Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Yerusholayim Under Siege --
Cast Your Dry Bread...

by Yisca Shimony

Part I

The year 5709 was a post War of Independence year. Residents in Eretz Yisroel suffered great shortages in food and staples, as well as lack of funds, and all were called to act frugally and to tighten their belts. Food stamps were issued according to the size of families, enabling them to purchase rationed supplies of the most necessary items.

These strict conditions reminded us of the stories of European concentration camps and of the hunger and scarcity of W.W.II.

Attempts to increase food and to stretch it were made in every home and the black market flourished. As it appeared impossible to survive on the food stamps alone, a new idea was formed: Stores of Dollar Certificates (certifikatim) were opened and people tried to obtain this currency on the black market in order to purchase certificates. It was often impossible to buy these and the general mood was oppressive.

This situation prevailed in the Shimony household. The term `hunger ration' was always in the forefront and the post W.W. stories brought to mind sad reminders.

Father Shimony was an excellent storyteller, and having been born before W.W.I, he chose to tell us about the experiences he recalled of food scarcity during war time, and of other tzoros.

He sat us down one Shabbos afternoon and told us the following tale:


"There is no more flour at home," said Keila to her husband, Moishe. "Tomorrow is Shabbos," she added. R' Moishe was busy studying with his two young sons, since they were short of money to pay a rebbe. He heard her, but didn't raise his head from the sefer, He frowned, however, and pondered: Where was he going to find flour for challos?

"There's no flour left," Keila repeated, a bit louder, "and tomorrow is Shabbos." She was sure he hadn't heard her the first time.

R' Moishe stood up and walked over to the pantry, moved the bulky breakfront aside which hid the front of the closet, covering it from covetous eyes, especially the eyes of hungry Turkish soldiers. He began searching high and low, but indeed, there was no flour in sight. Instead, he found a jar of oil, a small cloth bag of sugar and some salt. But no flour.

"I must barter some of these items for flour," he thought. "I have to see who has some and is willing to trade."

"Shimon, go to R' Mechel and borrow some flour," he said, handing a snowy white cloth bag to the boy, making sure there was no hole in it. The boy ran off but returned soon with the sad answer, "They don't have any..."

"Then go to R' Zalman's. They might have some. Tell them I'll try to return the flour right after Shabbos." He sped off but returned quickly. "They don't have any, either."

"What, now? To whom shall I turn?" he sighed. "Oy, Hashem, help me out of this dilemma!"

Just then, R' Nesanel, a friend and neighbor, walked into the house. "I heard you need flour. I can spare some for you."

R' Moishe sighed with relief. "I can exchange it for some oil, if I can't find any flour to give back," he said. That Shabbos, R' Moishe and his family ate challos, but the portions were scant.

R' Moishe and his friend, R' Zalman, decided that it was time to do something about the scarcity. They followed their noses and entered homes where they detected the smell of bread freshly baking. They brought along large white sacks and told the people to spare some as maaser for the poor. Slowly, their bags filled with the leftover dried crusts, and lines formed at their homes with the many starving people. Each was given a few crusts.

Happily, enthusiastically, these ran off to tell their friends and neighbors and the line grew longer and longer. At the end of an hour, there was nothing left.

"I have six children at home and we haven't tasted bread for a few days. We live on a soup made of chizbeh grass, which a neighbor recommended as being nourishing," said one young mother, her eyes streaming with tears.

R' Zalman turned his sack inside out and found a few crumbs and three slices of dry bread. Dina walked off happily to feed her children the dear commodity of dry bread and crumbs.

To the long line that formed each time there was bread to give out, were added Turkish soldiers. They, too, lacked bread and would go from door to door begging, "Ek mek," or "Give some bread." The war was raging, roads were blocked, flour was scarce. And the starved soldiers took what they could find by threat and force.

R' Moishe and R' Zalman were involved in a sort of game, trying to distribute the meager donations of crusts while avoiding the soldiers before they discovered the bread line.

Summer ended and winter approached. Kislev brought rain and freezing weather. R' Moishe and R' Zalman continued scavenging for bread but this was now a dark, hard bread made from a barley flour called dura, in times of peace, feed for goats and hens. Now it was sold for high prices and few could afford it. When these black, hard slices reached the poor, no one complained. The teeth of the elderly and the young children could hardly chew it, and the indigestible stuff was hard on weak stomachs, but what could they do?

The two men decided to collect tea, as well, to warm the frozen and hungry people. In one of the cellars they created a `tea and bread house' where the hardtack could be soaked in the hot drink.

People prayed for the war to end but things grew worse. The streets were deserted, and those who dared venture out were kidnapped by Turkish soldiers and drafted into the army. Special soldiers were brought from Turkey for this job, recognizable by their green berets. Many of the men siezed thus died at war. They never returned home and their wives remained agunos. Their children were unable to say Kaddish for them.

The men went into hiding -- under roofs, in dark cellars. Some went off to Egypt, stowing away on army trains or boats. Some were exempted, but not for long.

R' Moishe was walking along near Jaffa Gate one day when he was stopped by a soldier with a green hat. There was no one about but he felt secure; he had an exemption issued by the Austro-Hungarian embassy. He handed it over to the soldier.

The soldier glanced it blankly. He couldn't read. Nor could R' Moishe explain; he didn't know Turkish. The soldier grabbed him and dragged him off to the Kishle prison near the Jaffa Gate. He was thrown into a dark basement room, crowded with Arab criminals of the lowest sort. It was Friday, and he knew his wife would be worrying. Who would learn with his boys?

He stood by the small barred window, helpless and hungry. "Only Hashem can help me," he wept, and began reciting Tehillim. Soon his beard was soaked...

"R' Moishe! R' Moishe!" a voice came from above, as though a call from Heaven. He looked up and saw R' Nesanel by the ground-level window. "We're collecting money to free you. We hope to get you out before Shabbos."

"How did you know I was in prison?" he asked later, after his release.

"One of the children whom you once fed saw you being grabbed by the soldier and taken to the Kishle. He came and told us. A real case of shlach lachmecha, `Cast your bread...' But next time, R' Moishe, please be more careful and don't walk the streets in mid-day!"

[Final part next week. "Locust Eggs by the Pound."


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