: JUDAH STEINBERG
The two young fellows Maxim Klopatzel and Israel Friedman were natives
of the same town in New Bessarabia, and there was an old link existing
between them: a mutual detestation inherited from their respective
parents. Maxim's father was the chief Gentile of the town, for he rented
the corn-fields of its richest inhabitant; and as the lawyer of the rich
citizen was a Jew, little Maxim imagined, when his father came to lose
his tenantry, that it was owing to the Jews. Little Struli was the only
Jewish boy he knew (the children were next door neighbors), and so a
large share of their responsibility was laid on Struli's shoulders.
Later on, when Klopatzel, the father, had abandoned the plough and taken
to trade, he and old Friedman frequently came in contact with each other
They traded and traded, and competed one against the other, till they
both become bankrupt, when each argued to himself that the other was at
the bottom of his misfortune--and their children grew on in mutual
A little later still, Maxim put down to Struli's account part of the
nails which were hammered into his Savior, over at the other end of the
town, by the well, where the Government and the Church had laid out
money and set up a crucifix with a ladder, a hammer, and all other
And Struli, on his part, had an account to settle with Maxim respecting
certain other nails driven in with hammers, and torn scrolls of the
Law, and the history of the ten martyrs of the days of Titus, not to
mention a few later ones.
Their hatred grew with them, its strength increased with theirs.
When Krushevan began to deal in anti-Semitism, Maxim learned that
Christian children were carried off into the Shool, Struli's Shool, for
the sake of their blood.
Thenceforth Maxim's hatred of Struli was mingled with fear. He was
terrified when he passed the Shool at night, and he used to dream that
Struli stood over him in a prayer robe, prepared to slaughter him with a
ram's horn trumpet.
This because he had once passed the Shool early one Jewish New Year's
Day, had peeped through the window, and seen the ram's horn blower
standing in his white shroud, armed with the Shofar, and suddenly a
heartrending voice broke out with Min ha-Mezar, and Maxim, taking his
feet on his shoulders, had arrived home more dead than alive. There was
very nearly a commotion. The priest wanted to persuade him that the Jews
had tried to obtain his blood.
So the two children grew into youth as enemies. Their fathers died, and
the increased difficulties of their position increased their enmity.
The same year saw them called to military service, from which they had
both counted on exemption as the only sons of widowed mothers; only
Israel's mother had lately died, bequeathing to the Czar all she had--a
soldier; and Maxim's mother had united herself to a second
provider--and there was an end of the two "only sons!"
Neither of them wished to serve; they were too intellectually capable,
too far developed mentally, too intelligent, to be turned all at once
into Russian soldiers, and too nicely brought up to march from Port
Arthur to Mukden with only one change of shirt. They both cleared out,
and stowed themselves away till they 'fell separately into the hands of
They came together again under the fortress walls of Mukden.
They ate and hungered sullenly round the same cooking pot, received
punches from the same officer, and had the same longing for the same
Israel had a habit of talking in his sleep, and, like a born
Bessarabian, in his Yiddish mixed with a large portion of Roumanian
One night, lying in the barracks among the other soldiers, and sunk in
sleep after a hard day, Struli began to talk sixteen to the dozen. He
called out names, he quarrelled, begged pardon, made a fool of
himself--all in his sleep.
It woke Maxim, who overheard the homelike names and phrases, the name of
his native town.
He got up, made his way between the rows of sleepers, and sat down by
Israel's pallet, and listened.
Next day Maxim managed to have a large helping of porridge, more than he
could eat, and he found Israel, and set it before him.
"Maltzimesk!" said the other, thanking him in Roumanian, and a thrill of
delight went through Maxim's frame.
The day following, Maxim was hit by a Japanese bullet, and there
happened to be no one beside him at the moment.
The shock drove all the soldier-speech out of his head. "Help, I am
killed!" he called out, and fell to the ground.
Struli was at his side like one sprung from the earth, he tore off his
Four-Corners, and made his comrade a bandage.
The wound turned out to be slight, for the bullet had passed through,
only grazing the flesh of the left arm. A few days later Maxim was back
in the company.
"I wanted to see you again, Struli," he said, greeting his comrade in
A flash of brotherly affection and gratitude lighted Struli's Semitic
eyes, and he took the other into his arms, and pressed him to his heart.
They felt themselves to be "countrymen," of one and the same native
Neither of them could have told exactly when their union of spirit had
been accomplished, but each one knew that he thanked God for having
brought him together with so near a compatriot in a strange land.
And when the battle of Mukden had made Maxim all but totally blind, and
deprived Struli of one foot, they started for home together, according
to the passage in the Midrash, "Two men with one pair of eyes and one
pair of feet between them." Maxim carried on his shoulders a wooden box,
which had now became a burden in common for them, and Struli limped a
little in front of him, leaning lightly against his companion, so as to
keep him in the smooth part of the road and out of other people's way.
Struli had become Maxim's eyes, and Maxim, Struli's feet; they were two
men grown into one, and they provided for themselves out of one pocket,
now empty of the last ruble.
They dragged themselves home. "A kasa, a kasa!" whispered Struli into
Maxim's ear, and the other turned on him his two glazed eyes looking
through a red haze, and set in swollen red lids.
A childlike smile played on his lips:
"A kasa, a kasa!" he repeated, also in a whisper.
Home appeared to their fancy as something holy, something consoling,
something that could atone and compensate for all they had suffered and
lost. They had seen such a home in their dreams.
But the nearer they came to it in reality, the more the dream faded.
They remembered that they were returning as conquered soldiers and
crippled men, that they had no near relations and but few friends, while
the girls who had coquetted with Maxim before he left would never waste
so much as a look on him now he was half-blind; and Struli's plans for
marrying and emigrating to America were frustrated: a cripple would not
be allowed to enter the country.
All their dreams and hopes finally dissipated, and there remained only
one black care, one all-obscuring anxiety: how were they to earn a
They had been hoping all the while for a pension, but in their service
book was written "on sick-leave." The Russo-Japanese war was
distinguished by the fact that the greater number of wounded soldiers
went home "on sick-leave," and the money assigned by the Government for
their pension would not have been sufficient for even a hundredth part
of the number of invalids.
Maxim showed a face with two wide open eyes, to which all the passers-by
looked the same. He distinguished with difficulty between a man and a
telegraph post, and wore a smile of mingled apprehension and confidence.
The sound feet stepped hesitatingly, keeping behind Israel, and it was
hard to say which steadied himself most against the other. Struli limped
forward, and kept open eyes for two. Sometimes he would look round at
the box on Maxim's shoulders, as though he felt its weight as much as
Meantime the railway carriages had emptied and refilled, and the
locomotive gave a great blast, received an answer from somewhere a long
way off, a whistle for a whistle, and the train set off, slowly at
first, and then gradually faster and faster, till all that remained of
it were puffs of smoke hanging in the air without rhyme or reason.
The two felt more depressed than ever. "Something to eat? Where are we
to get a bite?" was in their minds.
Suddenly Yisroel remembered with a start: this was the anniversary of
his mother's death--if he could only say one Kaddish for her in a Klaus!
"Is it far from here to a Klaus?" he inquired of a passer-by.
"There is one a little way down that side-street," was the reply.
"Maxim!" he begged of the other, "come with me!"
"To the synagogue."
Maxim shuddered from head to foot. His fear of a Jewish Shool had not
left him, and a thousand foolish terrors darted through his head.
But his comrade's voice was so gentle, so childishly imploring, that he
could not resist it, and he agreed to go with him into the Shool.
It was the time for Afternoon Prayer, the daylight and the dark held
equal sway within the Klaus, the lamps before the platform increasing
the former to the east and the latter to the west. Maxim and Yisroel
stood in the western part, enveloped in shadow. The Cantor had just
finished "Incense," and was entering upon Ashre, and the melancholy
night chant of Minchah and Maariv gradually entranced Maxim's emotional
The low, sad murmur of the Cantor seemed to him like the distant surging
of a sea, in which men were drowned by the hundreds and suffocating with
the water. Then, the Ashre and the Kaddish ended, there was silence. The
congregation stood up for the Eighteen Benedictions. Here and there you
heard a half-stifled sigh. And now it seemed to Maxim that he was in the
hospital at night, at the hour when the groans grow less frequent, and
the sufferers fall one by one into a sweet sleep.
Tears started into his eyes without his knowing why. He was no longer
afraid, but a sudden shyness had come over him, and he felt, as he
watched Yisroel repeating the Kaddish, that the words, which he, Maxim,
could not understand, were being addressed to someone unseen, and yet
mysteriously present in the darkening Shool.
When the prayers were ended, one of the chief members of the
congregation approached the "Mandchurian," and gave Yisroel a coin into
Yisroel looked round--he did not understand at first what the donor
meant by it.
Then it occurred to him--and the blood rushed to his face. He gave the
coin to his companion, and explained in a half-sentence or two how they
had come by it.
Once outside the Klaus, they both cried, after which they felt better.
"A livelihood!" the same thought struck them both.
"We can go into partnership!"