My mother / Sarah Barkan Zilberman

Updated: Jun 6

From the book "VEGN ZICH UN AYKH” ("About myself and you") p. 30


//Avishai Lubitch//



A hard time awaited my mother when we, her daughters, entered the "labor movement." Thousands of Jewish mothers and fathers experienced the same experiences. "it’s nothing for us, all we want is to overthrow the Tsar" said the children who joined the movement. Our parents laughed at our use of "we": “Look at them they want to overthrow the Tsar.”

Our mother did not laugh at us. She was just shaking with fear of what would happen to the girls. She pampered us and could bring her daughters a cup of tea to the factory or a cup of milk. She was widowed at age 30 and suffered all her life. And here her daughters go late at night to revolutionary gatherings.


Once, she went to talk to the teacher, a friend of Dad's, to consult him. (He died in Vilnius several years ago). And he asked us why we do not respect our mother. And he told us, "If your father were alive, maybe he would be like you, but Mom is weak and poor" and only later did she told us why she went to talk about us with Tsitron. Slowly, gradually, she came to terms with the new worries, more or less. A new life began for her.


All sorts of educated people started frequenting our home. We learned to write short letters from the educated daughters of the rich people, who began to associate with us.


Every time a meeting was held at home, mom would carry a silent prayer for the well-being of her daughters and the others. She was glued to the room where the meeting was held. Sometimes she would even go to a neighbor Tsippe Rive to talk to her to distract her mind. But she had to peek all the time to know not to talk too much. Before the meeting ended, mother would sit in the corner and tremble with sadness in her eyes. She waited for them to leave the house. All the members of the assembly knew her by name. She cooked for them and made them tea. And all while trembling and a silent prayer on her lips. Then she sat down by the window, waiting for us. Her little back bent more, the big eyes narrowed as in the cat lying with the puppies and noticing the dog. On the one hand she was happy that things were happening in her house, so she was able to take care of us. And she was indeed on guard.


After the first failed revolution, our home became a hiding place. The room was full, no one worked. There were those who were pardoned when the constitution was announced. But then they were arrested again.


Mom would go to the market and bring potatoes and herring. One day she came back from the market in a panic, with her hands on her chest, shouting: "Kozaks outside!"


Everything was turned upside down. Many fled through the window. And we peeked through the door and saw the soldiers and collaborators passing by the house, we heard shouting and crying. Mother looked at us in fear, suddenly she called out to us: "My girls, we must give everything we have at home, and run away. Run away, save yourselves." We, the sisters, as if sentenced to death, heard the approaching steps. Where at all can we find refuge? How can we leave Mom with all the illegal things we had at home?


Suddenly she took a table, pinned it to the wall and began to climb to the attic and received lioness’ powers, when we were paralyzed with fear, we feared for our lives. "Where are you climbing, what are you looking for?" We asked her. " it is impossible to reach the courtyard from there "! “I know what is upstairs”, she shouted from the attic. A few minutes later she crawled from BOYDEM with a package of leaflets and books and glue. "Mom, where are you going?" We stopped her at the door. Her hands trembled, as she covered all the things with a tablecloth and put pretzels and cookies on them. She put the handkerchief over her head and left. My sister and I were stunned. We could not stop her.


“I'll go with mother”; my sister Nehama jumped out of the door.


Mom said “no, girls”, and demanded that we stay home. After an hour she returned running. The basket is empty, the room is turned upside down from the search for the Kozaks and came out of hiding.


Mother recounted: When I came out with the basket full of prey and abomination, my heart was pounding like a hammer of Khayim the locksmith, and I prayed to your dead father to help us get through this murderous happening. Then a Kozak comes and bends over the horse he is riding, and asks: What are you selling, Zhidovka? I wanted to throw the trash and cookies at the Kozak, and then I realized he was faster than me.


"I sell bagels, take for free".

"I gave it to him and ran away."

" Where did you run away to? And where are all the things you took with you?" We asked.


"That's not my concern." She smiled a smile of luck, laughter on her face. "I hid in the women’s section in the synagogue."


My sister and I watched Mom figure out how to organize everything and fix all the damage the Kozaks had done in the search. And we felt so small compared to her greatness.


I remember my dead mother and I think of hundreds of thousands of such mothers, anonymous, who helped promote tomorrow and the new morning.


Sara Barkan Zilberman was born in 1884 in DVINSK (Daugavpils), Latvia. She arrived in America in 1907. She started publishing in 1911 in Forverts, Frayhayt, Hamer and other left newspapers and jurnals. Published several books. "VEGN ZICH UN AYKH” appeared in 1949. She passed on 15/12/1957 in New-York.


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