[Translator's notes are in square brackets.]
[Tzivia also belonged to the Kostrinsky family. Her name in Hebrew is pronounced
Tzvia and means a gazelle. However, she was called by all: Tzivia ]
The greater the distance from my childhood, the stronger are the memories of the Holidays imprinted in my memory, with the tradition and customs observed in my home. I wander in my thoughts from Street to Market, from house to house, from person to person and from one Holiday to the next Holiday my thirst for them unquenched.
It is the first of the month of Elul. The sky is clear, bluish beauty, but the trees, the grass their green has turned to yellow. The leaves on the trees, weakened by age, cannot withstand the slightest Elul wind they fall to the soil and cover with yellow the dry grass and soft sand around it.
The sound of blowing the Shofar is heard, the first reminder of the approaching Rosh Hashanah and The Day of Judgment. Soon the Shamash will wake people for Slikhot [a collection of prayers the best known of which is Avinu Malkenu ...Our Father, our King, We have sinned before you. Our Father, our King, we have no sovereign but you... Our Father, our King, Deal with us a with loving kindness and mercy .....]. His voice so mournful, melodious, cites the few words: wake up for Slikhot.
In the middle of night, Jews get up, run to Slikhot, rushing to unburden themselves of the weight of sin. A feeling of fear, mixed with reverence, inhabit even children's hearts.
It is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Wagons crowded with men, women, children, beddings and food arrive, one by one, from Mekhvedevicher small street, and from the Gentile's side, from Kobryner street. Jewish villagers arrive in the shtetl to observe Rosh Hashanah, pray to God, and ask forgiveness together with the shtetl folks.
The Jews of Horodets are very hospitable. They share with their neighbors berths and bunks, sleep on the floor and host these village people with brotherly love, smiling faces and embraces. Soon I see myself in the Cold Old Synagogue, by the east wall, besides my mother and grandmother. I peep out of the openings in the wall separating the women's gallery from that of the men's hall.
The synagogue is crowded with Jews old and young. All of them standing wrapped in their Talit [a prayer shawl]. Three, four, Jews are standing on the middle of the pulpit and the Ba-al Tki-a [the man whose task is to blow the shofar] is ready to blow. A holy stillness grasps the synagogue. An intense chill runs through the body. The sound of the shofar is carried throughout the whole street. The tones produced by the shofar feel like an effusion outpouring of a desolate spirit of hundreds and hundreds of years of Galut [living in the Diaspora], mixed with the closeness to God.
And the Shliakh Tzibur [public emissary], Rabbi Yankl Kodliner, begs God and, weeping, sends his prayers to heaven.
Yes, my longings for you, dear shtetl Horodets, will never subside.
The Holidays of my childhood are so deeply rooted in my heart and soul, that when a Holiday approaches, the sights I remember arise to life. One after the other they fly through my mind, like light clouds in the sky.
It is the eve of Yom Kippur [day of Atonement], one or two years after WW1.
We are refugees, living in Yekaterinoslav. The family is smaller as some died and some were lost. We hope to share the fortune of those whom the Soviet government sends back to their destroyed homes. It is difficult for me to tear myself and leave my new home where I matured and where my cognition was nurtured.
The nearer the possibility to move back to our real home, Horodets, gets, the more difficult it is to think of tearing away from the new home. This, despite the fact that the old home is so dear and close to the heart, and our soul longs for it so much. A mixture of longing, pain and desolation gnaws at my heart. It seems to me that it is a heavy trial. Hiwever, heavier trials await us.
A few days before Yom Kippur, we get a note from the government that we must be ready to the move back home. Our transport of refugees sent out of Yekaterinoslav is scheduled two days hence exactly the evening of Kol Nidrei [special prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur].
There is a racket in our house. Everybody is distraught. We don't know what to do. If we don't travel it means hunger and who knows if there will be another opportunity to get away. In addition, the expectation to get to America will be extinguished. And if we do leave for home, does it cross one's mind that a really devoted Jew, my pious old grandfather, R` Shalom Kostrinsky, will not observe Yom Kippur?
