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The little Jewish shtetl Dobromil was a little shtetl like all the other little shtetls of Galitsia, but yet it lay in a setting of scenic natural beauty. It nestled there in a valley, this shtetl, ringed around with lofty green hills, with bountiful orchards, with flower gardens, an atmosphere fragrant with bracing fresh air. One thing alone was lacking: parnossa, how to make a living. But this we reserve for later.
This shtetl centered on a fine town square. This was called the Ring Platz. In the mid-square a tall town clock proudly chimed out every quarter-hour, half-hour, three-quarters and full hour, so that everyone knew the correct time without ever straining to find out.
And there in that tall building was also the Rathaus, the Magistrat of the municipal administration, the office of the burgomeister, the police department, the jail (for detention from eight to twenty-four hours, when someone or other had somehow or other involved himself in sin against the established municipal ordinances). Also the military commission sent by the Austrian government; and the fire-douser brigade, equipped with a sort of pump machine drawn by two horses ready in harness at any second to run to put out a fire.
Dobromil was on fire almost every day of the week. The fire-dousers were townsfolk, Jews and others, who used to practice their exercises, jumping from a kind of tower all of two stories high, because in Dobromil there were no homes any taller.
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Near the Magistrat (City Hall) there stood a fine statue of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, set in a plot of green lawn and roses, corralled round with an iron palisade.
Not far from the Platz used to stand the Jewish wagoners, waiting for someone to take to the railroad station, for five greitzer. Around the Ring Platz there were fine stone sidewalks. On three sides there used to be small Jewish shopkeepers, who used to wait all week for Monday to bring in customers, because that day had to bring in parnossa for the whole week. Mondays the peasantry of the region round used to come to buy for themselves their various household necessities for the week. At the same time they would bring into town for sale their geese, their quacking ducks, hens, calves, hogs, horses, cows, wagon loads of wood, and so on.
And so the shtetl used to provide its livelihood, one day rousing up from its week-long sleep. And for the Yehudim there was a lively turmoil, a hollering, a creaming, a bleating, every Monday until the time for the Mincha evening prayers. Then once again all became hushed quiet, except for cleaning up the offal left behind by the villagers and their livestock, to which the municipal street cleaners had to attend.
So I have described three sides of the Ring Platz. On the fourth side there was a goodly apothecary shop, the post office, the courthouse, and a village inn (kretschma). Not far from the apothecary's, there ran a path to a wooden bridge where a narrow stream flowed. Summertime, Yeeden used to enjoy refreshing themselves there. And it came to pass that there was someone who owned a water mill, and through various political tricks he diverted the flow of the water to his mill, and then there was an end to summertime swimming. The bridge collapsed on one occasion when a stormy torrent came down suddenly from snow thawing in the mountains. The bridge was replaced but water for bathing was no more.
It took fifteen to twenty minutes to go to the railroad station. That was, depending on the coachman, or rather on his decrepit nag. On both sides of the way, glreen clad
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fields, and also a number of houses which served the province, such as the tax office and other such bureaus.
The station was tiny because traffic was light. Trains stopped at the most for five minutes. The trains were of the old fashioned kind, and when they wanted to get themselves moving, they would sigh and creak, and then the boiler would let off the steam with such a blast that could blow a man off his feet.
Leading away from the square were several side streets where the Jewish population dwelt. In particular one alley was called the Schuster Gass (Cobbler Street), not because only shoemakers liver there (no, there also dwelt tailors, bakers, joiners, tinsmiths, saddlers and still others) but because on that street there was always more going on (toomlen), especially Shabbos after Kiddush.
As you have so far been reading about Dobromil, you must have thought well, not so bad. Nu, so I want to take you into the surrounding alleys. It is wholly natural that when a guest comes, you show him the beautiful, and overlook the ugly, the poorer neighborhood.
In those years the streets in Dobromil were very badly illuminated. On every corner there were small kerosene lamps lighted, so that crossing a street one could feel the gloom. Truly it was as is written in the Scripture verse, and the darkness could be felt. And precisely in such a dim and dark winter night, going on an errand for my mother, that I fell and broke my right foot, and spent three months lying in bed till I was again able to stand on my foot.
There was a second time I fell. This time my father told me to hurry to m'chadesh de lvunah, to the sanctification of the new moon. And being eager to comply with the Fifth commandment (Honor thy Father) I really came running. However, the sanctification of the moon was carried out by the others, not by me. You should have seen how covered I was with mud from top to bottom so that my own parents could hardly recognize me. My father consoled me that the intention amounts to the deed, as my mother pulled the muddy clothes off me and washed them so I could go to school again next the morning.
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About 1905 Dobromil made a great progress in municipal lighting, taking a great step forward. Near the Rathaus there was installed a gas lamp. Every evening this lamp had to be lowered on a cord, filled with gas, fitted with a white mantle. When it was lit, it gave a bluish-tinted light. A policeman had the great honor of being responsible for this new lamp. Every evening before the Mincha-Maariv services we had the pleasure of watching how this new lamp was let down and still more to marvel at the heavy black smoke rising from it to the heart of heaven, as once the pillar of cloud in the desert, stretching up to the high darkness of the distant skies.
When I left Dobromil, there were already two of such great lamps. The rest of the shtetl was lit only with little naphtha lamps, the size of yahrzeit glasses. Every evening the lamplighter used to set up a ladder and climb up to pour in some kerosene; so you can imagine how brightly Dobromil was lit.
Our home consisted of one or two rooms. That is to say, only the rich Yehudim had two rooms, while the poor without exception could barely raise the rent money to pay for one room.
In my very early years I remember houses with straw thatched roofs. The floors were clay, usually not covered with wood. Some windows were so low that the dogs and hogs cold lean on them to relieve themselves. Behind the houses there were pits full of garbage offal, where pigs used to roam for their dinners. In winter ravens and pigs used to hold holiday picnics there. It was simply miraculous that people could come out alive from such unsanitary surroundings.
Some of the non-Jews also kept, besides pigs, cows and goats. Mothers with sickly children on their arms used to bring them to get a fresh drink of milk from the cow or goat.
Mostly the cottages were lit by petroleum oil or by tallow candles or by paraffin candles. Only the rich had blitz-lamps, a kind of hanging lamp.
Water was kept standing in kegs by the door of the
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cottage. Water-carriers, men or women, used to fill them every second or third day, for a small fee, if one could pay. If not, one had to meekly borrow somewhere a wooden bucket or a pitcher and go to the well for water. For Pesach, they used to cover the keg with a white linen cover, so as to render the water kosher for Pesach. Several times a year they used to hammer a nail into the keg of water as some kind of amulet. To this day I do not know what this was supposed to do, what was its purpose. It was supposed to avert some kind of evil.
