Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Voting Continues, but there's New Blog Content

"Thank you" to everyone who voted on the covers. I've posted a slight revision to two of  them, and will leave the voting open for a while longer. But in the meantime, I'll fill you in on what's new.

I got my application in to the Jewish Book Council in time for them to consider it (and me) for their Meet the Author event at the end of May. At that time, those who are invited to participate (at our own cost, but it's worth it) will make a 2-minute presentation to the coordinators of the Jewish Book Fairs from around the country, and selected reviewers, and be available to answer questions. About a month or two after that, invitations start going out to the authors that individual cities' book fairs invite to their events, which take place from late October to early December. With the hope and expectation that I will be invited to present, I now need to put together a bang-up presentation for May, and while I'm confident that I can put together the content, I'll probably need to look for some coaching help. Have emails out to a couple of recommended publicists, and await their responses.

Meanwhile, while I felt I was on schedule to get everything ready to print in April so I can get 100 copies of the galleys to the Jewish Book Council (again, I'm acting optimistically on the assumption that I'll be included) when two people I trust told me that it was essential that I find an editor to read the manuscript before I submitted it. Hadn't budgeted for that time-wise or cost-wise, and though I questioned whether it was absolutely necessary, I realized that it would be foolish to have spent all this time on the book and mess up because of typos or grammatical errors.

So I went back to Elance, a site at which one can post jobs to be bid upon by people in artistic fields (and was where I found my incredibly talented graphic artist), and feel that I found another gem, who is almost finished reading the ms. Meanwhile, I'm STILL writing the first chapter, the most critical of all, and my artist feels comfortable with the time I estimated I could get the manuscript to him for layout.

What's also in the works is that Elie Wiesel has agreed to provide a blurb after he gets the galleys. When I have that, I have a few people in mind from whom to solicit quotes, too, but having one from Elie Wiesel will give me the credibility that I need in order to approach the other authors.

At the same time, I have continued getting feedback on the covers, both online here (voting still open) and individually. In particular, I've gone to a couple of independent bookstores and solicited the advice of the booksellers. I felt as if I were imposing upon them by asking, but actually they said they appreciate it when a local author asks their advice. The first bookstore, at which I got the opinions of 3 booksellers, narrowed down the 4 covers to two, and I took those to another independent bookseller whom even the first recommended for his excellent eye. He picked one, definitively, absolutely, but there are still things I need to evaluate, hence the revisions I posted today. If you already voted, and feel differently now, based upon the changes, I'll welcome your vote again, with a note about what made you change your mind. And, of course, people who haven't yet registered their opinion are invited to contribute it, now.

Once I get through the writing, editing and proofreading and my graphic artist moves on to the book layout, I should be hearing back from the city with permission to registered my Publisher name. Them some other wildness starts, buying ISBNs, bar codes, Library of Congress numbers, other library codes, etc. (that what all those numbers are on the back covers of books. I also need to decide on a price, and draft the front matter -- including where published, name of cover designer, copyright and republishing info - - all that stuff that one often skips in the beginning of the book, plus notes of where portions of the book have already appeared, and Acknowledgments, which occupied my dreams last night. All this is waaaay more than I ever wanted to know about the publishing business...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Which Cover Design Do You Prefer for This Book? (consider title separately)

Option 1

Revised Option 2

Option 3

Option 4

Monday, March 22, 2010

By Any Other Name

It's the small things that take the longest. And here I thought that the writing and editing was the hard part! But there are loads of small things that need to be done prior to publishing a book independently. One of these, on which I've already spent too much time, is coming up with a Fictitious Business Name. I approached it a couple of ways:

I thought about what I wanted the name to imply, so I wrote down some roots, like qual-, cred-, acu-, savv-, meri-, acco- and many, many more. The good ones are already taken (not in my county, so in theory I could use the name, but I didn't want to use the same name as another, existing publisher, even if that business doesn't sell outside of North Dakota, for example).

When the root words didn't get me far, I looked for synonyms (I won't bore you with the list), with results similar to the effort, above.

Then I tried to think of my favorite words; actually, I do have a favorite word, though I can't remember what it is and won't remember I hear it, again, which may or may not be before I have to register a DBA.

Finally, I pulled some words out of the air, or certain words came to me out of the air. "What do you think of Kumquat Press?" I asked my husband as we were driving home from a movie.

