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Only Yesterday
S. Y. Agnon
Translated by Barbara Harshav

Book Description | Reviews | Table of Contents

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Princeton University Press and copyrighted, © 2000, by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Follow links for Class Use and other Permissions. For more information, send e-mail to


Like all our brethren of the Second Aliya, the bearers of our Salvation, Isaac Kumer left his country and his homeland and his city and ascended to the Land of Israel to build it from its destruction and to be rebuilt by it. From the day our comrade Isaac knew his mind, not a day went by that he didn't think about it. A blessed dwelling place was his image of the whole Land of Israel and its inhabitants blessed by God. Its villages hidden in the shade of vineyards and olive groves, the fields enveloped in grains and the orchard trees crowned with fruit, the valleys yielding flowers and the forest trees swaying; the whole firmament is sky blue and all the houses are filled with rejoicing. By day they plow and sow and plant and reap and gather and pick, threshing wheat and pressing wine, and at eventide they sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, his wife and his sons and daughters sitting with him, happy at their work and rejoicing in their sitting, and they reminisce about the days of yore Outside the Land, like people who in happy times recall days of woe, and enjoy the good twice over. A man of imagination was Isaac, what his heart desired, his imagination would conjure up for him.

The days of his youth departed in his yearning for the Land of Israel. Some of Isaac's friends had already taken wives and opened shops for themselves, and they're distinguished in the eyes of folks and are invited to all public events. When they enter the bank, the clerk sits them down on a chair; when they come to a government office, the dignitaries return their greetings. And others of Isaac's friends are at the university studying all manner of wisdom that sustains those who possess it and magnifies their honor. While Isaac shortens his life and spends his days and his years selling Shekels to vote for the Zionist organization and selling stamps of the Jewish National Fund. His father wished to extricate him from his folly and set him up in a shop so he would be occupied in trade and become a man, but as soon as he entered the shop, the whole shop turned into a branch of Zionism. Anyone who didn't know what to do with himself went there. There were those who came to talk and those who came to listen, and those who just came and stood leaning on their walking stick and chomping on their beard, and the customers were dwindling and dropping away to other shops.

Even though there is a Society of Zion in the city, the talkers were fond of that store, because at the Society, you have to pay monthly dues, while here you entered and didn't pay. At the Society, everyone who comes in is dubbed a Zionist, and not everybody wants to be known as a Zionist, while here you were entitled to split hairs about Zionism to your heart's content and nobody called you a Zionist. And why are they afraid to be counted among the Zionists? Because the Sages of the Generation did not yet grant their seal of approval to Zionism and were hostile to the Zionists who make Societies for the Land of Israel thus annulling the Salvation that has to come by a miracle. All those who fear their words or are in awe of them are afraid to be called Zionists, but obstreperous individuals permit themselves to split hairs about it. They gather in Simon Kumer's store and find people like themselves and fire each other up with words that are food for the soul.

Thus passed the days of Isaac's youth, days that should form the foundation of a man's future. He didn't notice that he was spending them idly, or he did notice and wasn't worried, because his dwelling Outside the Land wasn't worth anything in his eyes, for all of Isaac's desire was to be in the Land of Israel. He remained alone in the shop, sitting and counting the Zionist Shekels he sold and making calculations, such as, if every single Jew gives a penny every day to the Jewish National Fund, how many acres can you buy with that small change and how many families could be settled on them. If a customer comes in to ask for some merchandise, Isaac glances at him like someone who is sitting on a treasure trove and people come and bother him.


When Simon, Isaac's father, saw Isaac's activities, he was bitter and depressed and worried. He would stand in the door of his shop and wring his hands in grief, or would sit on the chair and lean his head back and blow out his lungs inside him. If you haven't seen Simon Kumer, the father of Isaac Kumer, sitting in front of his son you never saw a father's grief. Before his son Isaac was grown up, his wife was his helpmate, and when she passed away leaving behind her a house full of orphans, Simon expected his son would help him. And what does the son do? Is it not bad enough that he doesn't help him, but he also drives the customers away to other shops? Simon neither quarrels with his son nor consoles him, for he has learned that neither quarreling nor conciliatory words will do any good. A curse has descended on the world, sons do not heed their fathers and fathers do not rule their sons. And Simon has despaired of getting any joy and satisfaction from his son and has started worrying lest his other sons learn from Isaac's deeds. He pondered the matter and agreed to send Isaac where he wanted to go. True, there is no prospect for the Land of Israel, but at any rate there may be some profit in that, for when he sees there is really nothing there, he'll come back to his hometown and settle down like everybody else, and the other sons will be saved and won't get dragged into this nonsense.

Simon didn't spare his son's dignity and would joke, For what reason do I agree to his journey? So he'll see with his own eyes that the whole business of the Land of Israel is a fiction the Zionists made up, and he'll remove it from his heart. Isaac heard and wasn't vexed. For the sons of Israel, if they aren't the sons of rich men or geniuses, grow up meekly, hear their disgrace and keep silent. And Isaac said to himself, Let Father say what he wants, in the end he will see that my way is the right one. Thus Isaac received his father's consent to the journey. From the day he was born not a thing had been done to his desire until that thing came and was done to his desire.


So great was the power of Isaac's trust in the Lord that even the town wags who make a joke of everything didn't laugh at him. His father began to think that perhaps God sent him to be a sustenance and a refuge for us. When Simon considered the journey, he started worrying and groaning and sighing, May I drop dead if I know where I'm going to get the money for the trip. Even if I sell all my wares it won't be enough. And even if it is enough, nobody comes in to buy, for Isaac has already made the customers forget the way to my shop. And even if my customers do come back they don't pay cash. All Simon Kumer's days were worries about money. Three generations had drawn their livelihood from the treasures their ancestor Reb Yudel Hasid had discovered, and the fourth generation finished off that wealth and didn't leave Simon Kumer, father of Isaac, son of the son of the daughter of Reb Yudel's daughter, even the remnants of remnants of those treasures. And now that he is pressed for money, no miracle occurred to him, and he didn't find a treasure as his ancestor did. Reb Yudel who had perfect trust in God was paid by the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He to match his trust, while Simon his descendant placed his trust in trade, and trade sometimes brings honors to those who practice it and sometimes brings horrors on those who practice it.

Now a new worry was added to his worries, finding money for the journey. In those days there was some idle money among the well-to-do men of the city, for the royal authority had issued a decree against pawning, and they were afraid to lend to a Gentile who might report it to the government, yet they did take the liberty of lending to Jews at a fixed rate of interest. But where will a poor Jew get money to pay? And there's another problem here too, for Isaac won't find any work in the Land of Israel, and by the time his departure is paid for, he'll need to borrow to pay for his return.

Meanwhile, the time came for Isaac to be drafted into the army, and there was not a chance that he would be excused, for he was a healthy fellow and without the wherewithal to bribe the army commanders, and serving in the army meant profaning the Sabbath and eating forbidden foods. In spite of himself, Simon went back to pondering the journey.

