the Yiddish-Hebrew writer Abraham Ber Gotlober who
was a radical and belligerent
maskil.
Who found whom is not
known, but this contact brought a great change in the young
man’s life. Gotlober befriended and made a
maskil
of him. His
daughters taught him Russian, German and secular subjects.
The capable Sholem Yakov passed an examination and in 1856
became a teacher in the local Crown school recently established
by the government. The school was one of those the “ benevolent”
government had organized to secularize Jews, to which they
were bitterly opposed.
Mendele3s First Essay
A year later Gotlober submitted one of his protege’s essays on
Jewish education to the magazine
Hamagid.
This was the future
classic writer’s first effort to appear in print. It seems, however,
that life in Kamenetz was no bed of roses. While Abramovitch
was studying for his teaching examination, he had fallen into
the hands of the “ snatchers” but had miraculously escaped.
Probably to protect himself from them, he married a half blind
girl. He divorced her, however, and decided to leave Kamenetz.
He accepted a position as a teacher in Berdichev and settled
there. He now took to writing in earnest, producing articles on
education, literary criticism, his first story, and later a novel