As we were stopped at a traffic light at the time, he pointed out the window and said, "Why don't you call it 'Crosswalk Publishing,' or 'Yield Press?') I guess he doesn't find the process or the outcome quite as interesting or important as it is to me but, actually, I like the sound of 'Crosswalk Press,' and it cleared both locally and nationally (while Kumquat Press had already been taken).

I can't say that 'Crosswalk' brings up any positive images except, possibly, being careful, but at least it doesn't have negative implications, as I realized with some of my other names I had considered, like "Soledad Press," named for a local landmark (but there is also a prison named 'Soledad. . . ') I like the name 'Cedar Haven Press,' and it, too, clears locally and nationally, but for some reason it makes me think of old age homes.

So 'Crosswalk' it is.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Make Sure to Return Tuesday, March 23

The book cover options will go live at 6:00 AM PST. You'll be asked to vote for a title, and a design.

I need your feedback, so I hope you will participate.

Thank you

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chapter Excerpt: The Smell of Fresh Bread -- Part II


Toward sunset the following evening, I stationed myself in front of the boarding house where my brother had his bed. I didn’t know whether he would come directly home or go to the synagogue, first, but I wanted to take no chance of missing him.

It was getting dark already when I noticed two ragged, human skeletons dragging themselves along the pavement. They moved on scrawny, tottering legs and seemed, every so often, barely to be able to keep each other from pitching face down into the mud, so paralyzed were they by lack of sleep. It took me some time to recognize one of the ghosts as my brother.

I threw my arms around him but he gave me a blank look and continued shuffling forward, as if afraid to lose his momentum.

I cried, “Mordechai, it’s me, your brother, Jacob.” But he and his companion kept on. No doubt if he’d had any strength left in his body he would have thrown me off him.

I followed closely behind, ready to catch my brother when he fell, but he somehow made it up to the attic and lurched into the dormitory. Before he could lie down, I grabbed his arm and once again tried to remind him who I was.

He peered at me with eyes no longer able to focus. Finally, he extended a limp hand covered with flour and dough and told his landlady, “Give him to eat.” Then he fell on his bed as though he’d been shot.

To tell the truth, I was beginning to feel a little unwelcome. Here it was Shabbos, the day of rest that Mordechai was enjoying, but also the one day in the week on which it is forbidden to fast. And while tonight I might have inherited Mordechai’s portion, my brother’s condition and that of the other bakery boys, combined with their snores that sounded like trains getting up steam at a railroad station, killed my appetite.
Nevertheless, my last wakeful thoughts before falling into my own stupor were of utter contentment. Now that I had found my brother, I knew he would take care of me.


The moment Shabbos was over, Mordechai, true to his word, took me back with him to his bakery and saw to it that I got a job.  By the time the night was over, I’d already begun to get a picture of what it meant, back in those simple, unspoiled days, to be a baker’s apprentice. Then I understood why, even among boys as hungry and homeless as myself, the kind of person who voluntarily became a baker was considered half-dead, no longer a human being.

My brother had come to Warsaw innocently, ready to take on any kind of honest work, but after hungering for several days, simply had been attracted by the smell of fresh bread. Almost at the moment he set foot in the store, half-hypnotized by the intoxicating odors, he found himself signed up for an apprenticeship of three years. That meant his work and time belonged totally to a master who, for the first two years, was under no obligation to teach him anything at all.

At the time, a good working day could run twenty-two or even twenty-four hours. To make up for this, however, you were free all Friday night and all day Shabbos until sundown. However, the moment after havdoloh separated day from night, and the sacred from the profane, the boys panted back to the bakery like condemned souls being lashed by demons and didn’t see sunlight again till the end of the week.

Unlike in New York (whose bakeries, several decades earlier, had already had steam driven machinery), all the kneading, mixing and baking in Warsaw at the turn of the century still was done by hand. In addition, wood had to be chopped for the ovens, barrels of water hauled from the well, and flour from two hundred-pound sacks dumped into huge vats and kneaded by hand by bakers asleep on their feet.

I remember the shock it gave me the first time I saw my brother and two other boys immersed in and struggling through a swamp of flour and water while the sweat ran freely off their brows and arms and into the dough. One of them, you’ll forgive me for mentioning it, had a runny nose adding its steady drip to the mixture. The quality of baked good produced under such conditions I leave to your imagination.

