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16

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

KORNBLAT FOLLOWED THE conversation attentively, without letting go of his textbook. After some hesitation, he put the book aside and approached the table.

“Here’s what I have to say,” he began in a business-like manner. “There’s only one sure means to rescue her! It’s a difficult step, but if she agrees to it, she’ll immediately avoid this fellow, as well as any others. . . .”

“How?” his comrades inquired with interest.

“The simplest way of all. One has only to say a few words. . . .”

Harey-at!” blurted out Uler, guessing the answer.1

“Precisely!” confirmed Kornblat in a tone indicating that he was surprised his comrades hadn’t come up with such an easy solution before. “One of us will drop into Beryashev’s shop with two comrades as witnesses when Sonya is present (this will have to be arranged with her in advance), purchase something from her, slip a silver coin into her hand, and say aloud ‘Harey-at,’ and it’s all done! Not even a Tatar could help!”2

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25

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

MIRKIN WALKED HOME together with Geverman. They trooped along in silence, both greatly affected by the discussion about conversion.

“You know,” Mirkin began all of a sudden in a very serious tone of voice. “I’ve been thinking about this question and have reached the conclusion that you’re making a big mistake. The question of conversion . . .”

“Oh. Leave it alone! Let’s not talk about that!” cried Geverman.

“No, hear me out. I want you to listen to me. When you say that it’s easy to convert and it’s even right to do so, you’re completely forgetting . . .”

“About others? About my mother? That she wouldn’t survive it?” Geverman interrupted him with irritation.

“No! I’m not talking about your mother, even though, of course, I feel sorry for her. . . . I wanted to say that by converting, you cut yourself off from other Jews. . . .”

“Well, that’s just splendid! To hell with them!”

“But if all freethinkers converted, who would work among our young people to open their eyes? It’d be impossible to sneak into the yeshiva, impossible to . . .”

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40

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

IT HAD BEGUN to grow dark when Tsiporin suddenly appeared. His boots were covered with mud right up to the top, his face was tired, his hair dripping with sweat, but his eyes shone with euphoric excitement.

The jubilant crowd was especially glad to see him and greeted him with cries and questions as to why he had come so late.

“I was sitting in the synagogue reading the Psalms!” he replied, smiling slyly.

Faevich exchanged a significant glance with him, winked at Mirkin, and all three of them, one after another, slipped into the next room.

“Did you really go to the station?” asked Faevich.

“And why not? Of course I did!” Tsiporin replied proudly. After suddenly collecting himself, he assumed a serious look and added, “I had to find out if she left. . . . If someone else had come. . . .”

“Well, what happened? Tell us! Did she leave?” Mirkin interrupted him hastily.

“Of course she did!”

“Tell us in detail!” demanded Faevich. “So help me God, you’re a fine fellow!” he added, slapping his shoulder in approval.

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18

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

EIZERMAN LEFT KAPLUNERS home completely disheartened. He’d expected so much from the first lesson—and had gotten so little from it! He’d hoped the teacher would immediately reveal to him the source of “secular wisdom”; instead, he’d been handed a children’s story to read, had lingered on the pronunciation of individual letters as if that were important, and had been compelled to write out numbers for no purpose. . . . In addition, he’d been forbidden to utter one word of Yiddish.

In the gloomiest mood, his eyes downcast, Eizerman made his way back to the Ore Miklet. He walked along the same streets that he’d traversed earlier that day when he was feeling so inspired by bright hopes and dreams—but these streets now seemed entirely different to him, foreign and gloomy. . . .

When Eizerman returned to the Ore Miklet, the “conspirators” had managed to finish debating their plan for the “betrothal.” It was decided to make all the arrangements for the next day and to involve one more of their comrades in this affair, Geverman, who was considered a steadfast fellow. For some reason, Eizerman’s return cheered everyone up.

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21

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

A YESHIVA STUDENT, ONE of Mirkin’s synagogue pupils, entered the room; he looked askance at Geverman, handed Mirkin a note, whispered mysteriously, “From Hillel,” and then beat a hasty retreat.

The note consisted of only a few words: “Agreed. She’ll be where she’s supposed to be tomorrow after dinner. Take action.”

After reading the note, Mirkin described in detail to Geverman the plan for Beryasheva’s “betrothal.”

“Splendid!” Geverman blurted out, without even thinking. “That’s just the way to do it! I’ll take it upon myself to carry it out. I’ll get engaged to her.”

“What are you saying? Old man Beryashev knows you, and as soon as you enter his shop, he’ll guess that something’s amiss. . . . Esther Geverman’s son has suddenly come all by himself to buy himself a scarf or some socks. . . .”

“So let him guess! Before he manages to figure it out, I’ll get it all done.”

“No! And don’t insist! You’ll ruin the whole thing!” Mirkin declared. “If need be, you’ll help in some other way. . . . I’m going to the Ore Miklet now. This evening I’ll drop in on Kapluner. When you finish work, you come over there, too.”

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