Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Zelmenyaners

The Zelmenyaners

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Zelmenyaners
    Book Description:

    Acclaimed translator Hillel Halkin offers the first English translation of a classic of Yiddish literature, considered one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century.The Zelmenyanersdescribes the travails of a Jewish family in Minsk that is torn asunder by the new Soviet reality. Four generations are depicted in riveting and often uproarious detail as they face the profound changes brought on by the demands of the Soviet regime and its collectivist, radical secularism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18895-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xxxiv)
    Sasha Senderovich

    The December 1929 issue of theStar(Shtern), one of the Yiddish-language monthlies in the Soviet Union, opened with a full-page photographic portrait of Joseph Stalin, placed opposite the journal’s table of contents. Congratulatory remarks on the occasion of the fiftieth birthday of Stalin, the general secretary of the Communist Party and the leader of the Soviet Union, were printed above the portrait, with the collective signatures of the journal’s editorial board underneath. Listed in the table of contents were a few poems and short stories, an article about the work of proletarian writers in capitalist countries, and something entitled...

  4. Part One

    • Chapter 1 THE ZELMENYANERS
      (pp. 3-10)

      That’s Reb Zelmele’s courtyard that you’re looking at.

      An ancient, two-story brick building with peeling plaster and two rows of low houses filled with little Zelmenyaners. Plus stables, attics, and cellars. It looks more like a narrow street. On summer days, Reb Zelmele is the first to appear at the crack of dawn in his long underwear. Sometimes he carries a brick or furiously shovels manure.

      Where did he come from, Reb Zelmele?

      The story told in the family is that it was from “deep Russia.” One way or another, he married Bubbe Bashe—who, younger than she is now,...

    • Chapter 2 IT’S SOME WORLD!
      (pp. 11-18)

      All is quiet in the yard.

      Apart from Aunt Hesye, who died foolishly for some chicken soup, the war and revolution passed safely.

      The Zelmenyaners returned from the front in stiff army greatcoats and tattered fur hats. At first they prowled the yard like wolves, gulping down whatever came to hand. Slowly they were lured back into their homes and gently talked to until they reverted to their former selves. The greatcoats were draped over doors to keep out the winter cold, and the hats languished in corners behind the stoves. Sometimes, in a bad frost, Uncle Itshe grabs a...

    • Chapter 3 THE GREAT TO-DO
      (pp. 19-27)

      In the morning, there was a great to-do. The yard seethed like an anthill. Despite the icy cold, the Zelmenyaners ran from room to room in their slippers. They talked all at once without bothering to take a seat.

      “Just think of it, in Reb Zelmele’s yard!”

      “Without a rabbi, yet!”

      “Why does it always have to happen to us?”

      The elder Zelmenyaners went around with their beards jutting out, sighing and shrugging. The young whippersnaps peered from beneath their caps, sniffing the charged air. Uncle Yuda, beside himself, stood chewing his beard at home. In the next room lay...

    • Chapter 4 UNCLE FOLYE
      (pp. 28-33)

      Uncle Folye goes his own hard way in life.

      He is thrice silent, once because he has nothing to say, once because he looks down on the yard, and once because he was insulted as a child.

      This happened thirty-five years ago, when he was a mere boy of ten. Not only was he treated vilely, he was beaten within an inch of his life.

      In those days Reb Zelmele, still a newcomer from “deep Russia,” was eking out a living by trading in calves. His sons Zishke, Yudke, and Itshke the Goat went from yard to yard foraging for...

    • Chapter 5 ELECTRICITY
      (pp. 34-39)

      One day Bereh turned up in the yard. An unseasonably warm glow coated the world, glazing the storm windows with an unexpected spring sheen. He walked slowly down the dark footpath, followed by a worker of some kind. They surveyed the roofs, tapped the walls, and pointed at the sky.

      A wave of unrest swept the yard.

      “We’re in for a new disaster!”

      “What’s he up to this time, the genius?”

      Aunt Malkaleh took it as a sign to break out her primers and copybooks and spread them on the table.

      Bereh proceeded to have a look at all the...

      (pp. 40-46)

      Electricity won the day. Could Reb Zelmele have revisited his old home, he might have walked right by it thinking it was a government office building. Its long, narrow rooms flared each evening with a cold blaze that shone in the sickly gold windowpanes like a patient breathing through an oxygen mask.

