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Grandma (Safta) Marisha

by Max Alberts (1955) (Mendel Son on Feiga Alperovitch)

Sixty years has passed since the event that I am going to tell you about occurred. It took place on a cold October day. One of those days where the streets were overrun with puddles and the mud was knee deep. At the time, I was a small boy. It was my first year in school. I studied in the Cheder (small Jewish school) of Hertzel, the Moreh, (teacher). Our Cheder was on Kosita street in the house of Yosef Rafael. It was already the middle of Autumn but my poor mother was not able to buy me boots. When walking to the Cheder, she would wrap cloth around my feet, put me on her shoulders and carry me all the way to the Cheder to learn the Torah.

"Chiap, Chiap" was the sound I heard as her feet would sink into the mud of the tiny alley that we called, "Digaslaka." She would hold my feet close to her body and she would place my little hands on her neck. Every now and then I'd feel hot drops fall on my hands. Maybe it was sweat from the brow of my tired mother or maybe it was tears from my mother's eyes. But I was just a little child and I didn't analyze it. I was just delighted that I, Mendele Feigas', was the only child in the whole shtetle whose mother carried him on her back like a sack of flour. "Chiap, Chiap". My mother's feet would drench in the puddles of Dolhinov Street. Here the mud was extremely deep and my mother's back would further hunched over. Fear would come to my heart. It felt like any minute she would trip and we would fall from the weight of the load. But with G-d's help, everything was alright and we reached Kosita Street.

My mother would sit me on the top of the high fence of Cheskel Vellvel house and straighten her bent back, after she'd fix my payas, and clean her face with her apron. She would look at my eyes and a sweet smile would light her sad face. She'd kiss me and her lips would warm my forehead and then she would take me inside the Cheder.

The Cheder was located at the far edge of the street. All the way on the other edge of the street was the place where my mother buried the dreams of her youth. During her spring days. There, across the bridge above the river, near the water mill, amongst the pine trees of the Jewish cemetery lay the man of her youthful desires, the father of her small children But in this point of the story, my mother's worries were with me. To her I was like a seedling tree sprouting from the ground. She worried and prayed that the seedling would sprout, flourish, and then become a tree of life. This would be G-d's consolation gift to her for all the troubles she endured. Morning after morning my mother would take me to the Cheder, and evening after evening she would take me back, and day after day after day passed

One day during the market day we sat as usual around the table in the Cheder. The Rabbi was teaching us the chapter, "Veyetzah." I still remember the particular of the moment. We were reading, "Veyetcha Reuven". The Rabbi interpreted it with a beautiful tune. "Ruven went during the days of the harvest and he found berries in the fields and he will bring them to his mother, Leah." Outside it was a cold autumn day, but in our imagination we flew on the wings of the tune to far away fields where the sun is shining and the fruits were ready to be picked off of the trees. while we were still in the world of the fruits, the door suddenly opened and Safta Marisha walked in. She was our favorite. She wore a huge, warm shawl that we called Patziella. "Shalom my darlings," she greeted us. "Shalom, Shalom Safta," we all answered in unison. The beloved Safta Marisha approached the Rabbi, whispered something in his ear, and took off her shawl. Can you guess what we saw? A miracle. Like a true shoe maker, Safta held a tiny pair of boots in her hands. It was an absolutely perfect pair of boots. From above they had little ears and from below, on the heal of the boot they had shiny spikes. The smell of fresh leather filled the room. Our sweet, generous Safta told us, " My darling, it must have been gift from God. When I walked in the market I found these little boots and I want to give them to the one child they will perfectly fit." My heart started beating fast. God knows I wonder, "what if the boots fit me?"

Now it is time to tell you of the way we sat in the Cheder. Usually there was total equality among the kids, especially in times when we played games like horses, hide and go seek, and Klitklat. When children play they don't know the hierarchy of their parents statues in the community and the different classes that exist. But in the Cheder during class time the Rabbi sat the children around the long table and carefully made sure that they sat according to their fathers' status in the community. So here in our Cheder we sat according to this arrangement. At the head of the table right next to the Rabbi sat Shaul Monies' Next to him was Guttman Denis'. Next to Guttman was Zalman Hetskales' Alperovitch and on and on and I sat all the way at the other end of the table. I was poor and fatherless. When Safta Marisha started fitting the boot, she obviously started with the way we sit. The first was Shaul Monies.' In the center of the room they put a little stool. Shaul sat on the stool and took off his beautiful shiny shoes. He tried to put on Safta's boots, tried and tried but they were too small. A glimmer of hope flickered in my heart. Who knows the wishes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They tried the boots on Guttman's feet, but the boot was too tight around the ankle. Zalman tried but the boot is too tight on his toes. They tried to fit all the children in the room but everyone had something wrong with them. Now it was my turn. I sat on the stool, Safta Marisha took the wrapping from my feet and I put on the boots. Safta Marisha felt the fit all around, and pressed from up to down from all sides. The Rabbi checked with her- up and down and from all sides, and I rejoiced as they announced I am the lucky one; I won the boots. Safta Marisha gave me a kiss and a penny for thanks and told me to immediately run home and tell my mother about the miracle that occurred. My mother greeted me with blessings or maybe sorrow. "Nu," my mother said, "now my back will have some rest."

Days past. I grew and become a little cleverer. I realized that from the beginning the boots were for me and only for me, that our Safta didn't find them in the market, but that the shoe maker had made them to order. Now I understand that the whisper to the Rabbi and the ceremony with the fitting was only pretend so I would not be ashamed in the eyes of the other students, and to avoid making me feel sorry for myself. So were the wonderful deeds and the heart full of pity of Safta Marisha.

Translated by tzafrir gordin in memory of my great-grandfather, saba Mordechai gurevitz , who had a zest for life and a passion for bible studies.