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Ostrolenka Style

 

How the Jews of Ostrolenka conducted their way of life at home and on the street; in the study hall and in the workshop; in the life of the individual and in public life; in private and in public; in joy and in sorrow. How the people of Ostrolenka spoke and explained; celebrated and mourned. How they acted on the Sabbath and on weekdays. How they sang, talked and jested, worried and regretted, etc., etc.

Collected, adapted and written by Y.I.

 

A. “I'll show them!”…

Jozef, an Ostrolenkan Gentile, very tall (over two meters), who lived on Goworowo Street (in the cellar at Josel Wonszak's), stood up during the last World War with a long rifle from Napoleon's time in his hand, and fired at the German planes. “I'll show them!” he shouted. This was one of the Polish defense's strategic resources against the German air force.

 

B. He explains…

When Pepka the Shoemaker (Kaplan) sewed shoes, he also used material like carton. When they asked him why they tore so quickly, he answered, “Because they don't polish them enough.” But after a vigorous polishing – they tore even more. Then he explained that they polished them too much…

 

C. An investment permit is something else.

The teacher Masza used to say, “Lending money for interest – never! For an investment permit – it is possible.”

 

D. “The shoemakers of Goworowo”

The shoemakers of Goworowo Street were wellknown, because they supplied shoes and boots for the entire area. They used to display their wares at all the fairs and market days in the region. The best known was the annual market called Janer, which took place in Ostrolenka for three whole days: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

E. The face of a Jew

The only son of a learned Jew and fervent Chassid from Ostrolenka left the shtebl, cut off his long earlocks, stopped learning and praying, shaved off his beard, and began to wear “short” [coats], German-style. His father said to him, “All right then, you've stopped being a Jew, but at least keep up your Jewish appearance…”

 

F. The words of a “bought” groom…

A learned Jew from Ostrolenka (who had rabbinical ordination) and who was a keen Chassid and a “bought” groom (for a dowry of two thousand rubles, a gold watch and a military band that escorted him to the wedding canopy – thanks to his father-in-law's good connections in “high” military circles…) in a simple but accepted family, as was customary in those days, once complained, “Here, I am comparable to a lump of fat tossed into a big pot with water and potatoes. Certainly, the dish has an excellent taste, but the fat itself gets lost in the big pot of potatoes and dissolves.”

 

G. But they are talking in the city

It happened that an Ostrolenkan strayed from the right path, stopped learning Torah and praying, etc. So as not to cause his devout parents too much grief, he decided to pray every day at home in the presence of his parents… Thus things continued for some time. And then, one morning, the devout father returned from the study hall to eat his breakfast, and fell upon his son: “Sinner, enemy of Israel, you have become a complete Gentile! The entire city is saying that you have stopped praying!”

“Father! What are you talking about?” – his son did not spare him. “You yourself know this is not true. I pray at home every day. You and mother see this with your own eyes… and know this.”

“We know,” the father justified himself, “but the whole city is talking”…

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H. How does an Ostrolenkan woman test her husband's piety?

He used to leave early for prayers, taking his prayer shawl and phylacteries and leaving the house quietly – and returning after he finished praying. Once, on Sabbath morning, the wife decided to test her husband's piety, after a suspicion awoke in her that he did not pray at all. And this is what she did: before her husband went to the synagogue, she took his prayer shawl out of its pouch and put two towels in its place. When the husband returned with a great “Good Sabbath!” greeting, and asked to partake of the Sabbath dishes – the wife did not take her eyes off him, and asked where he prayed. At the same time, she pulled the two towels out of the pouch…

 

I. The Jew who “went crazy”

In 1934, an idea suddenly came to the mind of Reb Szmuel Byszko: he wanted to go to Israel. The people of Ostrolenka could not understand him. “What does this mean, Reb Szmuel? You are so successful. Why should you ruin such a prosperous business?” In the city, they began to whisper that the man had gone crazy.