Thus he went to the pawn shop and borrowed money for travel expenses and for clothes and footwear, for Isaac's clothing had laid him bare and his footwear wore him down because it was patched. He bought him clothes and ordered him shoes and a hat. Clothes of wool, shoes of sturdy leather, a hat of black felt, for they weren't yet experts on the climate of the Land of Israel and didn't know what clothes that Land demanded. True, they heard that the Land of Israel was a hot land, but they thought hot means beautiful, an in the poem of our bard, the marvels of a land where spring blooms eternal. For he is going to a place where they didn't know him and his clothes will show that he is from a fine home. Then Simon has six shirts sewn for him and ironed meticulously, because the ones he had showed more rips than patches, for ever since the day his mother died, no hand had mended them. If Simon had been blessed with wealth, he would have provided wedding garments for his son, but now he wasn't blessed, he provided him with supplies for the road. And he took a pillow and a featherbed from his wife's bed and gave them to Isaac. Then he took a valise and a sack, a valise to put the clothes and shirts in, and a sack to put the pillow and featherbed in.


Isaac parted from his father and his brothers and his sisters and all his other relatives and set out on the road. To the disgrace of his hometown, we must say that he parted from it without pain. A city that didn't send a Delegate to the Zionist Congress and was not inscribed in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund is a city you leave without pain.

Isaac came to the railroad station and bought himself a ticket, and boarded the train. He squeezed his sack under the bench and the valise he held in his hand and sat down wherever he sat down, his heart beating like those wheels beating their rhythm beneath his feet, and like those wheels, when they beat they travel on, so did Isaac's heart travel on. Yesterday he had worried lest there be some obstacle and he wouldn't go. And lo and behold, there was no obstacle and he is traveling. He had already left the borders of his hometown and was entering the limits of another city, and from that city on to another city. And if no mishap befell him on the way, in two days he would reach Trieste and sail on the sea to the Land of Israel. In his ruminations on the Land of Israel, he cleared his mind of every other matter, and even the Land of Israel itself seemed to grow more and more vague, for the pounding of his heart blurred his thoughts and the pictures of his imagination slipped away. Only in the moorings of his soul did Isaac see that he was transported from simple concrete things to a pleasant state of being.

The car was full of people from his hometown and people from other towns. Some were traveling for their own trade, and others were traveling for other kinds of business, and on their journey they started getting close to one another, as human beings would who chance to be in the same place and see one another as partners, if not in reality, then in conversation. Some talked about matters of trade and others talked about matters of state, some told news from their hometown and some skipped from one issue to another, like travelers who get excited about everything but don't linger long over anything. Unlike all of those, others sat in silence, because of the bad deals that got them in trouble. Some time ago the whole world rejoiced before them and now the whole world was sad. Maybe they will be exempt from a harsh judgment--from a light one they will certainly not be exempt. By the time you've got those deals in your hands, you're already in their hands. Isaac neither rejoiced with the rejoicers nor grieved with the grievers. Those businesses brought about by Exile were not worth either rejoicing or grieving about. Isaac had already shaken them off his hands and he would soon shake off the dust of Exile, like a man shaking something repulsive off his feet.

The train rolled on between villages and hamlets, cities and towns. Some were known for their great rabbis and others were known for their famous cemeteries. Some earned a name with the produce of their fields and the fruit of their trees, the fish in their rivers and the minerals in their mountains; and others earned fame with their poultry and livestock and other things in heaven and on earth. And yet other places have neither learning nor earning, but do have a Quarrel. Some sanctify the Name of the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He with the Kedushah, We shall sanctify You, and others sanctify Him with We shall bless You, and they wrestle with each other and create a Quarrel. And another Quarrel, between Assimilationists and Zionists. The former want to be like all the other nations, and the latter want to be Jews, so they wrestle with each other and create a Quarrel. And yet another Quarrel, between those who want Salvation by miracle and those who want a natural Salvation, so they wrestle with each other and create a Quarrel.

From time to time, the train stopped. Some got off and some got on. Some of them glanced at Isaac, for he had a pin stuck in his tie with the name of Zion engraved on it. Isaac didn't notice them, and if they said anything to him--he was silent. Isaac had removed himself from all arguments, and his heart was not moved by talk. Only yesterday, he was willing to argue about every Zionist issue, but today, since he is going to fulfill his words in deeds, all words are superfluous and supercilious.

Night began departing and the buds of morning started to appear. The train was approaching Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, home of most of the great Zionists of the Empire. Isaac broke up his trip and made a stop in Lemberg, to appear before our leaders and get their blessing before his ascent to the Land of Israel.


So Isaac picked up his valise and his sack and entrusted them to the guards. He smoothed the wrinkles in his clothes and entered the city. From students in his hometown, Isaac had heard of the coffeehouse where our leaders hold their meetings. A big city is not like a small town. In a small town, a person goes out of his house and immediately finds his friend; in a big city days and weeks and months may go by until they see one another, and so they set a special place in the coffeehouse where they drop in at appointed times. Isaac had pictured that coffeehouse, where the great Zionists gather to discuss the needs of the nation, as the most exquisite place, and he envied those students who could go there any time, any hour. Now that he had arrived in Lemberg, he himself went to see them.

And so Isaac came to Lemberg, capital of Galicia. Tall buildings rise high and higher and carriages move without horses, and bronze horses stand erect with bronze dignitaries astride them. And there are gardens planted in the city and stone figures spraying water from their mouth, and big synagogues built on stone pillars, and an old Jewish cemetery full of saintly and righteous ancestors protects the city. This city is a paragon of beauty, the joy of the whole land. Here sat the masters of the Torah, the interpreters of the sea of the Talmud and the interpreters of the Shulhan Arukh, and from here went forth most of the first Maskilim who wanted to rejuvenate our spirit, and here sat the Shepherds of Israel, the Champions of the Holy who could stop evil decrees, and like them were their righteous wives who, with their righteousness and their grace, overcame the persecution. If our misfortune is as wide as the sea and our troubles as multiple as the sand, there are pearls in the sea and jewels in the sand, the former are the Chiefs of Israel the Leaders of the Generation, and the latter are their proper wives who were given them by God for grace and mercy even in the land of our foes. Two cities there are in Galicia whose fame goes far and wide, Brod and Lemberg. The glory of Brod, her glory in the days of Reb Yudel Hasid, Isaac's ancestor, is departed now, but Lemberg still stands in her splendor. From the day the Jews came to Lemberg six hundred years ago until now, her light has not grown dim. Wherever you turn, in whatever corner you look, you find her greatness.

So Isaac walked along the streets of Lemberg. Before him and behind him, men and women are wearing expensive clothes like guests at a wedding, and heavy carriages run hither and yon, and people who look like Bishops walk around like ordinary human beings, and if not for the schoolgirls pointing at them you wouldn't have known that they are famous theater actors. And shops filled with all the best are wide open, and clerks in uniforms come and go. And a lot of other things can be seen in the streets of Lemberg and every single thing is a wonder unto itself. Isaac looked neither here nor there. Like that Hasid, his ancestor Reb Yudel, who blindfolded himself with a handkerchief a few years before his ascent to the Land of Israel because he didn't want to please his eyes with the beauty of Outside the Land, so did Isaac walk around with eyes shut tight. Before long he found himself standing in front of a splendid palace with several thick glass doors, running one behind another and turning nonstop, and a boy stands between the doors, dressed in blue and gold, and dignitaries and gentlemen come in and go out with thick cigars in their mouths. So Isaac stood still and didn't budge, transfixed by a spell. Who knows how long he would have stood like that if a man hadn't come along, spotted him as a provincial who wanted to come in, and brought him in.