My grandfather, happy and joyful by nature, always satisfied with his lot even in the biggest times of distress, could not accept this last tribulation.
A cloud covering his good looking and wise face my grandfather walks around like a shadow. Meanwhile time flies. The Day of Atonement approaches nearer and nearer. My grandfather consults friends and the Rabbi. Early on the eve of Yom Kippur, my grandfather comes from the synagogue and says: Children, I will not sacrifice you life by exposing you to hunger. We are going to travel! we, the grandchildren, feel relieved when we hear our grandfather's resolute decision.
It is evening, time for Kol-Nidrei. We are at the train station of Yekaterinoslav. The freight car is full with packs and bundles, Jews and Christians. Filth is also there. A gloomy candle lights the train windowless wagon. Ten Jews are standing mournful in our wagon that functions now as a synagogue. Some wear a Talit and others are without a Talit. They stand bent over the gloomy candle. The sad mood presses our hearts and minds. Then, in this fearful atmosphere we hear Kol-Nidrei sung in its traditional heart-stirring melody.
We swallow tears, we cry spasmodically. However, Jews are not allowed to cry. A soldier comes in, and in the middle of Kol-Nidrei he sends away the praying people to their own wagons, while the train is about to start its voyage. In the wagon, near the dull candle, only my grandfather remains with a couple of Jews who ride in the same wagon. Our Christian neighbors sit still in the corners, on the bundles, and conduct themselves with great respect to the Jewish prayer to God.
I look at grandfather and I cannot bear seeing him sad. I close my eyes. Sitting with closed eyes, the memory of the evening of Yom Kippur and Kol-Nidrei in my home, Horodets, arises before me.
Here, I see Jews from the Street - old, young, children and women wearing white clothes. All are rushing to the synagogue, to the Beit-Midrash, or to the Shtibls of the Chassidim, to snatch a prayer, a plea, before Kol-Nidrei.
Almost every one of them carries with him a candle - a long or a short one, a thick or a thin one. Hurriedly, they wish each other Khatima Tova [to be signed in the book of life]. People who have been cross with each other, pause to beg forgiveness, wishing each other a good year. It seems to me that the wind in the street is full of holiness.
And here is our old, old synagogue, around which many legends are woven. I see the synagogue lit with extra bright lamps and scores of candles. On the pulpit, in the middle of the synagogue, R` Yankl Kodliner, completely wrapped in white, sings with a sweet sadness his prayers and pleas. I hear his crying as he implores God: Al Tashlikhenu Le-et Zikna [Do not forsake us when we are old]. And simple Jews wrapped in white robes and Talit fill the old holy synagogue with holiness and reverence.
I forget where I am I find myself totally in the synagogue of my childhood. A strong shake brings me back to reality. I open my eyes we are on the train. My grandfather is standing, bent over the dull candle that is about to expire. His countenance and his eyes express sadness, longing and exile of many generations. That sadness, my grandfather, I will never forget. In the depth of my soul I hold his pain and will carry it to the end of my life.
Summer is over. Mild winds blow and pluck off the trees the yellow, weak, leaves, carrying them on their wings and throwing them at the feet of passers-by. Autumn is moving in.
The passing of harvesters with wagons full of grain has ceased, but the wind still carries the reverberation of their hearty singing the song of field, harvest and joy. In truth, our Jews did not experience this feeling of joy of field and harvest, but we celebrate the Holiday of nature with the Sukkah [tabernacle], Etrog [citron fruit] and Lulav [palm branch].
The morning after Yom Kippur, Jews carry old boards, tables and shutters to build the Sukkah. I was always jealous of the children and grandchildren who helped built the sukkah, dragging boards, bringing nails, etc., In our house and in my grandfather's house, there was a built-in sukkah. We only had to wash and clean it up and adorn it with fruit. We just had to open its wings and the sukkah was ready to welcome this important Holiday. However, the temporary sukkah had another taste to it. It was set up with effort and then you could sit in it in comfort. The mitzvah of leishev basukkah [to sit in the sukkah] was really felt in the temporary sukkah. On the other hand, when rain started pouring into the sukkah, we would close up the wings of our built-in sukkah and get rid of the nuisance. In the temporary sukkah, a race would start. People would rushto snatch the candles, tablecloth, pillows and blankets so that they won't get wet, and would ran with all the utensils into the house. Still, this running added some Jewish charm
Who does not remember the delight of Khol Hamoed [days in between Sukkot and Simkhat Torah]. There was a great deal of travelling to stay as guests with family, or host guests coming over. Our train station was thriving on Khol Hamoed. The government became rich thanks to the Jewish Khol Hamoed travelers. The joy and delight of the Holiday reached its peak on the last day of Sukkot Simkhat- Torah [the joy of having finished reading the Torah and starting a new round of reading the Torah till next year].
My grandfather's house was full of joy. Tables are set with wine, sponge cakes, nuts, candies and fruit. My grandfather, the gabbai [the secretary] of Khevra Kadisha [the burial society] invites the shtetl for a Simkhat Torah- Kiddush [blessing over the wine]. People drink, sing and dance. Soon they lead the gabbai to the old synagogue. The Street is lit with scores of candles that have been mounted on the windows' sills and on porches along the whole length of Kobriner Street, up to the synagogue. Children are carrying flags with a lit candle on top a real illumination. They sing through paper-honks and beat copper saucers and pots. A mixture of sounds reverberate in the stillness of the night. To the tones of singing, flares a Simkhat Torah dance around the gabbai.
The synagogue is lit by extra bright lamps and candles and the light blinds the eyes. They dance again, they dance around the Torah scrolls that are being passed from hands to hands, and they kiss the scrolls. Ah, how the cold synagogue warmed up the hearts of Jewish children.
Now, the sukkah is burnt down, singing is muted and dancing has stopped. A longing gnaws at the heart.
It is Hanukkah. I look at the Hanukkah-Menorah with the burning candles and I long for Horodets. I long for my childhood, for my home, and for Horodets. ----
[Tzivia continues with an almost verbatim description of her longings found in the pervious chapters about the Holidays, so I skip the passage.HK]
It is cold outside. The frost stings. The Street, the Market, the river and the fields around up to the horizon - are covered with a shawl of white snow. Trees are white, roofs are white, everything is white, except for the grey smoke that winds over the whiteness.
I am sitting in Khana's Kheder. He tells us the story of Hanukkah and the revolt of the great leaders, the Maccabees [father and five sons led the revolt against the Greeks in the 2nd century B.C.]. He tells the story of Hannah and her seven sons moving us, kids, to tears. The Rabbi finishes telling the stories of Hanukkah and in honor of this bright Holiday, he sends us home earlier than at other times.
Wrapped in coats, shawls and kerchiefs, the children run home. I don't go home, I run to my grandfather, where my good mother, my sister and brother are waiting for me. I run and the snow squeaks under my feet and the frost nips my nose and ears.
I run on, out of breath, and reach my grandfather's house. Grandfather, grandmother, mother and the whole household are there. My grandfather is waiting for me to say the blessing over the Hanukkah candles.
The Hanukkah lamp is on the window sill. My grandfather lights the Shamash [the serving candle], sings the blessings with a hearty sweet voice, and the first candle is lit.
The lit wicks of the Hanukkah-Menorah, on the window sills of houses, light up the street around them and warm the hearts of children. I stand and watch the burning candle and Hannah and her seven sons march before my eyes. They paid with their life because they were not tempted to betray their belief and their people. Then I see Matityahu the Cohen and Yehuda Maccabee with his soldiers and it seems to me that the Hanukkah candles are in fact a yortzeit [memorial candle lit once a year] candle for the soldiers killed in the revolt. I keep on watching, unable to tear myself away from the Hanukkah candle. Then, a warm, loving hand wakes me up to reality. My grandfather says: My child, here, this is your Hanukkah money. I quickly forget Hannah and her sons and the Maccabees. I grab the Hanukkah money, hug my grandfather and kiss him with all my childish strength, I take out from my pocket the tin dreidl [spinning top] molded for me by my brother Moshe, and we start playing the dreidl game.
We actually play the game using buttons that we have torn out of our own dresses, pants, coats and shirts. Suddenly wow, the smell of fried potato latkes [pancakes] reaches our nose. We quickly count our winnings, in buttons, and sit down ready for the latkes. It does not take long before grandmother comes to the table with a bowl full of latkes. The house becomes full of merriment; eating latkes, playing cards and Chinese checkers, and the children renew their dreidl game.
And, the Hanukkah candle flickers and flickers until it is no more.
Now, whenever I watch the lit Hanukkah candles, I visualize the revolt of our brothers and sisters in the ghettos, visualize our martyrs enveloped in flames of fire in the crematoriums and I seem to hear their cry: Shma Israel [Here o, Israel]. Yes, I watch the candles and I see memory-candles for our martyrs and dear ones.
|The forest rustles on Rosh Hashanah
Murmers prayers with fervor
Trees wrapped in snow
Stand in Talits.
Not a forest well, well, what do you know a synagogue
And the wind listen:
With a good year they should be blessed:
It is the end of winter. The sun heats more intensely. The days become gradually longer. The frozen earth starts emerging out of its coagulated state. The water from the melting snow and ice flow in the ditches, and then farther to the canals. However, enough water stays on the plane, and the process of mixing water and earth produces fresh soft mud. The mud bothers nobody.
If one wants to walk from one house to the other one lays a board, a broken shutter or some bricks and walks over, or one jumps over and is already on the other side. Children are very delighted. They are not bound to be cuddled next to the ovens. The sun is smiling and the liyuz'kes [puddles] water winks at them to come outside to the street and play freely.
Purim is already near. Ester Ta'anis [Fast day prior to Purim] feels already like a Holiday in the village. Smells of fresh baking are drifting in the air from here and there: HomenTashn [triangular cookies with sweet filling such as poppy seeds, plums, etc], Purim cakes, lekech [spongecake] tortn [fruit pie], fladn [fruit layer cake], and strudels. Children are having fun. They lick from one bowl and form a second bowl, they taste the cut edges of the fruit cakes, and they wait impatiently for the megile [the scroll of Ester] reading, to deafen Haman's name with the rattles.
The Beit Midrash [small orthodox synagogues], the Karliner and Kobriner shtiblekh [small Chassidic houses of prayer] let people in for the reading of the megile - almost the whole of the population of Horodets - and the rattles are active with gusto.
The main Holiday is nearing. However, first we have the se'ude [the Holiday dinner]. Several hours before the dinner, one can see in the street people with covered plates. These are the shalakh mones [plates with sweets cakes and fruit sent from one to the other]. When I saw through the window a plate with a white cover, I would feel like tearing away the cover and then peeping to discover what is there on the plate.. When the messenger of the shalakh mones entered our house, he would not have to wait for mother to receive it from his hands.
When I saw a candy in the form of a pony, puppet or bird, I would immediately grab it not to put it back. For that, mother had to pay dear by replacing the bird with three big marmalade candies, the puppet - with a big piece of strudel, and the pony with an apple While doing that, she would remove the lemon and replace it with an orange. [called China apples in Yiddish] (oranges were more important than lemons). She would pay the messenger for bringing the shalakh mones and for carrying back the shalakh mones with the alterations.
It is already evening. A very long table is ready in the dining room at my grandfather's house. A very tall cake adorns the head of the table. Candles burn in the decorated brass candle sticks. Bottles of wine have small glasses around them. Friends are invited to the dinner. There is again a feeling of a Holiday. The marinated herring and the Purim cakes have all heavenly tastes. However, how can we sit at the table and eat, when all the time more shalakh mones keep arriving, and we must peep to see the contents of the plates and even grab a nash [some sweets]. When my poor grandmother becomes too tired to exchange the contents of the plates, she takes the shalakh mones that Motye Karlinsky has sent and sends it over to the Rabbi, and the Rabbi's shalakh mones she sends over to Karlinsky. Uncle Khayim's shalakh mones is sent to uncle Aharon-Yossl, Aharon-Yossl's shalakh mones is sent to uncle Motye, and that of uncle Motye, is sent to aunt Mindl. And that is how the shalakh mones are being exchanged one plate for the other, and are sent without adding to them even a small bit of the sponge cake. My grandmother was a bigger economizer than my mother.
Then, in the middle of exchanging, the Purim-actors come in. They are adorned with brass buttons and their faces are smeared with soot. They position themselves and play-act the story of Purim from beginning to end. The red Haman used to scare me. I can visualize him now with the glittering buttons, the soot and the twisted ends of his whiskers, wearing a red hat.
Thinking of Haman and the Purim actors of my childhood, tens of Hamans creep into my mind, the tormentors of my people and my relatives. Is there a sigh that can relieve my heartache?!
[Translator's notes- in square brackets]
Right after Purim, there was a great deal of commotion in Horodets. People started right away to prepare for Passover. As you know it was necessary to have matzo for Passover! There were shvalniyes [sewing workshops] in the market and in the street. The furniture from those houses were taken out and replaced by big tables and other tools that belonged to the sewing workshops. Generally this work was done cooperatively: one would help the other to bake the matzos. Everybody knew how to roll the matzos. That was done by the women. However, only a few men knew how to make punctures in the matzos. It was a great honor to make the punctures in the matzos. I was also privileged to puncture, at Israel Yankel's shvalnie, thanks to the grown up children who gave me this opportunity. When the matzos were ready, they were stacked, right away, in a big bodniye (a sort of barrel) and locked until Passover. Nobody was allowed to get close to the matzos, for fear that there would not be enough matzos for Passover. It was impossible to buy or bake other matzos. All the women were busy both by day and by night. In every house, the fire was burning all night, for fear they would oversleep and miss getting up to bake the matzos.
And what about whitewashing the house? And who will scrape and scrub the benches/chairs, beds and other household furniture? In short, the women were busy day and night. Is it a trifle? The joyful Passover is drawing near.
Children were also busy: they have to help their mothers some would hand the derkatch (a worn out broom), some would hand the white-wash or just bring down the Passover table-wear from the boydem [attic]. Right after Purim we would suffer exile. The tables, chairs and beds were put away in the backyard and in the middle of the house they put a barrel, and on top of it a board, to serve as a table. And what about sleeping? Some slept on the floor and some on the oven. Food was not so hot. Therefore there were other good things as a reward: we ran to the tailor to be fitted with new clothes, and to the shoemaker to be fitted with new shoes.
Thank God, we made it to Passover's eve. There is no Kheder now. We are free as a bird, we can go wherever and whenever we wish. The house is clean, tidy and white-washed. Yellow sand was poured on the floor and we prepare for the Seder. There is joy in our hearts and also in our pockets (as they are full of nuts). We are wearing a new garment and on our feet new shoes or boots. Truthfully, our toes are somewhat squeezed in there but the shoemaker said: until after Passover it will be OK. Nu, we have to believe him
On Passover, after the festive midday meal, the young men would go out to the highway, all of them bragging about their new garments and about their pockets full of nuts. The moment they were farther away from the shtetl, all of them would start cracking their nuts. All were merry and in good spirits.
On khol Hamoed [intermediary weekdays between the first two and last days of the holiday], the melamdim [kheder teachers] started preparing their kheders before summer. Each of them made an effort to look well groomed. They combed their beard, twisted their whiskers, and with a pretty cane in hand they went into the houses to recruit their pupils. This visit was not so agreeable for the boys because the teacher would interview-test them and not all children knew or remembered what they had learned. However, the teacher had found a way to make it appear that the child answered well. After all, he had to have them in kheder before summer. The children barely breathed before the teacher was gone. Then, all boys set out together on the way to the train station. That was an old custom in Horodets, to walk to the train station on khol Hamoed. All of them returned together from the station to the shtetl with a song on their lips. In a word - it was lively and joyful.
As soon as the holiday was approaching its end, the heart felt gloomy. We had to go back to the kheder and nobody liked it. However, what could we do? It had to be like that! Therefore we got some compensation: we helped carry up the Passover table-wear to the attic, and that, in a way, was a continuation of Passover.
Where does one obtain a Horodetser Passover?
[33rd of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot]
[L = ל = 30 G = ג = 3]
[Translator's notes in square brackets]
A Holiday resembles a person. It changes and it is affected by the environment and time. Each Holiday has its own character and local color.
They say that Lag Ba'omer in Horodets was quite different from the one I remember from my Kheder-years, in the twenties of the twentieth century. In the past, so they tell us, the Kheder-children used to make bows and arrows and fought the children from another Kheder. They had generals, field-marshals and all the paraphernalia of an army. In my Kheder-years, so it seems, the Horodets-boys were already fed up with wars. They had already seen the wars between the Germans and Russians, Pietlortzes, Balakhovtzes, Poznantshikes, Halerttshikes [participants in pogroms] and finally the Russian-Polish war. The children of Horodets said: Enough with wars.
It is also told that already prior to WW1 they used to eat dairy food, such as cheese, and in the aristocratic houses they used to pull down the shutters and eat blintzes Why pull down the shutters? This is to avoid gossip. [perhaps envy? ]
Why did they eat dairy food? This is not my specialty. The expert who can answer this question is the editor doctor Akiva Ben-Ezra. He deals with folklore let him provide the answer to this puzzling question. [Ben Ezra's answer is in a footnote: It is very simple: Lag b'Omer occurs in spring, when there is a sufficient amount of milk; for who among the Horodets Jews did not have a cow? Blintzes are prepared on a festive occasion.] [I wonder whether he meant it seriously that most Jews of Horodets had a cow.HK]
When the Staliner shtiebel existed, the Chassidim there used to prepare a real feast, with fish and meat, as it is clearly a joyful celebration of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yokhai [spiritual leader. Opposed the Roman rule after the destruction of the Temple and hid from execution in a cave for 12 years, studying the Torah]. The Kheder-children taught by the Staliner teachers, benefited from that feast.
There was another sign that Lag b'Omer was already here. A barber appeared, quite early, from the neighboring shtetl, Antipolye, to trim the hair of the Horodets Jews, who did not have a haircut in the days of the sfira [betweem Passover and Lag b'Omer]. In my days, this sign no longer existed. Instead of the Antipolyer barber we used to wait for the host of children from the kheders of Antipolye, who used to come to Horodets, on foot, every Lag b'Omer.
A whole year, we, kheder-children, looked forward to that day. On that day we were in high spirits and we were full of joy and strength. We were not afraid or the shkotzim [Gentile fresh lads] anymore. We outnumbered them!
Besides feeling free and proud against the shkotzim, we simply felt free: first there was no learning in the kheder. Second, we could do whatever we wished. There was no forbidden! like on other Holidays. We were permitted the pleasure of bathing in the river of Horodets, and indeed together with the children from Antipolye who had come especially for this purpose.
On account of our guests, we used to wake up quite early, when the cows were going to the pasture. This in itself was an experience. When did a child have the opportunity to see the shepherd going from house to house to goad the cows to the field?
The street children left out with bow and arrow in the hand. And indeed, while marching over the wooden bridge, they tried shooting the crows that had their nests on an old oak which according to our childish fantasy, had been standing there since the six days of creation.
The assembling point was near the pajarne [fire station] in the market. The street children would also gather there. We would position ourselves like the orchestra of the firemen brigade of Kobryn, who visited Horodets, every year, on the third of May. [when the Polish parliament in 1971 adopted its constitution]. We would hold in our hands tin sheets, cymbals and whistles, made of la'ze and then march to the beat of a Polish marching song, from one corner of the shtetle to the other, stopping at the alley where once stood the Polish cloister. Why indeed in that alley?
People said that a woman who converted to Christianity lived there and apparently it was an instinctive protest against that woman.
