The Spinning Top
More than any of the boys at Cheder, more than any boy of
the town, and more than any person in the world, I loved my friend,
Benny Polkovoi. The feeling I had for him was a peculiar
combination of love, devotion, and fear. I loved him because he was
handsomer, cleverer and smarter than any other boy. He was kind and
faithful to me. He took my part, fought for me, and pulled the ears of
those boys who annoyed me.
And I was afraid of him because he was big and quarrelsome. He could
beat whom he liked, and when he liked. He was the biggest, oldest, and
wealthiest boy in the Cheder. His father, Mayer Polkovoi, though he was only a regimental tailor, was nevertheless a rich man,
and played an important part in public affairs. He had a fine house, a
seat in the synagogue beside the ark. At the Passover, his Matzo
was baked first. At the feast of Tabernacles his citron was the best.
On the Sabbath he always had a poor man to meals. He gave away large
sums of money in charity. And he himself went to the house of another
to lend him money as a favour. He engaged the best teachers for his
children. In a word, Mayer Polkovoi tried to refine
himselfto be a man amongst men. He wanted to get his name inscribed
in the books of the best society, but did not succeed. In our town,
Mazapevka, it was not easy to get into the best society. We did not
forget readily a man's antecedents. A tailor may try to refine himself
for twenty years in succession, but he will still remain a tailor to
us. I do not think there is a soap in the world that will wash out this
stain. How much do you think Mayer Polkovoi would have given
to have us blot out the name bestowed upon him, Polkovoi? His
misfortune was that his family was a thousand times worse than his
name. Just imagine! In his passport he was called Mayor Mofsovitch
It is a remarkable thing. May Mayer's great-great-grandfather have a
bright Paradise! He also must have been a tailor. When it came to
giving himself a family name, he could not find a better one than
Heifer. He might have called himself Thimble, Lining, Buttonhole,
Bigpatch, Longfigure. These are not family names either, it is true,
but they are in some way connected with tailoring. But Heifer? What did
he like in the name of Heifer? You may ask why not Goat? Are there not
people in the world called Goat? You may say what you like, Heifer and
Goat are equally nice. Still, they are not the same. A Heifer is not a
But we will return to my friend Benny.
* * *
Benny was a nice boy, with yellow tousled hair, white puffed-out
cheeks, scattered teeth, and peculiar red, bulging, fishy eyes. These
red, fishy eyes were always smiling and roguish. He had a turned-up
nose. His whole face had an expression of impudence. Nevertheless, I
liked his face, and we became friends the first hour we met.
We met for the first time at Cheder, at the teachers'
table. When my mother took me to Cheder, the teacher was
sitting at his table with the boys, teaching them the book of Genesis.
He was a man with thick eyebrows and a pointed cap. He made no fuss of
me. He asked me no questions, neither did he take my measurements, but
said to me
Get over there, on that bench, between those two boys.
I got on the bench, between the boys, and was already a pupil. There
was no talk between my mother and the teacher. They had made all
Remember to learn as you ought, said my mother from the doorway.
She turned to look at me again, lovingly, joyfully. I understood her
look very well. She was pleased that I was sitting with nice children,
and learning the Torah. And she was pained because she had to
part with me.
I must confess I felt much happier than my mother. I was amongst a
crowd of new friendsmay no evil eye harm them! They looked at me, and
I looked at them. But the teacher did not let us idle for long. He
shook himself, and shouted aloud the lesson we had to repeat after him
at the top of our voices.
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field.
Boys who sit so close together, though they shake and shout aloud,
cannot help getting to know one another, or exchange a few words. And
so it was.
Benny Polkovoi, who sat crushing me, pinched my leg, and
looked into my eyes. He went on shaking himself, and shouting out the
lesson with the teacher and the other boys. But he threw his own words
into the middle of the sentence we were translating.
And Adam knew (here are buttons for you) Eve his wife. (Give me a
locust-bean and I will give you a pull of my cigarette.)