      There were rumors that here, on the outskirts of town, they were getting the electricity’s dregs, second-class goods from the bottom of the boiler. This upset the Zelmenyaners greatly, as indeed it should have. After all, if you’re going to give someone electricity, give him the best! It...

    • Chapter 7 EARLY SPRING
      (pp. 47-50)

      It happened in the yard in early spring.

      Uncle Zishe’s Sonya from the Commissariat of Finance brought someone home, a big, burly fellow who walked with heavy Belorussian steps and barely fitted through Uncle Zishe’s low front door. He said a friendly “good morning” in Belorussian and followed Sonya into the back room.

      Uncle Zishe removed his watchmaker’s lens, turned slowly to Aunt Gita, and regarded her with angry consternation. Aunt Gita, buttoned to the neck, was sitting by the window in the middle of her afternoon silence, a hand on her heart. There followed a wordless exchange.

      Uncle Zishe...

    • Chapter 8 TSALKE AND TONKE
      (pp. 51-55)

      At exactly twelve noon, Uncle Yuda’s Tsalke crossed the yard to Tonke’s room. Uncle Zishe, his lens screwed to one eye, was bent as usual over a watch, poking in its innards. His bent neck was cross with the world.

      Tsalke wasted no time on Uncle Zishe. He had come to see Tonke, who was in the next room.

      While Tonke sat smoking a cigarette on her old sofa from which the springs stuck out, Tsalke was at his wits’ end. Why? No one was quite sure. He was suffering, it was said, from a hay fever that hurt like...

    • Chapter 9 MORE ABOUT TSALKE
      (pp. 56-62)

      Tsalke wandered around the yard in a daze like a sleepwalker, tie twisted to one side.

      Uncle Itshe, who kept watch over Reb Zelmele’s yard from his window, left his sewing machine. For some time he had been following Tsalke’s behavior with suspicion. Now, assured of its causes, he sallied forth to sound the alarm.

      His first stop was Uncle Yuda’s. It so happened, however, that Uncle Yuda was in an unusually expansive mood. Grabbing a stick, he drove his concerned brother back into the yard.

      “Just listen to Itshke the Goat!” he shouted. “This time he’s gone too far!”...

    • Chapter 10 RADIO
      (pp. 63-68)

      In our region, summer breathes its last in September. It’s all done discreetly, with great delicacy, but in the end it’s like losing your lungs. In our region, therefore, September makes a man thoughtful. The most hard-bitten types, who are more common among us than elsewhere and are not normally given to sentiment, shake your hand more firmly when saying goodbye in September and sometimes even do it with a smile.

      It’s a matter of climate.

      The old people spend more time in their rooms, sipping tea from a glass and thinking.

      In the windows it’s gray.

      The yard has...

    • Chapter 11 UNCLE ZISHE’S SONYA
      (pp. 69-74)

      What’s with Uncle Zishe’s Sonya, who works at the People’s Commissariat of Finance? Is she for real?

      They say she is.

      But why is she always so cold? What makes her sit cuddled on the sofa, self-absorbedly wrapped in a shawl?

      It comes from Aunt Gita, who smuggled frigid rabbinic blood into the family.

      Sonya’s skin is too pale for a Zelmenyaner’s. In the dark, the whites of her eyes have a blue gleam that is highly thought of at the commissariat.

      Men thirty-five years and over are quite fond of her.

      Sometimes, leaving work, she is followed by five...

      (pp. 75-79)

      Word had it that a division of the Red Army would be passing through the city on maneuvers.

      The trade unions prepared to give it a grand welcome. The red banner flew over Reb Zelmele’s yard.

      One evening Uncle Itshe came home from the Artisans Club with fresh news from the political front. Aunt Malkaleh was the first to hear it. Although she, too, read the daily paper, Uncle Itshe was better versed in politics, in which he dabbled from time to time. World imperialism, he informed Aunt Malkaleh, was about to launch an attack on the USSR. “We have...

    • Chapter 13 WHIPPERSNAPS
      (pp. 80-85)

      The (young) whippersnaps like to go around with peasant blouses and tousled hair. They like to carry revolvers in their back pockets. They like to stuff their mouths with bread and sausage and sit around the table poking fun.

      At whom?

      At Dovnar-Glembotsky,* the old professor who tells them in his lectures at the college:

      “I want you all to know that I’ve been a Marxist since the First Congress!”

      Borovke says:

      “Dovnar-Glembotsky writes books as if driving a fire engine.”


