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The Big Boulder

By Yosef Weiss 1955

On gloomy winter nights, when the Rabbi was praying the Mincha prayer in the synagogue, we, the little children of the Cheder, would gather around the big fire place. The descending darkness would stir our imaginations. We would spend the evening telling horror tales, about witches, spirits, and cursed princes and princesses.

The Rabbi's wife would stand, warming herself by the fire, and listen silently to our horrible tales. Maybe she found them interesting, or maybe she only smiled in the darkening room at our naivete. One evening while we sat around the fire place the Rabbi's wife told us, "Today children, I will tell you a tale. But this tale is about an occurrence that didn't take place somewhere far in the world, it is something that people say happened right here. Right in Kurenitz." Our eyes widened in the dark, and our curiosity knew no limits. Our only worry was that the Rabbi might return from the synagogue, and the tale would have to be stopped in the middle.

"Do you know what I am going to tell you about?" she whispered, " I am going to tell you about the Big Boulder; the boulder that you will find far in the field past Mydell Street. Are you listening, children? Long, long ago, there was no boulder in that field. Instead, a huge inn stood on the spot the boulder is now. There lived the innkeeper with his wife and many children. But this man, as you must have heard, was a miser, who was notorious for his many bad deeds. He never gave alms to the poor and banished vagabonds and poor men from his inn."

"Then, one day something happened. A beggar passing through the town was going from door to door in search of alms. He knocked on the innkeepers door and begged for something to eat and a place to eat. The innkeeper kicked him out of his home, and worse yet, sent his huge dogs after the poor man. But this beggar was no ordinary beggar. Oh no, this man was a magic maker and a miracle worker. Immediately, he whispered a magical spell, cursing the innkeeper and his entire family. Only a minute had passed whenÉ the inn with the innkeeper's house with all its occupants inside transformed into a big boulder. And today that very same boulder sits behind Mydell Street. But this my children is not the whole tale. People say that if you come to the boulder exactly at twelve midnight and you say a secret message, when you put your ear to the rock you will hear the rooster's crow and the children cry!"

Of all the children gathered around the fire that night, I was the youngest. And this tale of the Big Boulder awed and haunted me. I wished with all my heart to see that amazing boulder. I started begging my friends to walk to the famous place in order to see the boulder there, with our own eyes. But all the other small children said they would only visit the Boulder during the festival of Lag Baomer. They planned to bring the colorful eggs that they got for the holiday, and break them open on the Boulder.

There were many, many days until Lag Baomer, and I was filled with the urge to see the place at once. Daily I would stand secretly on the roof of our house, and observe from afar this miraculous place. For a while I was satisfied straining for a glimpse of the magical boulder, but soon I fell into my familiar longing to actually visit the Big Boulder.

Every Friday we were let go from the Cheder at noon. The idea soon occurred to me that I escape for long enough on Friday in order to finally make journey to the Boulder. I spoke to two of my friends of my plan and finally convinced them to join me. The next Friday afternoon we were walking through the gardens of Smorgon Street, and on our way. All of a sudden we came across was a boy with a huge, hulking dog. Of course, we were very scared. We started sprinting back to the Cheder. My two friends ran swiftly, like leaping deer. But, unluckily, I was wearing big boots and could not run fast. I lagged behind and the dog caught a hold of me. ]From then on I didn't dare leave the shtetle. Still, the tale of the Big Boulder remained constantly in my mind. Finally, the day of Lag Baomer arrived. I hardly slept the night before, I was so excited. I awoke at dawn. According to the tradition of our town, the people of Kurenets began taking eggs from the oven where the chickens were kept, and boiling the eggs in onion. I decorated the egg shells with ink designs. As soon as the morning prayer had ended, a large group of children gathered, and we set out our way to the boulder.

My heart was pounding as I walked. Eventually we arrived at the boulder, and stood before it. It rose, hulking and black, out of the middle of the field. It certainly did look like a large house. I stood in front of the boulder, curious and sad. In my imagination I saw the big inn. The owner, clearly, had not been a descent man. Nevertheless, I pitied him and his pitiful family for the horrible punishment that was theirs. I stood there dreaming. All of a sudden, an older boy approached me and said, "Hey you! Listen, why are you standing there dreaming? If you go around the boulder seven times, and if you say seven times, 'Sits in hiding,' and then put your ear on the boulder, you will hear the sound of crying children and crowing roosters." I did what he told me. I walked around the boulder seven times and then I said with deep concentration and intention, "Sits in hiding," seven times, one after the other. I bent my knees very close to the boulder and I put my ear against its rocky side to hear the sounds. Alas, I hadn't known that the trouble maker was only making fun of me. All of a sudden, he pushed my head into the boulder; my forehead pressed against the smooth rock, my eyes darkened. Instead of the sound of children crying and roosters crowing, I heard a sharp ringing in my ears. I was left with a big bruise on my face.

Those were the days of childhood and naivetŽ. I traveled to many places: to far away lands, and to the tops of the highest mountains which were scattered with huge boulders. But not one of those boulders left as deep an impression as the Big Boulder in the field of my little shtetle.

Translated by Claire Davis in honor of my brother James.