Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Dawn. It is quiet in the shtetl [town], the streets and alleys are empty. The butcher blocks made from tree trunks lie strewn about in the market. A whinny is heard somewhere from a wagon driver's horse that is resting from his short trip to the train station two kilometers to the east of the shtetl where its master drove it hitched to a half-covered carriage for passengers who needed to travel to Warsaw or to Bialystok and back.
It is becoming a little bright on the east side; the day is beginning to dawn. Somewhere is heard the creaking of doors. Here and there silhouettes appear that are not hard to recognize in the dark blueness of the coming morning. I see them now, as if alive before my eyes. Here goes Motl Fertl, cabinet maker. Aizik the shoemaker, Kalman the furrier, Elya the blacksmith, Shmulye the tailor, Berl Malamed [teacher in kheder religious primary school] and others. Each with a talis [prayer shawl] under his arms going in the same direction. To the Beis-haMedresh [house of study and prayer], to pray with the first minyon [quorum of 10 men needed for prayer]. The Beis-haMedresh was opened earlier, the extra-bright lights lit. Cleaned, and water has been poured into the hand cask, the lights lit near the lectern. Ahron Shamas [shamas rabbi's assistant] had prepared everything with his assistant, Yisroelke, the gray-haired assistant Shamas.
They did not only do all of the work in the Beis-haMedresh, but also other city requirements, such as going to inspect the eruv [wire boundary within which things can be carried on Shabbos] every Friday and, when it was necessary, they also fixed it, so that it would be possible to carry things on Shabbos. And they were also the Shamasim of the Khevre-Kadishe [burial society]. They each did separate work for weddings and brisn [religious circumcisions]. Ahron needed to invite the guests on the day of each celebration. And Yisroelke helped the men prepare the tables. And for women, Heike, the beterke [woman who invites wedding guests] helped to serve the food. Heike was shamaste [the wife of the shamas] in the woman's section of the synagogue and a volunteer with the Khevre-Kadishe. She died in her old age before the First World War. Only Ahron Shamas always accompanied the rav-damta [Aramaic word rabbi of the city] to and from the Beis-haMedresh every day.
Ahron went to repair the eruv during the first week after the Bolsheviks entered the shtetl and was arrested as a spy. But he was freed with the help of a Jewish officer who was in the tcherezveitcheike [reconnaissance office], who clarified the matter of the eruv among Jews.
The Kherve-Mishnius-Beis-haMedresh [the synagogue of the Mishnah group] was in the same nameless street. Three Hasidic houses of prayers were also concentrated in this street. The Gerer and Aleksander were past the city synagogue and the Sokolower shteibl [Hasidic house of study] at Arke Lung.
It was already light.
Here the baskets and boxes of greens and fruits are being carried out into the market and from Shashe and Chava, the potter, and from the blond Moshe and Moshe Wolfczikhe. These are the usual stall-keepers. Each one sits in her spot, which had perhaps been chosen by her grandmother, on boxes padded with sacks.
People are coming from the first minyon. On the way, several drop into Zublun's or to Pinykhe (Pinye Josef Szepke's wife) in order to take a drink, to drink a small glass of whisky and to have a snack, to take sustenance before beginning the day-to-day work. Here the baked goods from Malka are brought, bagged bread and fresh, crusty rolls and other rolls. Josef-Mendl, Malka's husband, sets up his stall. The Jedrzejower baker has already completed his stall of greens on the other side of the market women. Peshe-Jute's daughter has put out her three troughs of fresh, crisp bagels. Mothers hurry to buy several bagels and several rolls for their children to take with them to kheder.
Peasant wagons arrive from the nearest villages, loaded with birchwood, potatoes and wheat. Eggs, cheese and butter. Men are still going to the Beis-haMedresh to pray or to the Hasidic shtiblekh. On the way they haggle with the peasants; one haggles over a little wagon of wood and he goes home with the wood, or with other bargains. Then they go to pray in a good mood, satisfied with the bargain.