But Reb Szmuel, who was a fervent Zionist and whose heart was full of love for the Land of Israel, said, “I have nothing more to do in Poland. I must go to Israel to build a flour mill there.” He gathered all his money and went to Israel as a capitalist. To this day, he lives there in a shack. As a Jew, however, he is contented with his lot. No one is more contented than he. In Israel, he has 26 treasures – sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, may they be well! In addition, three of his flour mills operate here – one in Kfar Chassidim, one in Haifa and one in Tel Aviv.

It is too bad that other Jews in Ostrolenka and other cities in Poland did not catch Reb Szmuel Byszko's “madness”! Then we would have had much less loss of life and property.

 

J. A victim of the scene

Once, an amateur actor from a small town in the area came to Ostrolenka to find a play to present. When he was asked, “What kind of play are you looking for – drama or comedy?” he replied that since he was a serious person, he required a “heavy drama”. “Look!” he showed us that his thumb was bent into his right hand and that he could not move it, and told us how it had happened. “In our town, we once presented The Wild Man by Gordon, and dedicated the proceeds to a charitable cause. I played the wild man and took the role seriously. This was my first appearance on the stage. In a certain scene, I was supposed to 'wound' myself with a knife. The knife was later shown to be rusty. With great strength, I stuck it into my thumb, as was written in the play (as I said, I am a serious actor). But I accepted my wound with understanding, because I was a 'victim of the scene'…”

 

K. How “bloodshed” was prevented during the Ne'ila prayers on Yom Kippur at Ostrolenka's synagogue

A “terrible event” happened to Reb Aron Jankel Margalit on Yom Kippur during the opening of the Holy Ark before the Ne'ila prayers. For many years, the “right of possession” of opening the ark before Ne'ila on Yom Kippur belonged to Reb Aron Jankel, a representative of the Community Committee. This time, “bloodshed” was prevented, thanks to Icchak Zylbersztejn, as if “it fell on him from Heaven” at the very last minute. It was time for Ne'ila. The beadle of the synagogue began to call out prices for opening the ark. Suddenly, wild bidding began. The prices rose without a stop. Each wanted to defeat the other at any price – without a bit of pity. This took place before the new Community Committee elections. Each of the eminent Jews wanted to strip Reb Aron Jankel of his “right of possession”. But Reb Aron Jankel did not give in easily; he would not allow them to humiliate him. With his last strength, he shouted over all the [other] shouters and announced an even greater amount. But the bidding went on and on and reached a fantastic sum, beyond Reb Aron Jankel's ability. With fear in his heart, he waited for a miracle to occur. His hands and his voice trembled, his prestige collapsed, the “right of possession” slipped from his fingers… He was overcome with shame.

Suddenly, the beadle called out in a loud, strange voice, unlike his natural voice, as if he had gotten hold of a valuable stone at the last minute, and stated a fantastic amount, several times higher than the sums announced so far, an amount that passed all reckoning. A deathly silence prevailed in the synagogue. A trembling passed through all the worshippers. The beadle gave a signal to end the bidding, because no one dared compete with the fabulous amount announced.

“Reb Jankel, open the ark, please!” – a sharp order was heard. This was the voice of Reb Icchak Zylbersztejn, who had looked with sorrow on the

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struggle that bordered on shedding the blood of the old man who had the “right of possession” to open the ark for Ne'ila, and who saved him from disgrace by setting an amount great than was possible…

It was whispered in the city that Reb Icchak Zylbersztejn used the opportunity to repay an old debt to Reb Aron Jankel – as one good turn deserves another…

And so Reb Aron Jankel was spared great humiliation.

 

L. Two smokers

Pinie and Dan were both heavy smokers. Usually they liked the Darmo (in Polish, “for free”) cigarette brand. When they met in the street, one would ask the other, “Do you have a cigarette?” “No”, came the answer, “from where should I get one?” “Is that so?” “Just as you hear.” “Well, if that's the way things are, I'll have to smoke one of my own,” the first said unwillingly.” “Then so will I”, answered the other.

According to another version – as above, the two meet in the street and walk on together… One asks the other for a cigarette, and both answer at the same time, “I haven't got one.” Then the two turn their backs on each other, stealthily light up cigarettes, take a puff and place them in their sleeves. When they turn back to face each other, smoke begins to come out of their sleeves…

“What's that?” The one looks at the other in surprise.

