My Good Father

By Simcha Prawda

Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski

I am venturing into the sensitive memories of my childhood kingdom in the small shtetl of Czyzewo, where I was born, bred, and grew up. There was so much beauty there, orchards with red cherries and juicy apples, green meadows, a forest with thick leaved trees and squirrels on the branches.

The rustle of the forest and the song of the river sound so sad to me now. None of those lovely and hearty figures, who are engraved in my memory forever, exist today, and no power in the world is strong enough to tear them from my heart. They are revealed to me in my nightly dreams and in lifelike visions at twilight and when I lie with eyes open waiting for the arrival of dawn. So much beauty shines from them, so much life, Jewish faith, Jewish stubbornness in waiting for the messiah. My father's ani ma'amin resounds in my ears, his strong voice, which in difficult times comforted and encouraged, “Jews, don't give up, salvation will surely come.”

My father was a quiet Jew, an ordinary fellow with a little blond beard. He was a humble torah scholar. He wore a black caftan woven in accordance with ritual law. His kind honest heart trembled when he heard a child cry or someone in pain, even if it was a stranger.

The modesty of my father's heart was always with me. More than once, in my rushing about, I would suddenly long for the comfort of my father's talis and tefilin, just like I longed for the homey taste of the coarse black bread following the recitation of the weekday hamoytse. And above all, I longed for his virtue, which he exhibited in all his worldly endeavors.
It was my father's habit, on his way home from the prayer house in his cowhide boots, to quietly whisper the daily psalms. And as he walked he thought of me, his Simkhe, who was keyneynhore, growing up already and plans for his future had to be made. But at the bottom of his heart he believed, that his son, with God's help, would grow up to be a mature, respectable, honest Jew.

It happened on an ordinary market day. The market and the little streets were full of peasants. Women, overworked with haggard faces, their bonnets tilted on their heads, were bargaining back and forth with each other. Sounds of the marketplace filled the air. My father was busy in his shop. But he remembered to send me off to school.
As I passed Motl's shop, I felt something under my feet. When I bent down, I couldn't believe my eyes— it was a wallet with money. This happened so suddenly that in that minute I forgot everything I had been taught at home and in school about the great sin of taking what was not mine. I put the wallet in my pocket and hastened my footsteps turning to look back often to make sure no one was following me. In a quiet alley I counted the treasure. There were ten rubles and ninety kopecks in the wallet. In those days that was a large sum of money. I did not go into the study-hall but held the wallet tightly in my hands as I proceeded to find my friends: Simkhl Gramadzin, Shmulke Lazers, and Leybish Berishes, and we all went to play cards in the women's section of the shul.
We played for a few hours, until I lost all the money. On my way home, sad, with a bitter taste in my mouth, I heard crying screams on our street, coming from Motl Feyge-Peyes store, “Give me back my money.”

My heart felt like it was breaking. With hesitant steps, I drew closer. A Jew with an old fashioned caftan—his cries, hoarse and pained, quietly complained that he was ousted from Mishenitz and that that money was his whole fortune. He was about to buy some green soap, but now he was lost.
Motl Feyge-Peyes cursed and swore on her life that she didn't know anything about it and hadn't seen any money.
The Jew was in despair, releasing a sigh that cut through my heart, “Oy, kind, merciful Father, what am I going to do now?” I wanted to scream out, “Sir, I found your money!” But I was immediately frightened by my own idea. Where was I going to get the money to pay him back? I had lost it all. For a few minutes an internal struggle raked me. I felt I had committed a horrible crime and if I didn't correct it now I would never be forgiven and I'd go around with a guilty conscience for the rest of my life. I tore away from where I stood, ran to the despairing Jew and, trying to control the uproar in my heart, asked him quietly, “Tell me, how much money did you have in the wallet?” “Ten rubles and ninety kopecks,” The Jew turned his gaze on me, his eyes full of pain, grief, and pleading. For identification purposes, he added, “There were also two buttons in the wallet, and one button was broken.” “Come with me, I found your wallet.”
I didn't want to think about what would happen next, how I would get the money to pay him back. I knew that he had to get his money back and I was prepared to endure the greatest sufferings.

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Bobe Sore tells 6 grandchildren a story
On top: her daughters Rivke and Perl as well as her
daughter-in-law are listening to her sweet tale

In a few minutes I was in my father's shop with the Jew. I didn't wait for my father to ask, but hastily spoke out instead, “Father, you may do whatever you wish to me, I will accept everything with love, but return the money to the Jew. I found it and lost it playing cards.” I wanted to continue to talk, plea, cry, but the words remained stuck in my throat. My father's face grew strict, as if he were getting ready to execute a sentence. Then within a moment his gaze shifted like an extinguished flame which had suddenly been blown out by a cold wind. With all the strength of my boyish heart I wanted to shout, “Hit me, and kill me! I deserve it! But the Jew should not suffer!” But before I even managed to open my mouth, my father turned to my mother and called out, “Sara, cut three yards of linen for a frock for the Jew.”

Upon turning back to us, his face was again transformed. A warm, bright smile shone in his eyes as well as on his whole face, “Not a groshn will be missing.”He walked over to the drawer, counted ten rubles and ninety kopecks and gave them to the man, while my mother measured the linen.
Later, my father sat with the Jew, invited him for shabes and schmoozed with him as if he were a welcomed guest, a close friend. He didn't scream at me. It was clear to me that in those moments, when my father looked deep into my turbulent heart, he was comforted knowing that his Simkhele was fulfilling the commandment of returning a lost object.

Shabes arrived. It was the nicest and grandest shabes of my life. Soon it will be fifty years since that happened and my heart still quivers, as if it were yesterday. You are always with me, dear father, everyday of my life. Your hard lived life, or unlived life, will accompany me like the sun, even more radiant than the sun. Your deeds will forever illuminate my disposition.