[Page 114 - Hebrew] [Page 53 - English]
by Hayim Nisenboim
Today is the day before Passover Eve. I recall the days of my youth, when I was attending heder. My teacher, Rebbe Boruch Yoel, of blessed memory (I still see him, with his white beard and high forehead, eyes glistening as he looked at us.) would say: Children, tonight we search for the hametz. Search well, and let not a crumb remain in your homes. With this, we jumped up and ran out of the room, scattering to our homes, with happy sounds filling the air. The sun is bright overhead, and the thawing earth is steaming, waking up, sprouting green on the ground and in the branches. The Wisla and the pond have shaken off the ice, which had bound them all winter, and the free flowing waters rush down the river and overflow its banks.
Our job is to take new dishes down to the Wisla and immerse them for the festival. The fresh spring air fills our lungs. We too are in the spring of our lives.
Mother calls out: Children, help me bring the Passover into the house. My sister and I take down the double windows, the colorful streamers and the cotton wadding used to insulate them during the cold winter. We wash the dusty panes. The sun bursts through into the humble house, resting on the table, the bookcase, the pictures on the walls. Across the room hangs the wicker basket, full of matzot; next to it is the mortar, to grind matzot into fine matzeh meal. The sun comes to rests on the bottle of homemade wine, which my father had pressed out of raisins for the Four Cups. My sisters are rubbing the tiles and the wooden table in the kitchen. The tableware is cleansed in boiling water, into which a red-hot stone had been immersed. The entire house becomes a magic abode: the copper pans glisten like gold, the special Passover tableware, the colorful glasses everything spic-and-span for the Seder.
Mother works hard, cleansing the stove.
At nightfall, as soon as Father returns from the synagogue, we proceed to search for the hametz. I look at my father's fine face, his high forehead (not a wrinkle on it; perhaps because he looks younger). Mother hands him the wooden spoon and a large goose feather. Father paces through each room, pronounces the benediction, sweeps up the crumbs which mother has made ready there, then wraps everything carefully in a towel and places the bundle in a corner. This done, he makes his way leisurely to the home of the rabbi, to sell the hametz.
On the next morning, we take the bundle and rush to the courtyard of the public bathhouse. A huge bonfire is already burning. We take the bundle spoon, feather and crumbs and throw it into the flame.
Can anyone forget the Seder of those days? Mama's fish and meat, the soup and matzah balls, the hardboiled eggs in the salt water? I can still hear the sweet melody of my father's Kiddush. We begin reciting the Haggada loudly, and I ask the Four Questions.
We, the children, keep our eyes on Father, as he leans back and recites the story of servitude and redemption. Tonight Father, like the Passover night itself, is different. He is king, benevolent and kindly, singing the Seder melodies so sweetly that they penetrate into the depth of your soul. He makes believe that he doesn't see us pilfering the afikoman. He fills the cup of Elijah and sends my sister to open the door for the Prophet. Will Elijah really drink from our cup? I wonder. How can he drink from his cup at all the sedarim in the world? Maybe he merely touches the cup to his lips. Say, his cup does look a bit less full!
How can one forget those unforgettable days, the festive expression of holiness itself? Such were the Rachov kozes...
[Page 496 - Yiddish] [Page 55 - English]
by Daniel Freiberg
Our surviving townspeople will readily recall the family of water-carriers, Moishele and Notale and their wives, whose lives were spent hauling water to the town. They carried the water from the wells on the outskirts of the town, near the estate. These wells were dug in order to provide for the needs of the estate and its fishponds. There were other wells inside the town, in the market place and in the patches of farmland worked by the peasants, a well in almost every household. However, the water in all these wells was saline, and drinking water had to be brought in from the outside, from down below.
The down below was the bane of the water-carriers. From the town the road sloped down to the wells, but on the way back the water-carriers had to push the cart with the water barrel up the hill. The family might have come to the Almighty with claims against His wisdom and fairness. Was this justice? Could He not have created the world in such fashion that the wells should be at the top of the rise and not at the bottom?
However, such good and pious Jews as were Moishele and Notale would never have dreamt of complaining against the Almighty. They had no luck. Now you may well ask why they didn't use horses for the hauling. But that was the bad luck, aforementioned: every horse they acquired, from time to time, quickly gave up his equine ghost.
It can be argued that the horses were to blame. Whenever the horse decided to bow out of this world, good Jews, unable to witness the hardship of the family, prodded the Community Council and other agencies to provide for another. Once they even communicated with their townspeople in Canada, and another horse was acquired. But again the story repeated itself; not long afterwards, and the horse was no longer among the living. Most extraordinary!