“Nothing. Yes – I sponged one from somewhere…”

 

M. “Then at least give me a cigarette…”

A small shopkeeper in Ostrolenka ran around the city looking for a charitable loan to pay off a note “tomorrow”…

He met an acquaintance.

“Could you give me a small loan of 100 zlotys?”

The acquaintance refused.

“So give me at least 50, or 25. Even 10 would be good.”

When he did not get this either, he said, “Then at least give me a cigarette.”

 

In the meanwhile

Kaufman, who sold shoes, went into Szafran, who sewed shoes. “Mr. Szafran, I want to order one hundred pairs of shoes from you – fifty pairs – but in the meanwhile, make me one pair!”

 

Either… or…

They asked the son of Chaim Szrejter, who was a water drawer, “How much do you earn a day from carrying water?” He answered, “Either I take about a hundred zlotys a day, or not!”

 

A wise answer

Menachem Frydman, the food merchant, once passed the old market and became angry at the fish sellers for making so much noise and tumult in the street. One of the wise fish sellers replied, “If the food merchants would become fish sellers, they would make even more noise”…

 

“Straight to Szlomo”

Jankele “Koza” (The Goat) the Hatter, buying a ticket to Warsaw at the Kaczyny train station, requested at the ticket window: “Straight to Szlomo”… This was because in Warsaw lived a Jew named Szlomo, who owned a hostel, where he put up many of Ostrolenka's Jews…

 

Without fathers and without grandfathers

In Ostrolenka, there was a popular joke that was used to “sting” someone: that he came from a city “without fathers and without grandfathers”. How could this be? When they asked someone, “Where are you from?” he simply answered from this city or another. “Who was your father, your grandfather?” Then he answered: So and so, and so and so. The other answers, “Oh, so and so was an honorable Jew! I knew him.” But when you ask an Ostrolenkan, “Who was your father or grandfather?”, he immediately answers you: Oh, you probably didn't know him!…

 

The Magid [Storyteller] who cursed

The Magid from Bialystok, the well-known Reb Eliakim Getzl, often visited Ostrolenka. He inserted into his sermons a great deal about punishments and threats. This was aimed at the youth of the city, who, apparently, had begun to stray from the straight and narrow, and were exposed to evil influences… The youths, in turn, got angry at him and to repay him, they would disrupt his sermons. He used to speak in the large synagogue. (As opposed to the famous, expert preacher, Rapaport, who used to speak in the large synagogue and was careful not to anger anyone). He, Reb Eliakim, felt strongly that he wanted to pay back the youths in his sermon, measure for measure. As this happened exactly on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh [a Sabbath when a new month began], he took a verse from the additional

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Sabbath-New Month prayer service, and spoke thus: “New months [also 'new heads'] – heads with modern haircuts, to your nation you have given – not like the Nation of Israel, which does not have such haircuts. This is a time of atonement, for all their consequences – for all of Jewish children and their children's children”… Besides this, he cursed the city with frequent fires.

The same thing, they say, also happened in the city Zambrow, a city where fires always broke out. This may have happened because of his curses, May the All- Merciful protect us!

 

“A dear pair of ears!”

Our townsman, Yitzhak Kachan from Australia, tells:

“Reb Chaim Alter Kamin visited us frequently. We subscribed together to Moment and Heint. On Sabbath and holiday mornings, he came to drink tea and talk about the affairs of the city. He was up-to-date about everything that was happening in the city. Perhaps that was because every morning, he would run to receive a charitable loan, a note to pay… and, meanwhile, he would learn the news of the city. After he finished running around, he would burst into our house. Even when he didn't have any special news, I would listen to his stories, which he heard on his way to receive a charitable loan.

He stands before me now, in his Sabbath-holiday kapote. Having shaken off the weekday grayness, he listens, in suspense, to Chassidic stories.

He was a special listener, with a dear pair of ears!…”

 

Heir or seceder?

