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[Pages 115-116]

Other Occupations…

Translated by Judy Grossman

Hat Styles … (Second day of Passover, 1928)
R-L, standing: Berl Zilber (Dov Caspi), Freidke Kagan, Zusl Levitt, Batya Poritz, Dov Levitt and his sister Batya.
Sitting: Batya Shub, Dvora (daughter of Hirschel) Levitt, Dvora (daughter of Chasya-Leah) Levitt, Yitzchak Poritz.
Hairstyles …
Chava Shub

Shayke Glick: There were Jewish flax merchants in the shtetl who leased flax fields from the Gentiles. The Gentiles would gather the flax pods, rinse them – usually in a pit – and beat them with a nailed board, which is how they separated the fibres. The merchants would bring the sacks of flax to the factory, and the brokers would sort it. Abba-Shiye Visakolsky, who was a broker, went as far as Memel (Klaipeda) to earn his living, and worked there in a textile factory.

Esther Pomus: My father, Eliyahu Orlin, was a flax and grain merchant. He would buy grain on market day, and bring the sacks to the granary in our yard. The flax was brought to us combed and gleaming like silk, and sorted into packages.

Yosef Yavnai: There were Jews in the shtetl who leased orchards, and sold the fruit in season. Entire families used to go to the resort town of Doblen (Dobele) in Latvia for several months, in order to sell their produce, and they learned German there. Seasonal peddlers would also come to Dusiat. They would set up their stalls in the street, where they primarily sold baked goods. At Purim we would buy confections from them for "mishloach manot"[1].

Rivka Shteinman: The sisters Tzipa and Ita also baked and sold cakes. We used to go to their house on Saturdays and eat frozen apples.

Shmuel Levitt: Hene Toker had a bakery close to our house. Once when I was a child I caught a cold, and they put me into the bakery to warm up. One of Yankel the Butcher's cows wandered around there, and I played with her.

Rivka Levitt: "Motke Di Varone" (Motke the Raven) was also a butcher. He was always in a hurry and his arms would flap up and down at his side, like a raven's wings. After slaughtering a calf, he would quickly go from house to house asking who was interested in some meat.

Chaim Levitt: I remember Lezer Glick, the butcher. When he went by on the street on his way to the synagogue, we would step aside in respect, so that he would not notice that we were not going straight to the synagogue…

Rasya Tal: Shmuel-Yossl Feldman ran a grocery shop in which they also sold sharpeners and other writing implements. It was the only store of its kind, and was outstandingly clean and orderly. Shmuel-Yosl was a person loved by all the inhabitants of the town.

Yaacov Charit: The blind carpenter, who came from Ilgeshil, known as Der Ilgeshiler, was also a special character. He was an expert at construction carpentry: doors, windows, frames for tiled roofs, and wooden floors. He was an artist at his work, even though he was blind.

Beile Klem: Der Ilgeshiler was my father, Velve-Shlomo Simanowitz. He loved his work and from overstraining himself he lost his sight, nonetheless he did not stop working. I remember the buildings he constructed and the work he did in them: Ziv's inn, in particular.

Baruch Krut: I remember him smoothing the wood with the palm of his hand. Thus he would examine every spot and corner, and plane and sand wherever necessary.

Yaacov Charit: I once heard him comment to Avremele Slep, who was learning carpentry from him: "Ot do bet zich aktanos zu fargleichen" (This spot here requires a little straightening). I was amazed. How could he see it?

Batya Aviel: The watch repairman, my uncle Shimon Levitt, was also an expert at his craft. He would put the monocle in his eye, look at the mechanism of the watch and repair it. When he finished he would say: "Nu, er geit wie a hazir" (Nu, it goes like a pig).

Beile Klem: There was also Berl the barber, the wig expert.

Reuven Milon: And my father, Faivish Milun, was the cap maker.

"… and there was Lozer the potter, who would make pottery and sell it in the market. Yisrael-Shaul would make raisin wine and sell it in the towns and cities in the area…

And there was Hirsh son of Reuven, the rebel. He lived in constant poverty, denying himself all pleasures, and had a fierce hatred for all the worthies, who were, in his words, a bunch of hypocrites. "God's minions," he called them in sarcasm… The melamed, Elya the son of Sore-Mira, was noted for his kindness and compassion to all. Pinye the oven maker greatly respected scholars, even though he himself was "shtumpik oif Ivrei" (a blockhead in Hebrew). Itzikl der Moler , the plasterer, short in stature and a very poor Jew. "Leibele nie rusz", who was labeled with his nickname when he tried to steal a pumpkin from a Gentile's wagon. The man caught him and shouted at him: "Nie rusz" (“Hands off” in Russian).[2]

Footnotes

  1. The custom of people bringing each other all sorts of delicacies (such as cakes and candy) during Purim. Return
  2. [37] Chaya Malka Kruss-Glussak and Nachum Blacher. From Our Shtetl Dusiat, p. 344, in Yizkor Book of Rakishok and Environs, Johannesburg, 1952.) Return


[Pages 116-117]

Der Milner and the Flourmill

Translated by Howard Adelman

Donated by Eleanor B. Rothman and the Yaffe family

“Der Milner”
The Miller Reb Elya Yoffe
and his wife Batya-Feige
The Flourmill
“If only the mill could talk …”

Rachel Rabinowitz: Until the beginning of the thirties our house stood on the top of the hill. It was a big rustic house and attached to it was the flourmill of grandfather Eliyahu Yoffe, mother's father.