And once Shmulye Feyde said to a peasant while haggling;
You want two gildn for such a handful of wood (30 Russian kopeks). I can carry it home on my shoulder!Meanwhile a group of men gathered, a rope was brought and the wagon of beams were firmly bound together. Help was given to Shmulye to put them on his shoulder and a dead silence arose. No one believed his own eyes Shmulye would actually carry the entire wagon of wood home? It was thought, here he would collapse. However, he walked. Jews and Christians, old and young, whoever was then at the market, accompanied Shmulye. He had a distance of approximately 300 meters to his house. He hurriedly threw down the wood under his window. The wood fell with a crash. However, it was not heard because of the bravo-applause and the shouts of hurrah from the surrounding mob. Then as he straightened himself, the peasant first offered his hand, crossed himself and said Khodzshmi do Jankelia! (We are going to Moshe Yankl's.) This was the most distinguished tavern in Czyzewo. And there, several glasses of 95 proof spirits were drunk, roasted goose was eaten and they went as good friends.
If you carry it home all at once, take it without cost! The peasant said to him.
Shmulye said, I hold you to your word.
The church bells for morning prayers are heard. The opening locks of the shops in the market, which are found in two rows of low, little wooden houses in the middle of the market, also ring. They form the business center of Czyzewo. The food shops and textiles, haberdashery, ironware and so on, are found there, as well as two khederim [religious elementary schools], Borukh Krajndl's and Shimeon Nusan's, right opposite the church.
The butchers come out and each carries a standing stool and lays a plate of nailed together thick boards on it and his table is finished. Then he looks for the butcher block which urchins rolled somewhere at night. It also happened that on the night before they were to leave for military service, the recruits heated the bath with such a butcher block, if they were not satisfied with the gift the butcher had given to the recruits, which was the custom in Czyzewo at that time.
The butchers each had their spots just as the baker and the female stall keepers. The two Ziske brothers and Jankl Balender near Malka's bread stalls. And on the other side of the vegetables, opposite Pesakh Surwiczher's wall, stood the Pejsakes. These were the two brothers, Pesakh's sons Mendl and Moshe. And opposite Ezra's, Eleizer the butcher and Zelikl had their official residence.
Meat was not sold in any butcher shop, but on the street. The butcher himself hot getreybert the meat [removed the forbidden vein and fat to make meat kosher]. There were no specialists who removed the forbidden vein and fat.
Several small merchants hang around the market and wait. Perhaps a peasant will come from a village and some sort of a small bargain could be bought from him, a little wheat, chickens, or eggs, butter, and later the merchant will leave for the village and perhaps buy a hide or a calf or a little pig hair. People come together at random; groups are created and discuss world politics. They worry about world politics. They care about every country, people, cities and shtetlekh and the merchants from the shops opposite take part and then return to the shops when a customer appears.
Every Tuesday was a market day, if there was no Jewish holiday. The market would become filled with peasant wagons on both sides of the shops. The peasants from the surrounding villages would arrive very early, bringing their goods to sell in the town. Then, with the money, they would buy products, meat, naphtha, sugar, salt and various other goods, haberdashery, textiles or redeem pelts from the furrier, a fur coat from the tailor, and so on.
Friday seemed to be an unofficial market day in the town. Peasants would come with various products to sell and the main fish sellers, Yehoshua and Ezra, occupied a respected place in the market with their barrels, baskets of various fish, in honor of Shabbos.
The market began emptying after noon. Men hastily went to the mikvah [bathhouse]; during the summer they would also go to wash in the river. These were the only options for washing oneself during all of the years of Czyzewo's existence.
The fairs gave the shtetl its livelihood, which was more than during the time between fairs. Whoever had been helped by God that he have a good fair and had earned a great deal was happy. He could return the borrowed interest-free loan money. He could come with an open face and ask for a loan again.
There was no shortage of those who provided interest free loans in Czyzewo. And there was also no shortage of those who took the loans. Almost every merchant borrowed an interest free loan after every market and before every fair and in the last years before the Second World War, which brought the downfall of the shtetl, an interest free loan office was created.
The wedding hall was no problem. The most comfortable salons were in the Christian tea house in Berish Frydman's house, or at the homes of Pesakh Ourowicz, Zawl Edlsztajn, or at the soap boiler Rabinowicz. There were salons in these places, larger than average rooms. These places were not paid for; everyone was ready to give his apartment to celebrate a wedding ceremony there, which lasted at least half the night. At the beginning of the evening, the bride, already in her veil and wedding clothing, would be led away.
