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Mendel lived in a small village called Melnitze. He didn't have much. A hut ... a cow ... a rooster ... some hens ... and an accordion.
It wasn't a fancy accordion. Nothing about Mendel was fancy. It had worn, black buttons up and down the sides for Mendel's busy fingers, and big folds in the middle like a lady's fan. Mendel pumped those folds with his strong arms, pushing the air in and out, in and out, turning it into music. Mendel made beautiful music with that accordion. Everywhere he went, people said, "Play for us, Mendel!" And Mendel did.
He went from town to town, village to village. Others joined him along the way. Soon, Mendel found himself in a band. Yankele played the fiddle. Herschel played the clarinet. Hymie played the drums. Zalman played the flute. And Shmelke played the cello.
Together, they were known as the "klezmorim."
The klezmorim never stayed in one place for too long. They went from town to town, village to village. Everywhere they went, people said, "Play for us, klezmorim!" And they did.
They played at weddings and festivals and fairs. They played happy music. They played sad music. People laughed. People cried. The village was alive with the sounds of the klezmorim.
Then one day, people stopped laughing. Life was hard in the village, and there was never enough food. It was so hard that Mendel decided to leave Melnitze.
He sold his hut. He sold his cow. He sold his rooster. He sold his hens.
Mendel boarded a boat for America, taking only his accordion with him.
On the boat, Mendel met other klezmorim. There was Mottel from Moscow, Itzik from Odessa, and Pinchus from Pinsk. Mottel played the clarinet, Itzik played the violin, and Pinchus played the flute. "Soon we will be in America," they said. "Soon we will be in the Golden Land!"
But the boat ride seemed to last forever, and two weeks seemed like two years as the boat rose and fell and the cold winds blew.
Excerpted from Mendel's Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde, Johanna van der Sterre. Copyright © 2007 Heidi Smith Hyde. Excerpted by permission of Kar-Ben Publishing.
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