Free Artist: The Story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein

Free Artist: The Story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein

Free Artist: The Story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein

Free Artist: The Story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein

Excerpt

ON A blazing July day of 1831, in the Jewish town of Berdichev, Southwest Russia, the priest of Saint Nicholas' Church closed heavy wooden doors against the sun, then hurried up the aisle to look after the baptismal linen. Sixty Jews were coming today to be baptized into the Christian faith -- sixty Rubinsteins. Complete submersion, the Orthodox ceremony calls for. The baptismal linen was in a more than doubtful condition; family after family of Jews had been wrapped in it these last four years, since Tsar Nicholas' bitter ukase had come down from Petersburg: Every Jewish male of twelve years, to the proportion of seven in every hundred of population, to be conscripted for the Imperial Army and to proceed immediately to cantonment school, to remain in the Imperial Army 25 years. . . .

Even a Christian priest knew the meaning of this. Young boys, fed salted foods and denied water. Boys flogged, dying far from home with the insignia of a soldier on their collars. Children in cantonments weeping for their mothers, falling on the drill ground from fatigue. Only the strongest survived.

During the past year especially, Saint Nicholas' font had been crowded and the priest was under no illusion as to the reasons. On the heels of the army ukase, Tsar Nicholas had revived the Double Tax, compelling all Jews within the Pale to pay double for every tax a Christian paid. Moreover, every solvent Jew was liable for the taxes of his neighbor; those who did not pay were exiled, driven from their homes to wander starving on the plains.

There was one escape and one only: Christian baptism. Immersion in the holy water, repetition of a few magic words, and Israel was permitted to sign its name in the parish register. With that signature, boundaries of the Pale came crashing down. That signature . . .

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