Yitzhak Kachan continues to relate:

“After I left Ostrolenka, I asked my father to go to the Rabbi of the city, who was a friend of the family. When I parted from him, the Rabbi said, 'I knew Reb Szmuel, your grandfather. Your father, indeed, is like a member of my family. But what is the situation concerning your Jewishness? Are you an heir or a seceder?'

'I am not a seceder, Rabbi.'

'Once I heard a great magid, who asked this question: Why is it written 'The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'? Why does it repeat 'God of' with each name? Because each of them had to come to know Him by himself, not by inheritance. You are going to Australia. Do many people live there?' asked the Rabbi.

'Seven or eight million', I answered.

'That is, Gentiles. And how many Jews are there?'

'Thirty-forty thousand.'

'So few Jews with so many Gentiles', said the Rabbi. 'Promise me one thing. See to it, when you reach Australia, that you do not add another Gentile to the seven million Gentiles already there…'

The Rabbi's words were engraved in my memory. When my son celebrated his bar-mitzvah, which a few hundred Jews attended, I passed the Rabbi's testament on to my son, so that it would be engraved in his memory…”


Times in Ostrolenka

As in other cities and towns in Poland in the past, Ostrolenka also had different periods. There were times of happiness, enthusiasm and the revival of social and cultural life, which included different strata of youths and adults as one, and planted the hope for a better Jewish future in their hearts. There were also times of sadness and sorrow, fear and panic, wars, fires, family misfortunes, etc. At difficult and critical moments like these, the special character of the city came to the fore. In Ostrolenka, a notably Jewish-Chassidic city, there was a great deal of “love of Israel and love of mankind”. This was one of the main characteristics of our city – not to let a person fall, to help him in times of trouble and to defend his Judaism. As it was an important strategic location during World War I, Ostrolenka was a most wretched place during the War. The Jews of Ostrolenka showed bravery, perseverance and tolerance in their relationships with each other. At the time of the fires, the inhabitants' mutual assistance was prominent in all areas: housing, moving belongings they had succeeded in saving, food, etc. If a misfortune occurred in a family, such as illness or impoverishment, there were immediately Jews who “overturned worlds” and provided as much support as possible. If, Heaven forbid,

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a case occurred in Ostrolenka of conversion by force, the youths – healthy and strong young men – were not complacent, and did not rest until they had rescued the convert from the hands of the Gentiles or, at least, had saved his wife and Jewish children. A life and death struggle was waged against the Christian population, which was also notable for its anti-Semitism.

Especially etched in my memory is the incident of the Jewish woman, Cytrynowicz, in 1930. Her husband, who became a Christian (for the love of a Christian woman, not an inhabitant of Ostrolenka) fought hard against the young men Icchak Bocian, Szmuel Lachowicz, Awraham Kowal, the Zyskind brothers, Lazer Lachowicz, Szymon Chmiel, Berel Krymkiewicz, Mosze Kazacki and others, who tried bravely to save the family's children from their convert father. Some of them were sentenced to imprisonment by the court. (You can read about the trial in the newspaper, Der Moment, no. 182-3, Warsaw, 22-23 August 1930, and in other daily newspapers of those dates.) While there are other instances of devotion and readiness to fight on the part of Ostrolenka's Jews, as was said, they also knew how to rejoice, to jest and to celebrate. Like any small city, everything happened in a narrow and intimate milieu. Every trouble and every joy, even the smallest, penetrated everyone's heart with lightning speed. Anyone with a joy or a sorrow felt that the entire city was joyous or sorrowful together with him.


Ostrolenka's Dialects

Geographically, Ostrolenka is situated between big cities having completely different characters and ways of life, such as Lomza, Bialystok and Warsaw. A different Yiddish dialect was spoken in each of them. Ostrolenka did not have a uniform dialect of its own. It was influenced by the cities around it and “caught” their idioms.

It once happened that, in the same household, the various family members used different dialects, depending on the strength of outside influences. There were also local and independent idioms, however, which did not exist in other cities and towns.


