My Homily

Simcha Prawda

Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski

In my shtetl, I was considered an “apikores” [heretic]. But God only knows what the nature of my heresy was. I rocked with the same enthusiasm as all the other young hasidic boys when I prayed; I recited the ani m'a amin with great devotion every day; I kept my peyes [side curls] very long. When I got a haircut I was very careful to make sure Ruven, the religious barber, should, God forbid, not inadvertently let the scissor touch a single hair of my peyes. What then was my sin to be deemed an apikores?

The answer to this may be as follows: I once showed up in the hasidic shtibl with a short jacket and no hat! This so-called “ sin” sealed my fate and brought to pass that I should never again lay eyes on my beloved Aleksander shtibl. From that accursed day I was forbidden to set foot in the shtibl and the hasidim began to regard me as a dissident.
Having no other choice I went to pray with the minyen [quorum] of the Tiferes Bokherim which had just been established. There, after prayers we gathered together, gave Zionist sermons and full of longing for Zion, sang the song, “ Al eim haderech shama misgoleles, shoshana haklilas einayim.” It was there that we decided to perform the play, “ Village Youth,” as a benefit for the library. Everyone was given a role. It was my lot to play the part of Reb Khatsye, which entailed giving a drashe [sermon).
This role was sent to me straight from heaven. It was there, through this sermon, that I was given the opportunity to get even with the hasidic minyen who had wronged me by banning me from the shtibl. In my sermon I gave my all to making fun of the hasidic fanaticism in Czyzewo. I rehearsed my lines day and night and when I enunciated the words, “ When a Jew sins with “ something” in this world, what happens to him in the next world?” I gesticulated with various hasidic grimaces to the nth degree.
Despite the fact that we rehearsed in secret in the firehall, news that we were preparing a play somehow became public. Women in the market secretly passed the word to each other, from mouth to ear, wringing their hands.
The shtetl was in a fuss, but we, prepared for the performance with all our fervor.

One shabes, after the morning prayer, as soon as they took out the Torah, Avrom Yoysef the hasid, agitated, his arms flayling, ran into the Gerer shtibl screaming, “Gevald, Jews, we're on fire!” There is no need for prayer and there is no need for learning, 'It's time to do the Lord's work; your Torah has been undone'. The forces of evil, may God protect us from them, are surfacing in our shtetl!” He screamed inflamed, his adam's apple bobbing up and down, his pointy little black beard jutting in rhythm, “Vey, vey, Jews, why are you just standing there? There's a fire burning up our homes, our whole shtetl, the fire is coming from the firehall and it's consuming our children! Gevald Jews, rescue! 'Whoever is for the Lord, come with me!

The crowd left the Torah on the table, as if in disgrace, and still wrapped in their taleysim [prayer shawls], went directly to the firehall to extinguish the blaze. At that moment, the Aleksander hasid, Reb Velvl Shmuel Zeligs, stood in the doorway of our house with his head down, looking like a mourner just returned from a funeral, God help us.
My mother, frightened at seeing Velvl in this condition, screamed, “Aron, what happened?”
“They say, that your Simkhele,” his voice cracked not completing the sentence, and all the while standing with his head bent. “What about my Simkhele?” My mother asked, her eyes bulging, terrified. “Your Simkhele,” Velvl began again his voice sounding as if it was coming out of an empty barrel, “Oy vey, gevald, God in Heaven—boys and girls, may God protect us, get together and play treyater and your Simkhele is the big makher among them and you are silent?”

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Simkhe Gromadzin-Gordon, New York and Simcha Prawda, Mexico

“My Simkhele?” My mother, already calmed a bit, asked. She raised her modest eyes to heaven, as if to thank God that at least I was alive, and again asked, “What are you talking about Reb Velvl, my Simkhele? Aren't you mistaken?”
“Yes, your Simkhele. I am not mistaken,” Reb Velvel drew out his words, “Who is closer to a child than his mother? You must see to it that your dear brat allows his father, the tzadik Reb Shlomo, to rest in peace in his grave. You must see to it that he not play in any treyater. That is how you can save the entire shtetl. The curse on the shtetl will be lifted, children won't be taken from us before their time, and all ills will be cured.”

The whole time he was speaking my mother wiped her tears with her shabes apron and as soon as she saw me entering the house she looked into my eyes with weeping eyes and asked, “Simkhele, you play treyater?” “How do you know mother?” I answered with a question. “The whole town is fuming over you,” my mother, wringing her hands and sobbing asked me again, “Is it true?” Silently, I let down my head and didn't answer. “Vey to the mother who has lived to see this! Woe, woe is to me that I have to witness this, and vey to your father in his grave, nebekh!” “Simkhele!” she began to plead, “Don't disgrace your father in his afterlife, obey your mother. Is it suitable for Shloymke Prawda's son and Moishe Prawda's grandson to congregate with cheeky girls to play the treyater?”

My mother's tears and pleading voice literally broke my heart. I decided not to go anymore and promised my mother, “My foot will not cross their threshold!”
But soon after, I thought to myself, “ How will I be able to do this? How could I keep my promise after I had already invested so much work, rehearsing my part with the sermon so many times and especially since the profits were designated to maintain the library. And what will Libshe, the fishmonger's daughter, say? She is expecting me with her infatuated eyes?” Indeed, I soon regretted my holy promise to my mother not to act again. As soon as my mother fell asleep after supper, I crept out gingerly, and as if chased by a gale, went straight to the hangar where they were already waiting for me and immediately immersed myself in my role.
As soon as I saw Libshe there, I totally forgot about the promise I had made to my mother and began again to rehearse my role. When I got to the drashe I gave it my all, screaming with all of my might. It felt as if I wanted to pommel those frume yidn for my mother's tears, for disturbing our shabes, and for forcing me to deceive my mother.

When I finished yelling out my sermon, applause broke out in response to my acting. No one knew however what was going on in my heart at that moment.

Dear mother, forgive me!