Suddenly Isaac found himself standing in a splendid temple with gilded chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and lamps shining from every single wall and electric lights turned on in the daytime and marble tables gleaming, and people of stately mien wearing distinguished clothes sitting on plush chairs, reading big newspapers. And above them, waiters dressed like dignitaries and like lords on the king's birthday, holding silver pitchers and porcelain cups that smelled of coffee and all kinds of pastry. Everything Isaac had pictured in his imagination was nothing at all compared to what his eyes saw, and everything he saw with his eyes was nothing compared to the terror he felt at that moment. He began shriveling and shrinking until nothing was left of him but his hands, and he didn't know what to do with them. One of those dignitaries waiting on the guests came up and bowed to him. Then a miracle happened to Isaac and he started talking.


The waiter took him to a room with billiard tables where fat, stocky people in shirtsleeves were standing and holding colorful poles in their hands, and they were knocking the balls with the poles. The waiter said to one of them, This gentleman is asking for you. The Doctor put down his pole and came and stood before Isaac. And Isaac looked at him and was stunned. Could this be that shining icon gleaming on the walls of his house among the other pictures of the heads of the Zionists. When he realized that there was no mistake, he began to venerate him as he venerated his icon, and told him all his business.

The Doctor took him and introduced him to his companions, as if to say, If you're members of the group, share its vexations with me. And Isaac repeated to them, From the day I knew my mind, I gave my heart and soul to Zionism. I did not dread the scoffers and I suppressed my pity for my father and occupied myself with the needs of the Land of Israel. I sold Zionist Shekels and stamps of the Jewish National Fund, and I placed collection bowls on Yom Kippur eve in a few synagogues in the city. Oftentimes I was humiliated, but I paid no heed to it, but piled one deed on top of another, and now I am ascending to the Land of Israel to work her soil. And even though every day I spend Outside the Land of Israel is not reckoned in the number of days for me, I have broken up my trip and come to Lemberg to see our teachers and to receive their blessing before my ascent.

Neither his clothes nor his shoes nor his movements were cut to the style of those who sit in coffeehouses, they could even be called ridiculous; yet all his listeners were drawn to his words. Even though they were used to small-town people pestering them with their stories, they found in that lad what they didn't find in most of the youths. But they were amazed that he was going to Palestine. Anyone who is a Zionist and has the wherewithal goes to Conferences; if he's got a lot, he travels to the Congresses, for at that time they weren't accustomed yet to ascending to the Land of Israel, but every Zionist sits in his hometown and wins souls for Zionism. And if need be, they travel to Conferences and to Forums to deliver speeches. Some of them forsook their world for Zionism and were willing to give up their soul for it, but for the means they forgot the end, and strayed off into thinking that the end of Zionism is assemblies, and the end of assemblies is speeches, and the end of speeches is propaganda, and the end of propaganda is--propaganda. At first, the Land of Israel was the end of all ends for them, yet when they saw that the end was distant and hard and the means were close by and easy, they traded the distant and hard for the close by and easy.

So Isaac sat before our heads and leaders and feasted his eyes on them. And they looked favorably on him, too. This provincial who had been a nuisance to them at first was beginning to stir their heart. So they stood up and put on their coats and went with him to drink a cup of coffee. They treated him to coffee with cream that cost fourteen Kreutzers, and cake that also cost fourteen Kreutzers, which is twenty-eight Kreutzers, which is one thirteenth of the price of planting an olive tree in the Herzl Forest. And it was good that they invited him to eat and drink, because he had been so eager to see them that he had forgotten to eat and he was hungry. Yet our comrade Isaac didn't disgrace us, and didn't drink more than one glass, and didn't eat more than one piece of pastry, even though he was hungry and had never seen such fine pastry as that in his life.

So Isaac sat there before our heads and our leaders who were stirred by him. And since the hearts of our chiefs and our leaders were stirred by our comrade Isaac, they told him that even they might ascend to see what was going on there in Palestine. In those days, the Zionists used to call the Land of Israel Palestine. And when they got to Palestine, they would come visit him and would have their picture taken with him as he walked behind the plow. How happy Isaac was when he imagined himself standing among our leaders and our chiefs and the photographer is taking a picture of them together. Even the most humble of the humble doesn't run away from such an honor. Finally, they wrote letters of introduction for him to their colleagues in Palestine. And whereas he was the first one journeying to the Land of Israel and the first to ask for a recommendation, they lavished praise on him, and asked their comrades in the Land of Israel to support him and aid him and include him in their circle.


Isaac took the letters of recommendation and went to the railroad station. He collected his valise and his sack from the depot and boarded the train. The train was full of Jews and Christians, Jews who look like Christians and Christians who look like Jews. Isaac sat down and didn't raise his eyes to anyone, like a man who chanced upon great men and wouldn't dare lift his head. But when he heard their talk, his awe of them departed and he saw himself more distinguished than they, for they were traveling for their imaginary existence and he was traveling to the Land of Israel. He felt the letters and was glad as if he held a banknote hidden in his hand.

The train went on, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, swallowing between its wheels places whose names he had never even heard of. How many cities there are in the world. There must be a need for them. But Isaac has no need for them. If he hadn't stopped in Lemberg, he would already have been approaching his destination. At any rate, he has no regrets, for during his visit to Lemberg, he had greeted our leaders and had received letters of introduction to their comrades in the Land of Israel. By now Isaac had stopped reading the names of the cities. Other cities and other places held sway over Isaac's heart, the cities and villages of the Land of Israel. But even in Galicia there are cities steeped in fond affection, like Przemysl, because the prayerbook you prayed from in your childhood was printed in the Holy City of Przemysl, and because Przemysl is a Citadel, a fortress for the whole state. Like everybody else in Galicia, Isaac thought that in the whole world there was no Citadel stronger than the one in Przemysl, and now that the train was arriving in Przemysl, he pressed to the window to see the Citadel, and was stunned to find that you don't see towers or turrets or cannons or any of those things he had heard about. But he did see army commanders, generals of legions of several nations with different collars and colors, for every single legion has its own color. Officers of the armies of the Emperor were strolling about the yard of the railroad station. Some with red and green and gray epaulets and some had their beards and their mustaches shaved like priests. These were the troops of General Windischgrätz, like those we saw in our hometown when they came there for war exercises. And there were also cavalry and infantry, artillery and sappers, and officers of other troops that you don't know what they're used for. Isaac's eyes were drawn to see but his heart shriveled and told him, Don't stand at the window and don't show yourself to them, for the sight of your face can bring trouble down on you, for you have reached the age of military service and you are shirking and going to another land.

So Isaac went back and sat down in his seat and shrank up so they wouldn't notice him, for you never know if, among the passengers, there are those who would denounce you, who would turn you over to the authorities and you would not reach the Land of Israel. But blessed be all the passengers, all were proper Jews and none of them turned him in or denounced him. And even though all of them love the Emperor and wish him well and want his armies to be strong, they don't think of turning a Jewish boy over to the army.

After the train moved, Isaac raised his eyes. He saw before him dignified people, their beards black and shapely, their hats big and wide, and their shoes polished and shining. They sit comfortably and take cakes and brandy out of their bags and drink a toast and converse pleasantly with one another like well-mannered people. The train makes another stop, and broad-shouldered men with thick sidelocks and wide belts come in. No sooner did they put their belongings down than they started reciting the prayer: It is You, HASHEM, our God before whom our forefathers burned the incense-spices in the time when the Holy Temple stood as You commanded them through Moses Your prophet, as is written in the Torah. All the passengers joined them and stood up for the afternoon prayers.

