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[Page 331]

A Gallery of Personalities

by Meir Tzoref (Goldshmid), Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 331: Uncaptioned. Apparently Meir Tzoref.}

Yankel Shimshon Glass the Hassid, Mosheke Odoskes, Lentshinke, Hirshe A Shnaps, Der Shul Rufer (the synagogue summoner), Sachke, Alter and Libe-Chana Reines, Shleimtze the Ox, and Serl Ruk Zich.

Yankel-Shimshon Glass – He was tall with a handsome black beard and black eyes. He spoke with his proper Jonaver accent, sharply pronouncing “shin” like “samech”, which people from Jonava, as from other towns in Lithuania, were not able to pronounce. He was the chairman of Bikur Cholim (the Society for the Visiting of the Sick), and also a veteran officer of the Yavneh School, even though he had no children. It is no wonder that his wife, a “Kvake”[1], used to always go around with her head bound in a cloth as she groaned…

There were even rumors that he carried on a secret love with the “Figurner” nurse. His “Kvake” indeed used to often throw him out, and according to her, he was “on duty” every night in the hospital; however no open disgrace ever took place.

He worshipped in the Hassidic shtibel, which, unlike other kloizes, had no almemar (bima) and no second story for women, but rather a small room with a few windows for the women. Their mode of prayer included “Veyatzmach Purkanei Vekarev Meshichei” in the Kaddish[2]. In general, they worshipped like all the Jews in the kloizes and Beis Midrashes of that time. On Simchat Torah, they would go out with the Torah scrolls to the courtyards, and crawl upon the tables to dance, and we children would enjoy

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and truly rejoice in celebrating a Simchat Torah with such joyous Jews, in contrast to the High Holy Days with their Al Chets …[3]

In that same Bikur Cholim, Moshe Odoskes worked as a male nurse. He was involved with and was in love with the daughter of Alter the wagon driver, or better stated – with one of his daughters. Alter the wagon driver had daughters almost like Tevye the milkman[4], but in Jonava, this was scarcely current merchandise, so they sat and waited for their saviors…

Alter himself was an observant Jew. On his wagon the children were not beaten with whips if they came to get a ride. On the contrary, when he had a “good day” – that is he had livelihood for himself and the horse, he would take a full wagon of children and, with a cantorial melody, bring them to his home opposite the synagogue courtyard, and sometimes they would turn onto another street. Indeed, children would wait for him to finish his hard workday: They would notice a smile under his dark gray beard and a cantorial hum under his moustache, without even asking – we're off – a jump onto the long wagon, crowding in, taking up as small a place as possible so that there would remain room for other children. Alter did not like those “well placed” children who had no concern for others once they were aboard. They all bounced down on a stone sidewalk, and when someone was ready to jump, they would make room for him.

Mosheke Odoskes indeed got married to one of Alter's daughters. There were even rumors that he carried on a love affair with Gitke the crazy woman before she went crazy. Others wanted to say that it was indeed because he had led her on, promised to marry her and broke his promise, that she lost her mind… On the other hand, others claimed that he threw her out already after she had gone crazy, for what would he do with a crazy wife? She was not even all that crazy. All she would do would be to talk to herself while she moved her hands to see her watch for she was afraid of missing an important date.

As it were, Mosheke Odoskes was the chief of the voluntary fire brigade, and an honorable citizen of Jonava. During wartime, he was in the Lithuanian division of the Red Army. He stumbled during a conversation with a comrade of the camp. He said: “Were we to have required the 'large' and 'small' moustaches while we were resting in our mother's wombs, we would today be sitting in our homes…”

Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and sent to a camp in Siberia. He was liberated and rehabilitated after Stalin's death. He died of a heart attack in Vilna shortly after he was freed.

Jonava was patient with its crazies. One of them, Lentshinke, used to awaken the residents in the middle of the night with terrible cries of “fire, it's burning!” We heard a mysterious sound come from him to warn the Jews that they should not rest or sleep with folded arms in the face of the terrible fire that was awaiting the Jews of Jonava and the entire Jewish people. However, nobody paid any attention to his shouting. When the Christian residents complained about him, they bound him up and sent him to Kalvarija. Jewish householders offered guarantees about him that it would be peaceful. They redeemed him from the insane asylum, and once again he started

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continuing with his cries of “fire”. They did not give him over even when he beat the teacher Optekina with his cane during a hysterical attack. The writer of these lines as well, as a youth, got a hole in the head from his “crazy man's” cane. The lovely nurse joked that this would go away by the time of my wedding, and now with an open head the Torah could penetrate quicker…

Jonaver Jews were known as lovers of good food, as well as people who would not refuse a drink. At every opportunity they would indeed have a snack of the wrappers of the lungs at Perski's, a roasted duck at Shule's, and fresh gefilte fish, well peppered with the taste of the Garden of Eden. Authentically, this was given the name of a “drola” in official language. The Lithuanians even used to say: “Eisme Fas Perski Padarisme Drola”.