The following week, when my brother told me of a slightly better job available at another bakery, I thanked him kindly and decided to pass it up. In fact, hungry as I was, it took some time before I could once again sink my teeth heartily into a chunk of fresh bread.

Friday, March 19, 2010



Exciting, and Nerve-Wracking, and Exciting

Things have been happening so quickly that I haven't been able to keep everyone up-to-date.

I had long felt that the Jewish Book Fairs around the country would be a great place to talk about the book, and while the San Diego Jewish Book Fair doesn't come around until November, I must have thought that I didn't have enough to do so I contacted the woman in charge of the San Diego. I had planned to meet her for a leisurely lunch one nice afternoon so I could ask my questions, but she responded to the email I sent with the information that *all* the Jewish Book Fairs in the country are coordinated through the Jewish Book Council in NY. Great; fewer letters I'd have to write.

So I went to the Jewish Book Council website and learned that, in order to be 'considered' to participate in any of the Jewish Book Fairs around the country, I need to first apply to, and then be invited to participate in, the JBC's Meet the Author event, which takes place in May. Okay; I had planned on printing the book in June or July, so now it would have to be May, early May, as I needed to have 100 copies to distribute to the May 23-25 participants and to send out to reviewers. This was Sunday, 5 days ago. Oh, and the deadline to apply is March 26 -- next week. Now I was really panicked.

 I still had a lot of work to do on the book, so I redoubled my efforts, spending a few 12-hour days a week at the Starbucks that is my current 'office,' in addition to the regular full days I spend there.

Just last night, as I was about to submit my application to the JBC, I began to wonder on what basis the committee would make it's decision when it asked for no more than the title of the book and a credit card number. I reread the 10 page information packet that was sent to me along with the application, and found what I should have noticed earlier: The application needs to be submitted with a synopsis and bio. It only makes sense. And author photo. And book cover. A little more complicated.

As I sat down to edit the synopsis this morning, it occurred to me to ask if the JBC had a certain length in mind. I have, in various stages, synopses of a few different lengths to use for different purposes, though I wasn't 100% satisfied with any of them. And indeed they had very specific lengths in mind: No more than 175 words for the synopsis and 45 words for the bio.

Most people would feel that having a very limited number of words makes the job easier. Not so. My main synopsis draft was about 750 words long, which meant more than editing; it meant synthesizing, looking at the whole story from a higher level. What was really important for people to know, and how could I share it in terms that made it sound exciting, intriguing, a "must invite?" That took some time, but I did it.

Just to make sure I didn't overlook anything (else), I went back to the Author Tour Information Booklet that I had downloaded with the application and only read cursorily (short attention span). And there was more that I had overlooked. It wasn't just that I needed 100 printed copies of the book by May 23; the JBC needed to receive the books by May 1! Which they suggested meant mailing them around April 15 (probably not the best day to go to the post office, though).

Yikes! I still had about 100 pages to edit, need to write the Epilogue (which I had asked my mother to do as I expected her to know something about her own family's history, but that's not going to happen), and more importantly, I have the entire opening chapter to write, in which I need to include enough background information so that all the events that follow in the book will have a context and make sense. I had long been anxious about this chapter, but about 2 weeks ago I suddenly figured out how to do it, so I will -- soon.

But there's more. In order to have 100 copies of the book by send by April 15, I need to get the manuscript to the printer 10 business days prior, which is April 1. But I need to give the book designer time to lay out the interior (he's a saint, but more about him later; he says he can do it 2-3 day, and that I should calm down). But on Wednesday two people I trust told me that, even before that, I need to have a professional editor go over the manuscript. Frankly, I had been planning to skip that step, but . . . Well, I have to do it, but I'm asking for only a high-level read. I have enough confidence that the book will work the way I've  structured it. I'm cutting out some good material when it makes the chapter drag. And I've been tightening each sentence to 'read' faster. I also bought and consult "Woe is I" to make sure I know my grammar, punctuation and all those other rules I never learned (and have been pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually know my punctuation -- mostly).

As of 5:42 p.m., I have finished the editing (another reading round follows, with checks on punctuation, pacing, and that every scene I include has a 'payoff'). Meanwhile, I've advertised for an editor with experience with a literary agency or a publisher to do a fast, high-level read. And believe it or not, I've gotten some responses. Now I have to finish my work, select the editor and pray, pray, pray that the manuscript passes muster and I can proceed with the next steps.

