Earth Of Palestine


As my readers know, I wanted to do a little stroke of business--to sell

the world-to-come. I must tell you that I came out of it very badly, and

might have fallen into some misfortune, if I had had the ware in stock.

It fell on this wise: Nowadays everyone is squeezed and stifled;

Parnosseh is gone to wrack and ruin, and there is no business--I mean,

there is business, only not for us Jews. In such bitter times people

natch the bread out of each other's mouths; if it is known that someone

has made a find, and started a business, they quickly imitate him; if

that one opens a shop, a second does likewise, and a third, and a

fourth; if this one makes a contract, the other runs and will do it for

less--"Even if I earn nothing, no more will you!"

When I gave out that I had the world-to-come to sell, lots of people

gave a start, "Aha! a business!" and before they knew what sort of ware

it was, and where it was to be had, they began thinking about a

shop--and there was still greater interest shown on the part of certain

philanthropists, party leaders, public workers, and such-like. They knew

that when I set up trading in the world-to-come, I had announced that my

business was only with the poor. Well, they understood that it was

likely to be profitable, and might give them the chance of licking a

bone or two. There was very soon a great tararam in our little world,

people began inquiring where my goods came from. They surrounded me with

spies, who were to find out what I did at night, what I did on Sabbath;

they questioned the cook, the market-woman; but in vain, they could not

find out how I came by the world-to-come. And there blazed up a fire of

jealousy and hatred, and they began to inform, to write letters to the

authorities about me. Laban the Yellow and Balaam the Blind (you know

them!) made my boss believe that I do business, that is, that I have

capital, that is--that is--but my employer investigated the matter, and

seeing that my stock in trade was the world-to-come, he laughed, and let

me alone. The townspeople among whom it was my lot to dwell, those good

people who are a great hand at fishing in troubled waters, as soon as

they saw the mud rise, snatched up their implements and set to work,

informing by letter that I was dealing in contraband. There appeared a

red official and swept out a few corners in my house, but without

finding a single specimen bit of the world-to-come, and went away. But I

had no peace even then; every day came a fresh letter informing against

me. My good brothers never ceased work. The pious, orthodox Jews, the

Gemoreh-Koeplech, informed, and said I was a swindler, because the

world-to-come is a thing that isn't there, that is neither fish, flesh,

fowl, nor good red herring, and the whole thing was a delusion; the

half-civilized people with long trousers and short earlocks said, on the

contrary, that I was making game of religion, so that before long I had

enough of it from every side, and made the following resolutions: first,

that I would have nothing to do with the world-to-come and such-like

things which the Jews did not understand, although they held them very

precious; secondly, that I would not let myself in for selling

anything. One of my good friends, an experienced merchant, advised me

rather to buy than to sell: "There are so many to sell, they will

compete with you, inform against you, and behave as no one should.

Buying, on the other hand--if you want to buy, you will be esteemed and

respected, everyone will flatter you, and be ready to sell to you on

credit--everyone is ready to take money, and with very little capital

you can buy the best and most expensive ware." The great thing was to

get a good name, and then, little by little, by means of credit, one

might rise very high.

So it was settled that I should buy. I had a little money on hand for a

couple of newspaper articles, for which nowadays they pay; I had a bit

of reputation earned by a great many articles in Hebrew, for which I

received quite nice complimentary letters; and, in case of need, there

is a little money owing to me from certain Jewish booksellers of the

Maskilim, for books bought "on commission." Well, I am resolved to buy.

But what shall I buy? I look round and take note of all the things a man

can buy, and see that I, as a Jew, may not have them; that which I may

buy, no matter where, isn't worth a halfpenny; a thing that is of any

value, I can't have. And I determine to take to the old ware which my

great-great-grandfathers bought, and made a fortune in. My parents and

the whole family wish for it every day. I resolve to buy--you understand

me?--earth of Palestine, and I announce both verbally and in writing to

all my good and bad brothers that I wish to become a purchaser of the


Oh, what a commotion it made! Hardly was it known that I wished to buy

Palestinian earth, than there pounced upon me people of whom I had never

thought it possible that they should talk to me, and be in the room with

me. The first to come was a kind of Jew with a green shawl, with white

shoes, a pale face with a red nose, dark eyes, and yellow earlocks. He

commenced unpacking paper and linen bags, out of which he shook a little

sand, and he said to me: "That is from Mother Rachel's grave, from the

Shunammite's grave, from the graves of Huldah the prophetess and

Deborah." Then he shook out the other bags, and mentioned a whole list

of men: from the grave of Enoch, Moses our Teacher, Elijah the Prophet,

Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Jonah, authors of the Talmud, and holy men as many as