Jews were not professional drunks, except for one, about whom nobody knew from where he had come, or anything about him. He stood by himself, alone. He would come to services, but he would not receive any aliyas.

He was called Hirshe A “Shnaps” and later Hirshe “Chandzhe”… At first, he was ashamed of his drunkenness. People would get angry with him and throw stones at him. Children or ordinary scoffers, who loved to joke with one another, would shout after him: Hirshe, ahem”, implying a cough after a quick swig of whiskey. Later he switched to denatured alcohol, or as we used to call it “chandzhe”, for economic reasons or for its strength. Then he no longer cared if we shouted after him Hirshe Chandzhe. The children left him alone when they saw that he did not react. When the priest would preach to the believers during the Sunday mass about their drinking, he would give an example about how the Jews conduct themselves: “They do not drink and they do not slaughter themselves with knives,” a din from the audience could be heard: “One indeed drinks!,” referring to Hirshe A Schnaps.

There was also a strange Jew in Jonava known as “The Shul Caller”. He was tall and slender with a long, wild, pointy beard. He wore a tall hat. He looked like a Cossack. Children would indeed be afraid of falling into his hands when they would crawl into the attic of the synagogue to catch pigeons. He was a former cantonist[5] and remained without a family. As children, we would indeed hear his slightly hoarse voice: “Get into the bath!” On Friday at the time of candle lighting, we would hear the same melody: “Go to the synagogue!” He would go as far as Segalovski's mill and announce the beginning of the Holy Sabbath with a long whistle.

{Photo page 333: Mende “Di Kop Her” (The Head of Hair)}

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Since we are already talking about Jonaver crazies, we must mention one more. The popular proverb states: “No crazy person beats his own head”. Jonava was an exception.

Sachke the crazy (this was a short form of Yissachar), or “Sachke Dalai” used to slap himself on the cheeks and shout: “Dalai, Smetana!”[6] The aforementioned was a smart youth. With understanding, the Smetana situation could be attributed to his illness, and nobody caused him any trouble when he shouted out “Smetana Dalai”. People only begged of him that he should not shout out in the streets during a national holiday when guests come. He once shouted out “Soviet Dalai” before the Soviets. They beat him and scared him to the extent that he stopped shouting “Dalai”, and other such bad curse words.

That tailors are pranksters is known, but Naftali the tailor stood out over all of them. Bursting into the “Popular Shearing and Iron Workshop” was dangerous for an ordinary human. They immediately grabbed his by his weak point and lay him on the plates…

Thus was Naftali the tailor described by a regular customer, a fine Jew, Alter, husband of Liba-Chana Reines, coming home with a new suit. His wife Liba used to bake onion pastries. Connoisseurs used to come from all corners of the city to purchase the fresh, tasty onion pastries. She would not pry them loose from the oven. She would stick the spade into the hot oven as if it was the eve of a festival… He, Alter, would come to her with a clean, new suit. He would cautiously and politely ask: “Nu, Liba, take a look, how does the new suit fit?” And she looked in the oven and answered: “I see already that it is undone”…

In Jonava there was a furrier and hat maker who was called Shlomo Itza, or with the nickname “Shleimetze the Ox”. He was tall and looked comical as he sold a hat that looked like toy in his large hands. It was said that his own wife gave him the nickname “ox”. When he traveled to a fair in the city with a hand wagon, he lay down on the way to rest. He took off his large shoes, put them down with the toes facing the direction of Shat (Seta) and fell asleep. Someone who was passing by, as a joke, turned the shoes, pointing the toes toward Jonava. Our Shleimtze, instead of going to fair in Shat, returned to Jonava, and said, “See, all cities look the same!”… until his wife finally informed him, and gave him the nickname “ox”.