      “That’s why he has no time for something as trivial as scientific method.”

      “Listen, the revolution ruined his...

    • Chapter 14 MAKING UP
      (pp. 86-90)

      Exactly how Uncle Zishe’s Sonya made up with her father is unclear. There are different versions. One, the source of which is Aunt Gita, has it that lengthy negotiations with her cousin the flour dealer ended in Pavel Olshevsky’s swearing before witnesses to become a Jew on his first day off from work. Yet how far from the truth this is can be gauged, first, from the fact that Olshevsky, an ex–Socialist Revolutionary* who has been in every jail in Russia, is opposed to all religions, and second, from the physical ordeal for the male of the species, on...

    • Chapter 15 MARAT
      (pp. 91-96)

      A heavy snow had fallen. Sloping banks of it lay beneath the window sills. Reb Zelmele’s yard was buried so deep that all you could see were patches of wall with their frosted window panes. The white roofs sagged lower. The wet, snowy corners of the yard looked smeared with whitewash.

      In the middle of the night Bereh rose sleepily, made his cautious way, barefoot in galoshes, to Uncle Itshe’s window, and knocked. Soon the curtain was opened and Aunt Malkaleh’s broad, frightened face swam toward him as though through deep water and pressed against the pane. Bereh was at...

      (pp. 97-103)

      Uncle Zishe was smiling.

      By all reports, he felt fit as a fiddle that last winter evening and even joked with Falke and Aunt Malkaleh about the fine bunch of grandchildren the Zelmenyaners were having nowadays. (Sons-in-law were not mentioned in his presence.)

      Who would have believed that twenty-four hours later he would no longer be among the living?

      It now seems obvious—anyone could have seen it—that his tenderness that night was the tenderness that comes before dying. He sat looking at the Zelmenyaners with the yellowish whites of his eyes, and they, brainless as sheep, never realized...

      (pp. 104-108)

      Among the major events in Reb Zelmele’s yard after the death of Uncle Zishe were the following:


      Going to the stable to look for a board, Uncle Yuda found a postcard stuck into a roof beam. On one side of it was an inky Moscow postmark. On the other were some lines in Hebrew. Uncle Yuda took it home and managed to read:

      22 Elul, the year of Creation 5681.

      To His Excellency Zisl the son of Reb Zalman, may his light shine.

      Peace to the near and to the far and to you t …

      The writing was...

    • Chapter 18 UNCLE YUDA
      (pp. 109-116)

      At three a.m. he lit the lantern that once served the vestibule’s long-gone geese. In the windows, the winter night was murky and gray. He poured some water from the bucket, washed his hands and said the blessing for it, took down an old sack from above the stove, and packed a few things: his prayer shawl and phylacteries, his fiddle, a pound loaf of bread, and some onions—all that a man needs for the road.

      The too great silence of the night signaled a frost. To be on the safe side, he wrapped a kerchief around his ears...

    • Chapter 19
      (pp. 117-117)

      Uncle Yuda, needless to say, was dead....

      (pp. 118-121)

      Dear Parents,

      Forgive me for not writing sooner. There simply hasn’t been time. Tonke and I have been so busy that we’ve forgotten all about you, my dears. From now on, we’ll try to write more often.

      Now that we’ve become, as you say, man and wife, I’ve gotten to know Tonke better. She’s an interesting girl, devoted body and soul to socialist construction. There’s hardly a trace of petit-bourgeois individualism left in her. I’m convinced that she’ll settle down even more as our work progresses, so that we’ll soon see in her a more consistently class-conscious activist on the...

    • Chapter 21 BUBBE BASHE
      (pp. 122-124)

      Frosts. Days that glittered like moonlit nights. A yard turned to cold porcelain. Heavily wrapped Zelmenyaners gathered to talk in whispers. About what? Bubbe Bashe had finally taken to bed. It seemed this was it, because she had also stopped eating.

      Aunt Gita stepped out of Bubbe Bashe’s room with her usual look of rabbinical silence, threw a knowing glance at the yard, and remained standing by the door. Aunt Gita is an expert on such things. She was surrounded at once on all sides.

      “I reckon,” she said, trying to sound like her father, the rabbi of Sola, may...

  5. Part Two

      (pp. 127-129)

      What he went through in the Great War went unrecorded. In the long, dark trenches, as in the freedom of the rear lines, he could be seen—generally in the vicinity of the nearest field kitchen—waiting expectantly, a hairy soldier in a stiff greatcoat and a ragged fur hat. Although he had more than once lost his rifle, he was never without the wooden spoon that he kept tucked into his bootleg, his most precious weapon of the war.

