Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


NN Theatre

“Wonderstruck” as “thunderstruck”?

From Jewish Majses. Stories from Józefów based on the Yizkor-Buch – a commemoration book of Józefów Jews. Shortened, improved and commented by Yaron Karol Becker.

Domy drewniane w Józefowie Biłgorajskim
Domy drewniane w Józefowie Biłgorajskim (Author: Moszyński, K.)

Oddly enough, but both above mentioned words have something in common – pretty similar definitions. They are basically screaming out that people live in equal dread of wonder and surprise. And to think that wonder is something absolutely remarkable! It is a gift of fate or even a God sent, off course under condition that it is not a fraud. In Józefów Biłgorajski everybody was acutely aware of that fact. Moreover, that charming town known to us thanks to legacy of Isaac Bashevis Singer, had an extremely refined “sense of wonderful”. Evidences may be found in reminiscences written in Yizkor-Buch of Józefów’s saint community (Khilat Kojdesz Josefuf). So, sit back, here’s a story I want to tell you.

Once upon a time on a very hot day a very honourable guest – the Lord of those lands (paritz in Hebrew and puritz in vernacular Yiddish), local governor and almighty ruler of the province visited the town. However, even high-profile people are prone to suffer from heat and break out in a sweat. That fact caught the eye of one local, a Jew, who was sitting on the porch next to which governor’s carriage, pulled by four horses, halted. The town’s dweller, having obviously too much time on his hands, was lost deep in thoughts, contemplating the burning issues kind of: how he could make himself useful in that town and feed his family. In other words, he was preoccupied by search of “parnusa” also known as means for living. Many Józefów Jews were familiar with the described state of existential crisis. (Nowadays resorting to the language of economics, we would rather say, that Jewish population of Józewów had been afflicted by unemployment for many generations).

Suddenly, a brilliant idea crossed the mind of our main character. Instead of toying with his tufty beard and staring blankly at the luxurious carriage, he dashed into kitchen and returned with a glass of cold water for the governor. The Lord, poor soul, was so thirsty, that considered it a real blessing from above. Having satisfied his thirst, he looked at the Jew with warmth, asked who he was, thanked him for his kindness and inquired if he had any requests. The local, who immediately twigged on that it was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, asked the governor for permission to open a printing house in Józefów. Here a minor intervention is needed. Though Józefów could boast about its rabbis among whom was even The Seer from Lublin, Hachoze mi Lublin, it was not all to be proud of. The town once had a printing house that made a name for itself by printing sacred writings in Hebrew, prayer books and secular literature in Yiddish. The place became a roaring success and as a result was moved to Lublin. Hence, our clever protagonist decided to squeeze himself into a vacant space of a local entrepreneurial market. Believe it or not, in few days’ time an official letter with stamps of two-headed Imperial eagle was delivered to the petitioner’s doorstep. It granted permission to open a new publishing house in Józefów. No need to spout rhetoric furthermore, because it must have already occurred to you that taking into account tsar’s red tape and its customary attitude towards life problems of Jews in small towns, what had happened was a genuine wonder.

Yet, I must confess, that there were skeptics vocal in expressing their doubt. Those, who didn’t believe in miracles or were simply too scared of them; those who dug their heels claiming that there was nothing wonderful in the whole situation and only due to his common sense the protagonist was shrewd enough to fetch a glass of cold water to the thirsty governor. What one could reply to that? Before expressing my view on the topic, I would better tell you about other wonders that took place in Józefów.