Every family used to whitewash its dwelling for themselves, and this was done only at Passover time, when the chometz was cast out of the house. With the rich this was half way tolerable. They had two rooms. With the poor, nebich, this was a heavy burden, since they almost without exception lived as families of four and six and even eight in one room. There they ate, there they slept, there they also carried on their crafts, tailoring, shoemaking, tinsmithing, and so on, there they cooked, baked, chaleh for Shabbos, bread for the weekdays. A melamed would keep his ten or twelve pupils and teach them all in the same room. It is understandable that no floor was cleaned all year round. One tracked in plenty from the dirty, muddy street, which hardened. When Erev Pesach came round, they had to scrape off the encrusted mud with iron scrapers and rakes. The only people who did not have to were those who did not have wooden floors.
The poor also had the good fortune to have running water in their homes whenever it rained, through the roofs which were full of holes. Even the beds on which they slept were wet with dripping rain.
That is how the life of the poor looked in those years, 1890-1907.
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Parnossa in Dobromil
With very few exceptions the greatest majority were poor folk, even though they carried on various crafts and occupations.
The following list of occupations is set up according to the Yiddish alphabet, the aleph-beis, by their initials in Yiddish.
Aleph.Arbeiter, workingmen, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, clerks, worked twelve to fourteen hours in a day for low pay. Apprenticed boys were indentured for three and four years without pay, sometimes for meals. Iron dealers.
Beis. Bakers, tinsmiths, bath attendants, letter-carriers, badchan (entertainers).
Gimel. Galanterie-trades (fancy-goods); street sweepers (not Jewish)
Daled. Doctors and half-doctors, two and a half. The two doctors not Jewish, the half-doctor Jewish, not licensed, although called a doctor really a feldsher, or barber-surgeon.
Heh. Hat makers, hebamas (midwives) and the half-doctor used to deliver babies. Hairdressers.
Vav. Vintners, wine merchants, cotton wool makers, water carriers (Jewish and non-Jewish).
Zayin. Zitser mit frucht, fruit peddlers, pastry vendors in a part of the Ring Platz; also a salt booth, where only salt was sold. (It should be noted that some of the wares were produced and sold in the same quarters.)
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Ches. Hog slaughterers, not Jewish, selling only to Gentiles.
Tess. Trager, porters. Theirs was the hardest labor for the smallest pay. They used to carry the heaviest sacks filled with produce on their backs, and receive a greitzer, at the most two.
Yod. Yarmulka makers.
Kaph. Cap vendors.
Lamed. Candle dippers (candles made of tallow or fats).
Mem. Melamdim (tutors), brokers, Menachem-Mendls.
Nun. Needle trades skilled workers.
Samech. Scribes (of Torah scrolls), writers of books, Prayer book vendors.
Eyen. Earthen ware pot vendors.
Pey. Percentniks (usurers), fur pelt merchants, coachmen.
Tzadi. Furnishings sellers.
Koph. Kaddish reciters (professional prayers for the dead), Butchers, Kabtzonim (just plain poor folks).
Resh. Rophaim, healers (a rofeh pulled teeth, set bonkes - cups - and cut hair also.
Shin. Shoemakers, tailors, shtreimel-makers (Makers of fancy holiday fur hats) shamosim (sextons in synagogues).
Tav. Tallis-makers (makers of prayer shawls).
Going by the alphabet, Dobromil should have been a very busily employed shtetl. Of every trade there were only one or two, at the most three, entrepreneurs, and all of them had a bare subsistence. Some of those here enumerated had two or three of the listed parnossas. A melamed always had to have another source of earnings on the side. I must also admit that a few in Dobromil were quite well off. True, no Rockefellers or Morgans, but by ordinary standards the wine sellers, the bankers and some of the businessmen in comparison with the majority of the inhabitants were well-to-do.
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Culture in Dobromil
We give up trying to describe Dobromil. If we really write about it, in all its mud and mire, we would never be able to crawl out of the slough. So we write today about the cultural angles of Dobromil.
In the main cultural activity was religion-oriented. Right after his third birthday they sheared the little boy's beautiful locks off his head, and left only the two payos(ear-locks) on each side. At three years they led him off to the cheder (Hebrew religious school) and so he grew until his bar mitzvah. There were two primary level melamdim with whom little boys and girls were enrolled for a season, for a fee. For later on there were also melamdim of Chumash, (Pentateuch), and melamdim of Gemara (Talmud), with whom older children studied. And then whoever had wealthy parents could go on studying with several select quite advanced teachers of Talmud. The other boys went to learn a trade. A few older fellows of parents who were better off, who had a more up-to-date worldly outlook, were already reading a newspaper, usually a Zionist paper, by subscription from Lemberg. Others, the more advanced among the working-class, a very small number, used to subscribe to the Forward (Naprzod), a Polish-language paper from Cracow.
The adults, that is to say, the married men were mostly occupied with davenin (worship), every single day, and Shabbos and Yomtov. How did each in his way carry out his davenin? The Menachem-Mendls were always ready at the bretel, the wooden board, as they called the
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stand where workingmen stood when they were davening, and if only there was a minyan (quorum, ten male worshippers) they were up and away. In this manner a prayer service was knocked off every half hour. In the Beis-Hamidrash, and in the Big Synagogue, matters were more respectable. There was held only one minyan service a day. Here use to daven the businessmen, and also the usurers, those who used to lend money for interest and then take from the poor the very pots and pans. During the service they would be making their plans, biting a point of their beards between their teeth, mumbling, pacing up and down the length of the aisle, and that is how they worshipped.
Still others used to daven with a sincere heart and afterward also dip into one of the sages' books. This also was customary in the chapel of the Belzer Chassidim and also in the little chapel of the Tshortkover Chassidim, although there I never went to daven. My father was not a Chassid attached to any particular rabbi, but when it came to Shabbos and Yomtov he was among all the Yeeden who were dressed up, having bathed and combed, strutting from the Friday sweating-baths where almost every Yeed had been sweating. The well-to-do wore their silk cloaks, the poor, nebich, whatever they had. But a shtreimel was worn by every one, the richer of elegant fur, the poorer (nebich) of bedraggled tails. But a shtreimel was worn by every married man on Shabbos and Yomtov, except when Shabbos fell on the eve of Tisha B'Ov: then everyone took off his shstreimel and went that night to Kinos (Lamentations) in a cap.
