Yitzchok-yossel Broitgeber


At the time I am speaking of, the above was about forty years old. He

was a little, thin Jew with a long face, a long nose, two large, black,

kindly eyes, and one who would sooner be silent and think than talk, no

matter what was being said to him. Even when he was scolded for

something (and by whom and when and for what was he not scolded?), he

used to listen with a quiet, startled, but sweet smile, and his large,

ly eyes would look at the other with such wonderment, mingled with a

sort of pity, that the other soon stopped short in his abuse, and stood

nonplussed before him.

"There, you may talk! You might as well argue with a horse, or a donkey,

or the wall, or a log of wood!" and the other would spit and make off.

But if anyone observed that smile attentively, and studied the look in

his eyes, he would, to a certainty, have read there as follows:

"O man, man, why are you eating your heart out? Seeing that you don't

know, and that you don't understand, why do you undertake to tell me

what I ought to do?"

And when he was obliged to answer, he used to do so in a few measured

and gentle words, as you would speak to a little, ignorant child,

smiling the while, and then he would disappear and start thinking again.

They called him "breadwinner," because, no matter how hard the man

worked, he was never able to earn a living. He was a little tailor, but

not like the tailors nowadays, who specialize in one kind of garment,

for Yitzchok-Yossel made everything: trousers, cloaks, waistcoats,

top-coats, fur-coats, capes, collars, bags for prayer-books, "little

prayer-scarfs," and so on. Besides, he was a ladies' tailor as well.

Summer and winter, day and night, he worked like an ox, and yet, when

the Kabtzonivke community, at the time of the great cholera, in order to

put an end to the plague, led him, aged thirty, out to the cemetery, and

there married him to Malkeh the orphan, she cast him off two weeks

later! She was still too young (twenty-eight), she said, to stay with

him and die of hunger. She went out into the world, together with a

large band of poor, after the great fire that destroyed nearly the whole

town, and nothing more was heard of Malkeh the orphan from that day

forward. And Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber betook himself, with needle and

flat-iron, into the women's chamber in the New Shool, the community

having assigned it to him as a workroom.

How came it about, you may ask, that so versatile a tailor as

Yitzchok-Yossel should be so poor?

Well, if you do, it just shows you didn't know him!

Wait and hear what I shall tell you.

The story is on this wise: Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber was a tailor who

could make anything, and who made nothing at all, that is, since he

displayed his imagination in cutting out and sewing on the occasion I am

referring to, nobody would trust him.

I can remember as if it were to-day what happened in Kabtzonivke, and

the commotion there was in the little town when Yitzchok-Yossel made Reb

Yecheskel the teacher a pair of trousers (begging your pardon!) of such

fantastic cut that the unfortunate teacher had to wear them as a vest,

though he was not then in need of one, having a brand new sheepskin not

more than three years old.

And now listen! Binyomin Droibnik the trader's mother died (blessed be

the righteous Judge!), and her whole fortune went, according to the Law,

to her only son Binyomin. She had to be buried at the expense of the

community. If she was to be buried at all, it was the only way. But the

whole town was furious with the old woman for having cheated them out of

their expectations and taken her whole fortune away with her to the real

world. None knew exactly why, but it was confidently believed that old

"Aunt" Leah had heaps of treasure somewhere in hiding.

It was a custom with us in Kabtzonivke to say, whenever anyone, man or

woman, lived long, ate sicknesses by the clock, and still did not die,

that it was a sign that he had in the course of his long life gathered

great store of riches, that somewhere in a cellar he kept potsful of

gold and silver.

The Funeral Society, the younger members, had long been whetting their

teeth for "Aunt" Leah's fortune, and now she had died (may she merit

Paradise!) and had fooled them.

"What about her money?"

"A cow has flown over the roof and laid an egg!"

In that same night Reb Binyomin's cow (a real cow) calved, and the

unfortunate consequence was that she died. The Funeral Society took the

calf, and buried "Aunt" Leah at its own expense.

Well, money or no money, inheritance or no inheritance, Reb Binyomin's

old mother left him a quilt, a large, long, wide, wadded quilt. As an

article of house furniture, a quilt is a very useful thing, especially

in a house where there is a wife (no evil eye!) and a goodly number of

children, little and big. Who doesn't see that? It looks simple enough!

Either one keeps it for oneself and the two little boys (with whom Reb

Binyomin used to sleep), or else one gives it to the wife and the two

little girls (who also sleep all together), or, if not, then to the two

bigger boys or the two bigger girls, who repose on the two bench-beds in

the parlor and kitchen respectively. But this particular quilt brought

such perplexity into Reb Binyomin's rather small head that he (not of

you be it spoken!) nearly went mad.

"Why I and not she? Why she and not I? Or they? Or the others? Why they

and not I? Why them and not us? Why the others and not them? Well, well,

what is all this fuss? What did we cover them with before?"

Three days and three nights Reb Binyomin split his head and puzzled his

brains over these questions, till the Almighty had pity on his small

skull and feeble intelligence, and sent him a happy thought.