The bride's throne was already prepared in the corner of the salon. It was an overturned baker's trough (half a barrel in which the dough for rye bread was kneaded). This was a talisman that the marriage would prove successful. A half or entire armchair stood on the trough covered with a white sheet. And on each side, there were candlesticks on stands in which burned colored, braided havdalah candles. After Yudl Badkhn [a badkhn is a wedding entertainer who specializes in sentimental rhymes], with his hoarse voice, celebrated the bride in song, congratulated the in-laws and the bride in rhyme, he invited the klezmorim [musicians who play secular Jewish music] to play the music and the bride was led, going on foot, into the wedding hall where she sat on her throne.
The girls and young wives, friends of the bride, or young daughters of guests, familiar and unfamiliar, were assembled in the salon and they prepared themselves for dancing. No men dared to dance with them, although there were some who would have done so. The religious ban was voided first in the 1920's and men and women danced, undisturbed.
Yudl Badkhn was the only badkhn in the town. But in the time of the Germans, Josef, Shmerl's son wanted to compete with Yudl as a badkhn, but without success It was inconceivable that it was possible to celebrate a wedding without a badkhn. Or that one would bring a strange badkhn. Yudl had his separate price for each class. Rich, middleclass and poor. He alone decided to which class the in-laws belonged. In addition to the wages, he would receive a percentage of the wedding gift money. He was also used in the neighboring villages and surrounding shtetlekh. Along with his earnings from repairing rubber galoshes, he had an income and led a middleclass life. Particularly after his children grew up and helped.
The klezmorim consisted of fiddle players, a clarinetist and a drummer. The fiddle players were Itsl the klezmer. His livelihood came from watchmaking. And Yitzhak the klezmer. The clarinetists were Avraham Josef, Itzl's son. And Yitzhak's brother, Meilekh. Both brothers were tsitses makers by trade. Drummers would be found among the young. The klezmorim would receive wages, just as Yudl Badkhn. And in addition to the wages, they were paid by the dancing young girls. A certain sum for each dance; each dance had its price and the money was collected from the girls who took part in the dance. At that time, the dances were the Patispan, Vengerke polka, waltz and Sherele Krakowiak. These were the popular folk dances.
The tables covered with wine, fruit and candies were in the second room, or at a neighbor's. Here sat the women guests. And while the Sznadower read over the signed ketubah, Yudl Badkhn sang about the groom and klezmorim played a freilekh [happy song] and a mazel-tov [good luck] was wished. They had a taste of all of the good things from the covered tables. When the crowd was well satisfied, they dressed the groom in a white kitl [white linen robe worn on Yom Kippur and by the groom at his wedding] and a coat on top and he was accompanied by all of the guests to the badekhn di kalah [veiling of the bride prior to the wedding ceremony]. Yudl called out loudly Mitn rekhtn fus in a mazeldike sho! [With the right foot in a lucky hour.] Klezmorim went in the front and played the Skarbown nigun for leading a groom to the veiling of the bride.
Entering the bride's room, the groom was strewn with a rain of confetti by the young girls gathered in the room who stood in two rows.
After bedekhn the bride with a specially prepared white silk kerchief, the in-laws took the groom, arm-in-arm, and Yudl Badkhn again called out Mitn rekhtn fus in a mazeldike sho, tzu der khupa [to the wedding]!
Klezmorim played their traditional march to the wedding and, accompanied by wedding guests and the curious, proceeded to the wedding canopy waiting at the synagogue. First went several men, who had changed into various masks and figures, carrying burning torches in order to light the way to the wedding. There was no electric lighting then and the streets were dark if there was no moon that night. And just as it was a traditional custom to throw stones on the roof of Golde's daughter Gitl on Tisha b'Av [the 9th of Av, which usually falls in July or August is a fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem], so it was a custom to throw rotten apples, or even pickles, at the groom on his way to the wedding. And snow balls in the winter. The groom's short walk from the wedding hall to the khupah [wedding canopy] was perhaps the most difficult in his entire life. A large, curious crowd was already assembled at the synagogue so that tomorrow they could describe how the groom looked standing under the khupah. Every yidene [a somewhat derogatory term for a Jewish woman] described him differently. One said he had the face of an angel. A second like a fool. Or like a Cossack or that the Divine Presence had rested on his face. He had then shone like the sun on a clear summer day. And so on and so on.
