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In the evening of the first day my father conducted us to the public baths.
– Mary Antin
The first meal was an object lesson of much variety. My father produced several kinds of food, ready to eat, without any cooking, from little tin cans that had printing all over them.
The czar was always sending us commands – you shall not do this and you shall not do that – till there was very little left that we might do, except pay tribute and die.
No, the czar did not want us in the schools.
One positive command he gave us: You shall love and honor your emperor. In every congregation a prayer must be said for the czar’s health, or the chief of police would close the synagogue.
You went up to be examined with the other Jewish children, your heart heavy about that matter of your nose.
There was one public school for boys, and one for girls, but Jewish children were admitted in limited numbers – only ten to a hundred; and even the lucky ones had their troubles.
The apex of my civic pride and personal contentment was reached on the bright September morning when I entered the public school.
If education, culture, the higher life were shining things to be worshiped from afar, he had still a means left whereby he could draw one step nearer to them.
You heard on all sides that the brightest Jewish children were turned down if the examining officers did not like the turn of their noses.
On a royal birthday every house must fly a flag, or the owner would be dragged to a police station and be fined twenty-five rubles.
We are not born all at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later; and the birth and growth of the spirit, in those who are attentive to their own inner life, are slow and exceedingly painful.
As we moved along in a little procession, I was delighted with the illumination of the streets. So many lamps, and they burned until morning, my father said, and so people did not need to carry lanterns.
His struggle for a bare living left him no time to take advantage of the public evening school. In time he learned to read, to follow a conversation or lecture; but he never learned to write correctly; and his pronunciation remains extremely foreign to this day.
The czar always got his dues, no matter if it ruined a family.
Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth.