At The Matzes


It was quite early in the morning, when Sossye, the scribe's daughter, a

girl of seventeen, awoke laughing; a sunbeam had broken through the

rusty window, made its way to her underneath the counterpane, and there

opened her eyes.

It woke her out of a deep dream which she was ashamed to recall, but the

dream came back to her of itself, and made her laugh.

Had she known whom she was going to m
et in her dreams, she would have

lain down in her clothes, occurs to her, and she laughs aloud.

"Got up laughing!" scolds her mother. "There's a piece of good luck for

you! It's a sign of a black year for her (may it be to my enemies!)."

Sossye proceeds to dress herself. She does not want to fall out with her

mother to-day, she wants to be on good terms with everyone.

In the middle of dressing she loses herself in thought, with one naked

foot stretched out and an open stocking in her hands, wondering how the

dream would have ended, if she had not awoke so soon.

Chayyimel, a villager's son, who boards with her mother, passes the open

doors leading to Sossye's room, and for the moment he is riveted to the

spot. His eyes dance, the blood rushes to his cheeks, he gets all he can

by looking, and then hurries away to Cheder without his breakfast, to

study the Song of Songs.

And Sossye, fresh and rosy from sleep, her brown eyes glowing under the

tumbled gold locks, betakes herself to the kitchen, where her mother,

with her usual worried look, is blowing her soul out before the oven

into a smoky fire of damp wood.

"Look at the girl standing round like a fool! Run down to the cellar,

and fetch me an onion and some potatoes!"

Sossye went down to the cellar, and found the onions and potatoes


At sight of a green leaf, her heart leapt. Greenery! greenery! summer is

coming! And the whole of her dream came back to her!

"Look, mother, green sprouts!" she cried, rushing into the kitchen.

"A thousand bad dreams on your head! The onions are spoilt, and she

laughs! My enemies' eyes will creep out of their lids before there will

be fresh greens to eat, and all this, woe is me, is only fit to throw


"Greenery, greenery!" thought Sossye, "summer is coming!"

Greenery had got into her head, and there it remained, and from greenery

she went on to remember that to-day was the first Passover-cake baking

at Gedalyeh the baker's, and that Shloimeh Shieber would be at work


Having begged of her mother the one pair of boots that stood about in

the room and fitted everyone, she put them on, and was off to the


It was, as we have said, the first day's work at Gedalyeh the baker's,

and the sack of Passover flour had just been opened. Gravely, the

flour-boy, a two weeks' orphan, carried the pot of flour for the

Mehereh, and poured it out together with remembrances of his mother, who

had died in the hospital of injuries received at their hands, and the

water-boy came up behind him, and added recollections of his own.

"The hooligans threw his father into the water off the bridge--may they

pay for it, suesser Gott! May they live till he is a man, and can settle

his account with them!"

Thus the grey-headed old Henoch, the kneader, and he kneaded it all into

the dough, with thoughts of his own grandchildren: this one fled abroad,

the other in the regiment, and a third in prison.

The dough stiffens, the horny old hands work it with difficulty. The

dough gets stiffer every year, and the work harder, it is time for him

to go to the asylum!

The dough is kneaded, cut up in pieces, rolled and riddled--is that a

token for the whole Congregation of Israel? And now appear the round

Matzes, which must wander on a shovel into the heated oven of Shloimeh

Shieber, first into one corner, and then into another, till another

shovel throws them out into a new world, separated from the old by a

screen thoroughly scoured for Passover, which now rises and now falls.

There they are arranged in columns, a reminder of Pithom and Rameses.

Kuk-ruk, kuk-ruk, ruk-ruk, whisper the still warm Matzes one to another;

they also are remembering, and they tell the tale of the Exodus after

their fashion, the tale of the flight out of Egypt--only they have seen

more flights than one.

Thus are the Matzes kneaded and baked by the Jews, with "thoughts." The

Gentiles call them "blood," and assert that Jews need blood for their

Matzes, and they take the trouble to supply us with fresh "thoughts"

every year!

But at Gedalyeh the baker's all is still cheerfulness. Girls and boys,

in their unspent vigor, surround the tables, there is rolling and

riddling and cleaning of clean rolling-pins with pieces of broken glass

(from where ever do Jews get so much broken glass?), and the whole town

is provided with kosher Matzes. Jokes and silver trills escape the

lively young workers, the company is as merry as though the Exodus were


But it won't be to-morrow. Look at them well, because another day you

will not find them so merry, they will not seem like the same.