The train moves on and on and Reuben doesn't go where Simon goes and Simon doesn't go where Levi goes, but this one goes to this place and that one to that place. But at that hour, all their faces are turned to Jerusalem and their hearts are turned to their Father in Heaven, and all of them stand in awe and submission and great devotion and recite the afternoon prayers. Then the conductor came in and saw Jews standing at their prayers, so he withdrew and went to check the tickets of others who weren't praying.


The train moves on and on, and as it moves it embraces stations and villages, towns and cities. And at every station, the conductor announces the name of the town, and signs hang in the railroad stations, and wherever the train arrives, the name of that city shines on the sign. Cities whose names you never even heard roll by. And all of a sudden, your heart is shaken because the train has reached Tarnow, that same Tarnow that added a village in the Land of Israel. That village, Mahanayim, has already fallen to rack and ruin and its despondent inhabitants have left there. But your affectionate glance rests on every Jew who gets on the train from this city, for that person may have lent a hand to the Land of Israel or he may have been in the Land of Israel and returned here because he didn't succeed there. A few years before, the newspapers announced that the farmers of Mahanayim were in trouble and distress and Isaac collected ten Crowns for them. Ten Crowns isn't enough to satisfy a host of hungry people, but it can show them that even in a wretched town like Isaac's, there is a person who pays heed to his brothers who work the soil of the Land of Israel.

The train moves on its way, disgorging passengers and absorbing passengers. People come with open hearts and strange pronunciations. Some look with angry eyes at Isaac because he is sitting in his seat while they are wandering from place to place, and some look with angry eyes because their heart is pressed and making a living is hard. Isaac ponders, those people are Hasidim of that Rebbe who didn't miss a time or place to revile and vilify the Zionists. Last year, Between the Straits, between the seventeenth day of Tamuz when the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the ninth day of Av when the Temple was destroyed, on the Sabbath when we bless the consoling month of Av, he sat amid his Hasids before the prayer and maligned the Zionists as was his wont. And when he passed before the Ark with the blessings for the new month and for impending salvation, he added a curse to the blessing and shouted at the top of his voice, But not through the wicked heretics in our time. And because he feared lest the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He didn't know the Holy tongue, he translated his words into Yiddish, Di epikorsim vus zaanen in inzere tsaatn.

The train reached Cracow, a metropolis with everything in it. Here is an observatory where you see the stars of the sky in their orbits, and here is the grave of the RaMA, Rabbi Moses Isserlish of blessed memory along with the graves of other great Jews. Here the Magid came out and here the Mitspe is published. And at the gates of the city two enormous bones of a horrific beast stand erect, and the author of The Paths of the World wrote of them that no eye ever saw their like in all the lands of the globe. Jews wearing Shtraymls board the train, and their faces are like the faces of drawings engraved on the covers of old books. The train stayed for some time and started on its way again. And on its way, it made a stop here and it made a stop there. People get off and people get on. The Hasids keep decreasing and people whose business is greater than their Hasidism fill the train.

From the depths of the earth, from twisting tunnels, a mighty voice emerges. Such a tumult you never heard even in Lemberg or Cracow, for this place, Oderberg, is a railroad junction, and from here the tracks split and the trains spread out and go to many places. Since the train tends to stay here a long time, some of the passengers get out of the car and go to the railroad station. Isaac, who was scared to leave his seat lest he not find his car afterward, stood up and looked outside. He saw things that were simply amazing, like a kiosk full of newspapers. Or a man buying himself a newspaper, looking at it for a little while, and throwing it away. Newspapers did come to our hometown, too, but every newspaper counted a Minyan or two of subscribers, and after a year they bound it into a book, while here each man buys a newspaper all for himself, looks at it a bit, and throws it away.


Now the train left Galicia and entered the land of Silesia and the land of Moravia. Villages with thatch-roofed houses disappeared, and villages with tile roofs that turn black go on and on, and all the villages here are prettier than our cities in Galicia. And the villagers who board the car are dressed in city clothes. Their shirt doesn't come down over their pants, and the shoes on their feet are made of leather and not of straw. But the villagers themselves behave like villagers, they spit coarsely, and when they belch they don't cover their mouth, and their tongue is neither Polish nor Ukrainian, but a little like the former and a little like the latter, and it seems to have a singsong intonation. And at the side of the train they herd big horses and fat cows. And factories come after factories, and flatcars are coupled to the train full of chopped beets that look like sausages, and they make sugar from them, for there are a lot of sugar factories in this state, along with all the other factories and workshops. And they put out big chimneys as high as the sky with smoke rising above them. And at night flames burst from the iron pits and the crucibles.

And now we're approaching Vienna. The whole earth is engraved with tracks, and countless cars are flying in every direction. You think you've come to Vienna itself, but you haven't even reached the outskirts of its outskirts.

And when the train pulled into the railroad station, the station looked like a bustling metropolis, and not a small one either, but a big one. And a jubilation erupted and rose and dignitaries and officers and gentlemen and ladies were pouring in, and in front of them and in back of them were porters loaded with bags and trunks and valises and suitcases and all kinds of fine vessels, as if they were transporting gifts to a king. Some hurry and run and some stroll and lounge. Isaac sometimes hurries and sometimes strolls, and doesn't know whether to stand still or to walk on, whether he is jostled or whether he is moved about in the throng. But he does know that he has to go to another train that is going to Trieste. Yet the masses of people blocked his way, and it seemed he would never get out of here. And even though he had about twelve hours until his journey, he began to fear he was late, and if he wasn't late yet, he surely would be late. He drew in his limbs and hunched up his shoulders and stooped over and threaded his way through the crowd with his belongings until he emerged into the open. He came upon a clock and saw that he still had the same twelve hours until his trip, and he pondered, If that is the case, I shall go and see the city. He deposited his belongings in the checkroom and was all on his own.

Isaac was all on his own and considered where he would go. Would he go to Leopoldstadt with its splendid synagogues whose beauty is unsurpassed throughout the world, or to the Prater, the joy of the whole city, or to the big house called Bunch of Grapes, or to their church that has a clock where every single one of its numbers is more than two feet high, or to the library where the Book of Psalms is written in gold letters on red parchment, or to the Emperor's palace, or to the Museum. Many were the things here that we heard about and now we can see them. And now we stand at the entrance of Vienna and we don't know where we shall go or where we shall turn. Isaac stood a while, his mind flitting from place to place but his feet aren't moving, for with so many things, his head is heavy and his feet are heavier than his head. So he waved his hand in resignation, and entertained the idea that a person who is going to the Land of Israel can forgo the whole world. Yet Vienna is Vienna and can't be dismissed with a wave of the hand. His feet moved by themselves, and he was dragged along with his feet. But there are so many things and you don't know what to look at first, either at her towers or parks, or at her statues or at the abundance of Gentiles. There are so many things here, and since there are so many, he sees and doesn't see. And a vague thought comes to him, Maybe here in this place where I'm standing now Herzl stood. And Isaac recalled something that not everybody remembers, that if it hadn't been for Herzl, we would have lived out our days in Exile and would not have ascended to the Land of Israel. Suddenly a voice that sounded like chanting pierced the air, and at the peaks of the towers, clocks began drowning each other out with their sounds. And hour after hour comes rolling in, and you listen, and how do you know whether it's for good or for bad. And the sounds rolled down from the peaks of the towers, and the expanses of the world tremble at their sound, and passersby stand still and set their watches, some with satisfaction and some with dejection. And Isaac prayed for himself, May the hours pass quickly and may I get to my place. But since the hours went on slowly, he had time. So he opened his mouth and asked where the Emperor's palace was. They told him the way. He came to the Emperor's palace and saw the tall gendarmes guarding the palace, and he saw the gatekeepers garbed in red and wreathed in loops and stripes, with many buttons sparkling on their clothes. And Fortune smiled on Isaac and he saw the Emperor's band playing the anthem. And if he had stayed there longer, he might have seen the Emperor himself, for sometimes the Emperor gets up off his throne and goes to the window for a little while. But we didn't wait, for we were in a hurry to travel.