there be. He assured me that each kind of sand had its own precious

distinction, and had, of course, its special price. I had not had time

to examine all the bags of sand, when, aha! I got a letter written on

blue paper in Rashi script, in which an unknown well-wisher earnestly

warned me against buying of that Jew, for neither he nor his father

before him had ever been in Palestine, and he had got the sand in K.,

from the Andreiyeff Hills yonder, and that if I wished for it, he had

real Palestinian earth, from the Mount of Olives, with a document from

the Palestinian vicegerent, the Brisk Rebbetzin, to the effect that she

had given of this earth even to the eaters of swine's flesh, of whom it

is said, "for their worm shall not die," and they also were saved from

worms. My Palestinian Jew, after reading the letter, called down all bad

dreams upon the head of the Brisk Rebbetzin, and declared among other

things that she herself was a dreadful worm, who, etc. He assured me

that I ought not to send money to the Brisk Rebbetzin, "May Heaven

defend you! it will be thrown away, as it has been a hundred times

already!" and began once more to praise his wares, his earth, saying

it was a marvel. I answered him that I wanted real earth of Palestine,

earth, not sand out of little bags.

"Earth, it is earth!" he repeated, and became very angry. "What do you

mean by earth? Am I offering you mud? But that is the way with people

nowadays, when they want something Jewish, there is no pleasing them!

Only" (a thought struck him) "if you want another sort, perhaps from the

field of Machpelah, I can bring you some Palestinian earth that is

earth. Meantime give me something in advance, for, besides everything

else, I am a Palestinian Jew."

I pushed a coin into his hand, and he went away. Meanwhile the news had

spread, my intention to purchase earth of Palestine had been noised

abroad, and the little town echoed with my name. In the streets, lanes,

and market-place, the talk was all of me and of how "there is no putting

a final value on a Jewish soul: one thought he was one of them, and

now he wants to buy earth of Palestine!" Many of those who met me looked

at me askance, "The same and not the same!" In the synagogue they gave

me the best turn at the Reading of the Law; Jews in shoes and socks

wished me "a good Sabbath" with great heartiness, and a friendly smile:

"Eh-eh-eh! We understand--you are a deep one--you are one of us after

all." In short, they surrounded me, and nearly carried me on their

shoulders, so that I really became something of a celebrity.

Yuedel, the "living orphan," worked the hardest. Yuedel is already a man

in years, but everyone calls him the "orphan" on account of what befell

him on a time. His history is very long and interesting, I will tell it

you in brief.

He has a very distinguished father and a very noble mother, and he is an

only child, of a very frolicsome disposition, on account of which his

father and his mother frequently disagreed; the father used to punish

him and beat him, but the boy hid with his mother. In a word, it came to

this, that his father gave him into the hands of strangers, to be

educated and put into shape. The mother could not do without him, and

fell sick of grief; she became a wreck. Her beautiful house was burnt

long ago through the boy's doing: one day, when a child, he played with

fire, and there was a conflagration, and the neighbors came and built on

the site of her palace, and she, the invalid, lies neglected in a

corner. The father, who has left the house, often wished to rejoin her,

but by no manner of means can they live together without the son, and so

the cast-off child became a "living orphan"; he roams about in the wide

world, comes to a place, and when he has stayed there a little while,

they drive him out, because wherever he comes, he stirs up a commotion.

As is the way with all orphans, he has many fathers, and everyone

directs him, hits him, lectures him; he is always in the way, blamed for

everything, it's always his fault, so that he has got into the habit of

cowering and shrinking at the mere sight of a stick. Wandering about as

he does, he has copied the manners and customs of strange people, in

every place where he has been; his very character is hardly his own. His

father has tried both to threaten and to persuade him into coming back,

saying they would then all live together as before, but Yuedel has got to

like living from home, he enjoys the scrapes he gets into, and even the

blows they earn for him. No matter how people knock him about, pull his

hair, and draw his blood, the moment they want him to make friendly

advances, there he is again, alert and smiling, turns the world

topsyturvy, and won't hear of going home. It is remarkable that Yuedel,

who is no fool, and has a head for business, the instant people look

kindly on him, imagines they like him, although he has had a thousand

proofs to the contrary. He has lately been of such consequence in the

eyes of the world that they have begun to treat him in a new way, and

they drive him out of every place at once. The poor boy has tried his

best to please, but it was no good, they knocked him about till he was

covered with blood, took every single thing he had, and empty-handed,

naked, hungry, and beaten as he is, they shout at him "Be off!" from

every side. Now he lives in narrow streets, in the small towns, hidden

away in holes and corners. He very often hasn't enough to eat, but he

goes on in his old way, creeps into tight places, dances at all the

weddings, loves to meddle, everything concerns him, and where two come

together, he is the third.