"After all, it is an inheritance from one's one and only mother (peace

be upon her!), it is a thing from Thingland! I must adapt it to some

useful purpose, so that Heaven and earth may envy me its possession!"

And he sent to fetch Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber, the tailor, who could

make every kind of garment, and said to him:

"Reb Yitzchok-Yossel, you see this article?"

"I see it."

"Yes, you see it, but do you understand it, really and truly understand


"I think I do."

"But do you know what this is, ha?"

"A quilt."

"Ha, ha, ha! A quilt? I could have told you that myself. But the stuff,

the material?"

"It's good material, beautiful stuff."

"Good material, beautiful stuff? No, I beg your pardon, you are not an

expert in this, you don't know the value of merchandise. The real

artisan, the true expert, would say: The material is light, soft, and

elastic, like a lung, a sound and healthy lung. The stuff--he would say

further--is firm, full, and smooth as the best calf's leather. And

durable? Why, it's a piece out of the heart of the strongest ox, or the

tongue of the Messianic ox itself! Do you know how many winters this

quilt has lasted already? But enough! That is not why I have sent for

you. We are neither of us, thanks to His blessed Name, do-nothings. The

long and short of it is this: I wish to make out of this--you understand

me?--out of this material, out of this piece of stuff, a thing, an

article, that shall draw everybody to it, a fruit that is worth saying

the blessing over, something superfine. An instance: what, for example,

tell me, what would you do, if I gave this piece of goods into your

hands, and said to you: Reb Yitzchok-Yossel, as you are (without sin be

it spoken!) an old workman, a good workman, and, besides that, a good

comrade, and a Jew as well, take this material, this stuff, and deal

with it as you think best. Only let it be turned into a sort of costume,

a sort of garment, so that not only Kabtzonivke, but all Kamenivke,

shall be bitten and torn with envy. Eh? What would you turn it into?"

Yitzchok-Yossel was silent, Reb Yitzchok-Yossel went nearly out of his

mind, nearly fainted for joy at these last words. He grew pale as death,

white as chalk, then burning red like a flame of fire, and sparkled and

shone. And no wonder: Was it a trifle? All his life he had dreamed of

the day when he should be given a free hand in his work, so that

everyone should see who Yitzchok-Yossel is, and at the end came--the

trousers, Reb Yecheskel Melammed's trousers! How well, how cleverly he

had made them! Just think: trousers and upper garment in one! He had

been so overjoyed, he had felt so happy. So sure that now everyone would

know who Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber is! He had even begun to think and

wonder about Malkeh the orphan--poor, unfortunate orphan! Had she ever

had one single happy day in her life? Work forever and next to no food,

toil till she was exhausted and next to no drink, sleep where she could

get it: one time in Elkoneh the butcher's kitchen, another time in

Yisroel Dintzis' attic ... and when at last she got married (good luck

to her!), she became the wife of Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber! And the

wedding took place in the burial-ground. On one side they were digging

graves, on the other they were bringing fresh corpses. There was weeping

and wailing, and in the middle of it all, the musicians playing and

fiddling and singing, and the relations dancing!... Good luck! Good

luck! The orphan and her breadwinner are being led to the marriage

canopy in the graveyard!

He will never forget with what gusto, she, his bride, the first night

after their wedding, ate, drank, and slept--the whole of the

wedding-supper that had been given them, bridegroom and bride: a nice

roll, a glass of brandy, a tea-glass full of wine, and a heaped-up plate

of roast meat was cut up and scraped together and eaten (no evil eye!)

by her, by the bride herself. He had taken great pleasure in watching

her face. He had known her well from childhood, and had no need to look

at her to know what she was like, but he wanted to see what kind of

feelings her face would express during this occupation. When they led

him into the bridal chamber--she was already there--the companions of

the bridegroom burst into a shout of laughter, for the bride was already

snoring. He knew quite well why she had gone to sleep so quickly and

comfortably. Was there not sufficient reason? For the first time in her

life she had made a good meal and lain down in a bed with bedclothes!

The six groschen candle burnt, the flies woke and began to buzz, the

mills clapt, and swung, and groaned, and he, Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber,

the bridegroom, sat beside the bridal bed on a little barrel of pickled

gherkins, and looked at Malkeh the orphan, his bride, his wife, listened

to her loud thick snores, and thought.

The town dogs howled strangely. Evidently the wedding in the cemetery

had not yet driven away the Angel of Death. From some of the

neighboring houses came a dreadful crying and screaming of women and


Malkeh the orphan heard nothing. She slept sweetly, and snored as loud

(I beg to distinguish!) as Caspar, the tall, stout miller, the owner of

both mills.

Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber sits on the little barrel, looks at her face,

and thinks. Her face is dark, roughened, and nearly like that of an old

woman. A great, fat fly knocked against the wick, the candle suddenly

began to burn brighter, and Yitzchok-Yossel saw her face become

prettier, younger, and fresher, and overspread by a smile. That was all

the effect of the supper and the soft bed. Then it was that he had

promised himself, that he had sworn, once and for all, to show the

Kabtzonivke Jews who he is, and then Malkeh the orphan will have food

and a bed every day. He would have done this long ago, had it not been

for those trousers. The people are so silly, they don't understand! That

is the whole misfortune! And it's quite the other way about: let someone

else try and turn out such an ingenious contrivance! But because it was

he, and not someone else, they laughed and made fun of him. How Reb

Yecheskel, his wife and children, did abuse him! That was his reward for

all his trouble. And just because they themselves are cattle, horses,

boors, who don't understand the tailor's art! Ha, if only they

understood that tailoring is a noble, refined calling, limitless and

bottomless as (with due distinction!) the holy Torah!

But all is not lost. Who knows? For here comes Binyomin Droibnik, an

intelligent man, a man of brains and feeling. And think how many years

he has been a trader! A retail trader, certainly, a jobber, but still--

"Come, Reb Yitzchok-Yossel, make an end! What will you turn it into?"


"That is to say?"

"A dressing-gown for your Dvoshke,--"

"And then?"

"A morning-gown with tassels,--"

"After that?"

"A coat."


"A dress--"

"And besides that?"

"A pair of trousers and a jacket--"

"Nothing more?"

"Why not? A--"

"For instance?"

"Pelisse, a wadded winter pelisse for you."

"There, there! Just that, and only that!" said Reb Binyomin, delighted.

Yitzchok-Yossel Broitgeber tucked away the quilt under his arm, and was

preparing to be off.

"Reb Yitzchok-Yossel! And what about taking my measure? And how about

your charge?"

Yitzchok-Yossel dearly loved to take anyone's measure, and was an expert

at so doing. He had soon pulled a fair-sized sheet of paper out of one

of his deep pockets, folded it into a long paper stick, and begun to

measure Reb Binyomin Droibnik's limbs. He did not even omit to note the

length and breadth of his feet.

"What do you want with that? Are you measuring me for trousers?"

"Ett, don't you ask! No need to teach a skilled workman his trade!"

"And what about the charge?"

"We shall settle that later."

"No, that won't do with me; I am a trader, you understand, and must have

it all pat."

"Five gulden."

"And how much less?"

"How should I know? Well, four."

"Well, and half a ruble?"

"Well, well--"

"Remember, Reb Yitzchok-Yossel, it must be a masterpiece!"

"Trust me!"

* * * * *

For five days and five nights Yitzchok-Yossel set his imagination to

work on Binyomin Droibnik's inheritance. There was no eating for him, no

drinking, and no sleeping. The scissors squeaked, the needle ran hither

and thither, up and down, the inheritance sighed and almost sobbed under

the hot iron. But how happy was Yitzchok-Yossel those lightsome days and

merry nights? Who could compare with him? Greater than the Kabtzonivke

village elder, richer than Yisroel Dintzis, the tax-gatherer, and more

exalted than the bailiff himself was Yitzchok-Yossel, that is, in his

own estimation. All that he wished, thought, and felt was forthwith

created by means of his scissors and iron, his thimble, needle, and

cotton. No more putting on of patches, sewing on of pockets, cutting

out of "Tefillin-Saecklech" and "little prayer-scarfs," no more doing up

of old dresses. Freedom, freedom--he wanted one bit of work of the right

sort, and that was all! Ha, now he would show them, the Kabtzonivke

cripples and householders, now he would show them who Yitzchok-Yossel

Broitgeber is! They would not laugh at him or tease him any more! His

fame would travel from one end of the world to the other, and Malkeh the

orphan, his bride, his wife, she also would hear of it, and--

She will come back to him! He feels it in every limb. It was not him she

cast off, only his bad luck. He will rent a lodging (money will pour in

from all sides)--buy a little furniture: a bed, a sofa, a table--in time

he will buy a little house of his own--she will come, she has been

homeless long enough--it is time she should rest her weary, aching

bones--it is high time she should have her own corner!

She will come back, he feels it, she will certainly come home!

The last night! The work is complete. Yitzchok-Yossel spread it out on

the table of the women's Shool, lighted a second groschen candle, sat

down in front of it with wide open, sparkling eyes, gazed with delight

at the product of his imagination and--was wildly happy!

So he sat the whole night.

It was very hard for him to part with his achievement, but hardly was it

day when he appeared with it at Reb Binyomin Droibnik's.

"A good morning, a good year, Reb Yitzchok-Yossel! I see by your eyes

that you have been successful. Is it true?"

"You can see for yourself, there--"

"No, no, there is no need for me to see it first. Dvoshke, Cheike,

Shprintze, Dovid-Hershel, Yitzchok-Yoelik! You understand, I want them

all to be present and see."

In a few minutes the whole family had appeared on the scene. Even the

four little ones popped up from behind the heaps of ragged covering.

Yitzchok-Yossel untied his parcel and--

"Wuus is duuuusss???!!!"

"A pair of trousers with sleeves!"