When we left the alley we marched to the Antipolye-road, to welcome our guests. We stopped at a small grove, not far from Mogilkes (Gentile cemetery). That was by reason of Lag B'Omer that we got as far as the Mogilkes where the not good ones were located whether dead or alive
We spread on the grass and waited for the coming guests. While we were resting there, our Yaakov Hershl, son of Meir, used to tell wonderful tales about Jewish heroes.
However, not everybody had the patience to listen to all the tales about the Jewish heroes. So, what was to be done? We let ourselves out to frighten the bushanes [storks]. Upon seeing a bushan we call out: bushan, bushan, pojar [run away]. And, indeed, the bushan rose on its long legs, with its white wings, and fled.
Other would occupy themselves with the bows and arrows, shooting birds and small forest animals.
And here we start catching glimpse of the host of kheder-boys from Antipolye. A real army: hats with a magen-Dovid, rucksacks on their backs, marching like real soldiers. To judge by their walk and their looks, they felt quite proud in comparison to the Horodets children. We let them march forward in front, and we marched behind them, until we reached Itsikl's orchard. They sat down and started enjoying all the good stuff that they had brought from Antipolye. We watched with envy and kept quiet. Therefore we had our revenge when we reached the river. There, we showed them what we, Horodets-children, could accomplish in the river.
We showed them such tricks that they had never seen before, because there is was river in Antipolye. We swam standing, we lay klafter [crawl-swimming], and we sprang into the river again and again.
It was a day of heroism and bravery and a whole year we looked forward impatiently to the next Lag b'Omer.
[Pentecost. Holiday celebrating the gathering of the
first fruits and the giving of the Torah to the Jews]
[Translator's notes in square brackets]
Sabbath and Holidays awaken in my memory vivid pictures from my childhood. In front of my eyes, they are alive rising from the dead.
Not only people have their own luck. Holidays have marked luck as well. I think that the luckiest of all Holidays is Shavuot. (Although Passover cannot complain of its luck). Surely, what other Holiday occurs in the midst of bloom and green like the Holiday of Shavuot?
Young, fresh grass sprout in the courtyards, in the small gardens and in the surrounding small parks. The trees next to the houses spread with pride their wing-like branches, painting in green the streets and decorating the small houses.
The sand under our feet is soft and dry, without any trace of mud. The sky is blue and clear as if transparent. The two small canals (side-brooks), that stretch parallel to the two sides of the river, are covered with green tsherot and flisniak (sort of grass), and various kinds of water-flowers and other flowers. And right in front of my eyes burst forth light-blue field-flowers of great variety, the nyezabutkes (forget-me-not).
I would have given anything to be able, one more time, to hold a twisted bouquet of these flowers - from the fields around my shtetl.
We, children, observed very devotedly the custom of decorating the houses with branches of trees, grass and flowers in honor of Shavuot. We walked in groups, barefoot, to ravage the canals. With dresses pulled up and trousers folded up, we risked bradzshen (crawling) in the muddy water to snatch and pluck a flower. Few hours later, we returned home with large bouquets of flowers, taller than ourselves. Upon reaching home, we sorted the flowers to put them in vases, jars, bottles and glasses to fit their size and placed them on the window-sill and on tables. Thus we beautified our hearts and houses.
Now that we already had flowers for the Holiday, what is to be done about getting green branches in honor of Shavuot? That, you should know, was a more complicated matter.
Who would allow us to cut their trees? The Poritz of the shtetle had a grove, not far from the iron bridge, that looked untended and abandoned. Our small commando set forth to that grove to cut branches. Sometimes we were lucky in our first attempt - bringing home whole branches adorned with green leaves. However, more often, the Poritz's hounds smelled the mischievous group and would drive us away and chase us with wild cries. The youngsters fled home, some through the batchvenikes (river edges), and some through the iron bridge and the railway tracks. However, the cries and growling abuse did not frighten us too much and did not deter us from coming to the grove again and again. It was a must to have green leaves for Shavuot.
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