When the groom had been brought under the wedding canopy with mazel [luck], the klezmorim and Yudl Badkhn went back to the bride.
Almost all of the women and young girls in the shtetl were assembled in the hall or outside. A large number of them carried lit braided havdalah candles or colored Chanukah candles. And after Yudl Badkhn celebrated the bride in song, with a serious rhymed poem, which brought tears to the eyes of the women, the mothers-in-law took the bride arm-in-arm and the assembled young girls shouted: Make way, the bride is coming! Two rows were formed of girls linked hand-in-hand like an avenue of living people. The bride was called to the wedding canopy with a wedding march.
After the wedding ceremony, the groom and bride were led home to one of the in-laws where a meal of fish and meat and specially braided wedding rolls was celebrated. Soup with several almonds was served in tea glasses. And here the male guests sat separately. Only the groom sat with the bride at the women's table.
Before reciting the blessings, the groom was invited to the men's table and Yudl Badkhn, frequently disguised in another pose, made the crowd happy with his humorous songs and stories and comic announcements of the wedding gifts that the guests had given, objects or cash. And Yudl licked off a fat bone from the cash.
The tables were taken out after the blessing and the young people again began to dance until daybreak. But in the middle of the dance Yudl Badkhn called out: Now we will dance the mitzvah tantzl! Or as it was also called, the kosher tantz [kosher or pure dance]. He offered his large red pocket kerchief. The bride held one corner and the groom the other and whoever had God in his heart and a long arm held the kerchief with at least two fingers. The klezmorim played a lively one and everyone, men and women, turned in circles. And unnoticed, the groom and bride left the dance. The kosher tantz was the only one in which everyone was permitted to dance together, men and women.
In the morning, there was again a celebratory meal, more music, dancing and Yudl Badkhn made the guests happy while they ate. After maariv [evening prayers], a sheva-brokha [seven wedding benedictions] was celebrated and with this the holiday in the middle of the week ended.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
As a widow, she and her daughter and grandchildren lived in an apartment that consisted of a large room with an alcove. Until deep into her old age, she supported herself with her own work. On the market days she purchased a piece of butter from the peasants, a few eggs, a little wheat, sheep's wool for the tsitsis maker, feathers, a piece of homemade linen and she supported herself with this
for the entire year. But during the weeks before Passover, her apartment was turned into a matzo bakery, preparing it in advance according to all laws. Even kosher Mehadrin Min Hamedrin [the highest level of performance of a mitzvah or commandment].
Several weeks before Purim, Gitl-Golda was already busy preparing the bakery, buying wood, gathering people, young men, young girls and married women for rolling. She would actually choose the best and the most capable and the most responsible. Only the kneader and the one who slid the matzos into the oven were unchanging, the same ones every year.
Long, newly planed boards were placed on casks and boxes to make tables that ran around three sides of the large room. The oven, which was not used for the rest of the year, was on the fourth wall
and it was still heated intensely lest there be, God forbid, any suspicion of hametz [non-Passover foods].
A box was placed in the alcove that served as a table on which stood the large brass basin in which the dough for the matzos was kneaded. On the side stood a wooden barrel of water which was brought from the Brak River because the water from the well used in the shtetl was not kosher enough for the matzos. It had to be drawn with hametzdik [not kosher for Passover] pails.
Gitl-Golda watched over everything. Her sharp eyes penetrated every corner. Gitl-Golda's voice, which gave instructions, made observations on each movement that could, God forbid, give rise to hametz, was heard non-stop everywhere. Although the rabbi employed a special mashgiakh [supervisor of dietary laws], Gitl-Golda did not only rely on him, but controlled the rolling pins, the board and the hands of the male and female rollers herself, if God forbid, dough from an earlier piece of dough for matzo remained.
She gave the completed matzos to the customers herself; she kept the accounts in her head without a pencil and never made any errors. Only when the Hasidim came on erev Pesakh [the eve of Passover] to bake matzos mitzvah [matzos baked right before the start of Passover for use in the Seder], did Gitl-Golda not have access to the bakery. Everything was done only by the men.