I felt a warm hand in mine, and I had some smooth buttons. I confess
I did not want the buttons, and I had no locust-beans, neither did I
smoke cigarettes. But I liked the idea of the thing. And I replied in
the same tones in which the lesson was being recited:
And she conceived and bare Cain. (Who told you I have
That is how we conversed the whole time, until the teacher suspected
that though I shook myself to and fro, my mind was far from the lesson.
He suddenly put me through an examination.
Listen, you, whatever your name is, you surely know whose son Cain
was, and the name of his brother?
This question was as strange to me as if he had asked me when there
would be a fair in the sky, or how to make cream-cheese from snow, so
that they should not melt. In reality my mind was elsewhere, I don't
Why do you look at me so? asked the teacher. Don't you hear me? I
want you to tell me the name of the first man, and the story of Cain
and his brother Abel.
The boys were smiling, smothering their laughter. I did not know
Fool, say you do not know, because we have not learnt it,
whispered Benny in my ear, digging me with his elbow. I repeated his
words, like a parrot. And the Cheder was filled with loud
What are they laughing at? I asked myself. I looked at them, and
at the teacher. All were rolling with laughter. And, at that moment, I
counted the buttons from one hand into the other. There were exactly
half a dozen.
Well, little boy, show me your hands. What are you doing with
them? And the teacher bent down and looked under the table.
You are clever boys, and you will understand yourselves what I had
from the teacher, for the buttons, on my first day at Cheder.
* * *
Whippings heal up; shame is forgotten. Benny and I became good
friends. We were one soul. This is how it came about:
Next morning I arrived at Cheder with my Bible in one hand
and my dinner in the other. The boys were excited, jolly. Why? The
teacher was not there. What had happened? He had gone off to a
Circumcision with his wife. That is to say, not with her, God forbid! A
teacher never walks with his wife. The teacher walks before, and his
wife after him.
Let us make a bet, cried a boy with a blue nose. His name was
How much shall we bet? asked another boy, Koppel Bunnas. He had a
torn sleeve out of which peeped the point of a dirty elbow.
A quarter of the locust-beans.
Let it be a quarter of the locust-beans. What for? Let us hear.
I say he will not stand more than twenty-five.
And I say thirty-six.
Thirty-six. We shall soon see. Boys, take hold of him.
This was the order of Hosea Hessel, of the blue nose. And several
boys took hold of me, all together, turned me over on the bench, face
upwards. Two sat on my legs, two on my arms, and one held my head, so
that I should not be able to wriggle. And another placed his left
forefinger and thumb at my nose. (It seemed he was left-handed.) He
curled up his finger and thumb, closed his eye, and began to fillip me
on the nose. And how, do you think? Each time I saw my father in the
other world. Murderers, slaughterers! What had they against my nose?
What had it done to them? Whom had it bothered? What had they seen on
ita nose like all noses.
Boys, count, commanded Hosea Hessel. One, two, three
Nearly always, since ever the world began, when a misfortune happens
to a manwhen robbers surround him in a wood, bind his hands, sharpen
their knives, tell him to say his prayers, and are about to finish him
off, there comes a woodman with a bell. The robbers run away, and the
man lifts his hands on high and praises the Lord for his deliverance.
It was just like that with me and my nose. I don't remember whether
it was at the fifth or sixth blow that the door opened, and Benny
Polkovoi came in. The boys freed me at once, and remained standing
like blocks of wood. Benny took them in hand, one by one. He caught
each boy by the ear, twisted it round, and said:
Well, now you will know what it means to meddle with a widow's
From that day the boys did not touch either me or my nose. They were
afraid to begin with the widow's boy whom Benny had taken under his
wing, into his guardianship, under his protection.
* * *
The widow's boy-I had no other name at Cheder. This was
because my mother was a widow. She supported herself by her own work.