So, check back March 23 -- tell your friends -- because I'm going to post the cover designs for YOUR INPUT a full week earlier than I had planned and preannounced. I need to adjust the countdown timer.

Take a deep breath for me, as I don't have time to do so, myself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New: RSS Reader

Even though I don't know the difference between signing up for an RSS Reader and being a Follower of a blog, I've added a Reader, so if you want to make sure you don't miss any upcoming content, click on the RSS icon and add it to your home page (or wherever you want) and you can feel comfortable that you'll get all the latest information.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chapter Excerpt: The Smell of Fresh Bread -- Part I

My grandfather ran away from Yeshiva at the age of thirteen, unable and unwilling to eat only every other day. As his job prospects in Vishigrod were limited, he decided to follow his older brother, Mordechai, to Warsaw where he worked as a baker. After reading this, you not only will support a ban against child labor, but may never want to eat bread, again!


For boys who came to Warsaw to make their fortunes, the authorities had a foolproof system. You couldn’t get a job unless you had a place to live, and no landlady was permitted to rent you so much as a straw mattress unless you had a job.

Somehow, Mordechai had forgotten to mention this in his infrequent letters. He had also neglected to mention that, as I learned from his landlady when she shooed me away from his lodging, he came home to sleep only on Friday nights. It seemed strange that my brother should need to sleep only one night a week. Plus, it was only Wednesday. I nowhere to rest and little money for food, but I was certainly not planning to return home.

I tried to distract myself from hunger marveling at over a hundred things I had never seen before - - cobbled streets free of mud, horseless trams running on tracks, and buildings so tall you wondered what kept them from tumbling over like a house of cards.

After spending the first day in hunger, hiding in the shadows so as not to be noticed by the authorities, I found it necessary to find a job, any job, just to tide me over till Friday afternoon. I had already been warned that if the police caught me without a legal place of residence, I would wish I had never seen Warsaw. I began in earnest to do what I hadn’t actually attempted in Warsaw, and look for work that would tide me over until Friday afternoon.

Before the day was over, I realized that there were literally hundreds of thirteen and fourteen year-old boys like myself, freshly arrived from the provinces and unregistered by the police, also looking for any kind of job.

While I was standing with a group of these boys, wondering whether I wouldn’t do better alone, a middle-aged couple arrived, looked us over like cattle dealers on market day, and decided on me.

“Want a job?”

“What kind?” I said stupidly.

“You want or you don’t want?”

By now it was as cold as it was dark and where was I going to spend the night? I said, “I’ll take it.”

They had me follow them home, where they put a plate of bread and herring with tea in front of me. (‘Balanced menus,’ you understand, are an entirely American invention). I ate silently, still afraid to ask what they expected of me. Then I waited to be shown to my room. But the master nodded for me to follow him down a flight of groaning wooden steps to a cellar that contained a barrel of dirty water with what looked like a thousand empty, mud-caked beer bottles. I looked at him.

“Get to work.”

I was to wash each one, inside and out, before going to sleep. What choice did I have? The boss watched as I set to work, and complemented me on my energy and neatness. Then he proceeded to tap a barrel and fill the bottles I had washed.

In this manner, it became one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock in the morning, and I was still washing bottles. My fingers were stiff with cold, but since my boss was working as if it were broad daylight, I felt embarrassed to ask him when his workers were expected to sleep.

I’d already given up looking at the time when the boss’s wife suddenly shouted, “Let him go to sleep already or he’ll run off like the others.”

The boss nodded like a man who has learned to be tolerant of human weakness, and pulled out a sack with straw. I fell onto it as though from a great height, and was asleep before I even closed my eyes.

I’d barely had time to turn over when I found the boss’s wife tugging impatiently at my shoulder. It was time to go from tavern to tavern to collect the empty bottles so that I could wash them, again. Fortunately, this kept me so busy that I never even had the chance to ask about food.

By evening, I was staggering like a drunk and quite willing to forget about supper if they would just let me sleep for a while. But the boss gave me some bread and herring and, as kindly as possible, explained that on Thursday nights all the bottles had to be filled for Saturday night deliveries. Therefore, just that one day a week, it was customary to work all night. To make up for this, he would let me sleep all Friday night and all day Saturday.