Just as the baking of matzo would be repeated each year, so did the throwing of stones on Gitl-Golda's roof on Tish b'Av after [the reading of] Lamentations. Immediately on leaving the synagogue, the crashing of stones hailing over the thin roof of Gitl-Golda's house was heard across the shtetl. Along with the noise of Gitl-Golda shouting, not knowing even
who the throwers were. Up to the First World War it was almost like a tradition. After throwing bristles in the beard of the synagogue Lamentations reader, the throwing of stones on Gitl-Golda's roof began and only on the half of her house and never on Moshe-Josl's part. It would always begin just at the time when the women sat in Gitl-Golda's large room on low chairs or boxes holding tallow candles, which gave light to those listening to Gitl-Golda's reading of Lamentations in a crying voice, lamenting the destruction of the Temple [in Jerusalem]. The reading would be disturbed because of the stone throwing; therefore, she could never finish the entire reading of Lamentations. She read loudly from the large Tsena uRena Teytsh-Khumish, which was already yellow with age. She inherited the Teytsh-Khumish from her mother, who inherited it from her parents and grandmothers, over many generations.
The train of inheritance ended with Gitl-Golda. Her daughter did not inherit the Teytsh-Khumish. Gitl-Golda died just before the Second World War, as it is told over 100 years of age. Her daughter and her family perished in the Czyzewo destruction.
He had his income from a little shoemaking; sometimes as a bathhouse attendant and the main income came from the fact that his wife, Rywtshe-Rojze,
was a regular kneader for Gitl-Golda's matzo. She bound tsitsis [ritual fringes] for Itshe Meir, the tsitsis maker, plucked feathers and knitted socks and gloves (at that time no machine-made socks were used in Czyzewo). He had a beautiful tenor voice and he would pray at the lectern in the large house of prayer on Shabbos and the holidays.
He was one of the people, who founded the linas hatzedek [society to provide medical assistance and medications] during the time of the cholera. On Purim he would be among the disguised who went to gather gifts for the bikor kholem [help for the sick], etc. However, he mainly dedicated himself to the children tinokot shel beth rabban [the children who study at the Rabbi's house]. Chanukah, when Ahron the city shamas [sexton] would bless the Chanukah candles in the large brass Chanukah lamp that stood on the long table on the south side of the large house of prayer, Meir would gather all of the children and after each blessing the children's choir would sing out the amen with their thin, little voice, accompanied by Meir's tenor. At the hakofes [procession with the Torah scrolls around the synagogue] on Simkhas-Torah [holiday celebrating the completion of the annual reading of the Torah and the start of its yearly reading], which lasted late into the night and in the morning for the entire day, he was surrounded by children and kheder boys and he would loudly shout out each verse of the hakofes and also the Holy Flock! later in the street. The children immediately rang out, Me-e-e, with their childish voices Thus he went around the shtetl with them throughout the day of Simkhas-Torah and imbued everyone with the child-like joy, with the song and with the dance, which he danced with the children.
After his death, Josl the tsistis maker, or Josl, Zawl Leib's son, as he was known, did the same thing. However, he
was unsuited for it and the children did not go along with him as with Meir.
Years later, Avraham, the son-in-law of Josl Ahron the melamed [teacher], again carried out the custom of shouting out, the Holy Flock. However, there was no longer the enthusiasm, the joy in the shtetl as with Meir Ganer, of blessed memory.
In old age he fell off a roof of a two-story building. He was ill for his remaining years, but even then he did not stop his work as a feldsher; he was occupied with spraying for as long as he could walk.
She was called to the sick before the doctor was called; she decided who needed to be called, Shmuelye or the Christian feldsher or actually the doctor. There were cases in which she believed that no one needed to be called, that it was enough to charm away an ein-hore or to pour wax. She would also serve as a midwife, but in difficult cases she would ask that Sheine-Khamke of Brik be called. The women giving birth felt more secure with her [Brukha], but she herself often did not want to leave it even to Sheine-Khamke and would ask that the Christian, qualified midwife or the doctor be called.
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