For Jewish children, besides Cheder, there were also the state schools which every Jewish child from ages 6 to 10 was required to attend five hours a day. Parents were responsible for their children's regular attendance at school, whether boys or girls.
Naturally some of our brethren of the Children of Israel figured out a scheme and used to slip a tip to the attendance officer. Not always did this work. Sometime the father of
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the child might have to go to the Chad Gadya (Pokey) for twenty-four hours for a child's not attending punctually or for missing class entirely.
For diversions, there used to come, from other cities, a circus, a panorama, only at the end of the summer. There was a runner who used to run around the shtetl a handsome number of time, with bells sewed to his red uniform, until he could hardly catch his breath, and then, nebich, poor fellow, he would go around with his red cap in hand begging folks to drop something in. Sometimes Yiddish singers would come from Brod who would give a performance in Yiddish. But it was a great pity on them. Dobromil had no Yiddish theater because the public had very little interest in the stage. For the rigorously observant, and for the well-to-do, the theater seemed a treife business (unkosher, taboo), and the poor did not have the few Dobromil was no exception.
But Yeeden find themselves an anser. Well, so what if all week each one was preoccupied with parnossa. That was so that on Friday evening at the table set with fresh baked chalehs, and savory sweet fish, and lokshen noodles in the chicken sour, with stewed prunes for dessert, then the Yeed used to burst into song, caroling the zemiros, and so also on Shabbos after the tsholent and the kugel dripping with chicken fat. At such a time to be a Jew was to be joyful and to take pleasure in Yiddish life.
I seem here to have minimized a very significant institution which must be described, the Yiddish Sweat-bath (shvitzbad), in which every Friday and every Yomtov eve, Yeeden would absolutely bring their souls back to life. The chamber was black darkness, the window-panes black so that no sun could penetrate. There were two tiers of steps constructed as places to sit, and a great oven with red hot stones on which water was poured so that the steam would fill up to the roof, and the Yeeden would cry out, Ay, another bucket of water to do honor to the 'Shabbos'.
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I believe that these anecdotes and vignettes of Dobromil would be missing a good deal if I should not write some words about the Jewish holiday (Yomim-tovim) which were a mode of cultural refreshment after the impoverished, toil wearying hard working days. It is true that most of the time was devoted to davenin, but there were also other pastimes.
In Dobromil there were several houses of worship. There was a beautiful artistically painted Groise Shul, Main Synagogue, of three stories high. The main room was occupied by men. The side rooms were little chapel-synagogues where various chevras used to daven, because in the main congregation there was a limit to the number of men honored with being called up to the reading of the Torah (aliyahs). There also were reserved areas for women worshippers, in three places. There was also one little bit of a shul where workingmen used to come to daven, called the Schneider-shilechel, the little tailors' synagogue. There the daveners would be finished before the others had got started. Nu, so they had a long morning, and on Shabbos it is a mitzva (proper deed to drink a drop of brandy l'chayim (a toast to life). And it is if one drinks a bit, one becomes a new man. It is then not proper to humiliate the new person, so one drinks l'chayim to the new person. And it is written in the Pirke Avos (Adages of the Fathers, in the Mishna) when two men are delving together into the Torah, when two men became high, things became jolly.
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Almost all of the workingmen of the shtetl resided on the Schuster Gass (so-called Shoemaker Street, although all other kinds of workers lived there). As you can imagine, every Saturday morning things were lively in that alley. Seldom did they only break into a quarrel, but often also into the teeth, no one having any idea why or when they were trading blows in the nose, with the screams of women and children rising even unto the bosom of heaven, till it was time to go to the baker to get the tsholent.
Summer time at the baker's there was this particular institution. There on Friday for three greitzer would be brought the tsholent to be put up for the honor of the Sabbath. Each woman had to mark her pots with a sign so as not to mix up her meal for the honor of the Sabbath. Nu, since the baker's oven was so hot that it was not uncommon for the signs to be burned off or melted off; or it happened to some woman who had stood a whole night roasting, cooking or baking that she had not properly prepared the tsholent, and it came out on Shabbos looking quite different from expectations - nu, nu, so don't ask what a katzenjammer was there. In Dobromil all pots looked as if made by one hand. Apart from differences in size, all Greeks had the same cheeks (all Yevanim one panim).
There were two places for relaxation in Dobromil where young folks used to go to enjoy themselves Shabbos and Yomtov after eating the big dinner, one, a priest's orchard, and the other, a level piece of green meadow called the Tanz-platz, the dancing field. In the priest's orchard used to gather the intelligentsia, the young fellows and girls who were a little more modern-worldly, and they would discuss world events from the Zionist newspapers. It seems they had a special dispensation to pass the time there. To the Tanz-platz used to come the working people, young fellows and girls, and pass the time in chatting, laughing, dancing, till about five o'clock. Then the crowd would set out for a promenade. This was only on one side of the town sidewalk from the bridge to the Polish church and back. The whole walk took about ten minutes and
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this continued till time for Maariv davenin. Others, the religiously more devout fellows, used to spend the afternoon reviewing the Torah.
After Maariv, as soon as was performed the Havdallah (ceremony concluding the Sabbath) everything again became weekday. Work clothes are put on again and one goes back again in harness to labor. Each holiday had its own particular charm. Nu, let us start with the Yomtov Pesach, at the beginning of spring, with all the freshness and scents of the black earth, which the heavy winter snows had blanketed, now warming under the golden rays of the rising sun which had been hidden six months behind heavy gray clouds. Pesach had its special traditional customs, like whitewashing the one room cottage in which the poor lived, and buying the flour, Pesach flour, for baking matzos. It seems easy to say buying flour for matzos but there were some people whose eyes practically crawled out of their head (were out of their minds) racking their brains where to obtain the money to buy the special flour milled particularly for this holiday then at the baker's.
The helpers at baking the matzos included a number of hands: the mehl-mester (the flour measurer. I had the pleasure of that job once for three and a half weeks for twenty greitzer a day), a water pourer, a woman kneader, rolling pin girls, perforators, carriers to the oven and shibbers who put the matzos into the oven and took them out. You can imagine how such a Chad Gadya of a workshop this looked, all in the small space of the home where they slept and in some instances where other work was being carried on.
But when it came time, in this beautiful holiday, for the seder - I do not know how other seders looked, I only saw those in my own home. On the ever before Pesach after Maariv we went on a chometz- hunt, with a wooden spoon wrapped in a rag and with a chicken feather, gathered up crumbs from the corners and carried them off to the sweat bath to be thrown into the big oven and burned.