Perhaps not. The horses they bought were not first-class steeds, as they excelled neither in health nor in horsepower. Nor were their living conditions in the water-carriers' family of the best. The few pennies the carriers earned each day (and most housewives paid for the water once a week) weren't enough to buy food for the humans and fodder for the horse. The compromise was inevitably bad; both the humans and the horse didn't have enough. The difference was that the humans were disciplined in such matters as food and its opposite, hunger. Not so the horses; they knew no chochmess. And so, like the horse whom his owner had trained to the point of almost not eating, only to die in the attempt, these horses acted in the same fashion.
Of course, most of the townspeople were short of food all their lives, yet they lived their lives creatively. Moishele's home was full of infants, almost all females (he had one son, Yankele, who was apprenticed to a shoemaker). The daughters, on reaching a certain age, were sent to do housework for others and remained old maids.
Nothing unusual about all of this. Rachov was full of such instances hungry homes and spinster daughters. There just isn't enough room to tell about them, and if I did choose the water-carriers as an example, it is because everyone knew them, also because of the following:
Those of us who visited homes to empty the JNF boxes were instructed, that if the box didn't contain at least half a zloty and its holder wouldn't make up the difference, we were not to take the money and issue no receipt.
On one occasion, I was assigned to empty the boxes in the Walik neighborhood, the town's poverty-stricken quarter, where lived the poor artisans and other impoverished Jews. There wasn't a single prosperous Jew in the entire neighborhood.
I came to the home of the water-carriers. Only Moishele's wife was at home, a slight, pinched woman. She was busy preparing for the Sabbath, while the others were busy hauling water and distributing it. When I picked up the box I was amazed to find it full of coins. I counted them: about six zlotys. When I voiced my amazement about the sizable amount, the woman told me that every day a coin would be deposited in the box more than that on Fridays, when the housewives paid for the week's water delivery. I tried to convince her that the family might be doing the wrong thing, denying itself food. But the woman was adamant: contributing to the Jewish National Fund was a greater mitzvah than eating enough.
Since then I insisted on servicing that poor neighborhood, and when I emptied the box of the water carriers, I always felt a lump in my throat. I wouldn't be surprised if this box held more than any other in the entire town.
May these lines be a memorial to those wonderful Jews, the water-carriers of Rachov, none of whom survived the Holocaust, yet for whose sake we have been privileged to have the State of Israel. Such were the Rachov kozes...
[Page 122 - Hebrew] [Page 56 - English]
by Sh. Nitzan
I don't know of a city or town in our area which did not have a nickname, usually uncomplimentary, identifying its inhabitants: Yanov Yanover hodaks ('clogs'), Bilgerei Bilgereier sippers ('slurpers').
The nickname given Rachov and its population was Rachover kozes ('goats'). Now what's wrong with goats? Quite a few families raised a goat or two, as they did chickens for Sabbath and holiday needs. The goats ran free and ate their fill in the fields and meadows outside the town. Their owners went there to be with them on the Sabbath (the fields were within the permissible walking limits) for communion with food and nature.
The few he-goats were public property, charged with the task of fructifying the she-goats and hence the amount of milk which mothers could give to their children. But they had other duties, among them to serve as mounts for the heder children, in return for a stick of carrots or other vegetable residue unfit for human consumption. Riding the goats may be the reason that several young men, later recruited into the army of His Majesty the Czar, became known as brave cavalrymen.
When snow or mud lay thick on the ground, the goats had to find other sources of sustenance. Turning their eyes heavenwards, they no doubt beheld the straw sprouting on the roofs of the houses and wooden shingles to reinforce it. A nibble along the edges of the straw had its rewards. The goats also discovered that the flour used to paste the big billboards was sweet to the palate and there were plenty of posters, each vying with its neighbor in size and color, to attract the attention of the citizenry on behalf of one movement or another or entice it to lectures, dances, plays and the like. No sooner was the posterman out of sight than the goats would get to work on the still moist paste and paper.
These Rachov goats! a stranger would be likely to exclaim not in any derogatory fashion, of course. After all, this was sheer ingenuity on the part of the animals. But people on the outside thought otherwise. Here is what Yeda-Am said (114/5, Tishri 5716, p. 242):
The town sits on the Wisla, but on the roofs of its houses sit the goats, eating the straw used to cover them or munching on the moss. Rachov's goats are opposed to progress and culture; when posters are put up in the street, they lose no time eating the paper and licking up the paste.
Such were the Rachov kozes...