After departing the Emperor's palace, he went to the Prater, the joy of the whole city. We don't know if he went there on purpose or not. According to the natural order of time, nighttime had arrived. But this night is not a night. Countless street lamps turn night into day. And water fountains entwined with all kinds of fire make all kinds of shapes of water. And a kind of melody is played, as if the trees in the parks were singing and playing. And the folks are also playing and singing. Even if you had a thousand eyes you still couldn't see it all. But at every single thing he saw, his pleasure was not complete, like a person who goes astray and is derailed, and cannot get to the place he longs for. And when he realized that, he rushed back to pick up his belongings and betake himself to the Southern Railroad Station, where you leave for Trieste. And before he went, he bought himself roasted potatoes and roasted chestnuts from vendors in the market, for all day he had had nothing to eat, for his food was packed up in his valise, and his valise was stored in the checkroom.


The train wound its way up, and wound its way down. High mountains flew by and snow lay on them, and even though Passover was already past, the snow didn't budge. And so, Isaac sits and rides through the realm of Austria, that same Austria that rules over eighteen states, and twelve nations are subject to it. One and the same law for the Jews and for the people of the land, their well-being is our well-being, for the Emperor is a Gracious King, he protects all who take shelter with him, Jew and non-Jew alike. Her earth is lush and fertile and the produce of her land is greater than the need of her inhabitants. She is blessed with everything and knows no shortage. One land makes wheat and barley and rye and beans and lentils and oats and corn; and another land makes potatoes and fruit of the orchard. One land makes plums for confiture and Slivovitz, and another land makes hops for beer. One land makes wine and another land makes tobacco and flax, and all lands are full of livestock, animals, and birds. Some give milk and butter and cheese, and some give meat and wool and skins and feathers. One land produces horses, and another land chickens and ducks and swans, doves, and pheasants, and bees make honey and wax, and her lakes and rivers are filled with fish and her mountains with silver and copper and tin and iron and lead for paint and salt mines, and coal and oil. And her forests make wood, and there are high mountains there, covered with eternal snow.

The train skittered between cities and villages, snaked its way between mountains and valleys, lakes, and streams. Then it threaded itself into a long cavity, crept on its bowels and crawled along slowly. Darkness grows thick and black smoke rises. The red lanterns lighted in the car are wrapped in heavy mist. The wheels wrestle on the dark tracks, and it seems as if it's not the wheels that are turning but the tracks are moving beneath them, and along with them, the walls of the tunnel are running behind the train, reluctant to part from it. But the train prevailed. No sooner did it get rid of the walls than the tunnel grabbed it once again. The train roared a dreadful roar that rattled the walls of the tunnel and finally it shook off the tunnel and emerged, and a great light suddenly shone and greeted the passengers. And once again, forests are waving their trees and streams are peeping from the valleys and dales. By day the sun illuminates them and at night the moon smiles with light, sweet to the eye and pleasing to the heart. And from the high mountains comes a wind like a wind rising from the snow.

Passengers come and passengers go and officials change places with other officials. Some passengers are tall and dignified, wearing green coats and black leather pants and a green hat with a feather, and other passengers wear pink coats and speak a coarse German tongue that grates on the ear. And they too disappear and others come, speaking in a singsong. The night has passed now and in the train window a blue strip suddenly appears, stretches and widens with no limit and no end. People who were in the train with Isaac stood up and called out happily, That's the sea. That's our sea. Isaac stood up and looked at the sea. That is the sea which is a branch of the sea of the Land of Israel.


Dawn broke and the train approached Trieste. All the cars in the train were filled with valiant women, fat and stout, with suntanned faces, loaded with heavy baskets full of chickens and eggs, fruit and vegetables. Most of the passengers jumped up from their seats and helped the women arrange their baskets, looking pleased and smug at the produce of their land, like sons returning home and seeing it filled with all the best. Some asked how their sisters were, and others asked how the fruits of their gardens were; some asked what this one was doing and what that one was doing, and others joked with the women, and the women joked with them, until the train entered the station and all the passengers jumped up and got off. When Isaac had entered his car, he saw only those who were in the car; now that he got out, his eyes were confused by that population. And Isaac picked up his belongings and went down to the city. This was the city that was the end of all his journeys on land and the beginning of his journey by sea.

The city is big and noisy and large palaces loom up. All kinds of wares whose like Isaac had never seen before in his life he saw now in Trieste. And everything here is unusual and unfamiliar. Instead of horses--donkeys. Even the fish in the market are strange, even the fruit and vegetables. And a kind of warm bluishness permeates the space of the city and a smell of soaked grass wafts there. Carriages run and their noise is swallowed up in their rubber wheels. But a great turmoil rises from the city. A lot of people are here, and among all those many people, not a single one pays heed to Isaac.

Isaac walks around in the markets of Trieste, in one hand his sack and in the other hand his valise. The sweet sun he left three days ago in his hometown had grown old before its time. Spring it was when Isaac left his hometown and here it is summer. Endless sweat drips from his forehead and all his limbs are weary. Where will he go and where will he turn and where will he buy a ticket here for a trip to the Land of Israel? And Isaac put down his bundles and asked passersby, and they replied in a tongue that was incomprehensible to him. More than from their words, he learned from their gestures. Isaac set off for the sea. Innumerable ships are standing in the harbor of Trieste. Some came from distant lands and others are leaving for distant lands. Among all those ships stands Isaac's ship. The next day it sets off, and whoever buys himself a ticket buys himself a place on the ship, and is entitled to board it at once. Isaac bought himself a ticket and bought himself food. He ate a little and he drank a lot and he got onto the ship.


Isaac boarded the ship and found his place. He untied his sack and opened his valise and changed some of his clothes, for he took pity on his good clothes not to rumple them during the voyage so that he would enter the Land of Israel with them ironed. And after he found a place for his belongings he went to tour the ship. Aside from the crew, there wasn't anyone there.

The day began to turn dark and small lanterns illuminated the ship. The crew went to eat their supper and as they dined they sang in German and in Italian, hymns to the sea and other songs. The waters of the sea turned dark and stars flickered in the firmament, and the moon rose from the dark water and the black waves swayed silently. Little by little the sailors' singing stopped and silence spread over the sea. All that was heard was the sound of the waves lapping the boards of the ship. Isaac took out bread and sardines and sat down and ate supper and looked at everything around him, until his limbs started to grow slack and his eyes began to close. He stood up and packed the leftovers of his dinner and made himself a place to sleep. It didn't take long before he was lying down.

Isaac lay down alone on the big ship by the light of the stars in the firmament and the voice of the waves in the sea. Never in his life did Isaac lie down alone and never in his life had he slept outside. Never in his life did Isaac lie down alone because in his father's house there were only four beds. In one bed Father slept with little Vove, the son of his old age, and in another bed Isaac slept with his brother Yudel; and in the other two beds his sisters slept. And never in his life had Isaac slept outside, unlike rich boys who are used to outings and sometimes happen to sleep outside.

