The Fire Brigade

By Icchok Bursztyn/ Montevideo

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Reb [Mr.] Jakob prayed in the Sokolower shtibl. People called Reb Jakob Jekiel der dreyer [the turner, (mechanical)], because of his trade. He was something between a turner [lathe operator] and a carpenter. He had a sort of “mechanical thing” in his home for this purpose. It was a combination wheel with rope and tied together pieces of wood in an ingenious manner and all he had to do was press his foot against a plank. The wheel began to turn and with its turning, the entire machine moved. It is with this machine that Reb Jakob gnawed the wood and sticks that were needed to make the peasants' spindles. Therefore men call him Jekiel der dreyer.

All year Jekiel prayed in the Amszynower shtibl, but during the High Holidays he prayed in the large synagogue where he led morning services. Besides he wanted to be closer to the rabbi. He was an ardent Hasid and admirer of the rabbi. Therefore men also called him Jekiel dem rov's [the rabbi's].
Jekiel der dreyer was a religious Jew, even a little fanatic. He would become angry at the least little deviation from devoutness. Despite his anxiety over Judaism and making a living, he still had his worldly “hobby”. All those years he was always an ardent supporter of the well-organized fire brigade. Especially during a fire in the shtetl, he was always one of the first to arrive at the scene to fight the fire. His work he did with enjoyment. Being a fireman he considered a mitzvah [doing a good deed].

Around 1924 the fire brigade in Czyzewo was reorganized to modern standards. The leader, a young Pole, a retired soldier, was very dedicated and well organized. He enrolled Jews and Poles, the majority being young Jews. All of them were issued special uniforms, with brass buttons and caps with lacquered visors. Every Sunday they exercised in the square at the shed. The Commandant drilled the volunteer firemen. From time to time the volunteer firemen also marched, like real soldiers, through the city and out as far as the railroad station. During the exercises several Jews distinguished themselves. But the best was Jakob Epsztejn who was tall young man and swift. He would climb the high ladder quick as a cat and was admired by all the onlookers who would applaud his acrobatics.