[Page 57 - English]
by Elazar Goldner
During the hot summer days, when the sun whitened the basalt paving of the road and scorched the soil of the fields, and the heat in the small huts left no air for breathing, most of the Rachov's Jews headed for the Wisla, to take a dip in the cool water of the river and rid their bodies of the sweat which clung to them during a whole week of toil.
The Wisla was there for the asking; anyone could enjoy the pleasure it gave, at no cost. The one-kilometer to its banks provided a pleasant hike there and back. Once past the cemetery, you went into a pine grove filled with the scent of pine and sap. The silence there was so complete that you could hear the whirring of the small birds and the fall of each acorn. In a cave in the forest a cool breeze blew. These sites, familiar as they were, made the stroll even shorter, especially when it was done in groups.
Mass bathing was at its peak on Tuesdays. Since Thursday was market day, two days preceding it had to be devoted to setting up shop. The craftsmen the cobblers and mending tailors had to decorate their stands with boots, short coats and trousers. Thursday was also Sabbath Eve ' practically. After the enjoyment of the day of rest came Sunday and Monday, when many of the Jews took to the roads in their carts, peddling their wares. Small wonder that Tuesday was the ideal day for washing away the weariness of the whole week.
The housewives, busy with their einbren, at times accompanied their menfolk as far as the market, and called after them: Remember! Remember! For God's sake keep an eye on the children! The youngsters loved playing in the water. The Wisla was treacherous, like a thief in the night. The children couldn't be left alone even for one moment.
In the summer of 1939 the Wisla was even more attractive than ever. Its white banks, seen from a distance, looked like a long tablecloth. The sandstone chips sparkled like diamonds. Everyone was enjoying himself, and cries of pleasure came from all sides. Some took a suntan nap on the sand. Others sought out a shady spot and played Telephone or Red King. Parents and children paddled about in the water. What could be better? exclaimed the elderly Jews, in the water up to their beards. But the youngsters had the most fun. Look, cried a young one, the sun is hiding behind the water. The youngsters had the best time, except when their parents went in for a dip and ordered their progeny to stay on the sand and keep an eye on their clothes.
On one such Tuesday, a group of the town's armchair generals squatted on the sand, far from the crowd, and engaged in an analysis of world events. In the group were Aharon (Boruch-Yosef's son), Avigdor Damon, Yehiel (Binyomin's son), Avrohom'chile Fuchs, Avrohom'ke and his bundle of newspapers, Itche-Meir the watchmaker, Avrohom'chile (son of Hillel), Eliyohu Kleinman, and others. The men had merely dipped their toes in the water and applied water to their foreheads against the heat. This didn't cool the heat of their debate about what was going on in Europe, particularly Hitler's decrees against the Jews. Would Polish Jewry be affected by what was transpiring in Germany? The debaters were quickly surrounded by an attentive throng.
Yehiele's rubbed his forehead and smiled, as he made his remarks in his characteristically moderate speech. It was clear that he didn't think that these events would affect him personally. It's not like people think, he said. I remember the Yeckes back from the war. I don't know how people can get along with them. The ones to be feared are the Russians, the Cossacks and the Petlura people. I remember them well. Secondly, is our opinion being sought? As the Almighty will decide, so will He act.
Avrohom'chile Fuchs and Aharon do not agree with him. Our days are not like those past. We are in danger. A man has to be blind, said Yosef, of the lively eyes and high forehead, not to see what's going on in God's world in Rachov, let us say. No one senses the terrible disaster about to descend upon us. Young men and old are being taken out of their homes for military drills. The fire brigade goes through daily drills. Every day there are meetings to instruct the population what to do during an air raid, or against shelling and gas. Whether you like it or not, you have to participate. Every night Jews are sent, axes in hand, to guard the town and the bridge across the Wisla. Every stranger is to be detained and taken to the police station. One Jew-hating officer wanted to have some fun. He took Shloime'le Yoske's and Shmuel Hanele's, two old broken down Jews, and sent them to the bridge for a whole night to catch spies.
Don't worry, cried Avrohom'chile, Hillel's son. Jews have overcome Haman, Torquemada of Spain, Chmielnicki. So will it be with this Jew-hater. Anyone plotting against the Jews will come to a grim end.
The discussion grew hotter. Everyone wanted to get a word into the debate. The discussion might have lasted for hours, were it not for the sudden change in weather. The sun disappeared behind black clouds. The bathers were thrown into panic. The way home was long. Lightning and thunder split the air. Refuge under the bridge was dangerous. Everyone rushed toward town, the fathers carrying their children astride their shoulders in the torrential rain. Avrohom'ke Freiberg added a grim note to it all: Black clouds never carry good omens, especially not for us Jews.
Such were the Rachov kozes...
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