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At the holiday seder, my father would put on a white robe (kittel) and a new velvet yarmulka. The sofa bed was made up with a feather quilt and a pillow for the head. The gleaming candles sit on the table, two large candlesticks, two smaller; a decanter of raisin wine, home made especially for the Four Cups, a good wine for my father, the Pesach platter, a large dish with three whole matzos (without a flaw in them), the charoses, the bitter herb maror, the roasted shank bone zeroa, with the grated horseradish, and several slices of potato in place of lettuce. My mother was weary (from the hard work of preparation) but she really glowed with nachas, with parental pride and pleasure, when after Ha-Lachmah D'Anya (the opening invitation to the seder) I ask the Four Questions in my clear treble, and Dad answers with the traditional explanation, Slaves we were in Egypt and so on. I wanted to persevere through to the end of the whole seder and therefore, as a child, I used to catch some hours of sleep by day to be able to stay up.
At the Passover holiday children used to get their new suits and dresses, and so would rise up early and doll up in the new garments and stand at the threshold of their cottages so that others might be envious of them. At Passover we children used to play games with nuts (rolled like marbles). And who can forget the savory kneidlach (matzo balls) in the chicken soup, the tasty browned chremslach (pancake patties), the older folks with their bit of slivovitz (plum brandy) after the fish. The taste of Pesach in truth still lingers with me. It really conveyed a light-hearted happiness.
Now we go to the second Jewish holiday, Shevuos, but before we reach Shevuos there was also one of those minor festive days which are not included among those prescribed in the Torah. Lag B'Omer was a sort of quasi-military Jewish holiday. Jewish boys used to whittle wooden guns, or bow-and-arrow sets, and would play at mock military maneuvers. Many of the older fellows would go, if the weather was good, out to the woods, a little glade beyond the shtetl for a day of relaxation. At night at
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Mincha-Maariv we used tolight small candles set in the windows as yahrzeit memorials to Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai. Lag B'Omer means thirty-third day in the counting of days (sefirah) from the second of Pesach, culminating in Shevuos on the forty-ninth day.
About Shevuos it is worthwhile to stop and talk. The Yeeden became busy decorating the house with green leaves, called maiova leaves, because they budded in May. The synagogues and pulpits were also decked out with green foliage, and with bunches of artificial flowers interwoven in the leaves, so that everything was dipped in green. This holiday commemorates the granting of the Torah, and also a second historical event: the second day of Shevuos is the Yahrzeit of King David, so Psalms are recited, and the story of Ruth (his ancestress) is retold. Also there is chanted the very beautiful poem Akdamus.
Another reason why this holiday is outstandingly pleasant is the custom of cooking and eating only milchigs (dairy foods) on the second day. This tradition is that when Moses returned from Mount Sinai the Children of Israel had no fleishig (kosher-for-meat) dishes because Moses (in accordance with the new ordinances of kashruth) had them destroy all their old fleishig utensils in order to start the practice of keeping kosher. So the Yeeden explained, when they let themselves indulge freely in a dish of richly butter cheese kreplach with a cold glass of buttermilk or borscht.
There was another local custom on Shevuos, the Jewish young folks used to go up to the Castle on the Mountain. This was not merely a custom (minhag) but practically an obligatory law (din). What was this mountain castle? As remarked before, Dobromil was surrounded by a chain of hills, part of the Carpathians. On one of those hills had once been the seat of a rich nobleman. When Poland was partitioned among Russia, Germany and Austria, the Count left his palace, locked his great iron doors with a great iron lock which no one reopened. So it became a deserted castle with an air of mystery, to which every Shevuos the Jewish boys used to go on pilgrimage, till
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once something happened. One holiday a large band of non-Jewish boys ambushed them with a barrage of rocks, so that the Jewish boys barely got away alive. They made it home all drenched in perspiration. One of them too hastily downed his fill of cold water, became ill and actually died that same evening. Thereupon the town elders established a cherem, a taboo that from this day henceforth no Jewish child might tread upon yonder soil. And so it remained an unwritten law. During that time when I was living in Dobromil, no Jewish boys ever again set foot in that place.
Between the time of Shevuos and Rosh Hashanah there fall two fast days. The Seventeenth of Tammuz was mainly observed only by the very old, but Tisha B'Ov is worth recalling. That night of Tisha B'Ov used to come with a pall of terror. In cheder we had learned what calamity had befallen the Holy Temple, the land of Israel, the whole story of the churban (destruction) of Jerusalem. On theis night the shtetl itself looked as if in a state of ruin. All the town was in darkness. After we supped on eggs dipped in ashes instead of salt, we pulled off our boots and shoes and in stocking feet made our way through the darkened alleys to the synagogue for Lamentations (Kinos). In the Big Synagogue the parochess drapery before the Torah Ark was down, the benches and the prayer stands all turned over, all seated on the earthen floor holding a tallow candle in the hand, and so reciting the mournful Lamentations. We say reciting but in truth each was crying over the fall of the Holy Temple; everyone's booklet of Kinos was wet with tears, when the Chazan (cantor) in his doleful voice accompanied the recital of the Book of Lamentations.
For us kids the next day was a lark. First, we did not have to daven, no one put on tefillin. Such was the custom: in mourning one does not have a head for davenin. After the morning repetition of Kinos, everyone, fasting, went in stocking feet to the consecrated ground, the Beis-Olem cemetery. We kids used to pluck the sour cemetery apples and toss them back and forth, and quite
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forgot all about the great calamitous fall of Jerusalem. The older folks would hunt around for old tombstones, till about one o'clock some began to open their businesses, although some remained shut until Mincha. After Maariv it was generally no more a day of mourning. One went home, and whoever had a good dinner ready was certainly satisfied, while others broke their fast with a dry crust, nebich. So we end the day of Tisha B'Ov.
In today's installment I want to tell about three holidays, rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos. But before I start on the first two, which were weeping, sorrowing days, I must tell you something about a miracle. Without miracles nothing ever happened in our town.
Dobromil, like all shtetls in Galitsia in those years, was very superstitious. If one poured out a little dirty water on the mound of garbage or on some other unclean place at night, young and old would three times cry out, Take heed, not so that living people should watch out, but so that one should not chalilah (perish forbid) get entangled with the demon-spirits or devils who circulate at night in unclean places with no good intentions. Nu, so don't ask, if I was sent on such an errand, or if I had to go past the Big Synagogue at night: I used to hold my soul in one hand and the string fringe of my Arba-Kanfos in the other hand. Why particularly the Big Synagogue? It so went from mouth to mouth that at night there would assemble the souls of all departed Dobromiler to conduct their prayers, and woe (chalilah!) him who passes the synagogue courtyard at night and is summoned by them! Nu, children would first of all start singing on the highest scales to drive away those evil thoughts which came into their minds, and then detour two alleys around to avoid the holy synagogue, and so precisely I come to the story, in brief, of that miracle.
