By Ruth R. Wisse (ed.)

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Example text

Cried Itchele. "Brothers and sisters," Yekl continued. " "Everywhere but here," smiled Itchele. " "Let's get him a couple of girls," came an offer, and everyone laughed. Itchele pounded his friend on the back, and the merriment spread. Soon they were jumping over benches. Caps flew through the air, voices resounded off the ceiling. Someone accidentally stepped on a child's foot, and the baby set up a howl. Taybele, Motl's wife, rushed out in alarm, snatched up her son and tried to soothe him.

But what it was that he had seen, or when, he would rather have let them chop off a limb than reveal, at least not before he had looked around to make sure that the boss was out of the room. Sometimes the mood was very different; eyes would suddenly flash and foreheads crease as if from the force of rushing waves. The men would speed the nails into the torn soles—tac-tac! —as though in hot pursuit. At such times someone always burst into song: What good is this life to you, brothers, A life full of hunger and pain?

Before long the street resounded with song: O, Brothers and sisters of toil and privation All ye who are scattered in every nation. . * The song, which the boys had just brought back from Warsaw, was one that Yekl had never been privileged to hear before. The new songs, he decided with a happy smile, were even better than the old ones: slowly, but surely, the "movement" was growing. The householders on their way home from the synagogue, with their prayer shawls under their arms, stopped in alarm at the sound of the singing: had the militia been moved into town?

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