Grandfather had a special kind of image. Everyone loved him, Jews as well as gentiles. When grandfather would pass on the street on his way to the post office, the gentiles would doff their hats in respect… Anyone who entered his house, grandfather would approach him and embrace him and say softly: “Mein zuninke”, “Mein tochterl,” (my son, my daughter).

While holding me on his knees he taught me Bible, and told me about the Holy Land, saying: “Ah, whoever gets there will be blessed…”

Grandfather was one of the few Hassidim in the shtetl, and everybody honored him. In the synagogue his place was next to the rabbi. When he was called up for an “aliyah” (to read the Torah), he would read with the Hassidic intonation, different to that which was customary there.

Grandfather was also known as a “miracle worker” who cured by “whispering.” I recall the story of a woman who came to grandfather in tears, telling him that her good cow was about to die from snakebite. “Do something for her!” she pleaded. Grandfather would take a very small book, bread and salt, and would closet himself in a quiet corner of the house, and on this particular occasion, he did the same. When he emerged, he gave the woman bread and salt and said to her: “Take it and go home.” The woman went home and found the cow standing on its feet, completely cured. The next day, the woman brought grandfather a wagon laden with fruit…

Grandmother, Batyah-Feige, was a splendid housewife. She was always working, preparing and making sure that the ovens in the house were filled with good things, and that those who came to the mill would enjoy her tasty bounty. The house always hummed with people, adults and children, and don't forget that we were seven brothers and sisters, and each one had at least one friend, but there was room for everybody and everybody felt at home. Before my eyes, I see Meir Cirlin approaching grandmother and saying to her: “Batyah-Feige, give me that so that I can help you,” and he reaches into the oven, taking out a palumishok (big tray) with tasty food, and brings it to the big dining room.

I remember with great longing the wonderful evenings when the adults brought out their musical instruments – mandolins, violin, and guitar – there was playing, singing and eating. Among them were my brother Yitzchak, Yudel (Yehuda) the teacher, Hillel the principal, Meir Levitt and Dora, and there were others.

Our house was a Zionist house, and when shlichim (emissaries) arrived in the shtetl they gave speeches and they were entertained at our place.

Yosef Yavnai: I remember the miller, “Der Milner,” a pious man, nice to everybody, happy, and filled with humor. Once he sat in our house and chatted with my father. My brother Avraham, who was still a boy, pulled some sort of prank to which the miller replied” “Hey, I will take you and put you in a bag, and I'll go away…” In fact the words angered Avraham; he took a loaf of bread and threw it at the miller. I don't remember what punishment Avraham received at the time, but I remember that we continued to go to the mill without fear, and the miller with particular hilarity would continue to tell those who came to his house what little Avremele did to him… We really adored his daughter Ida. (Sarah Weiss: My father, Avraham, told us that there was a deep love between him and Ida. When father would sing the old song “You promised but you did not come…” mother would laugh and say that father obviously meant Ida…)

Batya Aviel: The miller's children were called Dem Milner's, and the street that led to the mill was called Dem Milner's Gass (The Miller's Street). I remember that the miller also had a dye-works.

The mill stood on a high place, and when the blades moved, we knew that the mill was working. Mother would barter with the gentiles, and in exchange for fabric she would receive seeds. When she received a half a sack of barley we would go to grind them at the mill.

Hannah Fisherman: We would come to the mill with a sack on our shoulders, and sit and wait for our turn. The grandmother would put herself out by offering good tidings even to the gentiles who had arrived there. We, the children, would sit open-mouthed listening to the stories of the adults.

Rachel Rabinowitz: Yes, yes, our house held many secrets. Fields surrounded the mill. Beyond it was a forest. Many romances took place in the area, and generation after generation passed that way. If only the mill could talk…

This was the only flourmill in the shtetl. We had a good reputation, until a Jewish competitor upon receiving money from America built a second mill. “I will grind for free and I will break their monopoly” – they quoted him. But many customers remained loyal, and among them gentiles.

Masha Gershuni: One rainy and stormy winter night we suddenly saw a flame! We heard horrible screams. Lightning hit the mill and it was ablaze.

Reuven Milun: After this particular fire, Lolke, the miller's grandson, built a new flourmill in the shtetl, on the shores of the lake, and included in it an electrical unit. In general, Lolke had golden hands!

Rachel Rabinowitz: Lolke my brother also built a unique boat and painted it blue and white, and called it “Tel Aviv.”

Shayke Glick: I would play with Lolke in the mill and his grandmother would bestow treats upon us. When the gentiles brought bean seeds to the mill, we would eat and eat, and afterwards our bellies would “shout for joy.”

Malka Gilinsky: I remember the tragedy that struck Velvele, another grandson of the miller. A group of us, friends from Hashomer Hatzair, wanted to go on an outing to the woods. We waited for Velvele, but he did not arrive. We were enjoying ourselves in the woods without him and were surprised that he did not come. On returning home, we learned about his death. The bags of grain in the mill moved on a conveyor belt and his clothing, the uniform of the youth movement, got caught in the motor, and he was crushed to death. This was a hard and painful blow to all of us.

Shayke Glick: I remember that we carved his name on a tree in the woods …

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