Once before Rosh Hashanah after dark some woman was walking by, and she noticed window curtains moving back and forth as if they were dancing a quadrille. Next morning, with no radios and certainly no television in that time, the whole shtetl was rolling on wheels; something
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definitely not good, such a sign at Rosh Hashanah eve, so it repeated, till finally the great mystery was solved. The shamosta of the women's synagogue had been hanging up clean curtains for the holidays. The miracle was that the shamosta had heard the gossip in time and explained it, otherwise who can tell what kind of fated judgment would have (chalilah) hung over the Jews of Dobromil.
How we come to the Rosh Hashanah Holy Day, not one of your ordinary holidays. Yeeden used to make themselves ready with all their strength to meet this Holdy Day to beg for the forgiving of their sins of the past year, although it was not as awesome as Yom Kippur. Yeeden would daven with great passion, responding to the blowing of the ram's horn shofar. Married women baking their chalehs used to braid the twist of the Koiletsh in reverse in order to make the Satan's head dizzy, so he should not be able to prevail on the Master-of-the-Universe to permit evil trials to befall the Jews.
Different was Yom Kippur. All during the Ten Days of contrition and repentance (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) people would find themselves as one must when one is to stand before the judge of the highest court. People used to fast almost every day till one o'clock, and on the Fast of Gedaliah a whole day. When it came to Mincha time on Yom Kippur eve at the Big Synagogue, the town shammos used to shlug malkos, scourge the penitent. A Yeed would beat his bosom and say the confessional I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have offended thee, and the shammos would have earned several greitzer for his walloping out the sins from the poor man. But not all believed in this business. I used to on purpose observe the shammos following him around as he looked for customers to be scourged.
After Mincha everyone hurried home to eat up a big dinner to be fortified for the big fast. They ate such foods
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as would not make one thirsty. For the very small children in the younger yeas Yom Kippur could be a picnic and more than one would get sick from overeating the delicious food that had been prepared (for after the fast). Since the older folks often stayed all night and the next day in the synagogue, not permitting themselves the temptation of serving the children, so the kids really had a holiday. Nu, so let me by the way record what once happened to me myself. In the month of Tishri if the plum crop is good in Dobromil we swam in plums, and we had them both cooked and preserved. Since I had a free hand to the cupboard of cooked food, and my father had instructed me not to forget ever to make a blessing (brocha) when I take anything in the mouth, and definitely more brochos more merit (mitzvos) and I always wanted to fulfill Honor thy Father and thus I made so many brochos that my mother had nearly nothing left to serve my father (to make his brochos). But since I was then still small, and it was Yom Kippur, right after the synagogue service they forgave me.
Right from the start I was caught in a fib. It happened this way. Mama had stewed plums, made in heavy syrup. Tasting it, I found it to my liking. So every time I entered the house I took a nash from that pot until, what shall I say, the spoon scraped the bottom. When Mama took a look at the pot at night, both at the pot and at me, I told her that the cat in the house must have done it, not figuring that it is not in the nature of cats to enjoy plum syrup. But all because it was just an hour after davenin, and after saying Al chait (for my sins) I got away with a warning not to do it again or (chalilah!) I would get sick.
To return to Yom Kippur, to Kol Nidre. The men are all hastening back to synagogue, white robe (kittel) and tallis in hand. The kittel is a full floor length robe, some trimmed with an ornamental collar of silver thread; poorer folks' kittel not so ornamented, and still poorer without any kittel. In the synagogue all were intensely strained. The hanging lamps were lit with tallow
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candles, and there were large wax tapers in sand pots and large paraffin candles designed to burn a whole day long. When the crowd had all assembled clad in white kittel and tallis, a genuine awe descended on people; as the saying is, on this day even the fish in the sea are trembling. Even the non-Jewish municipal officials used to come to the synagogue to hear Kol Nidre chanted, the mayor and his whole suite.
And now we are up to Succos. We Yeeden were alwlays on the lookout for mitzvos, so right after the first snack on the night after Yom Kippur, we went outside, no matter how weakened we felt after the fasting, and we banged a wooden peg in a particular place behind the cottage as a marker for a succah. (This was only by the poorer folks. Well-to-do people had standing succah walls which were used year round as a woodshed.) Next morning the head of the household with his co-tenants were up and out to assemble the succah. Usually two walls were ready, a wall of the cottage was one and the board fence another. The remaining two were put together of boards joined with cord or wire. The roof was covered by green boughs. If God granted that weather was fine, things were passable and it was a beautiful holiday. But what is the law if it rained? Yeeden are obligated to eat in a succah, so one ate in a succah, with the rain dripping into the dishes.
Happened once, a pretty pass. I was then an apprentice working for my meals, and my bosses were taking their meals during Succos at a next door neighbor's. That character wanted to brag that he was a button-to-button chum with the Master -of-the-Universe and that he could display wondrous miracles. That season was then quite severely wintry. It was practically impossible to stay seated in the succah. And this Yeed calls out in loud orotund tones, Master of the Universe, thy children here are fulfilling the mitzvah of eating in the succah. I Such-a one son of Such-another bid you to cause the winds to cease. He said this with great earnestness, and he had barely finished his last word when the succah crashed and col-
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lapsed, wrapping us all in the tablecloths and bedsheets which had draped the walls. A wonder that we got out unharmed.
Besides the customary davenin, on Succos it was also a mitzvah to say the blessings on the lulav and the esrog. Even children three and four years old waited half naked in their shirts every morning for the esrog man to come. Everyone in the house had to participate in the blessing of the esrog, otherwise there was no breakfast, even for the children.
It was beautiful on Simchas Torah night, at the end of Succos, when old and young, man and woman went to the Hakafos (Torah processional rounds), and the little ones would come carrying their paper banners, with a burning candle stuck into a red apple at the end of the stick, and each would try to set fire to the next one's flag, and up front the Shammos would be tearing his throat out auctioning off Atto Hareiso and the processional rounds. This would continue to ten at night. Next morning was really Yomtov in shtetl. On this day every adult male, rich or poor, was called up to the reading of the Torah. All year round I used to purposely take notice how it was in the Beis Hamidrash, and no man who was poor ever got an aliyah to the reading of the Torah. But on Simchas Torah he was also graced with an aliyah for a verse or two. Even the little boys shoved together all under one big spread out tallis, and the daddies said the brocha together with the children's chevra. How can I convey it to you? You cannot imagine the feeling of importance of these little children as they emerged from under that tallis.
