S. Libin (Israel Hurwitz) (1872-1955)
Israel Hurwitz, better known by his pseudonym, S. (or Z.) Libin, was born in Russia in 1872. He wrote a number of short stories, having specialized to a great extent in that form. Libin’s best work is found in his brief and homely sketches of Jewish domestic life among the labouring classes of the large cities. He was for many years a resident in the United States.
A Picnic reveals one of the amusing aspects of Jewish life. It is related with lightness of touch and great good-humour.
This story is reprinted from the volume, Yiddish Tales, translated by Helena Frank, copyright, 1912, by the Jewish Publication Society of America, by whose permission, it is here used.
Ask Shmuel, the capmaker, just for a joke, if he would like to come for a picnic! He’ll fly out at you as if you had invited him to a swing on the gallows. The fact is, he and his Sarah once went for a picnic, and the poor man will remember it all his days.
It was on a Sabbath towards the end of August! Shmuel came home from work, and said to his wife:
“Well, husband?” was her reply.
“I want to have a treat,” said Shmuel, as though alarmed at the boldness of the idea.
“What sort of a treat? Shall you go to the swimming-bath tomorrow?”
“Ett! What’s the fun of that?”
“Then, what have you thought of by way of an exception? A glass of ice water for supper?”
“Not that, either.”
“A whole siphon?”
Shmuel denied with a shake of the head.
“Whatever can it be!” wondered Sarah. “Are you going to fetch a pint of beer?”
“What should I want with beer?”
“Are you going to sleep on the roof?”
“To buy some more carbolic acid, and drive out the bugs?”
“Not a bad idea,” observed Shmuel, “but that is not it, either.” “Well, then, whatever is it, for goodness’ sake! The moon?” asked Sarah, beginning to lose patience. “What have you been and thought of? Tell me once for all, and have done with it!”
And Shmuel said:
“Sarah, you know, we belong to a Judge.”
“Of course I do!” and Sarah gave him a look of mingled astonishment and alarm. “It’s not more than a week since you took a whole dollar there, and I’m not likely to have forgotten what it cost you to make it up.
What is the matter now? Do they want another?”
“Out with it!”
“I—want us, Sarah,” stammered Shmuel,—“to go for a picnic.” “A picnic!” screamed Sarah. “Is that the only thing you have left to wish for?”
“Look here, Sarah, we toil and moil the whole year through. It’s nothing but trouble and worry, trouble and worry. Call that living! When do we ever have a bit of pleasure?”
“Well, what’s to be done?” said his wife, in a subdued tone.
“The summer will soon be over, and we haven’t set eyes on a green blade of grass. We sit day and night sweating in the dark.”
“True enough,” sighed his wife, and Shmuel spoke louder:
“Let us have an outing, Sarah. Let us enjoy ourselves for once, and give the children a breath of fresh air, let us have a change, if it’s only for five minutes!”