The Jew Who Returned to His People
TOLD BY EFRAIM ORENSTEIN TO MARIANA JUSTER
Once there was a Jew who lived in a small house on the banks of the Dniester River, on the Russian side, near the border between Russia and Romania. He lived there contentedly with his family, after having served twenty years in the czar's army. All his neighbors were gentiles, but they got along well, even though the Jew lived in constant fear of them. But the Jew was king in his own house, which was like a small kingdom where he, his wife, and two children lived in the spirit of the Jewish faith and tradition. Every Sabbath was blessed with bright candlelight, prayer, and a rich and festive meal. The holidays he celebrated with other Jews in a nearby town, where all respected and admired him.
But one day the serenity of the small house evaporated. Some Jew-hating Cossacks surrounded the Jew's house and looked for excuses to quarrel with him. All of his attempts to appease them were fruitless, and they beat him severely until he died. They threatened his wife that they would abduct her son if she told the authorities what they had done.
Thus began a difficult and bitter life for the widow and orphans. They found themselves among enemies, with nowhere to turn for help in their distress. The widow was especially troubled by thoughts of how she could save her son from the wicked anti-Semites. Her sleepless nights were haunted by the vision of how they would take her son for the army and remove him from his family and Jewish faith. Then, during her terrified nights, she had an idea of how she could save her son: run away! Run away to some far-off place, outside Russian territory. It would have to be done soon, because with every day the danger lurked nearer.
One day, the widow took her two children—her five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter—and went to the river. She hid them in the bushes while she looked for a narrow and accessible spot where she could swim across to the Romanian side of the river. When she was certain that no one could see her, she took the boy and swam across with him. Then she told the child to wait quietly until she returned with his sister. But when she went back to get her daughter, the Cossacks seized her.