Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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B y B e r n a r d H e l l e r
OMEWHERE in the writings of Shalom Jacob Abramowitz
better known as Mendele Mocher Sefarim, we are presented
with a picture of a market place in a small Ghetto town in Russia.
Between the rows of stands, on which there are sparing displays
of wares, kerchiefed women and bearded men in long caftans
wend their way eyeing the articles for sale and reflecting whether
the coins in their pockets are sufficient to acquire these articles.
If the answer is in the affirmative the bargaining then begins.
The small pile of vegetables on one stand, the bit of dry goods
on another, and the sundry pieces of crockery and hardware on
a third stand, reveal the pathetic poverty of the population of
the village. For from the sale of this meagre assemblage of goods
these must eke out a living.
Between these stands with edible goods and various other
articles there is a table on which are a few bound volumes and
pamphlets. In front of the table there stands the Mocher Sefa-
rim — seller of books, a bespectacled elderly man with a gentle
mien and kindly eyes. He calls the attention of bypassers to
his wares.
“Here are Pentateuchs with excellent type and paper like
parchment, and with all the standard commentaries,” he cries
with a voice more of a teacher than a hawker. Now and then a
woman stops and furtively scans the pamphlets. She seems to
hesitate to tell the book dealer what she wishes. The elderly
merchant of the works of the pen proffers, not without delicacy,
the information about the brochures he imagines the woman is
seeking. “I f you wish a most transporting tale then read this
romance. Its setting is in a large city and the persons belong to
the most elegant people. Read this book and you need not make
the costly trip to Berdichev or Kamenetz.” If the sales talk does
not evoke the expected response the bookseller ventures with
a new line, as he selects another pamphlet. “I f your husband
has difficulty in earning “ Parnoso” (a livelihood) then recite this