I have known him a long time, ever since he was a little boy. He always

struck me as being very wild, but I saw that he was of a noble

disposition, only that he had grown rough from living among strangers. I

loved him very much, but in later years he treated me to hot and cold by

turns. I must tell you that when Yuedel had eaten his fill, he was always

very merry, and minded nothing; but when he had been kicked out by his

landlord, and went hungry, then he was angry, and grew violent over

every trifle. He would attack me for nothing at all, we quarrelled and

parted company, that is, I loved him at a distance. When he wasn't just

in my sight, I felt a great pity for him, and a wish to go to him; but

hardly had I met him than he was at the old game again, and I had to

leave him. Now that I was together with him in my native place, I found

him very badly off, he hadn't enough to eat. The town was small and

poor, and he had no means of supporting himself. When I saw him in his

bitter and dark distress, my heart went out to him. But at such times,

as I said before, he is very wild and fanatical. One day, on the Ninth

of Ab, I felt obliged to speak out, and tell him that sitting in socks,

with his forehead on the ground, reciting Lamentations, would do no

good. Yuedel misunderstood me, and thought I was laughing at Jerusalem.

He began to fire up, and he spread reports of me in the town, and when

he saw me in the distance, he would spit out before me. His anger dated

from some time past, because one day I turned him out of my house; he

declared that I was the cause of all his misfortunes, and now that I was

his neighbor, I had resolved to ruin him; he believed that I hated him

and played him false. Why should Yuedel think that? I don't know.

Perhaps he feels one ought to dislike him, or else he is so embittered

that he cannot believe in the kindly feelings of others. However that

may be, Yuedel continued to speak ill of me, and throw mud at me through

the town; crying out all the while that I hadn't a scrap of Jewishness

in me.

Now that he heard I was buying Palestinian earth, he began by refusing

to believe it, and declared it was a take-in and the trick of an

apostate, for how could a person who laughed at socks on the Ninth of Ab

really want to buy earth of Palestine? But when he saw the green shawls

and the little bags of earth, he went over--a way he has--to the

opposite, the exact opposite. He began to worship me, couldn't praise me

enough, and talked of me in the back streets, so that the women blessed

me aloud. Yuedel was now much given to my company, and often came in to

see me, and was most intimate, although there was no special piousness

about me. I was just the same as before, but Yuedel took this for the

best of signs, and thought it proved me to be of extravagant hidden


"There's a Jew for you!" he would cry aloud in the street. "Earth of

Palestine! There's a Jew!"

In short, he filled the place with my Jewishness and my hidden

orthodoxy. I looked on with indifference, but after a while the affair

began to cost me both time and money.

The Palestinian beggars and, above all, Yuedel and the townsfolk obtained

for me the reputation of piety, and there came to me orthodox Jews,

treasurers, cabalists, beggar students, and especially the Rebbe's

followers; they came about me like bees. They were never in the habit

of avoiding me, but this was another thing all the same. Before this,

when one of the Rebbe's disciples came, he would enter with a respectful

demeanor, take off his hat, and, sitting in his cap, would fix his gaze

on my mouth with a sweet smile; we both felt that the one and only link

between us lay in the money that I gave and he took. He would take it

gracefully, put it into his purse, as it might be for someone else, and

thank me as though he appreciated my kindness. When I went to see

him, he would place a chair for me, and give me preserve. But now he

came to me with a free and easy manner, asked for a sip of brandy with a

snack to eat, sat in my room as if it were his own, and looked at me as

if I were an underling, and he had authority over me; I am the penitent

sinner, it is said, and that signifies for him the key to the door of

repentance; I have entered into his domain, and he is my lord and

master; he drinks my health as heartily as though it were his own, and

when I press a coin into his hand, he looks at it well, to make sure it

is worth his while accepting it. If I happen to visit him, I am on a

footing with all his followers, the Chassidim; his "trustees," and all

his other hangers-on, are my brothers, and come to me when they please,

with all the mud on their boots, put their hand into my bosom and take

out my tobacco-pouch, and give it as their opinion that the brandy is

weak, not to talk of holidays, especially Purim and Rejoicing of the

Law, when they troop in with a great noise and vociferation, and drink

and dance, and pay as much attention to me as to the cat.