So Isaac lay and looked at the firmament. And since the stars that illuminate the sea are the same stars that illuminate the land, he looked at them and thought of his hometown, for it is the way of the stars to lead the thoughts of a person as they are wont. Isaac wondered and pondered, Now that I'm lying here, my brother Yudel is alone in Mother's bed, for ever since Mother passed away, he and his brother had slept together in her bed. (And before Mother passed away, every night a place would be made for them, a kind of bed made of boards placed on chairs, two on each side.) Or maybe Yudel was joined by Vove, our little brother, so Father would have more room. What does Yudel put under his head, now that Father gave me the pillow that was on the bed? Yet we shall leave Yudel and Vove and think about other things. Now that I'm here, the people of my hometown wonder why they don't see me, and maybe they ask about me and are amazed when they hear that I have gone to the Land of Israel. Some envy me and others are sorry I went, for as long as I was in the city I was busy selling Zionist Shekels and stamps of the Jewish National Fund, and now they've got to take care of selling them. I do hope the revenue won't decline.

And Isaac thought a great many other thoughts, and all his thoughts were about his hometown. The streetlamps have been lit by now and the city elders are sitting down to get a breath of fresh air, and girls are strolling between the marketplace and the post office, and students are escorting them, and maybe the girls are thinking about Isaac, because he went to the Land of Israel. Never in his life had Isaac paid any heed to girls. If his passion struck him, his heart carried him to the fields and vineyards of the Land of Israel. As he came to the Land of Israel, he saw a well in a field with flocks lying nearby, and a big stone lies on the mouth of the well, and it takes the strength of more than one or two men to roll it off. The village girls came there to water their flocks. And Isaac rolled the stone off the mouth of the well. They watered their flocks and returned to the village. The whole village was amazed, How did they manage to get back so fast today. And the girls said, We chanced upon a young man from Poland who rolled the stone off the mouth of the well, just as you pull a cork off the mouth of a flagon. And they said to the girls, Where is he, why did you leave him there? Call him and he shall dine with us. And they went out to call him and bring him with great honor, and a few days later he married one of them. Or perhaps this was how it was: Arabs were there and didn't let the girls draw water from the well. Isaac chanced by there and drove out the Arabs, and the girls filled their ewers and told their fathers, A fellow from Poland saved us from the Arabs. And they said to the girls, Where is he, etc.

But as he lay down alone on the big ship and the offspring of the sky looked graciously upon him and the waves of the sea rocked him, his heart swelled and he thought thoughts he wasn't accustomed to. At last, he cleared away all those thoughts and started thinking about himself, how he had given his soul to Zionism and how people used to make fun of him, and now that he was ascending to the Land of Israel, it was he who was making fun of them, for what importance do they and their words have if they don't lead them to action, and what was the difference between them and all the other denizens of the city, the former live out their days in Exile and the latter live out their days in Exile, neither of them want to move until the Messiah comes.

After he thought about their deeds in general, he began detailing the deeds of every single one of them one by one. Here's Reuben Leyb Weissbier, who is the first at every party and reads all newspapers before everybody else, and when Isaac came to ask him for the farmers of Mahanayim, he didn't give him a cent. You'd think maybe he can't give, but when it comes to giving money, that's where his Zionism ends. The same with Hirsh Wolf Atamanut, and the same with most of the Zionists in town. They'll give you prooftexts from the Talmud that the air of the Land of Israel is healing, but when they travel for their health, they go to Karlsbad and other places Outside the Land of Israel. And as for the young Zionist students we hoped would bring a new spirit of life to Zionism, they're willing to put off every Zionist meeting to go walking with a girl. Many more things Isaac pondered about the people of his own circle in his hometown. Some of them caught the trivial and turned it into the essential, and some heaped trivial on top of trivial and came up with trivial images.

And then again Isaac began musing on girls, and not because he was fond of them, but because of his sisters, who see their girlfriends strolling in a city street while they themselves don't show their faces outside because they don't have summer hats. How little Pesyele rejoiced when she put on her brother Isaac's new hat, danced around and said, Look, I've got a hat too, I've got a hat too. Finally, he dismissed all his thoughts and started thinking of sleep that would certainly not come, since he was lying in a new place and was lying outside, while he was accustomed to sleeping in a room with all the windows closed, and he might catch a chill and would probably get sick. And there was no Jew here to take care of him. Isaac was not a melancholy type who sees every illness as the beginning of death, but neither was he one of the optimists who don't stir their heart off their worries. All his thoughts came to an end only when weariness took hold of him and he fell asleep, for in three days on the train he hadn't slept but just leaned his head on the wall and dozed off for a while.

Who knows how long he would have slept if not for a flood of water that reached the place where he was lying. For day had dawned and the sailors were washing the deck and the water hit his bedclothes. He shook himself and jumped up from where he was lying. He scurried to fold up all his bedclothes and put them in his sack and put the sack wherever he put it. He washed his face and hands and put on his Tefillin and recited the morning prayer and drew out the prayers, since all the days on the train, he hadn't put on Tefillin except for the first day on the way to Lemberg, when they formed a Minyan on the train. After he fulfilled his obligation to God, he took out bread and sardines and sat down to eat.


By the time he sat down and ate, all the serenity of the ship had ceased. The crew were running in haste and in panic. Some were tugging heavy chains and others were hoisting big cargoes. Some were tying up all kinds of objects and others were bringing coal. The ship was in an uproar all around. And in the uproar and the confusion, men and women were boarding, dressed like lords and ladies, and in front of them and in back of them were porters loaded with trunks and packages. Soon the ship's siren was heard. The ship jolted out of its moorings and began moving. And now she left the waters of the harbor for the mighty waters of the sea. The lords and ladies disappeared and the commotion that had been there ceased. Every single one of the crew stood at his post to do his job, the work of the ship.

Isaac was left alone on the ship. The lords and ladies went in to dine and the crew were at work among the big boilers and the other covered places. Isaac looked at his belongings and saw that they were in their place, and he went on a tour of the ship. He strolled up and down and checked the thickness of the boards of the ship and everything his eye fell on, as he pondered to himself, It wasn't on a big, handsome ship like this that my ancestor Reb Yudel traveled, for in the days of Reb Yudel Hasid, there were not yet any steamships, but only sailboats that cruised the sea at the whim of the wind. Many troubles befell Reb Yudel at sea. Your common sense cannot grasp how he could endure them. But he did endure them all and accepted them lovingly, as if the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He had been merciful to him by sending him torments at sea, so that he would enter the Land of Israel cleansed. Once a big tempest came at sea and the waves were about to swallow the ship, even though they knew the Hasid was going by the will of the Blessed-One. But that Hasid stood up and was not afraid, for he said, Whatever the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He does, for good He does it, and if this be the will of the Blessed-One, it must be good. And with this knowledge, he grew greatly excited and became all joy. And the waves saw his pleasure and were ashamed and went away. As they went away, the ship was standing in the middle of the sea and there was a danger that it would get stuck there and would not move. All the passengers on the ship were terrified and scared that pirates would come and take them into slavery or that they would die of hunger and thirst, and would become food for the fish of the sea. They howled and lamented and wept, Is it not bad enough that they wouldn't get to the Land of Israel, but they wouldn't even get to a Jewish grave. And there was great weeping on the sea, as if they had already fallen into the sea and all the creatures of the sea were coming to eat their flesh. And that Hasid was joyful, for all the acts of the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He were equal in his mind, and hence it didn't matter whether they moved or didn't move. He stood and chanted a wonderful melody, To the Lord for all His deeds. And the winds heard and came to appease him. They bore the ship, as porters bear burdens on their shoulders, until they brought it to the Land of Israel. And all the feats of Reb Yudel Hasid in the Land of Israel are told and retold in the courts of the Rebbes at the Melaveh Malkah Meal, the farewell to the Sabbath Queen on long winter days, and sometimes they get up from the meal and still haven't finished telling the events that happened to Reb Yudel Hasid.