“Cultural Points”

After World War I, Ostrolenka revived, both economically and spiritually. New houses were erected on the ruins of the destroyed city. For the most part, the inhabitants had already returned from places of exile. Trade began to flourish anew and the youth turned toward the future with new ideals and faith. The winds of spring, which blew in all Poland's cities after the war, also reached Ostrolenka. In the parties, debates were held. As a result, lecturers were brought from the big cities, to draw the youth's attention. Theatrical plays were presented in packed halls, public institutions renewed their activities, all kinds of community workers rolled up their sleeves and placed themselves at the disposal of the inhabitants with new initiatives, etc., etc.

All this penetrated the private sector as well. Gatherings began again in private homes: celebrations and parties were frequently held, especially by those who had excelled at this in the past – and everything was on a high cultural level.

One of these “cultural points” was, without doubt, the home of Rejzka Mazur (then Margalit, now Wissotzky, living in Israel), on Kilinski Street. It was a sort of cultural hostel, which served as a meeting place for the youth labeled “beautiful”, “sophisticated” and “sparkling”. Every artist and person of culture who arrived from a big city, bringing “spiritual food” for the youth – a speaker, a writer, a cantor, a dancer, an actor, a singer – was received here with respect and enthusiasm. The owner of the hostel herself participated in plays of amateur acting groups and especially astonished [the audience] with her singing, with her metallic mezzo soprano voice…

Well-known speakers and writers, such as Rajs, Aiserowicz and Segalowicz, and artists such as Samberg, Morawski and Kusewicki knew this house in Ostrolenka well. Rejzka's brother, Icchak Mazur, who lived in Lomza and was himself a superb amateur actor, brought well-known artists and people of culture to

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Ostrolenka from the big cities.

Anyone who had a direct connection to the subjects of art and culture always found a place of refuge in her home – including food, drink, board and anything his heart desired. (The writer of these lines, too, often enjoyed her hospitality when he frequented Ostrolenka from Lomza, where he lived.) The artists used to say, “Her house is full and crammed with art; even the walls recite poetry.”

This is a typical incident: in those days, the wellknown conductor Sznyor (an irritable and pampered person) came from Warsaw, together with a certain singer, for a concert appearance. As usual, they were brought to Rejzka's house. The conductor, certain that he had to pay for staying there, demanded the best place. He went into one of the elegant bedrooms and did not want to leave it. Arguments did not help; he refused to compromise. “With my money, I can choose anything I want.” When it was explained that he was not in a hotel, but in a private home, where guest-artists were hosted without payment, he calmed down, apologized and assented…

It is worth noting that the fondness and sympathy Rejzka had from the cradle for art and artists survives to this day. Her famous hospitality continues here, as in those good days.


Nicknames and Derogatory Names

In Ostrolenka, as in any other city, there was an abundance of nicknames and additional names for specific people, attached to their own first or family names. It was enough to just mention the nickname, and everyone knew who was being referred to immediately. Usually, people were given nicknames if they were more prominent than others in regard to a certain character trait, vocation, relationship with others, social standing, etc. Only those who deserved it were mercilessly “crowned” with these names. There were no differences between big and small – from a famous and “loud” personality to a quiet, modest folk type.Sometimes a person was “honored” with a nickname that related only to his outer appearance, not to mention those who let slip a strange word or responded oddly to a social incident, or neighbors, or relatives or friends. A name like this stuck for generations… And who could control his tongue? The slip-of-the-tongue Evil Inclination took control, and it was hard to overcome it.

Some of the additional names were moderate and very refined, and did not disturb those who bore them. On the contrary, they lent a feeling of hominess, of family and even affection. It is worth citing some examples of names of this kind, which were abundant in Ostrolenka and pleasant to the ear, as they exuded juicy humor and folksy warmth, such as: Big Icchak – because of his excessive height; The Cold Baker – because his bread was never baked enough; The Doll Shoemaker – who was handsome; Czaj-Maj – because he was acted like a wise guy toward Gentiles in the markets; Jaloszke-Melamed – because his father-in-law promised him a “jaloszke” (a cow which had had its first calf) as a dowry; Dust and Ashes – a man unsuccessful in his business, everything he touched turned to nothing; Japonczyk (Japanese) Melamed – because he sided with the Japanese in the war between Russia and Japan; Mendel Gryczak – he loved to eat dishes made with grits; Motel Dziedzic (Poretz) – he loved to dress up like wealthy poretz; the Szczot (in Russian: bill) Klezmer Brothers – because they always asked for a bill; Lejbel Trotsky – because of his name “Lew”, which was Trotsky's real name; Motel Jakres – a carter who asked high prices for a ride; and also The Cold Blacksmith, The Skinny Melamed, White Head, Jankele the Goat, The Dead Shoemaker, Yellow Mendel, Bolshevik, Little Daddy, The Little Ritual Slaughterer, etc.