He made it sound as though only a monster of ingratitude would fail to see how reasonable his request was, but I had simply gone too long without sleep. And since, in the last two days, I had earned the equivalent of seventeen kopeks and tomorrow I was sure to see my brother, I decided I could afford to be independent.

When I told him he could keep his job, the boss was almost speechless with indignation. Never in this world had he encountered such impertinence. A boy who expected to eat without working! He had no doubt that, with luck, I would end up before a firing squad (about which he wasn’t too far wrong).


Sunday, March 14, 2010

A New Product Starbucks Needs to Offer

I do most of my writing at a convenient Starbucks; oddly it's a place where I get less distracted than if I work alone, at home.

But having just ordered my 'usual' (Triple Decaf Espresso Machiatto - Nonfat, which is known in other circles as a 'Why Bother?'), when my friendly barista asked, "Anything else?" I was tempted to say, "Yeah, a neck massage" which isn't one of Starbucks many new product extensions.

Maybe it's the fact that I sit in one place all day on a hard, wooden chair (though I've recently taken to bringing my own gel cushion for comfort and better posture), or because the table is higher than a desk so my shoulders necessarily rise up closer to my ears, but at the end of every day my neck is stiff, my shoulders are tight, and my fingers don't want to hold onto anything more challenging than a fork. My neck even feels shorter, as if it's retracted like a turtle's.

No point to this entry. I'm just tired and have both too much and too little to say.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Shameless Self (Family) Promotion, But Funny!


Thursday, March 11, 2010


As the countdown timer to the right illustrates, on MARCH 31 I will post several possible jacket covers for the book from which you've been reading excerpts. And I will ask YOU to vote on which one you like best. There are 2 possible titles that I'll be interested in getting your reactions to (though I'd welcome another option, if you'd care to suggest one).

I already have the designs that I've gotten from a wonderful graphic designer in Russia whom I'm using, however I went to make sure that as many people who occasionally check in with this blog will return between MARCH 31 and APRIL 7 to check out the options and vote for your favorite.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Purim story - - Part III

That, however, was not the end of it. Haman now started telling us how his father, an Orthodox priest, had always taught him that Jews were true children of mercy. And he assured us that everyone knew we were the best marksmen in the regiment, and if we were to use our influence on the other men, or even merely do our best at the range tomorrow, be would know how to show his gratitude.

His small pig eyes actually erupted with tears. Truly, if a type like this could be reduced to weeping in front of men whom only last week he'd still been calling zhydovska morda (derogatory description of a Jew, occasionally translated as ‘Jewface,’ except morda refers to the visage of an animal), the days of the Messiah were at hand.

Haman left, and our little revolutionary cell convened a meeting. All night long we heatedly disputed whether or not to call off our strike.

I argued that, if the man had repented sincerely, he deserved at least one more chance. After all, we had already demonstrated our revolutionary power. Also, if we overthrew Haman completely, what guarantee did we have that our next commander wouldn't be even worse? But there were others who felt that his tears were not sincere, and that we'd be fools to pass up this opportunity to rid ourselves of the bastard once and for all.

In the end, the meeting dissolved without a clear-cut decision one way or the other.
Thus, back at the firing range next morning, some of us carefully continued to miss our targets, while others ran up a very decent score.

The outcome was still no great triumph for Haman. He was threatened with instant demotion if such a "mutiny" should ever again occur among his men. But he kept his command, and I regret to tell you that his heartbreaking conversion lasted only as long as yesterday's snow.

However, if Haman remained as much of a swine as ever, our little exercise did have one effect. From that day on, our commander's malevolence was strictly impartial. And what Jew in Fonya's army could have asked for more than that?


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Purim story - - Part II

When Haman became our commanding officer, he reminded us that anyone who had forgotten he was a soldier whose body and soul belong to the Czar would very quickly find himself “vacationing” in Siberia where, before long, they might get the chance to do some real soldiering against a race of yellow vermin laboring under the illusion that Asia belonged to them. And in particular, he advised the Jews in his company to cease conducting themselves as though they were still in some synagogue of theirs.

This final observation did not go down too well with the boys in my platoon. Partly thanks to Mikhailoff's easygoing policies, our company had walked away the previous summer, and the summer before that, with the highest score in the Novocherkassky's annual marksmanship competition. Not only because we'd had so much more opportunity to practice, but because, unlike some other companies, we had truly wanted to make a good showing on our Captain's behalf. And since a fair number of the Jewish soldiers also happened to be among the best shots in the regiment, it seemed to us that this new katzap was starting off with some degree of prejudice.