In fact, all the townsfolk took the same liberties with me. Before, they

asked nothing of me, and took me as they found me, now they began to

demand things of me and to inquire why I didn't do this, and why I did

that, and not the other. Shmuelke the bather asked me why I was never

seen at the bath on Sabbath. Kalmann the butcher wanted to know why,

among the scape-fowls, there wasn't a white one of mine; and even the

beadle of the Klaus, who speaks through his nose, and who had never

dared approach me, came and insisted on giving me the thirty-nine

stripes on the eve of the Day of Atonement: "Eh-eh, if you are a Jew

like other Jews, come and lie down, and you shall be given stripes!"

And the Palestinian Jews never ceased coming with their bags of earth,

and I never ceased rejecting. One day there came a broad-shouldered Jew

from "over there," with his bag of Palestinian earth. The earth pleased

me, and a conversation took place between us on this wise:

"How much do you want for your earth?"

"For my earth? From anyone else I wouldn't take less than thirty rubles,

but from you, knowing you and of you as I do, and as your parents did

so much for Palestine, I will take a twenty-five ruble piece. You must

know that a person buys this once and for all."

"I don't understand you," I answered. "Twenty-five rubles! How much

earth have you there?"

"How much earth have I? About half a quart. There will be enough to

cover the eyes and the face. Perhaps you want to cover the whole body,

to have it underneath and on the top and at the sides? O, I can bring

you some more, but it will cost you two or three hundred rubles,

because, since the good-for-nothings took to coming to Palestine, the

earth has got very expensive. Believe me, I don't make much by it, it

costs me nearly...."

"I don't understand you, my friend! What's this about bestrewing the

body? What do you mean by it?"

"How do you mean, 'what do you mean by it?' Bestrewing the body like

that of all honest Jews, after death."

"Ha? After death? To preserve it?"

"Yes, what else?"

"I don't want it for that, I don't mind what happens to my body after

death. I want to buy Palestinian earth for my lifetime."

"What do you mean? What good can it do you while you're alive? You are

not talking to the point, or else you are making game of a poor

Palestinian Jew?"

"I am speaking seriously. I want it now, while I live! What is it you

don't understand?"

My Palestinian Jew was greatly perplexed, but he quickly collected

himself, and took in the situation. I saw by his artful smile that he

had detected a strain of madness in me, and what should he gain by

leading me into the paths of reason? Rather let him profit by it! And

this he proceeded to do, saying with winning conviction:

"Yes, of course, you are right! How right you are! May I ever see the

like! People are not wrong when they say, 'The apple falls close to the

tree'! You are drawn to the root, and you love the soil of Palestine,

only in a different way, like your holy forefathers, may they be good

advocates! You are young, and I am old, and I have heard how they used

to bestrew their head-dress with it in their lifetime, so as to fulfil

the Scripture verse, 'And have pity on Zion's dust,' and honest Jews

shake earth of Palestine into their shoes on the eve of the Ninth of Ab,

and at the meal before the fast they dip an egg into Palestinian

earth--nu, fein! I never expected so much of you, and I can say with

truth, 'There's a Jew for you!' Well, in that case, you will require two

pots of the earth, but it will cost you a deal."

"We are evidently at cross-purposes," I said to him. "What are two

potfuls? What is all this about bestrewing the body? I want to buy

Palestinian earth, earth in Palestine, do you understand? I want to buy,

in Palestine, a little bit of earth, a few dessiatines."

"Ha? I didn't quite catch it. What did you say?" and my Palestinian Jew

seized hold of his right ear, as though considering what he should do;

then he said cheerfully: "Ha--aha! You mean to secure for yourself a

burial-place, also for after death! O yes, indeed, you are a holy man

and no mistake! Well, you can get that through me, too; give me

something in advance, and I shall manage it for you all right at a


"Why do you go on at me with your 'after death,'" I cried angrily. "I

want a bit of earth in Palestine, I want to dig it, and sow it, and

plant it...."