She was tiny, thin, and an expert in selling. Without her – a handsome face would have had his large hands… She was known as “Serl Ruk Zich” (Serl the Pusher). She received the nickname from the honeymoon following the wedding, when they lived in a room constructed from boards, where any rustle could be heard from the neighboring rooms, and the intimate nighttime conversations would be discussed over the plates… Thus came the name, indeed without embarrassment… We knew all this from the frequent fights with their competitor, the furrier Pesach from Kovarsk and especially his wife Sara Lea the furrier over a peasant who was a customer in the market. The gentile enjoyed watching the two Jews fighting over him, and at home he sharpened the bloody ax for both of them together…


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Seemingly meaning a 'croaker' or a 'quacker'.Return
  2. These words in Kaddish are indicative of the Nusach Sephard or Hassidic mode of prayer, in opposition to the Ashkenazic mode of prayer that was more common in Lithuania.Return
  3. Al Chet is the term for the confessional litany of Yom Kippur.Return
  4. Tevye the milkman, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, had five daughters.Return
  5. A cantonist was a Jewish man who had served his 25 year stint in the Russian army, often starting as young as twelve.Return
  6. Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884), held an important place in the development of musical nationalism in his native Bohemia. http://www.naxos.com/composer/smetana.htm He played an active role in the reawakening of Czech culture that followed the Austrian defeat by Napoleon III. http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/smetana.html. Perhaps the Lithuanians and/or Russians favored his music and its anti-Napoleonic nationalism, and Jews in Jonava were fearful that Sachke would bring the government's ire upon the entire Jewish community.Return


[Page 335]

Episodes and Events

by Ella Daltitsky (Abramovitch) of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Photo page 335: Ella Daltitsky

 

1.

Who does not remember Alter the Water Carrier? He used to carry water from the well with poles for Alter the Baker, “Alter Liba–Chana–Reines–Lieberman,” as well as for Yudel Betman, who was a great scoffer. To earn his living, Alter the Water Carrier also had a second profession – transporting deceased people to the cemetery with a horse. Yudel Betman once turned to him and said, “Alter, you take too much – a whole three Lit to transport a deceased person. This is terrible. You will not be rewarded by G–d.” Alter responded, “If Jews would die more often, I would indeed be able to charge less. However, the way Jews tend to die, I must charge more.”

Drawing page 335: Alter with his water buckets.

 

2.

Shlomo Itche Furman. He was tall, with red, constantly inflamed eyes. He was a hat maker by trade, and lived on Kovner Street.

Once, on a winter Friday night, after dinner, his wife Sara went out to chat with a neighbor. Meanwhile, Shlomo Itche lay down on the sofa to take a nap. The door remained open. Frode the crazy person seized the opportunity, entered the house and lay down in Sara's bed. She covered herself up and slept with a comfortable snore. In the meantime, Shlomo Itche woke up from his nap, got undressed, went into the bedroom, lay down in bed, and began to wake Sara. “Sara, move over, Sarale, move closer to me,” he whispered. However, “Sara” snored. When his requests and caresses did not help, and “Sara” did not awaken, he lifted the blanker and saw Frode with her grey bun of hair. He jumped out of bed in great terror, barefoot and in his long johns, and shouted, “Save me. Frode is lying in bed beside Sara.”

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3.

That same Shlomo Itche purchased potatoes in the market during the winter. His wife Sara was standing at his side. They spoke only Lithuanian with the farmer. Shlomo Itche shouted out to Sara in Lithuanian, “Sara, Padak Meisa Greit Padak Meisa.” He wanted her to give him the sack (Meishe is a sack in Lithuanian). Of course, our Yanovers gave him a nickname, “Sara Rok–Zich” and “Sara Padak Meisa.”

 

4.

A Jew named Spivak lived in Yanova. He was a baker by trade. Since he did not earn any livelihood in Yanova, and had a sick wife and two children, he would go to Kovno. There, he would bake various bagels and buns, and bring them to the market in Yanova every Wednesday. He looked like a gentile and also spoke a good Lithuanian. He would sit in the market at a table full of bagels and buns, and shout in Lithuanian, “Panai Nie Pirki Fas Zidus, Pirkiti Fas Mania” (“Do not by from Jews, buy from me”). Of course, he was the target of many curses.

 

5.

A son was born to Mendel the Rosh Yeshiva [Yeshiva Head]. Since he had many children, he named them after rabbis and pious Jews. He was lacking a name for that child. Gershon Kagan was at the circumcision, among the gilded householders. He turned to him and asked him to recommend a name. The wise Gershon did not ponder for long. He said, 'The best name for him is Gana” (That is “Enough” in Lithuanian).

