I fled from Siberia. I had already completed a four-week trip by horse and sled over the entire length of the Lena river. I came to a point where I could no longer travel over the smooth ice. It was already the end of winter. In places the ice over the river had begun to melt a bit, covering itself with a layer of water.
Furthermore, I was about to approach the great city of Irkutsk. A few hundred vyorst still remained for me to gather myself there, to the Irkutsk station, from where I could travel by train to European Russia.
Should I risk going directly to Irkutsk? But there at the station one can easily be arrested. Should I take a detour through a long, great forest? Traveling through the forest would take about seven days. But if one makes it through this difficult journey, one comes to a small sidelined train station. There, with a lot less danger, one can board the train.
I decided to travel through this very forest. A good opportunity came to me: a caravan of peasant draymen bringing goods to the point at Lake Lena (where I had been) ― and traveling afterwards with an empty wagon through this very forest ― the caravan would bring me to a village, not far from my desired station. I saw in this a true sign of luck. The peasants gladly took me on for a very small fee. They considered me to be one of them, as a Siberian resident. I was dressed like they were — Siberian and winterly.
They warned me that I should expect a difficult trip. The frozen earth becomes a little softened by day, but during the night it freezes again. So the way through the forest pokes and jostles. The wheels jump. pitch and shake out our soul. I prepared my bones for the shaking to come.
The peasants had reminded me that their Easter is coming. Their talk reminded me that it is shortly before Passover. So I again calculated the time, a calculation that I completely forgot during my traveling. I figured out that I would arrive at the village we sought the first day of Passover. I was seized by a feeling of longing for Passover, a longing which I had already for for years not felt so sharply as I had felt while traveling with the peasant caravan in the depth of the forest. It had stretched into a terrible trip. Only the strength of youth could endure it.
We arrived at the desired village around midday. I rested in one of the peasants' home. Afterwards, I let myself out to look over the village in order to find out how to get to the train station, a few vyorst from the village.
The day was a cold one, a cloudy northern one. The little street of the village was hard and deeply covered with ice. All alone, I was filled with unrest. Who knows if the coming train, which must pass through not far from here in the middle of the night, would take me on? That's all I would need ― yet more weeks aboard a wagon, exactly when reaching the desired station — then failure! That's all that I would need.
And where would I be able to go inside to change into my hidden European suit, which I am carrying folded in my pack? Whom can I trust? I come to the end of the village. But I see no path; it's snow all about, ice and emptiness. Frozen, sad vastness, and not a living soul in sight.
I turn back, stride again across the village. I suddenly see a Russian sign above the door of a small house. This is a store.
I rejoice. Perhaps I will be able to buy something for myself.
I go to the door, try opening it. The door doesn't open. It is locked. I try to knock. A woman comes out, who appears to be about forty years old, and asks in Russian what I need. I answer that I would like to buy something. The woman says:
― Today we're not selling. Today is our Jewish Passover. And she wants to close the door. She obviously doesn't know how my heart leapt. I answer in Yiddish: ― If so, let me in for sure! I'm also a Jew. A traveler. Don't let me into your store, rather into your home, to you.
The woman brightened up and called out in Yiddish: David, David, we have a guest for Passover, a Jew!
And at once her husband ran to the door ― tall, healthy, with a little black beard.
― Come in, come in ! ― With even greater cheer he called out ― Come in, you are a cherished guest. When do we ever see a Jew ? Come in. It is Passover, isn't it ?
In his speech talk happiness rang out, happiness from luck, from unexpected luck.
And the word "Jew" enveloped me in warmth. Out in the sticks, in such a God-forsaken place, in such a frozen desolation.
Before me stood two people; I don't need to know what and who they are. Likewise, they don't need to know who and what I am. It's enough that we are Jews, that the man and woman, as well as I, should feel like family, joined by one fate. My coming to their home came over me like a true miracle. I became so perplexed from this unexpected luck, that I didn't notice crossing the threshold. I suddenly saw myself sitting at a table between two sincere people, who had looked at me with such joy as if I had been a newly found son of theirs, or a brother just arrived.
The table was soon laden with refreshments, with wine, and with snacks. We celebrated together the Passover holiday meal. From the conversation of this couple, I learned that they have been living as exiles in this little village for about ten years already. They have no children. Why they had been exiled they did not tell me, and I, naturally, did not ask.
I understood that they were not political exiles. Nevertheless I felt free and at home there, and I told them that I must come to the train station at night, and I have to change my clothes. I was certain that not only would they do me no harm, but that they would faithfully help me to the station.
They, with joy, expressed their desire to escort me to the station. With even more joy they greeted me when I had changed into my European suit. They were delighted in the way my appearance had changed. They did not ask me any questions. They were full of anxiety about my future fate.
I spent time with them until late at night, and I truly rested up. None of the peasants had tried to enter. They all knew that for the only Jews in the little village it is Passover, that the Jew is observing his holiday.
As for me, this isolation was just what I wanted. The whole day I couldn't get my fill of the marvel of meeting up. I am still full of the feeling: Whatever distant place you might go, you find a Jew, and in a Jew's eyes you recognize the light of your luck.
That night, they accompanied me to the station. There the train would stop only if the solitary watchman, who also sold tickets, would signal. They suggested it would be better if they accompany me only to the small station, but I should enter the station itself alone.
We separated, we said our farewells. I accepted their blessings, and they ― my thanks.
When I got to the station, the sky was full of stars. The air wasn't too cold. I strode and pondered luck, the coincidence of Passover, Jew, and my very last day in the Siberian wilderness. And a thought pursued me with brilliance: To whatever ends of the earth you come, you find a Jew! The certainty strengthened in me that I would avoid train spies and that my journey would end with success, with freedom.