Our committee, therefore, took it as a direct challenge that, at a time when czarism itself, with its incurably corrupt, brutal, and ignorant bureaucracy and army, already seemed on the verge of crumbling, this Haman should come along and try to give us, as they say, a taste of pepper. In short, we determined to settle this dog before he could settle us.

We had our opportunity at the annual regimental marksmanship competitions. Each company commander was desperately anxious for his men to make a good showing. These contests, in fact, were one of the few ways in which an officer in garrison could make a name for himself. That was because if a company did really well, its commanding officer got the sole credit, and if it did badly, that, too, was blamed on him. Since there was just about nothing in it for the winning marksmen themselves, these annual competitions, as far as the soldiers were concerned, had only one practical purpose: to demonstrate to the world how the men felt about their company commander.

We could all tell Haman was a little bit worried because for some weeks now, he had been handling us as gently as a mother putting a dressing over an abscess. All our time in the field was devoted totally to marksmanship (although only with the rifle, not the machine gun, which was still too much of a novelty, as well as wasteful of ammunition. Also, I think our officers didn't quite trust its reliability - - especially in the hands of future revolutionaries).

Haman, of course, already knew that our company was blessed with some of the most expert sharpshooters in the regiment, and he was determined for us to do him proud. We, for our part, had every intention in the world of burying him.

Since Russian infantry tactics had changed very little from the days when soldiers carried muskets and fired in volleys, the way these competitions worked was as follows. Ten men at a time went up to the firing line. A hundred yards away were ten wooden targets painted to resemble enemy soldiers. After each man had fired his allotted number of bullets, a cease-fire was called and some soldiers who'd been hidden in trenches behind the target signaled each man's score with a red flag.

We all knew that, based on past performance, our regimental commander expected the Fourteenth Company to walk away with the first prize, and had placed his bets accordingly. So the night before, our revolutionary committee voted that tomorrow not one of us, all day, was to dare hit his target even once. Somebody wondered whether this wouldn't be a little too obvious. But of course we wanted it to be obvious.

Came morning and we took up our positions, fired off our volleys, and with a good deal of careful concentration succeeded in leaving every one of our targets absolutely untouched. I could tell how deeply this pained some of our better marksmen, and how they tried to console themselves by neatly shooting off branches four times as far away as the target.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw Haman's face white as chalk and his teeth biting furiously into his lips. Before long, the colonel, faced with the loss of a rather large bet, summoned him over and, in front of all the visiting dignitaries, raked Haman over the coals for having inspired such blatant disloyalty in his men.

However, we, too, were warned. The results of the first round were declared null and void, and every company was given a fresh chance. Haman watched us in silence, but there was murder in his eye. Nevertheless, once again not one of us inflicted so much as a scratch on a single target.

The colonel, now clearly aware of what sort of a mutiny he had on his hands, also voided the results of the second round, and announced that the contest would continue, all day and all night if necessary, until "certain elements" showed themselves prepared to act like true children of the Czar.

We remained unmoved. By nine in the evening, our com¬pany's score still stood at zero, and the other companies, too, had long ceased to take the whole business seriously. The colonel, with barely restrained rage, again nullified all scores, but called a break until the following morning, when the contest would begin afresh.

An hour or two later, the door to our barracks flew open, and Haman entered, alone. We leaped to attention. He told us, in a gentle, almost broken voice, to stand at ease and gather around him.

And he said, "Dear children, I fully understand your grievances against me. I know that, on more than one occasion, I have allowed my vile temper to get the upper hand. And for this now all of you, to a man, are determined to humiliate me. But what am I to do? This is my nature. I've treated my own children no better than I've treated you. All I can do is beg you to forgive my past misdeeds. And let you know that, if you will not help me tomorrow, I am ruined. They will not even send me to an honorable death at the fighting front, but will reduce me in rank and discharge me from the service. And if that happens, there is nothing left for me to do but drown myself or put a bullet through my head."

We listened, but I for one couldn't say I felt particularly moved. Not only didn't I believe what he said, but it seemed to me that if he did kill himself, the world would be well able to survive the loss.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Slightly Late Purim Story - - Part I

After some weeks of basic training the so-called convicts' company, which Mordechai felt I was danger of beginning to enjoy rather more than was proper for boy of my refined family background, I found myself unexpectedly transferred to the regimental tailor shop. Mordechai hoped that joining this platoon, which consisted of one hundred and eighteen men, forty two of whom were Jews, would keep me out of further brawls and court martials.