She had a little shop in which were, for the most part, so far as I can
remember, chalk and locust-beansthe two things that sell best in
Mazapevka. Chalk is wanted for white-washing the houses, and
locust-beans are a luxury. They are sweet, and they are light in
weight, and they are cheap. Schoolboys spend on them all the money they
get for breakfast and dinner. And the shopkeepers make a good profit
out of them. I could never understand why my mother was always
complaining that she could hardly make enough to pay the rent and my
school-fees. Why school-fees? What about the other things a human being
needs, food and clothes and boots, for example? She thought of nothing
but the school-fees. When the Lord punished me, she wailed, and took
my husband from meand such a husband!and left me all alone, I want
my son to be a scholar, at any rate. What do you say to that? Do you
think she did not come frequently to the Cheder to find out
how I was getting on? I say nothing of the prayers she took good care I
should recite every morning. She was always lecturing me to be even
half as good as my fatherpeace be unto him! And whenever she looked
at me, she said I was exactly like himmay I have longer years than
he! And her eyes grew moist. Her face grew curiously careworn, and had
a mournful expression.
I hope he will forgive me, I mean my father, from the other world,
but I could not understand what sort of a man he had been. From what my
mother told of him, he was always either praying or studying. Had he
never been drawn, like me, out into the open, on summer mornings, when
the sun was not burning yet, but was just beginning to show in the sky,
marching rapidly onwards, a fiery angel, in a fiery chariot, drawn by
fiery horses, into whose brilliant, burning, guinea-gold faces it was
impossible to look? I ask you what taste have the week-day prayers on
such a morning? What sort of a pleasure is it to sit and read in a
stuffy room, when the golden sun is burning, and the air is hot as an
iron frying-pan? At such a time, you are tempted to run down the hill,
to the riverthe beautiful river that is covered with a green slime. A
peculiar odour, as of a warm bath, comes from the distance. You want to
undress and jump into the warm water. Under the trees it is cool and
the mud is soft and slippery. And the curious insects that live at the
bottom of the river whirl around and about before your eyes. And
curious, long-legged flies slip and slide on the surface of the water.
At such a time one desires to swim over to the other sideover to
where the green flags grow, their yellow and white stalks shimmering in
the sun. A green, fresh fern looks up at you, and you go after it,
plash-plash into the water, hands down, and feet up, so that people
might think you were swimming. I ask you again, what pleasure is it to
sit in a little room on a summer's evening, when the great dome of the
sky is dropping over the other side of the town, lighting up the spire
of the church, the shingle roofs of the baths, and the big windows of
the synagogue. And on the other side of the town, on the common, the
goats are bleating, and the lambs are frisking, the dust rising to the
heavens, the frogs croaking. There is a tearing and a shrieking and a
tumult as at a regular fair. Who thinks of praying at such a time? But
if you talk to my mother, she will tell you that her husbandpeace be
unto him!did not succumb to temptations. He was a different sort of a
man. What sort of a man he was I do not knowasking his pardon. I only
know that my mother annoys me very much. She reminds me every minute
that I had a father; and throws it into my teeth that she has to pay my
school-fees for me. For this she asks only two things of methat I
should learn diligently, and say my prayers willingly.
* * *
It could not be said that the widow's boy did not learn well. He was
not in any way behind his comrades. But I cannot guarantee that he said
his prayers willingly. All children are alike. And he was as
mischievous as any other boy. He, like the rest, was fond of running
away and playing, though there is not much to be said of the play of
Jewish children. They tie a paper bag to a cat's tail so that she may
run through the house like mad, smashing everything in her way. They
lock the women's portion of the synagogue from the outside on Friday
nights, so that the women may have to be rescued. They nail the
teacher's shoes to the floor, or seal his beard to the table with wax
when he is asleep. But oh, how many thrashings do they get when their
tricks are found out! It may be gathered that everything must have an
originator, a commander, a head, a leader who shows the way.
Our leader, our commander was Benny Polkovoi. From him all
things originated; and on our heads were the consequences. Benny, of
the fat face and red, fishy eyes, always managed to escape scot free
from the scrapes. He was always innocent as a dove. Whatever tricks or
mischief we did, we always got the idea from Benny. Who taught us to
smoke cigarettes in secret, letting the smoke out through our nostrils?
Benny. Who told us to slide on the ice, in winter, with the
peasant-boys? Benny. Who taught us to gamble with buttonsto play odd
or even, and lose our breakfasts and dinners? Benny. He was up to
every trick, and taught us them all. He won our last groschens
from us. And when it came to anything, Benny had disappeared. Playing
was to us the finest thing in the world. And for playing we got the
severest thrashings from our teacher. He said he would tear out of us
the desire to play.