There was another custom which was permitted only on Simchas Torah, interrupting the Kdushah chanting at the Mussaf service, and even to playfully throw table cloths from the covered tables at the Ba'al-Tefiloh (leader of the worship), which one would never have dared ordinarily even at a mere weekday service. But since on this day the Yeed was trying to feel a little happy, such pranks were overlooked
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And so had slipped away both the pleasant summer, and so the autumn holidays, and then began the gray, damp, rainy, muddy and snowy days and weeks. And then we began to count the weeks to Chanukah.
As I have mentioned previously, winter weather was severe, and therefore from time to time we had starving times. Going hungry was easy in Dobromil. Going a day without food was quite an ordinary matter, not counting the religious fast days, such as the Fast of Gedaliah, Yom Kippur, the Tenth of Tevess, the Fast of Esther, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, Tisha B'Ov, and also half-day fasts like the ever of each New Moon, called the Little Yom Kippur. Every Monday and Thursday when the Torah was read in the synagogue was another half-day fast, and so also on certain anniversaries in the year, yahrzeit for a notable Tzaddik (saintly sage), or simply if a devout Jew felt that he had done something sinfully wrong, the first thing was to fast. Even little children learned to fast early, and to brag to each other that they too were fasting. Each had to stick out his tongue to the other: if the tongue was coated white, it was a sign of not having eaten. Yes, the wintry days, weeks, months were difficult, bitter. The one compensating feature was that the days were short and we might sleep longer hours. And so now we come to Chanukah.
Chanukah was one of the jolly holidays, with the festive blessing of the Chanukah candles every night. We were davening in the Beis Hamidrash. When it came time to light and bless the Chanukah candles it was the fashion for the little kids to cough, to sneeze, to make a racket, to toss something at the that of the man making the blessings, so as sometimes to silence him in confusion. But nothing was done to the kids, because the idea was that it was supposed to be jolly. When we came home, first Father lit and blessed the candles, but don't think it was all that simple. First of all I had worked all day, hard, polishing the brass Chanukah menorah and all its oil cups. My father used to make his own little wicks out of white cotton wool, and poured illuminating-oil into
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each of the cups, with a candle lit each night one more light, and with great sincere earnestness repeated the brochos, climaxing with a burst into song in his highest octave, the Haneros Halalu, Los These Candles. In the stove were flaming the burning logs, inside the cottage it was cozy warm. Mama had prepared mouth-watering latkes (pancakes) from grated potatoes. At Chanukah everyone played games, card games (those who could), others spun the draydel with the initial letters Nun, Gimel, Heh, Shin for Great Miracle Occurred There . Throughout the week the children would receive small change, Chanukah gelt as presents. Even the poverty-stricken Hebrew teachers used to suck the marrow of a bone, and get the gift of Chanukah gelt from the parents of their pupils. So slipped by the eight days of Chanukah.
And now we waited for the Purim holiday, with the greatest impatience, not only because Purim was a jolly holiday, but because for the children of the poor it was a money-making festivity. We would fashion ourselves a mask and dress up in girls' clothes and go from house to house collecting half a greitzer. Even adults would go from house to house for alms. Purim was a day for mutual exchange of gifts. It was a day for merry-making. It was a day for going around as play-actors. The older fellows of the working class used to present various playlets, such as Joseph and His Brothers, Jacob and Esau, similar skits. The whole shtetl, men, women, children, would traipse after the players, who were called Purim Players, and all would listen to their singing and acting these Purim plays.
So we have run through the course of the holiday. When we finished the blessing of the new moon of cheshvan, the skies were mantled in dark gray clouds. Terror began to settle on the poorer people (only yesterday such happy days!). Many were bowed down by heavy worries, rent money to be paid, for this was the time for rent payment. It is also the time of severe winter, with its wretched weather, with deep snows, frosts, blizzards. We had snowfall when it was impossible to go out of the house into the
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street. My grandfather Reuben told me a tale that once the snow fell so deep that they could not go out to draw water, and that through an opening in the door they took snow for water.
As always the main matter was parnossa. Parnossa, income for a livelihood, always fell heavily in winter. Those who drew their maintenance from their working at home could somehow manage, so others though. But those who were luft-menschen (dependent on the state of the market) were really in pitiful straits. My father, may his memory be blessed, used to groan in Hebrew, There is no going out and no coming in.
This was the season when those who could, meaning those who had a few gulden still left, and who had a sizeable family, used to bring into the cottage potatoes, beets, and other such foods that could keep without spoiling for a while. But others who could not buy these good things really went hungry, even starved. Such an episode happened once to us. The potatoes were used up, and bread could not be stored for a whole winter. My mother was a seamstress, so she sewed up and Arba-kanfors (undergarment prayer scarf), to find someone in town to whom to sell it and so be able to buy a two-pound loaf of bread. But Judaism was so well secured that no one lacked an arba-kanfos. So she went to a Jewish baker and begged a pound of bread. The baker had cut the pound of bread, but when Mother offered to leave the arba-kanfos as security for the price of the bread she snatched the loaf from her hands and would not give it on credit. That night we went to sleep having warmed ourselves with a glass of tea.
My father used to travel around to other towns with the merchandise she used to sew for peasant children, and he would try to sell it to the peasant folk who came each week into those villages to sell their produce and shop for their households. In dry cold weather it was still to be borne, but when it rained or snowed so that he could not lay out or hang up his bargains, he had yet to pay the cart man carrying him and his merchandise. Needless to
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say there was no lack of competitors. Everyone was hungry to earn a greitzer, so they would be all pulling the peasant men and women by their white linen skirts to get them to buy.
If Father would come home bringing a hen, or if he would smuggle in a flask of schnapps, then I knew it had been a good market. Then there was joy and festivity in the house, and the big baking oven became bright, the logs crackling to satiety. From the baking ove we children got hot flat rolls, and in the big wooden basin was rising the fermenting dough for our bread. In the cottage it was warm and happy.
