A Tale from Tarpiluvka


Photo of Great-Uncle Moishe (He is the small boy on the bench, surrounded by family members, taken in Europe around the turn of the 20th century.)

Synopsis of a A Tale from Tarpiluvka
by Ellen Sue Spicer-Jacobson © 2007
Illustrated by Penny Gaskin

Setting: Who would not be moved by the plight of parents who had to send their children away in order to save them? Why would parents do this? Because in mid-19th century Russia, young Jewish boys were conscripted into the Russian army for 25 years, losing their Jewish identities and also possibly losing their lives.

Plot & Main Characters: To save their sons from a fate they considered unbearable, Benjamin and Sara made the heart-wrenching decision to send their sons, Baruch and Mendel, across the frozen Sanbir River to Tarpiluvka, separating Russia from Galicia (Austria-Hungary), possibly never to see them again. They prayed they would be safe in Galicia. Fortunately, an older Jewish couple, Moishe and Simcha Speiser, with no children of their own, took them in and adopted them, considering the boys a miracle from God. They raised the boys as their own and gave them their name, Speiser.

Theme: A Tale from Tarpiluvka is a fictional version of this true story of my great-great grandparents, told to me by my Great-Uncle Moishe Speiser, not too long before he died. I felt compelled to put this story down on paper as a legacy for my own children. However, after sharing this with Judith Scarani, an artist and a teacher at Perelman Jewish Day School, a private school outside of Philadelphia, a children’s story was born. It is a story of sacrifice and heartache, but also one of hope and renewal. The story is couched in today’s world, when Leah interviews her grandfather about her mother’s family in Europe.

Conflict: A Tale from Tarpiluvka is a heart-warming and heart-rending story that will help children find a deeper meaning about life and will also appeal to parents who read to their children. The conflict is twofold: the first one involves Benjamin’s and Sarah’s joint decision to send their children away to save them. The second one is the mixed feeling the Speisers have about keeping the children as their own.

Major Scenes: The first major scene is the Sabbath, when the children are told they must leave their home. The children are mortified and terrified at the same time, but they follow their parents’ instructions. The other major scene is when the boys cross the river to Tarpiluvka and are being pursued by Russian soldiers looking for runaways. The boys encounter the soldiers not once, but twice, and the quick thinking of Baruch saves their lives.

Sub-Plot: When Mendel and Baruch make it safely to the home of the Speisers, the rest of the story unfolds as they learn to live without their parents and their real parents learn that they are safe with a Jewish family. Because I placed the story at the time of Hanukkah, the subtitle could be Flight to Freedom, since Hanukkah is about religious freedom, as is Tale.

How it Ends: As my great-uncle told me, the boys are adopted by the Speisers, who consider their coming nothing short of a miracle, since Simcha was unable to bear children. They raise the children as their own and never see their real parents again. Sacrifice always brings sadness, but because they were adopted, their lives were saved. So the ending is one of hope, not of despair. Difficult times require difficult decisions, and Sarah’s and Benjamin’s decision to send their sons away is probably the most heart-wrenching sacrifice any parent makes.

Mood/Style/Plot: The plot develops in a way that the tension builds not only during the scene with the Russian soldiers, but also when the Speisers search for the boys’ real parents. The mood is sometimes joyful, but mostly serious, and the style is a mixture of dialogue and description in age-appropriate language that children (ages 7-12) can understand, yet the story is sophisticated enough that an adult will not become bored reading it to younger children. The fact that it is based on a true story should be especially appealing to both younger and older readers.

If you would like a copy of the book, please email me with your request and home address. The book costs $11.70 plus 30 cents for envelope ($12). The cost of postage and handling is $2.25 for the first book, and $1.00 for each additional book. (My Soup to Nuts Coloring Book is also available for $2.50 with $1.00 postage, alone or as a second book.)

To order your book(s), please send a check or money order to:
Ellen Sue (Spicer) Jacobson
50 Belmont Avenue #415
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

The book makes a nice gift for children or schools/churches/synagogues or your public library.

3 thoughts on “A Tale from Tarpiluvka

  1. Ellen,
    We have a lot in common besides our name. I am a fellow alum Douglass’69. I learned of your book through the recent alumnae bulletin and I am sending you a check to purchase a copy. My mother stimulated my interest in genealogy when I was a young girl. I have been working on my family tree for almost fifty years. One quarter of my ancestors are Russian/Lithuanian Jewish. I have 2 stories similiar to yours that are family lore. Like your story they were told to me by my great uncle. The simple story is that my great grandfather was impressed into the Russian army at 10. He was a drummer boy but escaped and came to America. My great grandmothers story is even more interesting. Her father was a miller and had contracts with the army to grind their flour, therefore their family was not persecuted. My great grandmother was a very beautiful young woman. She made friends with the soldiers. They lived in a border area and the soldiers never checked her wagon when she drove across the border. She would smuggle young Jewish boys across the border under the hay. My story is very sketchy. I will be interested to read yours for more background. I would also be interested in knowing if you had detailed info from your uncle or if their were any Russian sources that you used to verify the story.
    Ellen Schiereck

  2. Ellen, I believe you are my mother’s cousin. Her name is Ruth Kelson Rafael and she also had a great uncle Moishe Speiser. I remember vaguely a story that Moishe told about wanting to join the British Army in Palestine. To join the volunteer had to be above a certain weight and Moishe was very small. The first time that he tried to join he was underweight, so he went home and ate a large number of bananas and drank a gallon of water. When he went back to the recruiter, low and behold, he weighed enough to join. Do you remember this story?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright ©2022 Ellen Sue Spicer-Jacobson. | Website by Parrish Digital.