Isaac strolled about, up and down, and looked hither and yon. A high sky stretched above his head and a great sea opened beneath his feet, and between sky and sea travels this ship we're sailing to the Land of Israel. And like that firmament above, the sea below is all a mighty blue, that keeps breaking open at the bottom of the ship and raises white waves, and the white waves curl up, turn dark, and sink. Sometimes a white bird descends from the sky and hovers over the ship, then risesback to the firmament and disappears in the blue mist, and sometimes a sailor passes by Isaac and blurts out a strange word. Once or twice one of the lords of the first class emerged, came and stood with his lady next to Isaac and said something to him. When they saw that his conversation wasn't likely to shorten their voyage, they left him and went on their way. Once again he was alone between sea and sky. And he didn't know that on that same ship were other Jews who were also going to the Land of Israel.

As he stood there, two people, an old man and an old woman, appeared. Isaac looked at them and was amazed, for he had thought there were no other Jews here but him. And they too were amazed, for they had thought there were no other Jews here but them.

The old man took his pipe out of his mouth and greeted Isaac, while the old woman nodded fondly at him. The old man asked Isaac, What are you doing here? Said Isaac, I'm going to the Land of Israel. The old man was amazed, Was it usual for a young man to go to the Land of Israel? Said Isaac, I am going there to work its soil. The old man began to be even more amazed. Wasn't the Land of Israel all made of synagogues and prayer houses? Wasn't the Land of Israel designated for prayer, and what did working the earth have to do with the needs of heaven? He concluded that that fellow belonged to the cult of Zionists who want to strip the Land of its holiness and make it like all other lands. He began fulminating at Isaac, like old Jews of that generation, who looked at us as if we came, God forbid, to turn the world into heathenism. He began arguing with Isaac. Isaac wanted to answer him as he had been taught. But he changed his mind, Why should I argue with an old man who is going to add another grave in the Land of Israel? When the old man started scolding him, Isaac countered his argument with prooftexts from the Torah, quotations he had found in Zionist pamphlets. The old man grew angry and said, You are twisting the Torah. By the time they parted from one another, they had become enemies.

People traveling together on a ship, even if they have something against one another, since the Lord-Who-Is-In-Every-Place has brought them together in the same place, they overlook their principles and treat each other amicably. And so it was that when that old man saw Isaac again, he removed the wrath from his heart. And to keep from falling into a quarrel, he let go of everything controversial and talked with him as a person talking with his friend.

The old man asked Isaac, Do you have any relatives in the Land of Israel? Said Isaac, What do I need relatives for, all the Children of Israel are comrades, especially in the Land of Israel. And the old man smiled and said, In the Sabbath blessing, say that and we shall answer Amen, but on all other days it's hard to make it without a relative, especially in a new place you don't know. Isaac asked the old man, And you, who do you have in the Land of Israel? The old woman answered, We've got a daughter in Jerusalem, married to one of the prominent men of Jerusalem, and, Thank God, they also have a daughter. And as the old woman mentioned her relatives, she started singing their praises.

Isaac looked at her dismissively, These people the old woman was praising, who are they? They too came only to add dust to the dust of the Land of Israel. Isaac is an expert in the deeds of those who eat the bread of the Distribution, who come from all lands to Jerusalem and study Torah in idleness and run from grave to grave, until they flicker out and die and add graves upon graves. And between one thing and another they create quarrels and stir strife and put Jerusalem into shame and disgrace. And surely that Reb Fayesh, the old couple's son-in-law, is one of those. As for Isaac, all the people of the New Yishuv are related to him, if not by blood, then by heart. Is there anything that brings hearts together like a mutual idea? And aren't all of Isaac's thoughts like their thoughts, to work the Land and to restore it from its destruction? Look at Isaac, his hands are delicate as a maiden's, but they are eager to do any work. And when the ship reaches Jaffa, he'll go to a village and pick up a hoe and work. Too bad his ship doesn't hurry as fast as his heart.

The old woman asked Isaac, How come we don't see here on the sea the big crocodiles that run after every ship to swallow it along with its passengers, and therefore sharp knives are attached to the ship to cut up the crocodiles so they won't swallow the ship, and here there are no knives and no crocodiles? A lot of questions that woman has, as is usual with those who travel the roads and sail the seas, who see new things they have never seen before in their lives, or who don't find on their way all they have heard about, and they are puzzled and ask questions. But our comrade Isaac took his mind off the sea, as if he were already in the Land of Israel and already seeing himself hobnobbing with the notables of the New Yishuv, whose pictures embellished the walls of his house. Today their memory is lost and their names are forgotten. But in those days, when we ascended to the Land of Israel, all mouths talked of them and all newspapers were full of them. Today those newspapers themselves are forgotten. But blessSd are the chroniclers who grant them two or three lines in their books.

Meanwhile, the old people had arranged for their journey and rented themselves a private cabin from the sailors and ate and drank and slept and enjoyed the journey, unlike our comrade Isaac who, in his excitement about the Land of Israel, didn't arrange for his journey and didn't prepare enough food and didn't rent himself a bed and wallowed on the deck and all the people of the ship leaped over him if they had to and if they didn't have to.


The food Isaac bought for the trip turned bad, and when he got up on the third day, he found his bread moldy and his fruit rotten and the rest of his food was not fit to eat. So Isaac went without food until his knees buckled with hunger, and he was ashamed to ask the old man, for Isaac was the son of fine citizens who would rather die of hunger than ask for charity, and here the sea air stirred his appetite more than on all the days when he was on land. He hoped for a miracle that would restore his food. But the food thwarted his hope and wasn't restored, on the contrary, it grew even more rotten. And when he tasted it again, he was about to vomit up his mother's milk. He was assailed by such despair that he feared the hunger would drive him out of his mind, since the sea air and the smell of cooking from the kitchen piled appetite on top of his appetite, and along with the yearning for food he was assailed by thirst. Then he cast out his shame and went to the old man. Isaac said to himself, I won't ask myself, but if he gives--so much the better. He found him reciting the blessing after food and "the slice of bread for the poor" was set before him. Isaac saw the slice of bread and began devising stratagems to get it into his hand so the old man wouldn't notice anything. Indeed, he could have taken the bread and the old man wouldn't have seen, for the old man was sitting with his eyes shut, as pious Jews do when they devote their heart to their Father in Heaven, and he surely wasn't thinking about his bread, but Isaac's hands went slack and he couldn't stretch them out. And he returned from the old man with his soul much hungrier. So he dropped his body in the aft part of the ship and pondered the slice of bread that could save him from hunger. He decided to go to the chef or to the waiter, maybe they would sell him something to eat. He took his teapot and came and stood in the doorway, as if he were requesting hot water for tea. The assistant cook saw him and filled his teapot, for the cooks are accustomed to ship's passengers coming and asking for hot water and giving them a tip for their trouble. In those days, there weren't many passengers on the ship and the cook didn't have anything to do, and was glad to chat with a person. He recognized that Isaac was hungry, brought him bread and cheese, and from then on the cook gave him food and drink all the days of his journey. And Isaac was not ungrateful to his benefactor and gave him a gift of a vest of hides that you wear in winter over a shirt and under a coat. It was the garment Father had given him before he set out on his journey. And the assistant cook wasn't ungrateful and protected him from the crew who treated him with contempt. And Isaac wasn't ungrateful and returned his favor, and when the assistant chef was about to paint the kitchen furniture, Isaac helped him. And that was good for Isaac, because the long journey on the sea bored him, and all the pamphlets and journals he had taken with him became alien to him, and the books he could have borrowed from the old man were far from his soul, for what were an old man's books, the Law of Israel and the Mishnah, and The Way of the Righteous, and The Hebrew Heart, pious books that a fellow like Isaac wouldn't look at.