There were, of course, much more scathing, discordant nicknames. There were also Ostrolenkan names and nicknames that could suit anyone in any city, such as Ganamnik – a person with dishonest intentions; Gardzielnik (from the Polish) – a glutton and a drunkard, addicted his whole life to eating; Landzibiluz – a beggar who plays the role of a rich man and does not ascribe any importance to money; Hulko-Pulko Jutro Bezkoszula (from the Polish: Rowdy today and without a nightshirt tomorrow), that is to say, a man who does not worry about tomorrow or, in English, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”; Nie Dolenga – in Polish, a nobody, an unsuccessful person, etc., etc.

The nicknames suited the person's actions and characteristics, but the “monopoly” on them was the property of the whole city.


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The Mentally Retarded

Peszka

She talked a lot, but irrelevantly. A torrent of words came out of her mouth, in addition to sharp curses. Sometimes she used her hands – she struck people and also threw rocks. She always attacked people and was not afraid of even the strongest person. When Peszka passed by in the street, she caused scandals, stopping at each house, yelling and shaking her fists. Therefore, people tried to avoid meeting her. Children, especially, were afraid of her, and ran home or hid whenever they saw her coming.

Peszka was frightened only once. It was on Yom Kippur Eve, at the time of the Kol Nidrei prayer, when only children remained at home. Peszka knocked on the door of a house. The children opened the door, saw her and burst into tears and terrible screams. This was the first time that Peszka herself was frightened, and ran for her life…

 

Berele

“Dai-dai-dai-dai-dai”… this was his daily refrain. At the same time, he would hop and dance and contort his face with silly facial expressions. People heard him talk infrequently; most of the time, he was silent. He always went barefoot and dressed in rags. He was unkempt, confused and agitated. Most of the time, his mother led him by the hand and watched over him. After each dance and his “dai-dai-dai” song, he got a few grosz or a slice of bread. His mother always chased away anyone who annoyed him like flies, those who crowded around him on the street. Berele himself was quiet and did not attack people. On the contrary, he aroused pity and was grateful to anyone who gave him something. In exchange for every slice of bread, he danced and sang for a long time. Although he was mentally disturbed, a warm heart beat inside him. He liked children very much and enjoyed “performing” for them. It was said that if Berele had been a normal person, he would have been a community worker in our city…

 

Szmuelke

In the past, he was a great lamdan, but he became deranged and left the “straight” path. He lived on the roof of the shtebl of the Gur Chassidim, at Little Icchakel's, and always spoke words of Torah, even in the street.

This, for example, is one of his disturbed sayings: “From where is it derived that a women is exempt from a strange death? And the answer is: If a person dies of an illness, he is brought to burial. The question is asked: Why is he brought? Is he sick and cannot walk by himself? And the answer is: He is actually sick, and therefore cannot walk. But if he died a strange death, then he is not sick. Thus, there is another question: So why does he not walk himself? And the answer is: A dead man is exempt from tzitzit [fringes on the corners of a ritual garment], and is therefore afraid to walk and must be brought. But a woman is exempt from tzitzit, so she can walk by herself. So why must she be brought? From this it is clear that a woman is exempt from a strange death.”