      He acquired it early on, on a hot summer day in 1914.

      One after another, packed troop trains pulled out...

      (pp. 130-135)

      The Red Army cavalry, having advanced far ahead of the infantry in a bold maneuver, was now operating behind Polish lines in a region of heavy swamps. The enemy had no answer to its sudden, demoralizing attacks.

      The cavalry was well trained for mounted engagements. Yet it disliked fighting on foot and was poor at it, especially in large formations on broad fronts. It had no stomach for night fighting, either, having had little experience at it, and its men were poor marksmen who preferred closing with cold steel on horseback.

      Which was why its commanders preferred marching at night...

      (pp. 136-142)

      The cavalry traveled on foaming horses.

      It traveled with greatcoats smelling of smoke, with tousled hair singed by fire.

      It spent the night riding through the Grodno Forest. Silhouetted on the hilltops along the horizon were the pointed helmets of its reconnaissance patrols, their bayonets frosty against the starry sky.

      Grodno was taken.

      The beaten remains of the Polish forces retreated down the foggy, birch-lined roads in their wagon trains. Gray peasants stood by burned-out huts, sucking on their pipes while regarding the havoc wreaked on their world with a morose and sleepy tedium.

      The Russians’ “mounted infantry” roamed everywhere....

      (pp. 143-145)

      Getting anyone to talk about Bereh’s journey home isn’t easy. It remains a gap in his biography. Zelmenyaners, as is known, don’t speak to one another, so that anything gleaned is tenth-hand information.

      Bereh himself keeps mum.

      Nevertheless, a form he filled out on joining the police tells us that he followed the highway to Grodno, and from there to Vilna and Molodechno before doubling back through Radoshkovich to Minsk. A copy of this document was discovered by Uncle Yuda’s Tsalke while searching for old amulets behind one of his late Uncle Zishe’s eternally ticking clocks.

      Uncle Yuda’s Tsalke is...

    • Chapter 5 THE POND
      (pp. 146-150)

      Bereh found a job with the police. First, though, he came home from the front, crawled onto his parents’ hard couch, and spent several months sound asleep like a sloth beneath his tattered army coat.

      Next, without warning, he married Uncle Yuda’s Khayaleh and brought her two buckets of water a day, balanced on a shoulder yoke, in return for a peaceful life. Apart from him, Khayaleh acquired some domestic skills and a cat.

      Bereh’s life was indeed peaceful.

      It was at about this time that the pillars of Reb Zelmele’s yard began to totter. Subsequently, they crumbled and collapsed....

      (pp. 151-158)

      Newly deceased. Although sometimes he still appears to Aunt Gita in her dreams, she too is of the opinion that he is no longer in this world. All things point to his having passed on for good.

      Uncle Yuda was a philosopher, and his thoughts, like those of all philosophers, were born from sorrow. When Aunt Hesye, the love of his life, was killed suddenly, the shock drove him to cogitate. Yet the less said about Aunt Hesye the better, as her death was not a nice one.

      Naturally, Uncle Yuda began his philosophizing by reflecting on divine providence. That’s...

      (pp. 159-164)

      After several years of mournful silence, voices were again heard at Aunt Gita’s.

      In the starry hours of the early morning, Uncle Zishe’s Tonke had returned from Vladivostok. She filled the room with a cold draft, bundles, and a baby carriage, at the bottom of which lay a swaddled infant that didn’t look Jewish at all.

      Fresh air streamed through the opened windows into the stuffy, melancholy room that had ticked softly with the sound of Uncle Zishe’s eternally running clocks. Water splashed from a basin onto a female body, and tartly scented young men and women came and went...

      (pp. 165-169)

      The current of events, having flowed downstream with Uncle Zishe, was now shunted by his vanity into a bog of illnesses. He himself, it has been related, was compelled to end his life by dying.

      The yard was beset by death and diseases of all kinds. Until then the Zelmenyaners had gone about departing the world as though performing a simple chore. They had even coined their own expression for it, namely, cashing in one’s last rubles.

      It was Uncle Zishe who threw a disagreeable kink into this trait, which was then handed down to others in the family. Although...