Here, out of eight men, I think two were actually tailors and therefore obliged to cover for the rest of us. However, no one complained because it was apparent that we others must have had some pull with notchalstva (bosses, in general, or local government), or we wouldn't be there.

But I soon realized that my years in the commercial jungle and newborn labor movement of Warsaw had almost totally destroyed my ability to cope grew bored with the blessing of idleness. Within less than a month, to my brother's dismay, I began to crave some other outlet for my youthful energies and thirst for adventure.

Finally, against Mordechai's vehement advice, I applied successfully for a transfer to the Fourteenth Company, which was under the command of my defender, Captain Mikhailoff, the Czar's relative. It was, after all, peacetime and, while life in the infantry might have been a little more strenuous than smoking my pipe in the tailor shop, being back among real soldiers was as exciting to me as going to a summer camp, with all facilities for outdoor sports, would be to an American child today.

Being only a captain and in command of a mere company of infantry, Mikhailoff might not have been quite as close a relative to the Czar as he liked to let on. But during the time he was in charge of our company, I must admit I found military life a great deal more interesting than the ‘freedom’ of working twenty-hour days in Warsaw.

While we were well aware of our good fortune in having such a humane and easygoing company commander, we continued to talk among ourselves of the necessity to overthrow our abominable Czar, Nicolai Alexandrovich, and to abolish altogether such instruments of tyranny as the army. This revolutionary fervor, at least among the Jewish soldiers, was further inflamed as we heard about ongoing pogroms in even such large modern cities as Kishinev and Gomel, and about the latest atrocities committed by the "Black Hundreds" (anti-Semitic groups that conducted government-sanctioned pogroms) often led by uniformed Russian or Ukrainian officers.

Our noble Mikhailoff was a man who not only enjoyed life, but also did not begrudge others. He believed, for example, that in peacetime there's little sense in tormenting your men with a lot of useless exercises. So, while the other companies were sent on field maneuvers and forced marches and entertainments of that sort, our excellent captain took us, the Fourteenth Company, to some shady spot in the woods. Here he permitted us to amuse ourselves with such leisure activities as trick riding and marksmanship. And we, in anticipation of the revolution, and thanks to Mikhailoff's generosity with ammunition, soon became so handy with our rifles and horses, we began routinely to win a good many of those regimental competitions on whose outcomes our officers so loved to place wagers.

In fact, we did our Captain Mikhailoff so proud that he was presently relieved of his command, promoted to colonel, and placed in charge of an important customs post on the Manchurian border, where it was understood that a man would have to be made of stone not to pile up money like manure.

Very well. We'd had a sensible and humane officer and, instead of simply thanking our good fortune, we'd gone right on plotting the overthrow of his wretched relative, Nicolai Alexandrovich. Now fate rewarded us for our zeal in wanting to liberate our one hundred and thirty million other countrymen, as well, with a new commanding officer.

He made his appearance on a cold Wednesday morning. Unnaturally tall, he had shoulders like a barn door, upon which rested a small Slavic head with a broad nose and little pig eyes. In fact, all the parts of his body seemed to be not quite in proportion, so that when he walked, he looked not so much like a man as the way you might picture the original golem (In Jewish Folklore, the golem was a mythical creature created from mud that became animated when the name of God, written out, was placed in its mouth).

We were promptly called into formation where, for a start, we were allowed to shiver at attention for some time. Presently, our new boss introduced himself as Captain Fedorenko, but before the day was out, his nickname among the Jewish soldiers was Haman (Chief Minister to King Ahasuerus, (aka Xerxes, 486-465 B.C.E.) who wanted to exterminate all the Jews in the kingdom of Persia. The Jews’ reprieve from Haman’s plot is commemorated by the Festival of Purim). Not only because one of his first official acts was to deny some thirty-five of us permission to attend the reading of the Scroll of Esther on the morning of Purim, but, already at this first formation, before he even knew one face from the other, he delivered a speech in which he let us know he was quite well aware that the Fourteenth Company, under its previous commander, had become disgracefully lax, undisciplined, unsoldierly, a virtual vacation resort. Well, he was here to put an end to all that.

(To be continued)