"Ha? What? Sow it and plant it?! That is ... that is ... you only mean

... may all bad dreams!..." and stammering thus, he scraped all the

scattered earth, little by little, into his bag, gradually got nearer

the door, and--was gone!

It was not long before the town was seething and bubbling like a kettle

on the boil, everyone was upset as though by some misfortune, angry with

me, and still more with himself: "How could we be so mistaken? He

doesn't want to buy Palestinian earth at all, he doesn't care what

happens to him when he's dead, he laughs--he only wants to buy earth

in Palestine, and set up villages there."

"Eh-eh-eh! He remains one of them! He is what he is--a skeptic!" so

they said in all the streets, all the householders in the town, the

women in the market-place, at the bath, they went about abstracted, and

as furious as though I had insulted them, made fools of them, taken them

in, and all of a sudden they became cold and distant to me. The pious

Jews were seen no more at my house. I received packages from Palestine

one after the other. One had a black seal, on which was scratched a

black ram's horn, and inside, in large characters, was a ban from the

Brisk Rebbetzin, because of my wishing to make all the Jews unhappy.

Other packets were from different Palestinian beggars, who tried to

compel me, with fair words and foul, to send them money for their

travelling expenses and for the samples of earth they enclosed. My

fellow-townspeople also got packages from "over there," warning them

against me--I was a dangerous man, a missionary, and it was a Mitzveh to

be revenged on me. There was an uproar, and no wonder! A letter from

Palestine, written in Rashi, with large seals! In short I was to be put

to shame and confusion. Everyone avoided me, nobody came near me. When

people were obliged to come to me in money matters or to beg an alms,

they entered with deference, and spoke respectfully, in a gentle voice,

as to "one of them," took the alms or the money, and were out of the

door, behind which they abused me, as usual.

Only Yuedel did not forsake me. Yuedel, the "living orphan," was

bewildered and perplexed. He had plenty of work, flew from one house to

the other, listening, begging, and talebearing, answering and asking

questions; but he could not settle the matter in his own mind: now he

looked at me angrily, and again with pity. He seemed to wish not to meet

me, and yet he sought occasion to do so, and would look earnestly into

my face.

The excitement of my neighbors and their behavior to me interested me

very little; but I wanted very much to know the reason why I had

suddenly become abhorrent to them? I could by no means understand it.

Once there came a wild, dark night. The sky was covered with black

clouds, there was a drenching rain and hail and a stormy wind, it was

pitch dark, and it lightened and thundered, as though the world were

turning upside down. The great thunder claps and the hail broke a good

many people's windows, the wind tore at the roofs, and everyone hid

inside his house, or wherever he found a corner. In that dreadful dark

night my door opened, and in came--Yuedel, the "living orphan"; he looked

as though someone were pushing him from behind, driving him along. He

was as white as the wall, cowering, beaten about, helpless as a leaf.

He came in, and stood by the door, holding his hat; he couldn't decide,

did not know if he should take it off, or not. I had never seen him so

miserable, so despairing, all the time I had known him. I asked him to

sit down, and he seemed a little quieted. I saw that he was soaking wet,

and shivering with cold, and I gave him hot tea, one glass after the

other. He sipped it with great enjoyment. And the sight of him sitting

there sipping and warming himself would have been very comic, only it

was so very sad. The tears came into my eyes. Yuedel began to brighten

up, and was soon Yuedel, his old self, again. I asked him how it was he

had come to me in such a state of gloom and bewilderment? He told me the

thunder and the hail had broken all the window-panes in his lodging, and

the wind had carried away the roof, there was nowhere he could go for

shelter; nobody would let him in at night; there was not a soul he could

turn to, there remained nothing for him but to lie down in the street

and die.

"And so," he said, "having known you so long, I hoped you would take me

in, although you are 'one of them,' not at all pious, and, so they say,

full of evil intentions against Jews and Jewishness; but I know you are

a good man, and will have compassion on me."

I forgave Yuedel his rudeness, because I knew him for an outspoken man,

that he was fond of talking, but never did any harm. Seeing him

depressed, I offered him a glass of wine, but he refused it.

I understood the reason of his refusal, and started a conversation with


"Tell me, Yuedel heart, how is it I have fallen into such bad repute

among you that you will not even drink a drop of wine in my house? And

why do you say that I am 'one of them,' and not pious? A little while

ago you spoke differently of me."

"Ett! It just slipped from my tongue, and the truth is you may be what

you please, you are a good man."