    • Chapter 9 THE LAST TAILOR
      (pp. 170-174)

      Yet one winter night, Uncle Itshe’s stubborn resistance was finally broken. Little by little, he was forced to accept the idea of working in the factory.

      They were all sitting in the small, warm room—Tonke, Falke, Bereh, and Aunt Malkaleh.

      Outside was a frost. Pale heaps of blue snow, as though frozen solid while trying to scale the roof, glittered through the window.

      They sat hunched over the table, sipping hot glasses of tea and exchanging terse sentences:

      “Join the working class, you silly old Jew!”

      “It’s time you gave up your tradesman’s psychology,* uncle!”

      “You’ve patched old clothes...

    • Chapter 10 WINTER
      (pp. 175-179)

      The winter evening lay hard and clear beneath a blue sky, as if chiseled from a lump of sugar. The snow-draped posts and beams gleamed in the windows of the tranquil yard.

      The moon hung over the yard like a cold coin.

      Tonke was still awake by her green lampshade, performing measurements and calculations and jotting down neat columns of figures on sheets of paper.

      Her fatherless child lay in bed, the clucking sounds that it made in its throat oddly like the ticking of Uncle Zishe’s clocks on the wall. Gradually, it fell silent and sank back into the...

    • Chapter 11 MORE ABOUT WINTER
      (pp. 180-185)

      The city, cast in snow, traced a hunchbacked line on the horizon, framed by the large blue window of the sky.

      On the telephone poles, the green porcelain insulators cracked from the cold. The air was pure alcohol. Gray icicles hung from the roofs of the yard as though from the beards of water carriers.

      Uncle Yuda’s roof alone had a festive touch, a three-toed trail leading up to its chimney, where a bird had left its tracks before sunrise.

      Not a single fleshy nose was poked out-of-doors. Lying beneath their blankets, the Zelmenyaners had heard the last unrotted roof...

    • Chapter 12 THE ZELMENIAD
      (pp. 186-192)

      A scientific investigation into the material and intellectual culture, traits, customs, and other aspects of Reb Zelmele’s yard, compiled and redacted from the notes of the young field worker Tsalel Khvost, himself the yard’s native.

      The courtyard was founded in 1864 by Reb Zelmele Khvost, a lower-middle-class Jew of short stature who came to these parts from “deep Russia.” It was he who settled the yard and laid the basis for its development while supporting himself as a petty tradesman. Set apart from their neighbors, the Zelmenyaners forged a distinctive lifestyle of their own in the course of the next...

      (pp. 193-200)

      The blizzard hasn’t let up for two weeks.

      Snow is piled high by the inner doors of the vestibules. A chimney—and one in good condition at that—has fallen on Bubbe Bashe’s roof.

      The blizzard whirls about the yard as if trapped and trying to break out, wreaking havoc with the last rotting rafters and moaning all night in the double storm windows and snow-filled attics.

      From the storm come bearers of ill tidings.

      Uncle Zishe’s Sonya is ill. A girl in a fur coat and high boots came to fetch Aunt Gita and take her to Sonya’s bedside....

    • Chapter 14 A MOONLIT NIGHT
      (pp. 201-203)

      That night the moon came out. The blizzard was over. The moon swam out from soft, feathery clouds that shone with a far-off light.

      The houses of the yard slumbered, their low shadows huddled on the bluish snow. Here and there a gouge in the snow testified to the gale winds that had passed over it. The yard was sunk in that deep, second stage of sleep from which it is impossible to be woken.

      An agitated Tsalke roamed the yard past the moonlit rooms. Was it in aimless sorrow for his high-minded father, the noblest of the Zelmenyaners?


      (pp. 204-211)

      As for Sonya, it’s like this.

      She’s left her job and even, it would seem, given up her union card. She stays at home and is always cold, no doubt because of the frozen rabbinical blood smuggled into the family by Aunt Gita. She’s always sick, too. For that she can thank Uncle Zishe, who bequeathed to her illnesses of various kinds and degrees.

      Yet there is a school of thought that maintains that Uncle Zishe’s Sonya only pretends to be sick when her husband is at home.

      The following is adduced in proof:

      Sonya never eats in Pavel Olshevsky’s...

      (pp. 212-218)

      It was said in the yard to have happened on the day of Tonke’s daughter’s birthday. Uncle Folye’s little wife, on the other hand, claimed this was a fat lie, since the child, she said, was born in the winter.

      One way or another, the yard had never seen the likes of it.