And so Isaac spent his time with the chef and the chef was good to him. But as he was good for his body, he was bad for his soul, for when he heard that Isaac was going to Palestine, he started speaking evil of its Arab inhabitants. Isaac pleaded their cause, that they were sons of our uncle Ishmael, and Ishmael is the son of Abraham and the brother of Isaac. And the more the other man slandered them, the more he praised them. And the more he praised them, the more the other man slandered them. And from his slander of the Arabs, he came to slander the Jews, for it is known that the uncircumcised hate the circumcised. Sometimes they hate the Ishmaelites, and sometimes they hate the Israelites, and sometimes they hate both of them. But he did treat Isaac well in all matters of the body, for the Gentiles still treated the individual Israelite well, even if they hated the Israelites in general.


For ten days, Isaac shook on the waves of the sea. It was springtime, comfortable days for those who travel the roads and sail the seas. Every day the sun shone and every night the moon gleamed. Sometimes the sound of a bird was heard soaring in the air and sometimes another ship was seen, for more than one ship was traveling on the sea. Some were going to the Land of Israel and some were returning from the Land of Israel, and some were going to other places. Sometimes a silhouette of a human settlement was seen in the distance and sometimes other things appeared. For even though the sea is only water, it is not empty of other things. Every day Isaac would talk with the old man and the old woman, and every day he would get his food from the kitchen. Four times the ship made a stop, unloaded and loaded, let people off and took people on. People whose like Isaac had never seen came on board, some came from Bosnia and some came from other countries. Some were going to Alexandria in Egypt and some were going to the Land of Israel. Some on their own business and some to serve God. Isaac didn't understand their language and they didn't understand his language, for they were Sephardim and spoke Spanish and he was an Ashkenazi and spoke Yiddish. And when he started speaking with them in the Holy Tongue, and they replied in the Holy Tongue, they didn't understand what he said and he didn't understand what they said, for he spoke the Ashkenazi dialect and they with a Sephardi accent. But when their heart was full, they would point to the East and say, The Land of Israel, and kiss their fingertips.

Between one thing and another, the ship got to Alexandria in Egypt. And when we got to Alexandria the whole ship filled with men, women, and children. Some had lots of clothes and some had lots of belongings, some had been wandering far and wide and some were returning to the Land of Israel. Some were happy and some were sad. Some were happy that they were returning to the Land of Israel and some were sad that they were leaving all the good things Outside the Land. Out of love for the Land of Israel, Isaac ran about and served them, tied and untied their packages and brought them hot water and played with the babies, gave his finger to a crying baby to suck and helped the mothers of the babies to dress them and put on their shoes. Meanwhile, they took his place and didn't even leave him room to rest his bones, or needless to say, his belongings. He had put down his sack and his valise in one place and found them someplace else. He thought they were in the first place and found others in their place. He went to look for his belongings and found them scattered about. And his mind too was scattered and his spirit was broken. His soul was weary and he wanted nothing but rest. Rest we didn't find, but only weariness. And if not for the weariness, our heart would have become empty. At the end of ten days, the ship reached Jaffa.


Our ship reached Jaffa, the gateway to the Land of Israel. A Jew arrives in the Land of Israel, leaps off the ship and kisses her soil, in the joy of weeping and weeping for joy. Isaac showed neither joy nor weeping, but spread his lips in a grin, and didn't jump out of the ship, for until a doctor came to examine the passengers of the ship, no one was allowed to leave.

The crew tied ladders to the ship. Strange people climbed up on board. Some pushed on top of others and some in front of others. Some were half naked and their faces were dreadful and their loud voices went from one end of the ship to the other. Even in a dream they would have terrified us. The ship's crew stood and looked at them, some laughing and some contemptuous. Men and women and their belongings were snatched up and disappeared in little boats standing near the ship. Isaac stood still in this turmoil. His lips parted, but his grin had been removed. Wherever he turned there was noise and crush. He wiped the sweat off his face incessantly, and when he wiped his face he seemed to be wiping away his sweat with a hotter sweat. The ship's crew pushed and were pushed. They blurted out curses and ran. Their faces turned dark from the soot of the smoke and the coal dust. When will the noise stop and when will we get out of here? A thousand times he is pushed from place to place, and he no longer feels his feet. It seems he has recoiled and is crawling on his belly. The doctor came and examined the papers of the ship's passengers. And some new people dashed around, searching among the ship's passengers and looking here and there. Suddenly they fell upon the immigrants, some weeping for joy and some in the joy of weeping.

Isaac forgot why he was standing here and what was in store for him. Next to him stands that old woman who traveled with him on the ship, hugging another woman in her arms, and weeping over one another. And when that other woman stopped weeping on her mother's neck, she grabbed the old man's hands and wept over them, as he stroked her and said, There there, hush. Isaac assumed that this was the daughter the old people had talked about on the ship and he envied them, for as soon as they entered the Land, they had a loved one. If he hadn't been ashamed, he would have approached her and wouldn't have been so orphaned. He began imagining that the old people were telling him, Come with us, and that woman was letting him stay in her house, and he found rest from his wanderings on sea and on land, for he had been on the sea ten days and three days he had traveled on land. But events are one thing and imagination is another. By the time the imagination spun its imaginings, the people he was with descended with that woman into a small boat and Isaac remained orphaned many times over.

Then two or three people came, one snatched his sack and one took his valise and another one pulled him. Isaac assumed that they had been sent for him to ease his entrance into the Land of Israel, and he said to himself in rhetorical figures, Our Mother Zion sent her sons to greet their brother who has returned to her. He wanted to show them the letters the dignitaries of Galicia had written about him so they would know that they weren't mistaken about him. But before he could take them out, he found himself sitting in a small boat rocking between cliffs and rocks.

The boat rocks down and up between the terrifying waves, and foam, turgid white and green-and-white, rises upon them, and salty water strikes his face and his hands and stings his eyes. The sailors lead the boat by its nose, and curses and cries rise from boat to boat. The sailors strike their oars and conquer the hard water, as they curse and shout back and forth to one another. Mighty rocks rise erect from the sea to butt the open boat and she dodges them and they get angry and roar, go down to the sea and lie in wait for the boat, and go back up and spray their foam on the boat and its passengers. But the boat keeps on rowing, and before Isaac knew if he would get out of it alive, a sailor grabbed him and hoisted him up onto dry land.

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File created: 8/7/2007

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