"No, Yuedel, don't try to get out of it! Tell me openly (it doesn't

concern me, but I am curious to know), why this sudden revulsion of

feeling about me, this change of opinion? Tell me, Yuedel, I beg of you,

speak freely!"

My gentle words and my friendliness gave Yuedel great encouragement. The

poor fellow, with whom not one of "them" has as yet spoken kindly! When

he saw that I meant it, he began to scratch his head; it seemed as if in

that minute he forgave me all my "heresies," and he looked at me kindly,

and as if with pity. Then, seeing that I awaited an answer, he gave a

twist to his earlock, and said gently and sincerely:

"You wish me to tell you the truth? You insist upon it? You will not be


"You know that I never take offence at anything you say. Say anything

you like, Yuedel heart, only speak."

"Then I will tell you: the town and everyone else is very angry with you

on account of your Palestinian earth: you want to do something new, buy

earth and plough it and sow--and where? in our land of Israel, in our

Holy Land of Israel!"

"But why, Yuedel dear, when they thought I was buying Palestinian earth

to bestrew me after death, was I looked upon almost like a saint?"

"E, that's another thing! That showed that you held Palestine holy, for

a land whose soil preserves one against being eaten of worms, like any

other honest Jew."

"Well, I ask you, Yuedel, what does this mean? When they thought I was

buying sand for after my death, I was a holy man, a lover of Palestine,

and because I want to buy earth and till it, earth in your Holy Land,

our holy earth in the Holy Land, in which our best and greatest counted

it a privilege to live, I am a blot on Israel. Tell me, Yuedel, I ask

you: Why, because one wants to bestrew himself with Palestinian earth

after death, is one an orthodox Jew; and when one desires to give

oneself wholly to Palestine in life, should one be 'one of them'? Now I

ask you--all those Palestinian Jews who came to me with their bags of

sand, and were my very good friends, and full of anxiety to preserve my

body after death, why have they turned against me on hearing that I

wished for a bit of Palestinian earth while I live? Why are they all so

interested and such good brothers to the dead, and such bloodthirsty

enemies to the living? Why, because I wish to provide for my sad

existence, have they noised abroad that I am a missionary, and made up

tales against me? Why? I ask you, why, Yuedel, why?"

"You ask me? How should I know? I only know that ever since Palestine

was Palestine, people have gone there to die--that I know; but all this

ploughing, sowing, and planting the earth, I never heard of in my life


"Yes, Yuedel, you are right, because it has been so for a long time, you

think so it has to be--that is the real answer to your questions. But

why not think back a little? Why should one only go to Palestine to die?

Is not Palestinian earth fit to live on? On the contrary, it is some

of the very best soil, and when we till it and plant it, we fulfil the

precept to restore the Holy Land, and we also work for ourselves, toward

the realization of an honest and peaceable life. I won't discuss the

matter at length with you to-day. It seems that you have quite forgotten

what all the holy books say about Palestine, and what a precept it is to

till the soil. And another question, touching what you said about

Palestine being only there to go and die in. Tell me, those Palestinian

Jews who were so interested in my death, and brought earth from over

there to bestrew me--tell me, are they also only there to die? Did you

notice how broad and stout they were? Ha? And they, they too, when they

heard I wanted to live there, fell upon me like wild animals, filling

the world with their cries, and made up the most dreadful stories about

me. Well, what do you say, Yuedel? I ask you."

"Do I know?" said Yuedel, with a wave of the hand. "Is my head there to

think out things like that? But tell me, I beg, what is the good to

you of buying land in Palestine and getting into trouble all round?"

"You ask, what is the good to me? I want to live, do you hear? I want to


"If you can't live without Palestinian earth, why did you not get some

before? Did you never want to live till now?"

"Oh, Yuedel, you are right there. I confess that till now I have lived in

a delusion, I thought I was living; but--what is the saying?--so long as

the thunder is silent...."

"Some thunder has struck you!" interrupted Yuedel, looking

compassionately into my face.

