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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): The Jewish Farmer (Zalmen Pt. 9)

The Jewish Farmer (Der yidisher farmer)

from Zalmen the Cobbler: Chapters about his 70 years of Life in America (Zalmen der shuster: kapitlen vegn zayne zibtsik yor lebn in Amerike) by Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder). Los Angeles: Chaver-Paver Book Committee, 1955: 231-234.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

You probably recall from the earlier chapters that on my travels to Los Angeles I met a young man on the train with black, fiery eyes, a tuft of black hair, of average height, broad-shouldered, who was traveling with his diseased lungs to California to become a farmer.
He could not become a farmer right away, because he simply did not have the means. It took him a couple of hard-working years to save up five hundred dollars. He paid two hundred and fifty dollars for five acres of land, and with the other two hundred and fifty he undertook to build a cottage.
He began to build the cottage with his own hands. From time to time, he hired a carpenter for a day or two. I would to go out there sometimes on a Sunday to help him as much as I could. He would often have coughing fits during the work and spit into a handkerchief. But as soon as the coughing passed, he would again take enthusiastically to his work with his ax or his hammer, singing songs. He knew a world of songs, mostly Russian.
The land on which he built the cottage was surrounded by miles of fields and a few farmhouses here and there and, surrounding them — mountains.
Having built the house, he brought over his family, and took to cultivating the land. But he didn’t have the money left to buy a plow. A neighboring farmer, a Scot, had an old plow and lent it to him. He began to work with it, but it didn’t work. Another neighbor, also a farmer, driving by, examined the plow and said, that it was no good, because the handles were loose and shook and they could not be fixed.
I remember that he sat there on the plow, his head in hands, looking terribly lost. But it didn’t last too long. His great stubbornness and great conviction took hold of him again, and he harnessed his horse to his wagon and we both got in and travelled to the little town nearby, Ontario.
We travelled past homesteads, stopped and asked about where we might rent a plow, but no one had any extra plows to rent out. But he did not despair, he tried other streets, until we noticed somewhere in a yard an old plow with good handles. He asked the farmer to rent out the plow. Declared the other, an Irishman:
“Would I take money from you for an old plow? You take it and work with it as much as you need, and bring it back, and you don’t need to pay me anything.”
The kindness of the Irish farmer gave Nadison a boost of courage, and we drove back to his field and with much fervor he sang songs the entire way. Upon arrival at his field, he immediately began plowing. The plow was dull, but he sat down on it, actually forcing it, the plow, to dig into the earth.
I headed home at dusk and left him behind soaked in sweat, still moving the plow over his field. It was the first time in his life that he plowed the earth. On the way home I kept thinking of him, and the scene of a diseased-lunged man treading over a field with a plow that was harnessed to a horse, could not leave my consciousness.
A couple of months later, I again rode out to him on a Sunday, and his fields were
already in bloom. He led me around with a big smile and showed me the plantings. “Here ,” he said, “grow radishes, here tomatoes, here beans, here sweet potatoes.”
It wasn’t so easy — he told me — to live to see how the earth presents him its blessings. And all because of inexperience and chiefly because of lack of money. He had read many journals about agriculture but it there was no mention anywhere that when one does plow up earth that is covered in grass, you have to cover the grass with soil. That year it rained a lot, and the land was covered with high grass; in plowing the field he had failed to remove a lot of grass from the field above the soil and the grass grew over it again.
And in many, many more instances, at each step and at every turn, this Nadison fellow faced difficulties but he did not give up and with more effort and with more perseverance he went on.
When the cucumbers and radishes had ripened, he picked a substantial bit, put them in the wagon and went down to the little town to try to sell them to the housewives.
“I entered into the little town like this” Nadison told me, “and a woman stopped me and asked me if I would sell her a little bit of radishes and cucumbers from my wagon. Quite a question: would I sell some to her! She bought them for only ten cents, but those ten cents were to me so dear, that I burst into tears. The first ten cents for my farmer’s toil...”
Years passed, many years. This Nadison fellow become one of the most successful farmers in the area. His fortune grew; whatever he turned to in the area of farming, it was met with luck and blessings. If he sowed sweet potatoes, they yielded a big harvest; when he turned to asparagus, and he was really the first in the area who to grow asparagus, it turned out well.
But he was not satisfied with all going well. Of the blessings that the earth gave him he contributed broadly to social and cultural institutions.
He is almost as old as I, and don’t forget that his lungs were gravely ill. And always when I meet him now, I am reminded of that Sunday, when he went with that dull plow over his field and by his desire and effort physically forced the dull plow to dig up the earth...
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