After a few more unpleasant incidents, in which strangers from various government agencies entered the yard, R. Bentcha thought of a better location for us during the summer: the cellar of the house that we learned in.

The cellar was neglected, and it was fullIt was full of garbage, dust and manure of garbage, dust, and manure, previously having been used as a stable for horses and donkeys. But it was an excellent place for our studies, with many advantages over the room we had been using. First of all, nobody would suspect that anyone was down in the dark, dingy cellar. Additionally, one side of the cellar had two windows with bars, one of which faced the gate of the yard, letting in a broad stream of sunlight that enabled us to read, and allowing us to see any intruder approaching the yard. The second window faced the parallel street. This was of great benefit, because if it was necessary to flee, we could easily climb out the window onto the street. And finally, the two opposite windows created a draft that cooled the cellar

It happened more than once that we used the second window as a means of escape. In doing so, we would scratch our hands on the nails and metal in the window panes, making them bleed. But we children were very satisfied with the new place. It was cool and pleasant and for us, and our new underground hideaway exuded a certain mystique.

The author outside of the Mishulovin home, where the secret cheder was held.
The author outside of the Mishulovin home, where the secret cheder was held.

To prepare the cellar for learning, R. Bentcha hired someone to clean it up. Out of concern that the intended purpose of the cellar would be discovered, R. Bentche warned us that he was not to be approached or asked any questions while the cleaner was there. In the midst of the cleanup operation I forgot his warning and went over to R. Bentcha, and, addressing him with the traditional title for teachers of cheder, asked in a whisper, “Rebbi, we’ll learn here?” R. Bentcha became very angry at me and he yelled at me to leave.

I immediately realized myI immediately realized my mistake mistake, especially my reference to him as Rebbi, but R. Bentche decided to make sure that I would never make a similar mistake. When the fellow had left and we sat down to learn, he scolded me firmly and said, “I warned you not to mention our learning and you shouted: Rebbi, we’ll learn here? Rebbi, we’ll play here? Rebbi, we’ll eat here?” That was enough of a lesson for me and from then on I learned how to keep a secret.