It Is Well


You ask how it is that I remained a Jew? Whose merit it is?

Not through my own merits nor those of my ancestors. I was a

six-year-old Cheder boy, my father a countryman outside Wilna, a

householder in a small way.

No, I remained a Jew thanks to the Schpol Grandfather.

How do I come to mention the Schpol Grandfather? What has the Schpol

Grandfather to do with it, you ask?
br />

The Schpol Grandfather was no Schpol Grandfather then. He was a young

man, suffering exile from home and kindred, wandering with a troop of

mendicants from congregation to congregation, from friendly inn to

friendly inn, in all respects one of them. What difference his heart may

have shown, who knows? And after these journeyman years, the time of

revelation had not come even yet. He presented himself to the Rabbinical

Board in Wilna, took out a certificate, and became a Shochet in a

village. He roamed no more, but remained in the neighborhood of Wilna.

The Misnagdim, however, have a wonderful flair, and they suspected

something, began to worry and calumniate him, and finally they denounced

him to the Rabbinical authorities as a transgressor of the Law, of the

whole Law! What Misnagdim are capable of, to be sure!

As I said, I was then six years old. He used to come to us to slaughter

small cattle, or just to spend the night, and I was very fond of him.

Whom else, except my father and mother, should I have loved? I had a

teacher, a passionate man, a destroyer of souls, and this other was a

kind and genial creature, who made you feel happy if he only looked at

you. The calumnies did their work, and they took away his certificate.

My teacher must have had a hand in it, because he heard of it before

anyone, and the next time the Shochet came, he exclaimed "Apostate!"

took him by the scruff of his coat, and bundled him out of the house. It

cut me to the heart like a knife, only I was frightened to death of the

teacher, and never stirred. But a little later, when the teacher was

looking away, I escaped and began to run after the Shochet across the

road, which, not far from the house, lost itself in a wood that

stretched all the way to Wilna. What exactly I proposed to do to help

him, I don't know, but something drove me after the poor Shochet. I

wanted to say good-by to him, to have one more look into his nice,

kindly eyes.

But I ran and ran, and hurt my feet against the stones in the road, and

saw no one. I went to the right, down into the wood, thinking I would

rest a little on the soft earth of the wood. I was about to sit down,

when I heard a voice (it sounded like his voice) farther on in the wood,

half speaking and half singing. I went softly towards the voice, and saw

him some way off, where he stood swaying to and fro under a tree. I went

up to him--he was reciting the Song of Songs. I look closer and see that

the tree under which he stands is different from the other trees. The

others are still bare of leaves, and this one is green and in full leaf,

it shines like the sun, and stretches its flowery branches over the

Shochet's head like a tent. And a quantity of birds hop among the twigs

and join in singing the Song of Songs. I am so astonished that I stand

there with open mouth and eyes, rooted like the trees.

He ends his chant, the tree is extinguished, the little birds are

silent, and he turns to me, and says affectionately:

"Listen, Yuedele,"--Yuedel is my name--"I have a request to make of you."

"Really?" I answer joyfully, and I suppose he wishes me to bring him out

some food, and I am ready to run and bring him our whole Sabbath dinner,

when he says to me:

"Listen, keep what you saw to yourself."

This sobers me, and I promise seriously and faithfully to hold my


"Listen again. You are going far away, very far away, and the road is a

long road."

I wonder, however should I come to travel so far? And he goes on to say:

"They will knock the Rebbe's Torah out of your head, and you will forget

Father and Mother, but see you keep to your name! You are called

Yuedel--remain a Jew!"

I am frightened, but cry out from the bottom of my heart:

"Surely! As surely may I live!"

Then, because my own idea clung to me, I added:

"Don't you want something to eat?"

And before I finished speaking, he had vanished.

The second week after they fell upon us and led me away as a Cantonist,

to be brought up among the Gentiles and turned into a soldier.

* * * * *

Time passed, and I forgot everything, as he had foretold. They knocked

it all out of my head.

I served far away, deep in Russia, among snows and terrific frosts, and

never set eyes on a Jew. There may have been hidden Jews about, but I

knew nothing of them, I knew nothing of Sabbath and festival, nothing of

any fast. I forgot everything.

But I held fast to my name!

I did not change my coin.

The more I forgot, the more I was inclined to be quit of my torments and

trials--to make an end of them by agreeing to a Christian name, but

whenever the bad thought came into my head, he appeared before me, the

same Shochet, and I heard his voice say to me, "Keep your name, remain a


And I knew for certain that it was no empty dream, because every time I

saw him older and older, his beard and earlocks greyer, his face

paler. Only his eyes remained the same kind eyes, and his voice, which

sounded like a violin, never altered.

Once they flogged me, and he stood by and wiped the cold sweat off my

forehead, and stroked my face, and said softly: "Don't cry out! We ought

to suffer! Remain a Jew," and I bore it without a cry, without a moan,

as though they had been flogging not-me.

* * * * *

Once, during the last year, I had to go as a sentry to a public house

behind the town. It was evening, and there was a snow-storm. The wind

lifted patches of snow, and ground them to needles, rubbed them to dust,

and this snow-dust and these snow-needles were whirled through the air,

flew into one's face and pricked--you couldn't keep an eye open, you

couldn't draw your breath! Suddenly I saw some people walking past me,

not far away, and one of them said in Yiddish, "This is the first night

of Passover." Whether it was a voice from God, or whether some people

really passed me, to this day I don't know, but the words fell upon my

heart like lead, and I had hardly reached the tavern and begun to walk

up and down, when a longing came over me, a sort of heartache, that is

not to be described. I wanted to recite the Haggadah, and not a word of

it could I recall! Not even the Four Questions I used to ask my father.

I felt it all lay somewhere deep down in my heart. I used to know so

much of it, when I was only six years old. I felt, if only I could have

recalled one simple word, the rest would have followed and risen out of

my memory one after the other, like sleepy birds from beneath the snow.

But that one first word is just what I cannot remember! Lord of the

Universe, I cried fervently, one word, only one word! As it seems, I

made my prayer in a happy hour, for "we were slaves" came into my head

just as if it had been thrown down from Heaven. I was overjoyed! I was

so full of joy that I felt it brimming over. And then the rest all came

back to me, and as I paced up and down on my watch, with my musket on my

shoulder, I recited and sang the Haggadah to the snowy world around. I

drew it out of me, word after word, like a chain of golden links, like

a string of pearls. O, but you won't understand, you couldn't

understand, unless you had been taken away there, too!

The wind, meanwhile, had fallen, the snow-storm had come to an end, and

there appeared a clear, twinkling sky, and a shining world of diamonds.

It was silent all round, and ever so wide, and ever so white, with a

sweet, peaceful, endless whiteness. And over this calm, wide, whiteness,

there suddenly appeared something still whiter, and lighter, and

brighter, wrapped in a robe and a prayer-scarf, the prayer-scarf over

its shoulders, and over the prayer-scarf, in front, a silvery white

beard; and above the beard, two shining eyes, and above them, a

sparkling crown, a cap with gold and silver ornaments. And it came

nearer and nearer, and went past me, but as it passed me it said:

"It is well!"

It sounded like a violin, and then the figure vanished.

But it was the same eyes, the same voice.

I took Schpol on my way home, and went to see the Old Man, for the Rebbe

of Schpol was called by the people Der Alter, the "Schpol Grandfather."

And I recognized him again, and he recognized me!