 

6.

A young tailor named David–Izika lived in Yanova. He was also called “Der Grizik” (The Hoary). A poor man from a different town came to him to ask for a donation. It was a frosty winter day. David Izik's wife gave him a glass of hot tea so he could warm himself up. The poor man took a sip and shouted, “Why do you give me your hot tea? Do you want me to not see Der Grizik?” Then David Izik came and grabbed the poor man without him knowing that it was David Izik. He took him by the collar and threw him outside into the snow.

 

7.

Moshe Aharon the chimneysweep had three sons. He loved playing cards, and he would play with his sons. As he was sitting and playing, one of his sons called out, “Father, when you do not have an ace, you will already be lying in the ground with me.”

 

8.

There was a butcher Moshke with the nickname “Di Bande.” He was a very tall young man with very shortsighted eyes. He was a large eater by nature. When he would go visit acquaintances, he would sit down immediately and start to eat the food that was already on the table. His wife Freidel, who gave birth very often, had an excess of milk for suckling. Every evening she would produce two glasses of milk and put it in a saucer. Her husband Moshke would come very late from the slaughterhouse. When he found the milk in the saucer, he would drink it with a roll.


[Page 337]

Two Poems

by Avraham Yitzchak Abramovitch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With the tune: Laugh, Laugh, Friends.

{Photo page 337: Avraham Yitzchak Abramovitch.}

(1)
In Jonava there were many automobiles
They do not rip, they do not bite.
They live very quietly.
They meet together in the morning, very fine and elegant.
They kiss each other , they grab each other's necks, they push together the hands.

Chorus:
Laugh, laugh, laugh, friends! Laugh all together!
For the lie regarding this is very big.
For in Jonava
Such has never taken place.

(2)
They sit calmly making calculations, they make no commotion.
They live very well, like a brother with a brother
They have no chairs, and they do not bang on the tables
Heaven forbid, one should never know of a theft.

Chorus:
Laugh, laugh, laugh, friends…

(3)
They get along with the passengers, very refined, very fine
They travel away immediately, as he sits inside
They wish him best wishes for Kovno
They bid him farewell and tip their hats.

Chorus:
Laugh, laugh, laugh, friends.

(4)
They do not drink liquor, and make no schnapps
They are indeed Jonavers, and there is no joke
Nobody is guilty in the American Bendrova
She will certainly believe my frequent words.

Chorus:
Laugh, laugh, laugh, friends

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To the tune of : A Jew has a wife

(1)
Sunday, all ten automobiles travel out
People come around cheerless
As in the dirges of Tisha B'Av

Chorus:
A Jew has a little car
He has problems with it
A bill comes to him
It should serve as an atonement.

(2)
Monday it travels well
They come in dozens
The crumb is already lost.

Chorus:
The Jew has a little car…

(3)
Tuesday, everyone known
Is a day of good fortune
There are no passengers
They may raise a lament.

Chorus:
The Jew has a little car…

(4)
Wednesday everyone pays with promissory notes
This is no joke
For tribulations, one goes to gamblers (mania)
To have a good schnapps.

Chorus:
The Jew has a little car…

(5)
Thursday, travelling
The autos are full
Underneath, a wheel breaks
Nevertheless, the guardhouse stands and shouts.

Chorus:
The Jew has a little car…

(6)
Friday is the eve of the Sabbath
I have everything in the ground [perhaps: in hell]
I prefer to go back
To the wagon with the house

Chorus:
The Jew has a little car…

(7)
The Sabbath, it is quiet, there is no tararum
Sunday, again Avraham–Yitzchak
Will create a new song
With a new rhyme

Sunday: The Jew has a little car…

Translated by Ella Dolticki–Abrahmovitch


[Page 339]

Meita the Baker

by Frank Sirek

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Thursday evening in the small towns, as is known, was a dark and worrisome evening for women. A trifle, one prepared for the Sabbath. One had to make the challa. One had to prepare flour, yeast, eggs, and raisins, make the dough, and prepare the oven. One had to let it stand until dawn, then warm the dough, kneed it, roll it, braid it, light the oven, and place the challa in the oven. Now you can imagine what the evening must have been like for Meita the baker (Levin), who baked challa and bread not only for herself, but for a large part of the city.