"I will put it briefly. You must know, Yuedel, that I have been in

business here for quite a long time. I worked faithfully, and my chief

was pleased with me. I was esteemed and looked up to, and it never

occurred to me that things would change; but bad men could not bear to

see me doing so well, and they worked hard against me, till one day the

business was taken over by my employer's son; and my enemies profited by

the opportunity, to cover me with calumnies from head to foot, spreading

reports about me which it makes one shudder to hear. This went on till

the chief began to look askance at me. At first I got pin-pricks,

malicious hints, then things got worse and worse, and at last they began

to push me about, and one day they turned me out of the house, and threw

me into a hedge. Presently, when I had reviewed the whole situation, I

saw that they could do what they pleased with me. I had no one to rely

on, my onetime good friends kept aloof from me, I had lost all worth in

their eyes; with some because, as is the way with people, they took no

trouble to inquire into the reason of my downfall, but, hearing all that

was said against me, concluded that I was in the wrong; others, again,

because they wished to be agreeable to my enemies; the rest, for reasons

without number. In short, reflecting on all this, I saw the game was

lost, and there was no saying what might not happen to me! Hitherto I

had borne my troubles patiently, with the courage that is natural to me;

but now I feel my courage giving way, and I am in fear lest I should

fall in my own eyes, in my own estimation, and get to believe that I am

worth nothing. And all this because I must needs resort to them, and

take all the insults they choose to fling at me, and every outcast has

me at his mercy. That is why I want to collect my remaining strength,

and buy a parcel of land in Palestine, and, God helping, I will become a

bit of a householder--do you understand?"

"Why must it be just in Palestine?"

"Because I may not, and I cannot, buy in anywhere else. I have tried to

find a place elsewhere, but they were afraid I was going to get the

upper hand, so down they came, and made a wreck of it. Over there I

shall be proprietor myself--that is firstly, and secondly, a great many

relations of mine are buried there, in the country where they lived and

died. And although you count me as 'one of them,' I tell you I think a

great deal of 'the merits of the fathers,' and that it is very pleasant

to me to think of living in the land that will remind me of such dear

forefathers. And although it will be hard at first, the recollection of

my ancestors and the thought of providing my children with a corner of

their own and honestly earned bread will give me strength, till I shall

work my way up to something. And I hope I will get to something.

Remember, Yuedel, I believe and I hope! You will see, Yuedel--you know

that our brothers consider Palestinian earth a charm against being

eaten by worms, and you think that I laugh at it? No, I believe in it!

It is quite, quite true that my Palestinian earth will preserve me from

worms, only not after death, no, but alive--from such worms as devour

and gnaw at and poison the whole of life!"

Yuedel scratched his nose, gave a rub to the cap on his head, and uttered

a deep sigh.

"Yes, Yuedel, you sigh! Now do you know what I wanted to say to you?"

"Ett!" and Yuedel made a gesture with his hand. "What you have to say to


"Oi, that 'ett!' of yours! Yuedel, I know it! When you have nothing to

answer, and you ought to think, and think something out, you take refuge

in 'ett!' Just consider for once, Yuedel, I have a plan for you, too.

Remember what you were, and what has become of you. You have been

knocking about, driven hither and thither, since childhood. You haven't

a house, not a corner, you have become a beggar, a tramp, a nobody,

despised and avoided, with unpleasing habits, and living a dog's life.

You have very good qualities, a clear head, and acute intelligence. But

to what purpose do you put them? You waste your whole intelligence on

getting in at backdoors and coaxing a bit of bread out of the

maidservant, and the mistress is not to know. Can you not devise a

means, with that clever brain of yours, how to earn it for yourself? See

here, I am going to buy a bit of ground in Palestine, come with me,

Yuedel, and you shall work, and be a man like other men. You are what

they call a 'living orphan,' because you have many fathers; and don't

forget that you have one Father who lives, and who is only waiting

for you to grow better. Well, how much longer are you going to live

among strangers? Till now you haven't thought, and the life suited you,

you have grown used to blows and contumely. But now that--that--none

will let you in, your eyes must have been opened to see your condition,

and you must have begun to wish to be different. Only begin to wish! You

see, I have enough to eat, and yet my position has become hateful to me,

because I have lost my value, and am in danger of losing my humanity.

But you are hungry, and one of these days you will die of starvation out

in the street. Yuedel, do just think it over, for if I am right, you will

get to be like other people. Your Father will see that you have turned

into a man, he will be reconciled with your mother, and you will be 'a

father's child,' as you were before. Brother Yuedel, think it over!"

I talked to my Yuedel a long, long time. In the meanwhile, the night had

passed. My Yuedel gave a start, as though waking out of a deep slumber,

and went away full of thought.

On opening the window, I was greeted by a friendly smile from the rising

morning star, as it peeped out between the clouds.

And it began to dawn.