Play in my house? You will play with the Angel of Death, said the
teacher. And he used to empty our pockets of everything, and thrash us
But there was one week of the year when we were allowed to play. Why
do I say allowed? It was a righteous thing to play then.
And that week was the week of Chanukah. And we played with
* * *
It is true that the games of cardsbridge and whist, for
examplewhich are played at Chanukah nowadays have more sense
in them than the old game of spinning-tops. But when the play is for
money, it makes no difference what it is. I once saw two peasant-boys
beating one another's heads against the wall. When I asked them why
they were doing this, if they were out of their minds, they told me to
go my road. They were playing a game, for money, which of them would
get tired the soonest of having his head banged on the wall.
The game of spinning-tops that have four corners, each marked with a
letter of the alphabet, and are like dice, is very exciting. One can
lose one's soul playing it. It is not so much the loss of the money as
the annoyance of losing. Why should the other win? Why should the top
fall on the letter G for him, and on the N for you? I suppose you know
what the four letters stand for? N means no use. H means half. B means
bad. And G means good. The top is a sort of lottery. Whoever is
fortunate wins. Take, for example, Benny Polkovoi. No matter
how often he spins the top, it always falls on the letter G.
The boys said it was curious how Benny won. They kept putting down
their money. He took on their bets. What did he care? He was a rich
G again. It's curious, they cried, and again opened their purses
and staked their money. Benny whirled the top. It spun round and round,
and wobbled from side to side, like a drunkard, and fell down.
G, said Benny.
G, G. Again G. It's extraordinary, said the boys, scratching their
heads and again opening their purses.
The game grew more exciting. The players grew hot, staked their
money, crushed one another, and dug one another in the ribs to get
nearer the table, and called each other peculiar namesBlack Tom-cat!
Creased Cap! Split Coat! and the like. They did not see the teacher
standing behind them, in his woollen cap and coat, and carrying his
Tallis and Tephilin under his arm. He was going to the
synagogue to say his prayers, and seeing the crowd of excited boys, he
drew near to watch the play. This day he does not interfere. It is
Chanukah. We are free for eight days on end, and may play as much
as we like. But we must not fight, nor pull one another by the nose.
The teacher's wife took her sickly child in her arms, and stood at her
husband's shoulder, watching the boys risk their money, and how Benny
took on all the bets. Benny was excited, burning, aflame, ablaze. He
twirled the top. It spun round and round, wobbled and fell down.
G all over again. It's a regular pantomime.
Benny showed us his smartness and his quick-wittedness so long,
until our pockets were empty. He thrust his hands in his pockets, as if
challenging usWell, who wants more?
We all went home. We carried away with us the heartache and the
shame of our losses. When we got home, we had to tell lies to account
for the loss of the money we had been given in honour of Chanukah. One boy confessed he had spent his on locust-beans. Another said the
money had been stolen out of his pocket the previous night. A third
came home crying. He said he had bought himself a pocket-knife. Well,
why was he crying? He had lost the knife on his way home.
I told my mother a fine storya regular Arabian Nights tale, and
got out of her a second Chanukah present of ten groschens. I ran off with them to Benny, played for five minutes, lost to him,
and flew back home, and told my mother another tale. In a word, brains
were at work and heads were busy inventing lies. Lies flew about like
chaff in the wind. And all our Chanukah money went into
Benny's pockets, and was lost to us for ever.
One of the boys became so absorbed in the play that he was not
satisfied to lose only his Chanukah money, but went on
gambling through the whole eight days of the festival.
And that boy was no other than myself, the widow's son.
* * *
You must not ask where the widow's boy got the money to play with.
The great gamblers of the world who have lost and won fortunes, estates
and inheritancesthey will know and understand. Woe is me! May the
hour never be known on which the evil spirit of gambling takes hold of
one! There is nothing too hard for him. He breaks into houses, gets
through iron walls, and does the most terrible thing imaginable. It's a
name to conjure withthe spirit of gambling.
