My Mother’s Family — Part 4

They were unable to live with the three women in the dilapidated Arab house on the neighbor’s land so they rented a room at the German colony in Jaffa. They used to walk from Jaffa to Sumeil every morning so as to work on their land and return to Jaffa at night. They did not have a horse so they hired a horse from a German of Sarona called Weinemann. This gentile helped them a lot. He was deeply impressed and astonished when he saw these five Jews working 16 hours a day, six days a week without having the slightest knowledge about agriculture. They sawed and planted all kind of different vegetables and fruit during the wrong season, during winter, and they were all washed away by the rain without leaving a trace. During spring the large black ants used to carry away the lentils which they left too long to ripen while they should have been picked before they ripened. Weinemann used to stand at the side of the field watching them and say: “I would not give one pinch of tobacco for all your toil.” And yet he gave them a lot of advice and supported them in their work. Not far from there, towards the Yarkon river, there was a large swamp full of anopheles mosquitoes. It did not take long before all five of them became seriously ill with malaria fever. And yet between the fever attacks they used to go out to the field and continue working.

The diary of my great-grandfather, Dov Schönberg, which covers these eight months of hard-labour, describes the persistence and devoutness of these people to their target. Despite hunger and illness they did not give up their dream: To turn from city craftsmen to country farmers and live off the land which they cultivate rather than return to the crafts and business with which Jews dealt in the diaspora. Every time when they were forced to ask my grandfather to go back and do some work as a goldsmith so as to earn enough money to keep them from starving and to pay back their miserly debts they considered it a disaster and shame and did all they could so as to enable him to return from his workshop to the field as soon as possible.

Although they were not successful of their toil, although their meager crops were hardly enough to feed them, although the expenses were greater than the income and forced them to take small loans time and time again yet they did not only stop to plant and seed but built a house, dug a well and Moritz even produced by himself a large wheel which was turned by a horse and drew the water from the well. Finally they even bought a horse for 6.5 Gold Napoleons.

When times got worse they used to go to a usurer in Jaffa, a Sephardi Jew named Cohen who used to lend money at an exorbitant interest. Whenever the time came for him to get his money back he used to come to the “farm” and was not satisfied by getting back principal and interest but used to take a tithe of produce such as ten marrows or a another amount of vegetables or fruit as well (for he was a Priest).

Before he ever went to borrow Dov Schönberg sold and mortgaged everything he owned including the Sabath candlesticks which were antique silver candlesticks. But when nothing remained to be mortgaged and hunger grew worse there remained no other means but to go see the usurer. Once they came to the Sephardi Jew to ask for a loan although the interest was much higher than the conventional and legal interest was at that time. So as to conceal the exorbitant interest, mainly due to religious reasons, Cohen dated the promissory-note 4 months earlier instead of the actual date of that day and when Dov Schönberg asked him why he was stealing 4 months negative interest – the usurer approached the mezuzah, kissed it fervently and swore: “I swear by the mezuzah that the money has been lying in my chest for four months without being touched.”

Their economical situation became so bad that in June 1884 Moritz went back to Jaffa to work as a goldsmith. He used to walk from Sumeil to Jaffa as soon as the sun rose and returned walking as soon as it set and instead of going to bed he used to go out to the field and work in the dark until he used to collapse on a stack of barley and fall asleep. Although he earned some money from his work it was not enough to satisfy the debtors and keep the family from hunger. There was not much business at Jaffa and the trinkets which people used to order from the goldsmith were mostly cheap.

Early in July Moritz sailed back to Alexandria and found a lot of remunerative work due to the excellent connections which he made there in the past. He used to send almost all the money he made to his family and lived sparingly. In Alexandria a German pharmacist gave him some quinine mixed in some fortified-wine and cured him from his malaria fever. His cure did not last long for as soon as he returned to Sumeil he was bitten again by anopheles mosquitoes and became ill again with malaria.

My grandfather Moritz spent four months in Alexandria when he received a telegram telling him that his father Dov Schönberg died on November 7, 1884 at the age of 40, apparently from heat-stroke. He returned home immediately and found the three women in deep mourning and in dire penury in a house which was broken open to wind and trouble.

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