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{Page 488}

Romanova

(Lenino, Belarus)

5303' 2714'

Ish Yehuda Sfra

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein


From Romanova Slutsk is a distance of twenty kilometers in all. There were about two hundred families in the shtetl, mainly peasants, of which about 30 families were Jewish.

Twenty years had already passed since twenty Jewish families had arrived to cultivate Prince Vitenshtein's property.

He rented each Jewish family ten acres of fertile land for a term of six years.

The Jews went out to work in the morning and returned late in the evening, the same as the Christians. Besides properly fertilizing the fields, they saturated the land with their sweat and toil.

The Jews were happy when they had the possibility of buying the fields as private property because the high cost of the yearly rent exhausted them.

A lot of Jews in the surrounding towns were willing to stop peddling in order to feed themselves by farming.

It was necessary to call the rabbis of the small towns together, as well as the town elders. They had to take charge and help thousands of unfortunates while they prepared to farm for their living with the hope of happiness in a new life.

(“HaZfira” number 31, 1880)


Romanova

Chaim Zeides

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein


As usual, a Jew in Romanova building his suke [sukkah, tabernacle erected in celebration of Sukkoth, in which meals are eaten] for the holiday, was already worrying about how he would make it through the winter. Although everyone had a full measure of potatoes, a barrel of sauerkraut, a tub of pickles and a large amount of dried onion. The well to do would also have a couple of bags of white flour to make challah [braided egg bread eaten on the Sabbath] and several cords of wood for the winter. Every household, rich and poor, had bread which they baked themselves during the entire week. As usual, families generally ate meat only on shabes [the Sabbath]. During the week they were satisfied with a meal called fish potatoes, which meant potatoes without fish.

Romanova was a long way from the railroad. Berl the wagon driver who drove passengers and cargo to Slutsk and back told about marvels, from when he was a soldier and saw a train – wagons traveling without horses…

And then the village policeman came with a government order that Berl must put a bell on the harness. And the village gained pleasure from it; hearing the bell everyone knew that Berl was arriving from Slutsk with various goods.

Chaim the shoemaker lived at the gateway to the shtetl. He was a poor man in every way because the well-to-do Romanova Jews ordered new boots from the surrounding villages. The gentiles wore bast shoes, and only on Sunday to go to church did a gentile put on a pair of boots, so they would last years and years. So, Chaim the shoemaker did not have a lot work and not enough bread to eat his fill. But his wife, Hinda, presented him with a child every year. The sexton of the synagogue would say: Reb [Mr.] Chaim, you know, in view of our allotted time on earth, you will have your own minion [quorum of ten men required for certain prayers] at home. Chaim would answer: But meanwhile all of them want to eat…

All week long Chaim's family ate more potatoes than bread and buying flour for Shabes was as difficult as parting the Red Sea. Hinda worked hard in the gardens and walked to the villages to buy hens and eggs, and still there was not enough to make shabes.

One beautiful morning Chaim received a ship's ticket from one of his brothers-in-law. Hinda pawned her bedding and candlesticks so that Chaim could leave.

A short while later Hinda was able to redeem her pawned goods and blessed the candles in her own candlesticks and bought white flour in honor of Shabes.

Hinda no long worked and did not walk to the villages. The melamdim [plural of melamed, teachers in boys' elementary school] charged her tuition each month. She hoped that her Chaim would come home with a fortune. Later she received a letter telling her to sell everything and to come with the children to him. She was not expecting such a problem: Does it mean she must go to America, a country without Judaism? Better that Chaim comes back to Romanova. Chaim wrote that she must come and she answered that she could not leave the family and the graves in the cemetery. She received a letter from Chaim saying he would be moving from New York to Brooklyn and she would have difficulty getting his address. This scared Hinda. She could, G-d forbid, become a deserted wife. She went to the Romanova rabbi, Reb Abraham Pinkhus Goldberg, the famous “good Jew”. The Romanova rabbi sat day and night studying. All questions were screened by the rebetzin [rabbi's wife] so his Torah studies would not be disturbed.

Hinda arrived with swollen eyes and pleaded: she must see the rabbi personally to pour out her troubles to him. Her Chaim writes that he is going to leave New York over the Williamsburg Bridge. She will be a deserted wife! Also she will not go to a country where people work on shabes and eat treif [non-kosher food].

The rabbi listened to hear and then said: Romanova is very far from New York, so if your husband is traveling further it is then of course a very distant place. According to the law a wife must follow her husband. Secondly, rather than become a deserted wife, it is better that you travel with the children to him. G-d, blessed is he, will light your road. With a broken heart she took leave of her family, acquaintances, and friends and went to the cemetery and had a good cry.

[photo:] Reb Itsche Gites, the Gemore-melamed [teacher of the part of the Talmud commenting on the mishnah] in Romanova. The picture is from the reign of Nicholas I as teachers had to have photograph without a hat for their teacher's certificate.

Arriving in America she found out that traveling from New York to Williamsburg cost only two cents. Hinda would often say: I would not have gone to America, if not for advice of the Romanove rabbi.

The grandchildren would joke: If bobe [grandmother] Hinda had known how close Williamsburg was to New York, she would not have come here.

How lucky it was that she was afraid of being a deserted wife.



Shmuel Domnitz

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

A long, crooked street, muddy,
Frogs croak in the ditches,
Jews wander together from afar
To see a healer, not an unusual thing.
A tattered sloping thatched roof.
Walls of knotty logs,
Windowpanes all colors of the rainbow:
Pine splinters stuffed into open spaces.
Damps walls growing moss,
The floor of yellow clay,
Mother is spinning flax
And the spindle sings a slow melody.
With a yarmulke [skull cap] and a talis-koton [ritual four cornered garment]
Father sits and teaches children,
Over the walls their shadows flicker,
From his students he draws pleasure and beams with joy.

 

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