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This present installment we commence with the portion of the Torah read this week, namely Tol'dos, our generations. When came I? My Hebrew and Yiddish name is Shaul Ben Meir, but in Dobromil I was known as Shoyl Maier Koralnik's . In a little shtetl like Dobromil no one then paid attention to family names. My father was a traveling vendor of women's beads (koralen because originally of coral), so he was known as Maier Koralnik and I was consequently Shoyl-Maier-Koralnik's. He had a sister Devorah and a brother Leib. On my father's side my grandfather was Issachar-Berish, grandmother Libby. My mother, Rose-Pearl, was daughter of Reuben-Yechiel Mehler (Reeven), a glazier by trade. His first wife Zlata, my mother's mother, died very young, leaving my mother an orphan child of five. My grandfather Reuben's second wife was named Chaye, mother of Uncle Hersh, Uncle Yusha, and Tante Zeesel, mother of Chaye Sura (Sara) who is now in Brooklyn, and Tante Brandsha. I knew all of them, lived with them, grew up with them.
I was born on the fourth of June, 1890, or as inscribed in my father's machzor (prayerbook) for Shevuos, born Vav (sixth) of Sivan 5650. So far I can write what I heard and saw around me, and now I write from that time on as I recall more or less, what impressed itself deeply into my memory.
I have reached three years old. It was a warm spring morning. My father comes home from davenin with a bright good morning, puts away his big bag of tallis
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and tefillin, takes my little hand and lays me across his knee and administers three smacks on my behind. This was intended to indicate that on this date I have become three years old. That was my only birthday present. That same morning there were several other events which engraved themselves deeply into my memory. They take me to the hairdresser, they shear off my pretty locks, and leave me only two, the two payos, one on each side of the ears.
Returning home, Father took and wrapped me in his great tallis, picked me up and carried me to the cheder-of-the-Beginners'-Melamed. His name was Leib-Itzik. It was customary there that at three every Jewish boy was entered into cheder. My mother had given me her wishes for good luck, in an auspicious hour. The way to cheder was not long, but wrapped in the tallis so that I could hardly breathe, the route seemed very long, until I heard Father's footsteps on the wooden stairs into the cheder. Finally he set me down, took the heavy tallis off me. I see myself in a large room with several children. Towards us comes a very tall Yeed wearing a long black kapota (cloak), with a black and white silvered beard and a very gaunt, pale face, who takes me by the other hand. I remain standing between two huge pairs of boots, my father on one side, the melamed on the other, myself in their midst between the boots. The boots were as tall as I, and so we go, that is, the boots go and I go to the rebbe's table. Father hands a small package to the teacher, lifts me up and sets me down beside the rebbe. They drink a l'chayim. Father put his hand on my head and says something in language which I first understood years later, when he explained it to me. The words must have been May the Lord bless you like Ephraim and Manasseh, (the blessing on Joseph's sons, the grandchildren of our father Jacob, and on their descendants). In other words he meant I should grow up as a good child, walking in the paths of God, and learn the Torah.
Father bids me goodbye and leave me in the cheder. I started to cry bitterly. The melamed takes the paper
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sack, wipes away my salt tears and my little nose and promptly sets me to work. He holds something in his yellow cigarette-stained fingers, a pointer made of bone, to point out the letters to a child. The tears still pour from my eyes, I hardly see what he shows me. I hear him say This is an ‘Aleph’, once again right here is another ‘Aleph’, so several times.
Later my mother come to bring me home. Early next morning there comes to us an assistant who attends to me, helps me get dressed, washes my hands and face, wipes me around, helps me say the brochos and kiss the tzitzis. His name is Yussel the Hunchback, and he earns his breakfast with us. A little later comes an under-assistant who collects several little boys and we go all together to the cheder. It was here that I mastered the alphabet to be able to read Hebrew and then to study the Chumash (Pentateuch).
The beginning of Chumash study had quite a special flavor. The game begins with the teacher and the children chorusing together:
Question: What does a laddie learn?
Answer: Chumash and Good Fortune (Mazel)
Question: What is the translation of Chumash?
Answer: Chumash is five.
Question: What five?
Answer: Five Books in the Holy Torah.
Question: How are the Five Books named?
Answer: The first Book is call b'rehis
The second Book is call Shmos
The third Book is called Vayikrah
The fourth Book is called Bamidbar
The fifth Book is called Die-vor-rim
That last name was long drawn out, not D'vorim but Die-vor-rim and so with the first error, the mispronounced first syllable Die, we began Chumash, for luck.
It was a good day for the children when we finished our
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studying at nightfall. The rebbe's wife prepared a feast. Every child contributed two greitzer. Each child brought his own baked roll and a spoon to sip his soup. Meat we never had, but each child got two stewed prunes. The assistant, and the under-assistant then used to escort us home singing through the darkened streets. The under-assistant used to carry a pair of brass candlestick bases and bang them together in time to the singing. And in this manner I completed three years of my first steps of an education in Hebrew studies, uch and vey (woe is me) such an education.
After Pesach I am promoted to a second melamed. This teacher was crippled: they called him Krumer Hershele, Little Lame Harry. (In truth, no one in Dobromil was known by a family name. Without a nickname you could not know who was meant. Everyone had a name and a nickname. For instance, the melamed's wife was called Shvartze Gittle, Black Gertie. The melamed had two children, a son and a daughter. The son was named Yokif. Nu, it is bad enough to be named Yokif, so he was nick-named Yokif-the-Raven, Yokif-Varana. The daughter had a passable name, Henna, so she was named Henna-Shmattes, Henna in Rags. Otherwise at a distance one could not know who was meant.
So I was enrolled with this meladmed, Krumer-Hershele, who walked with a crutch under his right arm and a cane in his left hand, a sickly man, a coughing old man, bent over triple, and because of his handicap, very irascible. The boys had plenty to suffer from him. When we were sitting around the table and conning our lessons, he held his cane nearby, and if any of the children committed a fault, or stood up, it went hard with him. He used to pull the child with the crook of the cane by the neck and deliver a couple of smacks in the face. These were not unusual. He used to be constantly hollering at us in his hoarse voice, curse at us, abuse us. We learned very little with him. He also used to deal in earthenware pots, because he did not have very much parnossa from his teaching. In this way I suffered through three seasons.
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During the same period I was enrolled in the public school. There I had it very good. The teacher liked me very much. (He was a Polish schlachietz, a country squire of the petty gentry, with a blond-red mustache. He used to call me to the blackboard to do a sum, and would playfully twist my payos curls.) At the end of the term, because of outstanding marks, I received a paper ikon which my father tore in pieces as soon as I brought it into the house.
In this school I learned the alphabet of the Polish language and the beginning of arithmetic. I advanced into the second grade. Here we had a teacher, an old bachelor, whom we called with a Yiddish-type name, Yekele, although he was not Jewish. He had his own peculiar way with children. He did not beat anyone. Instead he would keep us in after school hours, lock the classroom and leave the key with the custodian-cleaner who knew when to release us after the hour. This was a severe punishment. He also used what was a lighter punishment. He would put a sheet of paper on your right hand and strike it with a ruler. That hand had plenty to feel and to remember.