First of all, I began to make money by selling everything I
possessed, one thing after the other, my pocket-knife, my purse, and
all my buttons. I had a box that opened and closed, and some wheels of
an old clockgood brass wheels that shone like the sun when they were
polished. I sold them all at any price, flew off, and lost all my money
to Benny. I always left him with a heart full of wounds and the
bitterest annoyance, and greatly excited. I was not angry with Benny.
God forbid! What had I against him? How was he to blame if he always
won at play? If the top fell on the G for me, he said, I should win. If
it falls on the G for him, then he wins. And he is quite right. No, I
am only sorry for myself, for having run through so much moneymy
mother's hard-earned groschens, and for having made away with
all my things. I was left almost naked. I even sold my little
prayer-book. O that prayer-book, that prayer-book! When I think of it,
my heart aches, and my face burns with shame. It was an ornament, not a
book. My mother bought it of Pethachiah the pedlar, on the anniversary
of my father's death. And it was a book of booksa good one, a real
good one, thick, and full of everything. It had every prayer one could
mention, the Song of Songs, the Ethics of the Fathers, and the
Psalms, and the Haggadah, and all the prayers of the whole
year round. Then the print and the binding, and the gold lettering. It
was full of everything, I tell you. Each time Pethachiah the pedlar
came round with his cut moustache that made his careworn face appear as
if it was smilingeach time he came round and opened his pack outside
the synagogue door, I could not take my eyes off that prayer-book.
What would you say, little boy? asked Pethachiah, as if he did not
know that I had my eyes on the prayer-book, and had had it in my hands
seventeen times, each time asking the price of it.
Nothing, I replied. Just so! And I left him, so as not to be
Ah, mother, you should see the fine thing Pethachiah the pedlar
What sort of a thing? asked my mother.
A little prayer-book. If I had such a prayer-book, I wouldI don't
know myself what I would do.
Haven't you got a prayer-book? And where is your father's
You can't compare them. This is an ornament, and my book is only a
An ornament? repeated my mother. Are there then more prayers in
an ornamental book, or do the prayers sound better?
Well, how can you explain an ornament to your mothera really fine
book with red covers, and blue edges, and a green back?
Come, said my mother to me, one evening, taking me by the hand.
Come with me to the synagogue. Tomorrow is the anniversary of your
father's death. We will bring candles to be lit for him, and at the
same time we will see what sort of a prayer-book it is that Pethachiah
I knew beforehand that on the anniversary of the death of my father,
I could get from my mother anything I asked for, even to the little
plate from heaven, as the saying is. And my heart beat with joy.
When we got to the synagogue, we found Pethachiah with his pack
still unopened. You must know Pethachiah was a man who never hurried.
He knew very well he was the only man at the fair. His customers would
never leave him. Before he opened his pack and spread out his goods, it
took a year. I trembled, I shook. I could hardly stand on my feet. And
he did not care. It was as if we were not talking to him at all.
Let me see what sort of a prayer-book it is you have, said my
Pethachiah had plenty of time. The river was not on fire. Slowly,
without haste, he opened his pack, and spread out his waresbig
Bibles, little prayer-books for men, and for women, big Psalm books and
little, and books for all possible occasions, without an end. Then
there were books of tales from the Talmud, tales of the
Bal-shem-tov, books of sermons, and books of devotion. I imagined
he would never run short. He was a well, a fountain. At last he came to
the little books, and handed out the one I wanted.
Is this all? asked my mother. Such a little one.
This little one is dearer than a big one, answered Pethachiah.
And how much do you want for the little squirrel?God forgive me
for calling it by that name.
You call a prayer-book a squirrel? asked Pethachiah. He took the
book slowly out of her hand; and my heart was torn.
Well, say. How much is it? asked my mother. But Pethachiah had
plenty of time. He answered her in a sing-song:
How much is the little prayer-book? It will cost youit will cost
youI am afraid it is not for your purse.
My mother cursed her enemies, that they might have black, hideous
dreams, and asked him to say how much.
Pethachiah stated the price. My mother did not answer him. She
turned towards the door, took my hand, and said to me:
Come, let us go. We have nothing to do here. Don't you know that '
Reb' Pethachiah is a man who charges famine prices?
I followed my mother to the door. And though my heart was heavy, I
still hoped the Lord would pity us, and Pethachiah would call us back.