 

Zeligel “Bracie” (My brother)

He was called “Bracie” because he used to tap everyone's shoulder and say “Bracie” (My brother). His usual refrain was, “Oy, my sweet God, te-lee-te-lee, shlai-dai dai!” Or, “Where is my luck, I am looking for it everywhere and I can't find it”. Thus he would sing and clap his hands rhythmically. He did not like new houses. At the beginning of the war in 1939, when people were expelled from their homes, he said, “I don't understand why we have to leave our homes and find new ones. Aren't the old houses good anymore?…” When he met a woman, he would sing to her, “I have a lass. She is pretty, and if she has dollar, ta da risa bim bam bom…”

 

Zyszte

He was a quiet man, partly blind, and did not bother anyone. He only begged for donations and ate what was given to him. In the city, there was a rumor that he loaned money for interest… He never agreed to take a small coin. When he was given a donation, he rubbed it well until he decided whether he would take it or not. At night, he slept in the community shtebl. He fixed and patched his ragged clothes by himself. His speech was confused and it was hard to understand him. He always wore a black garment, shiny from all the grease that stuck to it; his pockets were full of bread, and in his inner pockets – neat and sorted packets of money…

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Koppel “Nierozgavarivaj” (Russian for: Don't talk) He was not born in Ostrolenka, but came from the area. He sold Havdala candles, and also had a “cinema” box that he got from America. He wandered around with it at fairs and, for five grosz, sold a peek into it; there, you saw pictures from the country of Columbus. He had a yellow beard and thick earlocks. He was meticulous with all his customers and spoke with a “resh” [stressed his “r's”]. He held a telescope in his hand and was always surrounded by children. But Koppel maintained his dignity and did not want to become a target of ridicule. He took his “business” seriously – he only approached adults with Havdala candles, and only children with the “cinema”. He could not tolerate crowds around him, and reacted severely to any noise, with only one word “Nierozgavarivaj”. That is, Quiet, don't talk! This was his main refrain, and therefore, it also became his nickname.


“The Verses of Ostrolenka”

All sorts of songs, refrains and skits relating to current events were written in our city. The lines that were written always had a personal, political or social interpretation.

Here are parts of songs and skits written by Herzl Sojka and Eli Bajuk. They brought a great deal of joy and hilarity to the Ostrolenkan audience, which avidly “swallowed” these satirical compositions. Every passing episode immediately found expression in their creations, and was often accompanied by sharp criticism. The “bits” were presented on amateur stages, at fetes and any social gathering. (Freely translated from the Yiddish):

 

 

H. Sojka
 
E. Bajuk

 

Give back the box of
chocolates,
You are not one of us at all,
I was greatly mistaken,
and I'm not giving even
A penny
or…

Chawke already went to the field with the Gentile…

or:

The black-haired Rywkele
Works in the factory
She winds threads
And a long rope comes out…

It is superfluous to note the intent of these few verses here. There was not one among the effervescent youth of our city who did not understand the real meaning of the words, and at whom the “shots” were aimed…

Here is a complete “creation”, cited because of its special importance as an example.

 

Verses from Everyday Events

(Written upon the establishment of the Women's Organization of Ostrolenka.
The authors: one of the two mentioned above,
or both together. Apparently, Hercke Sojka.)

We are celebrating today – let us say, great joy that my
belly is big,
Goods that are in demand have come to town:
A progressive organization of married women –
Who arrange a tea party for us,
Or, as my grandmother calls them, the women's gallery,
That will care for the ladies after nine months…

My Uncle Beniamin calls it by another name:
Women in a cooperative,
When one begins to speak –
It immediately becomes a collective.

How do you say it, a Kingdom of Women?
Yes, I agree! If this is good for you, then so be it…

I don't care – it won't influence Hitler
Nor will it harm him…

What does my brother's brother say:
When women become a study group
Tumult will not be lacking there…

*

Dear ladies and gentlemen!
What is there to think?
There is great joy in our hearts –
When women have the floor!

[Page 273]

What was it Reb Szaje said:
This is not proof at all
That this ringing can hold out,
And, Heaven forbid, will not slip –
If the honorable Chairwoman
Will speak and mention in her words,
That membership dues must be paid monthly,
Then surely everything will crumble.

And of all the women who have gathered
Maybe only two will remain:
The Treasurer and the Comptroller – that's all!
How does the hackneyed saying go:
We would not even give a grosz!

*

Listen, listen, children,
I will calculate for you here
The entire capacity of the organization –
Because the organization deserves appreciation,
The President, Mrs. Anna Bracha,
Enters successfully here –
Let this now be a secret
An extraordinary enema – of the best rubber
It is said that it is expensive – only one franc,
If a member becomes ill, Heaven forbid,
It helps…

She only gets a trickle
Already the fever goes down.

The matron, Tova Genandel
Contributes a meat pot,
She permits cooking in it for Sabbath and for weekdays,
And the matter is not yet closed.

She also gives a milk pot
For she is the Chief Secretary –
To cook gruel for the patients.

Besides this, she has a new medicine for the new
mothers:
You take garlic and a lemon peel,
Place it on the woman's abdomen,
And the pain vanishes like smoke…

Who needs midwives
With all these aids?
And a minute after the smart trick
Up jumps a male child – a lad of twenty,
Two meters high, until smoke comes out…

The Deputy President is also most active
She gave some sort of thermometer
Which lowers the fever
And increases the cold,
In the meanwhile, it's the only one in the world
And the patient, whose temperature rises to forty-one
degrees
The miracle-thermometer lowers it to thirty-six…

My neighbor would say
It is surely broken…

And the Member Chaja
Brings thirteen cupping glasses,
Cotton with ethyl alcohol,
Which will surely help the ladies;
And the Member Fanja Brajna,
So vigorous and good,
And you can't come to her with complaints –
She is the Treasurer with the hundred,
And of course also has the knowledge…

Why, it is obvious
That the knowledge is in the hands of she who has the
money,
She gave a gift to a married woman –
An elegant bathtub, in which to take a dip and enjoy,
It certainly couldn't hurt
To include the girls of the administration, too.

And from whence to take water?
There will be water, enough for all,
It will flow, it will endlessly flow…

Fillings in the teeth for children
Free for the asking,
Promise the modest ladies,
And for anyone whose tooth hurts –
The pliers are ready, the doctor is energetic,
One, two – and the tooth is already out,
May the poor also enjoy themselves.

As you see,
We will be satisfied with the ladies.

We will fill the box for them,
And they for us – the stomach.

By the way, I already feel growing hunger,
And run to the buffet to satisfy what is lacking…

But I found there an unpleasant shortcoming –
They don't give credit – the years have passed,
Since you sat calmly at the table
And ate roast goose, fried fish, sipped a drink
And said at the buffet: Write it down in the books…

[Page 274]

*

I imagine to myself and understand,
How does it look -
A meeting of the ladies? And its proceedings.

One asks for the floor,
And all the others begin to cackle…

The Chairwoman wishes to protest,
But they are insulted and burst into tears,
The firemen must be called
To extinguish the fire of the terrible arguments.

No meeting can take place
And when it comes time to vote,
Then the women will forgive me,
The sound of the screaming reaches outer space.

And what would Jankele Dawid the Secretary say?
You are dealing with the nation of women here,
A difficult and strange tribe,
With which it is hard to reach an arrangement.

*

Today we celebrate Women's Day
A good and productive movement,
Without which we would be meager and insipid,
And we are not talking about Zionism and philanthropy,
The Member Nadel from the Bund would say: “This is
not utopia…”
So, Members, begin to work,
And may it be with luck and success!
Succeed in the length and in the width
Don't be satisfied with only nine measures of speech,
And not with talking about new dresses,
We want to see productive work,
So may you want to dedicate strength, time and energy,
Because
At the end, one of two things will come out:
Either you will work and survive…

Or you will disband…

*

Long live the Women's Organization
Which promises us culture as well as… canalization,
A toast to tea parties, of the day
That approaches, men and women;
A toast to a rich and tasty buffet.

A toast to the guard at the door
Who let me in for free!

These were Ostrolenka's entertainments, with its songs, verses and humor. Its Jews knew how to rise above suffering and poverty, and looked forward to a good and promising future… The audience was entertained by the warm, jolly verses of the talented pair of writers, Hercke Sojka, of blessed memory, and Eli Bajuk, may God avenge his blood.

 

ost274.jpg
The first Masquerade Evening in Ostrolenka, 1924
In the center: Hercke Sojka dressed as an upper school student

 

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