One time this teacher Yekele detained me for an hour for some sin. Since the window of the classroom was open and low, I did not give it much thought and in no time was out of the window. The next day Yekele said nothing during class time but just before the dismissal bell rang, he came over and said he wanted to see me. I understood why, took my packet of books and came over to his desk. All the other children of the class were long since gone. He took me by the arm and led me into another classroom where a Catholic priest was conducting a session of religious instruction. To me this punishment was devastating, a most severe punishment. The priest could see that, so he asked me if I knew the names of the Patriarchs. Yes, said I, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He opened the door and said, Go home.
From eight to one daily I was in public school, from one in the afternoon until nighttime in the cheder. My third melamed was Reb Naftali Fuchs, with whom I studied
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Chumash with Rashi's commentary and Targum Onkelos (the Aramaic paraphrase of the Torah), some chapters of the Psalms, reading and writing in Yiddish. Once, in the last of three seasons here with this melamed, being too slow in responding to his question, I got his leather strap across the face, so that the blood came from my left cheek. It was before Shevuos, we were reviewing the Akdamus. The Rebbe, seeing my bloodied cheek, hurried to my home to report on me to my parents and to justify his action. Naturally my parents accepted his version. But there was a sequel.
Every Shabbos and Yontif my father took me along to the informal study sessions at the synagogue. Here would assemble a Chevra Misaskim, a congregation of Yeeden to review the weekly portion (sedra) of the Torah, with the commentaries of Rashi and Alschech. I would sit by my father among the older me and listen, until quite often I would doze off.
That once, at Shevuos time, I was seated at the table with all of them as usual. My melamed Reb Naftali was the group discussion leader for that congregation of Yeeden. He opened up the Machzor (holiday prayer book) and said to me in a booming voice for all to hear, Today you will recite the 'Akdamus' here. Unafraid, in my treble voice I chanted the Akdamus, and translated it from the Aramic to Yiddish, to the admiration of the entire group. Father thanked the Rebbe profusely and told him to have a draught of beer on his account. This melamed, besides teaching, held the sextonship in the Big Synagogue, and had other earnings on the side, such as brining an old Sefer (Holy Book) to the court house when a Jew was under oath. His wife supplemented by baking rolls and bread. All was done in the same room. All melamdim had to have supplementary incomes because tutoring of children never yielded enough parnossa. So after three terms passed off, I was transferred to still another melamed. Him we called the Kriftscher Melamed because he was an immigrant from anther shtetl.
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called Kriftsch. Here I was supposed to start studying Gemara (the Talmud).
No sooner had I entered the room, the whole affair displeased me. This melamed shared his dwelling, in a bedroom with a closed window, with an unpleasant odor, where an invalid boy lay on a cot, continually spitting at the wall. I felt as if I would throw up. All in all we were three pupils. However, it was the season for changing dwellings, and this Rebbe did change his place to one a bit better. Here he did take in a larger number of pupils. He used to reserve me for Thursdays. That is, since I used to know the portion of the week (sedra) by heart, I used to stay only to scan over the Chumash. Alongside of me there was a fellow from the Belzer Kloiz with whom the melamed used to work hard especially on Gemara.
One day he said to me, Shaul, this Friday evening I am going to have you recite for Reb Itschele Mehler (father of this Belzer fellow). During the week it happened that he offended and embarrassed me in front of the other pupils. If had beat me it would perhaps not have hurt me as much. Nu, I kept silent. Friday evening we go to Reb Itschele's, I carrying my Chumash. That week's sedra was Va'y'chee. And he (Jacob) lived …… (Genesis 47:28). And so I begin to read the Hebrew text and translate Va'y'chee, and he died…. -exactly the opposite of the text. The Rabbi asks me again what is the translation of Va'y'chee and quite calmly I answer he died. The Rebbe closed the book and said to go home.
Shabbos evening I was very busy in the Big Synagogue with the other boys, when my father grabs me by the arm and says, What is the translation of Va'y'chee? and I say, Va'y'chee, and he lived, Jacob….. So for what reason was he a dead man last night? Yesterday, I answered quite coolly, yesterday he was dead. Later when we came home I told him the entire story, of what had happened during the week, and why I had done it on purpose, to teach the teacher his lesson.
By then I was attending the third grade in the government school. There we studied Polish, the national lan-
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guage. Ruthenian, the regional language, and German, because we then belonged to Austria, whose subjects we were. Here we had a very strict teacher, an outright Jew-hater. For any triviality he would beat the Jewish children almost to death. He used a rod which whistled when he wielded it through the air. He would make the boy lie down on a bench, pull his breeches tight, and so flog his rear that the boy would practically fall in a faint, unable to stand up to return to his place. Sitting again was impossible. This teacher's neck veins would be filled with murderous blood almost to bursting. Jewish children used to wear velvet yarmulkas covering their heads. If (chalilah) he would find trace of a feather on someone's yarmulke, he would lift the yarmulke on his rod and carry it arund among the non-Jewish boys making very nasty remarks. We Jewish boys were required to stand every morning while the Christian boys said the modlitva (prayer). Standing and hearing their prayer every morning, we soon learned to recite it better than any of them. This took place twice a day, mornings and at dismissal time.
Coming from a home of devout parents, this was not much to my liking. I protested once, but the teacher ignored my protest and ordered us to participate every day. This time I told my father, who took the issue up with Reb Yankel Shtein, the one Jewish man in Dobromil who wore a fur turban. Not everyone was permitted to wear such a hat, only one who was a Talmid Chacham, a very highly educated person. He also wore the silk cloak every day of the week, and a tallis-katan with the four fringe tzitzis dangling from the four corners. Next day as we Jewish boys assembled before class-time, we saw venerable Reb Yankel Shtein with his cane arriving at the school. We entered, each to our places, and our teacher was white as chalk, rage seething in him, because the Director had been told how he had been treating Jewish children. First of all Reb Yankele had obtained that we did not have to rise for the recital of their patchas (pacierz, prayer), and treatment was milder. The teacher could still whip,
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but less murderously. I, however, achieved my own well earned verdict of the court: I was kept back another year in the same grade. By law each one had to pass four elementary grades from six to ten. I was forced to stay on till eleven, and so I finished both public elementary school and cheder, and then went out to learn a trade. That is, at eleven I went as apprentice to become a tailor.
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