      That evening a carton arrived, smelling of sweets, spices, and fruit. Aunt Gita, realizing at once what it portended, hid her kosher dishes and went to sleep.

      Whether she actually slept no one knew, since she was equally talkative waking or sleeping.

      “Aunt Gita, where’s the ladle?”...

    • Chapter 17 MORE UNREST IN THE YARD
      (pp. 219-224)

      It was the spring at the start of the great collectivization campaign.

      Reb Zelmele’s yard reacted with a sullen face, with a cold wag of its beard, and with silence for Tonke and Bereh, who were in any case off in the countryside for weeks at a time.

      The yard had thought it was done with revolutions.

      In the synagogue, Jews clustered by the tallow candle. The formerly pampered grooms of once wealthy religious brides sat exchanging the latest news in their turned gabardines, each hair of their beards neatly combed. An itinerant young cantor, newly arrived from somewhere, agreed...

    • Chapter 18
      (pp. 225-225)

      (By telegram to the newspaperOctober)

      The Bikhov Shoemakers Cooperative has fulfilled its first-quarter plan in its entirety.

      Cooperative Chairman Polovetz....

      (pp. 226-234)

      Countess Kondratyeva with her thousand scents of iodine and cloves, her pink fingernails and crow’s feet, had gradually faded like a puddle of moonlight on the floor. If her presence was still felt, it was only in the winter dreams of dour old Zelmenyaners whose wives gave them heartburn like a fiery onion.

      Falke hardly even remembered what she looked like, although sometimes the red curtain of her fourth-floor window still fluttered before his eyes like a restless semaphore in a station no train stopped in.

      It was over. A Queen of Sheba made of love and spices, she had...

      (pp. 235-241)

      It was a matter of different speaking styles.

      Folye, as he once admitted, talked perfectly well but had nothing to say. Bereh had lots to say but couldn’t talk. There are men who think they talk a great deal, though it later turns out that they haven’t spoken to their wives in weeks.

      Taciturnus vulgarisis a dangerous species. Women flee from it.

      Would Porshnyev succeed in driving the silence out of Bereh? That was the question.

      Porshnyev had agreed to Bereh’s working in the factory in the hope that there, on the assembly line, shoulder to shoulder with his...

      (pp. 242-252)

      The blood stains on Uncle Itshe’s table were scraped away with a knife. A dull dent from the ax remained in the wood.

      The bricklayer was gone.

      In the yard it was said that he had merely sat there and shrugged. There was not much, after all, that he could have said. A person might have thought he didn’t know who Falke was. Unless, that is, it was all the invention of Uncle Folye’s little wife.

      Why would she have done such a thing?

      Presumably, to widen her net of gossip, into which most of the Zelmenyaners had already fallen...

      (pp. 253-257)

      Mende the tanner’s original pair of tar-papered houses on the riverbank, which resembled two garbage bins, had accumulated around them a quarter-of-a-mile-wide yard with large buildings, a sky-high brick chimney, a network of narrow-gauge railway tracks, electric and telephone wires, an automobile perpetually parked by the front office, a summer garden, workers clubs, libraries, laboratories, engineers, and a whistle with its own phlegmatic tanner’s voice.

      In the early hours of the morning, when factory whistles sounded all over the city, the still-sleeping tanners made out their steady foghorn, discernible by its low, ample drone like a bassoon in an orchestra....

    • Chapter 23 THE GREAT TRIAL
      (pp. 258-263)

      During the trial held at the Workers Club, a thoroughly downcast Folye, accused of theft, sat silently on the podium with his head hanging and his long hands on his knees. All seven hundred employees of the factory were in attendance. Reb Zelmele’s yard, the jackets of its hairy denizens in need of patching at the elbows, sat on the front bench, trying to hide the disgrace in their beards while feeling it was not so much Folye as the entire yard that was on trial. Folye’s little wife had brought him his supper in a basket, from which she...

      (pp. 264-268)

      The last days of the yard went by like smoke. One thing after another swam before the Zelmenyaners’ eyes, and nothing remained in their memory. The main recollection was of a still-wet, newly built brick wall whose fresh red color cast a pall over the tumbledown houses. The Kommunarka Candy Factory had begun to rise from the scaffolds.

      The Zelmenyaners closeted themselves until the last minute in their old rooms, into which not a ray of light shone anymore. From time to time, voices called from somewhere among the scaffolds:

      “Khayke, what did you do with the koshering pot?”


  6. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)