My Father’s Family — Part 2

Time passed and Moshe Abarbanel grew up and received an excellent education, which was different from the education received by most Jewish children at that time for after spending his early years at the Jewish Heder he was sent to the municipal school of Lyozna and in addition to that his father engaged a private teacher, a Sephardi Jew, to teach Moshe Hebrew and be able to speak Hebrew with a Sephardi pronunciation.

When Moshe Abarbanel came of age the matchmakers of Lyozna, having made serious investigations, recommended that he travel to Ekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk) in the Ukraine and meet with the family of Haim-Yoel Paysahov who had a Chocolate and Sweets factory. The chocolate which they were producing was considered the best produced in Russia during that period and was sold in large quantity even as far as the sweet-shops of Sankt-Petersburg.

Haim-Yoel Paysahov had two daughters. The eldest of the two, Yehudit, was the match for Moshe Abarbanel. A sumptuous wedding was arranged and as usual the new couple went on living with the bride’s parents. Ten months later Yehudit was about to give birth to her first baby. The birth was difficult and became complicated. Both the mother and the baby were in danger and the best doctors were called to assist the midwife. A last minute cesarean operation was performed but unfortunately both Yehudit and the newborn died.

There was great sorrow during the seven days mourning. Moshe Abarbanel remained with the Paysahov family for the laying of the tombstone ceremony at the end of one month’s mourning. He was heartbroken and quite shaken by the terrible birth of his first born and the death of his young wife. The Paysahov family did their best to console him and Haim-Yoel proposed that he take his second daughter, Haya, in marriage. She was younger. A tall and very handsome girl who was also very literate. In 1900 Moshe Abarbanel and Haya Paysahov were married and went on living with the family. At the end of the year Haim-Yoel Paysahov counselled Moshe Abarbanel to move with his bride Haya to Pavlograd (75 kilometers north-east of Ekaterinoslav) and take hold of a large Chocolate and Sweet Shop which belonged to the family.

The young couple moved to Pavlograd and in 1901 Haya Abarbanel gave birth to their first son whom they named Haim. Moshe Abarbanel was not very satisfied with being the owner and manager of a Sweet-Shop and Pavlograd did not charm the young Abarbanel family and so in 1902 they moved north along the river Dneper to the city of Kremenchug where Moshe went into the textile business and established a large shop selling cloth of different kinds and used for clothing, drapery etc’. He was a gifted businessman and his business was the largest and best-known cloth business in the district. So much so that the gentile businessmen of Kremenchug asked him to join their club. In 1903 Haya gave birth to a second son. He was given the name of Zeev-Wladimir (his Russian friends used to call him Valodia).

The two boys, two years apart went to a Jewish Heder and were then taught by private teachers. Their father, Moshe Abarbanel wanted to enlist them at the best school which existed in Kremenchug but this threw him into a quandary. In Russia, during this period if a Jewish person wanted to send his son to school he had to pay double tuition-fee which would cover the tuition of his son as well as the tuition of a gentile boy. (This law was called: Numerus Clausus.) This would mean that in order to enlist his two boys in school he would have to pay tuition-fee for four boys. The sum did not present a problem to Moshe Abarbanel. He had more than enough money. It was the principle of this matter: it was bad business, and the smell of antisemitism irked him. He knew that he could send both his sons to the best school in Switzerland or any other country in Europe, schools which were superior to the Russian schools, for the same sum of money if not slightly less. Many Jewish families in Russia which had the financial means did indeed send their children abroad. But for Moshe Abarbanel this was not the only quandary.

During the last quarter of the 19th century the emancipated Jews of Russia who were impressed and swayed by Theodore Herzl and the Zionist Movement which resulted and was formed along his sayings and writings – formed a movement named BYLU which urged Jews to move to Palestine where Baron Rothchild and Baron Hirsch purchased large tracts of land.

Palestine at that time was a vilayet (district) of Syria which was but a small part of the huge Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. At the head of this Empire ruled Sultan Abdul-Hamid the 2nd who was nicknamed by the rest of the world: “The sick man of Europe”. The Ottoman rule and Administration was corrupt and villainous and the Sultans were always in need of money which they loaned from every other European monarch as early as Louis the XIV, King of France. The rulers of Europe demanded capitulations in return.

Capitulations meant that citizens of countries which had lent money to the Sultan were not ruled by Ottoman (Turkish) law.They were ruled by their Diplomatic representative, usually a Consul who applied the law of the state which he represented. For Russian Jews this was a far better situation than they had in Russia. Here they turned from second-class to first-class Russian citizens. Capitulations encouraged Jews with Zionist aspirations to move to their fatherland and settle.

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