One of the likely lads has left his place, and suddenly appeared at a

table beside a pretty, curly-haired girl. He has hurried over his

Matzes, and now he wants to help her.

She thanks him for his attention with a rolling-pin over the fingers,

and there is such laughter among the spectators that Berke, the old

overseer, exclaims, "What impertinence!"

But he cannot finish, because he has to laugh himself. There is a spark

in the embers of his being which the girlish merriment around him

kindles anew.

And the other lads are jealous of the beaten one. They know very well

that no girl would hit a complete stranger, and that the blow only

meant, "Impudent boy, why need the world know of anything between us?"

Shloimehle Shieber, armed with the shovels, stands still for a minute

trying to distinguish Sossye's voice in the peals of laughter. The

Matzes under his care are browning in the oven.

And Sossye takes it into her head to make her Matzes with one pointed

corner, so that he may perhaps know them for hers, and laughs to herself

as she does so.

There is one table to the side of the room which was not there last

year; it was placed there for the formerly well-to-do housemistresses,

who last year, when they came to bake their Matzes, gave Yom-tov money

to the others. Here all goes on quietly; the laughter of the merry

people breaks against the silence, and is swallowed up.

The work grows continually pleasanter and more animated. The riddler

stamps two or three Matzes with hieroglyphs at once, in order to show

off. Shloimeh at the oven cannot keep pace with him, and grows angry:

"May all bad...."

The wish is cut short in his mouth, he has caught a glance of Sossye's

through the door of the baking-room, he answers with two, gets three

back, Sossye pursing her lips to signify a kiss. Shloimeh folds his

hands, which also means something.

Meantime ten Matzes get scorched, and one of Sossye's is pulled in two.

"Brennen brennt mir mein Harz," starts a worker singing in a plaintive


"Come! hush, hush!" scolds old Berke. "Songs, indeed! What next, you

impudent boy?"

"My sorrows be on their head!" sighs a neighbor of Sossye's. "They'd

soon be tired of their life, if they were me. I've left two children at

home fit to scream their hearts out. The other is at the breast, I have

brought it along. It is quiet just now, by good luck."

"What is the use of a poor woman's having children?" exclaims another,

evidently "expecting" herself. Indeed, she has a child a year--and a

seven-days' mourning a year afterwards.

"Do you suppose I ask for them? Do you think I cry my eyes out for them

before God?"

"If she hasn't any, who's to inherit her place at the Matzes-baking--a

hundred years hence?"

"All very well for you to talk, you're a grass-widow (to no Jewish

daughter may it apply!)!"

"May such a blow be to my enemies as he'll surely come back again!"

"It's about time! After three years!"

"Will you shut up, or do you want another beating?"

Sossye went off into a fresh peal of laughter, and the shovel fell out

of Shloimeh's hand.

Again he caught a glance, but this time she wrinkled her nose at him, as

much as to say, "Fie, you shameless boy! Can't you behave yourself even

before other people?"

Hereupon the infant gave account of itself in a small, shrill voice, and

the general commotion went on increasing. The overseer scolded, the

Matzes-printing-wheel creaked and squeaked, the bits of glass were

ground against the rolling-pins, there was a humming of songs and a

proclaiming of secrets, followed by bursts of laughter, Sossye's voice

ringing high above the rest.

And the sun shone into the room through the small window--a white spot

jumped around and kissed everyone there.

Is it the Spirit of Israel delighting in her young men and maidens and

whispering in their ears: "What if it is Matzes-kneading, and what if

it is Exile? Only let us be all together, only let us all be merry!"

Or is it the Spring, transformed into a white patch of sunshine, in

which all have equal share, and which has not forgotten to bring good

news into the house of Gedalyeh the Matzeh-baker?

A beautiful sun was preparing to set, and promised another fine day for

the morrow.

"Ding-dong, gul-gul-gul-gul-gul-gul!"

It was the convent bells calling the Christians to confession!

All tongues were silenced round the tables at Gedalyeh the baker's.

A streak of vapor dimmed the sun, and gloomy thoughts settled down upon

the hearts of the workers.

"Easter! Their Easter is coming on!" and mothers' eyes sought their


The white patch of sunshine suddenly gave a terrified leap across the

ceiling and vanished in a corner.

"Kik-kik, kik-rik, kik-rik," whispered the hot Matzes. Who is to know

what they say?

Who can tell, now that the Jews have baked this year's Matzes, how soon

they will set about providing them with material for the

next?--"thoughts," and broken glass for the rolling-pins.