But Pethachiah was not that sort of a man. He knew we should turn back
of our own accord. And so it was. My mother turned round, and asked him
to talk like a man. Pethachiah did not stir. He looked at the ceiling.
And his pale face shone. We went off, and returned once again.
A curious Jew, Pethachiah, said my mother to me afterwards. May
my enemies have the plague if I would have bought the prayer-book from
him. It is at a famine price. As I live, it is a sin. The money could
have gone for your school-fees. But it's useless. For the sake of
tomorrow, the anniversary of your father's deathpeace be unto him!I
have bought you the prayer-book, as a favour. And now, my son, you must
do me a favour in return. Promise me that you will say your prayers
faithfully every day.
Whether I really prayed as faithfully as I had promised, or not, I
will not tell you. But I loved the little book as my life. You may
understand that I slept with it, though, as you know, it is forbidden.
The whole Cheder envied me the little book. I minded it as if
it were the apple of my eye. And now, this Chanukahwoe unto
me!I carried it off with my own hands to Moshe the carpenter's boy,
who had long had his eye on it. And I had to beg of him, for an hour on
end, before he bought it. I almost gave it away for nothingthe little
prayer-book. My heart faints and my face burns with shame. Sold! And to
what end? For whose sake? For Benny's sake, that he might win off me
another few kopeks. But how is Benny to blame if he wins at
That's what a spinning-top is for, explained Benny, putting into
his purse my last few groschens. If things went with you as
they are going with me, then you would be winning. But I am lucky, and
And Benny's cheeks glowed. It is bright and warm in the house. A
silver Chanukah lamp is burning the best oil. Everything is
fine. From the kitchen comes a delicious odour of freshly melted
We are having fritters tonight, Benny told me in the doorway. My
heart was weak with hunger. I flew home in my torn sheep-skin. My
mother had come in from her shop. Her hands were red and swollen with
the cold. She was frozen through and through, and was warming herself
at the stove. Seeing me, her face lit up with pleasure.
From the synagogue? she asked.
From the synagogue, was my lying answer.
Have you said the evening prayer?
I have said the evening prayer, was my second lie to her.
Warm yourself, my son. You will say the blessing over the '
Chanukah' lights. It is the last night of 'Chanukah' tonight,
* * *
If a man had only troubles to bear, without a scrap of pleasure, he
would never get over them, but would surely take his own life. I am
referring to my mother, the widow, poor thing, who worked day and
night, froze, never had enough to eat, and never slept enough for my
sake. Why should she not have a little pleasure too? Every person puts
his own meaning into the word pleasure. To my mother there was no
greater pleasure in the world than hearing me recite the blessings on
Sabbaths and Festivals. At the Passover I carried out the Seder
for her, and at Chanukah I made the blessing over the lights.
Was the blessing over wine or beer? Had we for the Passover fritters or
fresh matzo? What were the Chanukah lightsa silver,
eight-branched lamp with olive oil, or candles stuck in pieces of
potato? Believe me, the pleasure has nothing to do with wine or
fritters, or a silver lamp. The main thing is the blessing itself. To
see my mother's face when I was praying, how it shone and glowed with
pleasure was enough. No words are necessary, no detailed description,
to prove that this was unalloyed happiness to her, real pleasure. I
bent over the potatoes, and recited the blessing in a sing-song voice.
She repeated the blessing after me, word for word, in the same
sing-song. She looked into my eyes, and moved her lips. I knew she was
thinking at the time: It is hehe in every detail. May the child have
longer years! And I felt I deserved to be cut to pieces like the
potatoes. Surely, I had deceived my mother, and for such a base cause.
I had betrayed her from head to foot.
The candles in the potatoesmy Chanukah lightsflickered
and flickered until they went out. And my mother said to me:
Wash your hands. We are having potatoes and goose-fat for supper.
In honour of 'Chanukah,' I bought a little measure of
goose-fatfresh, beautiful fat.
I washed myself with pleasure, and we sat down to supper.
