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‘Moshkeleh Ganev,’ Chapter 3

Newly translated Yiddish fiction for Passover

Sholem Aleichem
April 17, 2020
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine

Near Mazepevke, in the village of Zlodeyevke, lived a peasant named Ivan Kurka, tall and robust, a latter-day Goliath the Philistine. He was a decent, even placid chap—as long as he was sober. But when he had one drop too many, a murderous rage would take hold of him and he began to go wild, breaking down doors, smashing windows, and beating people, mostly Jews. At such times he would lash out against Jews in a life-threatening way.

“The Yids,” he would complain, “embitter my life. They eat my flesh and drink my blood. I won’t calm down until I kill every last one of them, one by one.”

That’s what Ivan Kurka would mutter to himself, until he got so drunk he finally had to be bound hand and foot like a ram and brought back to Zlodeyevke.

One day, Ivan Kurka brought two young oxen to market. Having sold them, he made his way to Sarah Voltziken’s tavern where he ordered one whiskey from her, a second, and yet a third—after which he went berserk. He unleashed his wild frenzy, as he usually did, breaking bottles, smashing windows, and then turned to harassing Sarah Voltziken, first with words, then curses, and finally with slaps and blows.

People started yelling:

“Sarah Voltziken’s being beaten.”

The outcry was so loud it reached the market, where Moshke, wearing his short fur jacket, trousers tucked into his boots, and whip in hand, stood among the horse dealers, looking over a horse he had his heart set on.

Suddenly he heard the shout:

“Sarah Voltziken’s being beaten.”

“By who?”

“Ivan Kurka.”

Swifter than an eagle, fleeter than a deer, stronger than a leopard, Moshke raced into Sarah Voltziken’s tavern and with just one furious smash of his fist into Ivan Kurka’s face, he made blood run from his left ear.

A few days later Ivan Kurka came to Mazepevke. He ambled about town, his cheek swollen, carrying a big pot of eggs and asking:

“Where does that Yid who beat me up live?”

Naturally, the Mazepevke Jews didn’t want to reveal Moshke’s address. But once Moshke got wind of who was looking for him, Moshke himself went up to Ivan Kurka and said:

“You lookin’ to get your puss clouted a coupla more times?”

To which Ivan Kurka replied:

“No, thanks, that one smack was enough for me. And to show you I mean what I say, look, I got you a present. Eggs.”

And from then on, Ivan Kurka became Moshke’s friend.

In fact, they became bosom pals.

Translated from the Yiddish by Curt Leviant.

Sholem Aleichem, (Shalom Rabinovitz; 1859–1916), is one of the founding fathers of modern Yiddish literature.