It is a custom amongst some people to have fritters for supper on
the last night of 'Chanukah,' said my mother, sighing. And
there arose to my mind Benny's fritters, and Benny's spinning-top that
had cost me all I possessed in the world. I had a sharp pain at my
heart. More than all, I regretted the little prayer-book. But, of what
use were regrets? It was all over and done with.
Even in my sleep I had uneasy thoughts. I heard my mother's groans.
I heard her bed creaking, and I imagined that it was my mother
groaning. Out of doors, the wind was blowing, rattling the windows,
tearing at the roof, whistling down the chimney, sighing loudly. A
cricket had come to our house a long time before. It was now chirping
from the wall, Tchireree! Tchireree! And my mother did not cease from
sighing and groaning. And each sigh and each groan echoed itself in my
heart. I only just managed to control myself. I was on the point of
jumping out of bed, falling at my mother's feet, kissing her hands, and
confessing to her all my sins. I did not do this. I covered myself with
all the bed-clothes, so that I might not hear my mother sighing and
groaning and her bed creaking. My eyes closed. The wind howled, and the
cricket chirped, Tchireree! Tchireree! Tchireree! Tchireree! And
there spun around before my eyes a man like a topa man I seemed to
know. I could have sworn it was the teacher in his pointed cap. He was
spinning on one foot, round, and round, and round. His cap sparkled,
his eyes glistened, and his earlocks flew about. No, it was not the
teacher. It was a spinning-topa curious, living top with a pointed
cap and earlocks. By degrees the teacher-top, or the top-teacher ceased
from spinning round. And in its place stood Pharaoh, the king of Egypt
whose story we had learnt a week ago. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, stood
naked before me. He had only just come out of the river. He had my
little prayer-book in his hand. I could not make out how that wicked
king, who had bathed in Jewish blood, came to have my prayer-book. And
I saw seven cows, lean and starved, mere skin and bones, with big horns
and long ears. They came to me one after the other. They opened their
mouths and tried to swallow me. Suddenly, there appeared my friend
Benny. He took hold of their long ears, and twisted them round. Some
one was crying softly, sobbing, wailing, howling, and chirping. A man
stood near me. He was not a human being. He said to me softly:
Tell me, son, on which day do you recite the mourner's prayer for
I understood that this was my father of whom my mother had told me
so many good things. I wanted to tell him the day on which I must say
the mourner's prayer for him, but I had forgotten it. I fretted myself.
I rubbed my forehead, and tried to remind myself of the day, but I
could not. Did you ever hear the like? I forgot the day of the
anniversary of my father's death. Listen, Jewish children, can you not
tell me when the day is? Why are you silent? Help! Help! Help!
* * *
God be with you! Why are shouting? Why do you shriek? What is the
matter with you? May the Lord preserve you!
You will understand it was my mother who was speaking to me. She
held my head. I could feel her trembling and shaking. The lowered lamp
gave out no light, but an oppressive stench. I saw my mother's shadow
dancing on the wall. The points of the kerchief she wore on her head
were like two horns. Her eyes gleamed horribly in the darkness.
When do I say the mourner's prayer, mother? Tell me, when do I say
the mourner's prayer?
God be with you! The anniversary of your father's death was not
long ago. You have had a bad dream. Spit out three times. Tfu! Tfu!
Tfu! May it be for a good sign! Amen! Amen! Amen!
* * *
Children, I grew up, and Benny grew up. He became a young man with a
yellowish beard and a round belly. He wears a gold chain across it. It
seems he is a rich man.
We met in the train. I recognized him by his fishy, bulging eyes and
his scattered teeth. We had not met for a long time. We kissed one
another and talked of the good old times, the dear good days of our
childhood, and the foolish things we did then.
Do you remember, Benny, that 'Chanukah' when you won
everything with the spinning top? The G always fell for you.
I looked at Benny. He was convulsed with laughter. He held his
sides. He was rolling over. He was actually choking with laughter.
God be with you, Benny! Why this sudden burst of laughter, Benny?
Oh! he cried, oh! go away with your spinning-top! That was a good
top. It was a real top. It was a pudding made only of suet. It was a
stew of nothing but raisins.
What sort of a top was it, Benny? Tell me quicker.
It was a top that had all around it, on all the corners only the
one letter, G.