One day, on a winter Friday, our Meita woke up before dawn, hastened out of bed, lit the kerosene lamp, and went quickly to the dough which was already beginning to hang over the edges of the wooden boards. In her great haste, she forgot to put on her dress. She was wearing her thick, cotton bloomers with a slit in the rear, in railroad fashion. The oven flickered with large flames of fire, as if holy spirits were blowing beneath it. One could hear Meita knocking and panting, as she conducted her holy work in honor of the Sabbath. Meita moved the hole-filled dough from the boards, cut it with a knife, tossed it onto round boards, sprinkled it with white flour, beat under the dough with her hands, kneaded and rolled it, twisted it, braided one side into the other, tossed the dough into forms, spread it on the bottom and on the top. The work was conducted with such ecstasy that she could have been, of course not literally, the High Priest engaged in the holy service in the tabernacle.

Early in the morning when the darkness had not yet abated, the table was already covered with boards laden with various baked goods in various shapes and flavors. The fire in the oven was already dying down, and the flames were calming down, and the top of the large Russian oven had already darkened. The only thing left to do was to clean out the ashes and place down the challas. Suddenly, she realized: “Oy vey. I don't have any pomele[1].” She did not think for long. She ran out the back door and off she went to the nearby market. Outside, it was the gray of early morning. The zealous woman was wearing her bloomers. She did not even notice that she was running

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with her cotton pants… She bought the pomele and ran home. Then she noticed that someone on his way to the first Minyan was looking at her and smiling. She then recalled that people were also laughing at the market. Then she realized what had happened: she had forgotten her dress, and she appeared in the street in pants. As she arrived at her home, young jokers laughed at her out loud and made merriment. She ran into the house with her head covered in shame.

Word of that episode spread throughout Jonava that Sabbath, and the jokers of Jonava nicknamed her from then on, “Meita the Baker with a Crack in her Underpants”, or for short “With a Crack”.

Told over by Yitzchak Burstein


Translator's Footnote

  1. A baker's mop for cleaning out an oven.Return


[Page 340]

One Relates

by Sara Burstein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1.

It is told that Reb Moshe David Mehr was once a guest of his daughter Reizel in Kovno, and she invited him to see a film. It was the manner of Reb Moshe David to have a good sleep in the movie theater. He woke up in the middle of the film and saw before him a wide river with clean banks. “Oy, a curse on me!” he shouted out loud. “The rafts have floated away.”

2.

Reb Moshe David was never able to choose a collar for his neck – he was so fat, thick, and burly. Once, as he was entering the city while driving rafts to Kovno, he went with his brother Avraham to search for an appropriate collar in the Kovno shops. He stood in a shop, tried and tried, and could not choose. Avraham called out to him: purchase two collars and you will “tzuzamenshvrteven” them. (The formal meaning is from the water jargon, binding together two parts of a raft).

3.

It was said that once, Reb Moshe–David went to Nafcholin the tailor to sew a costume. Moshe–David took off his coat and the joker Reb Naftali and his son Meir came to the workplace to take a measurement… Naftali, with his glasses on the tip of his nose, appeared from behind, fastened the edge of the measuring tape to the pants, and Meir told him to wind the tape around his body. As he was measuring, Reb Naftali shouted to his son: “Meir! Where are you?” “Papa, wait a while, I will come soon,” responded the joker Meir.


[Page 343]

“Labas” the Lithuanian Policeman

by Yerachmiel Garber

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He would take off his blue police cap with the Lithuanian sheaves for everyone, irrespective of age or pedigree, and weakly say “Labas” (good morning). It was remarkable that he enjoyed it very much when someone grabbed on to his Labas, and responded to him with a Labas. The Jonaver jokers caught on to that weakness, and gave him the nickname “The Labas.”

A great change took place in the psychology of the Jonava householders, as soon as that new policeman appeared in Jonava, to the point where they could not be recognized. Suddenly, they had respect for brooms, burins, and spades. Those tools became the most esteemed and important. Jonaver householders had the opportunity to chat about work politics and local news, not only in the kloiz, but also while going around the area near the house. Some sort of secret power took place there. Early every morning, after the shacharit service, everyone hurried after every straw and scrap of paper. Even the women took part in the work, armed with knives in their hands. They would sit on their knees and cut up every blade of grass that sprouted up between the cobblestones.

Who has seen how Jonaver laborers went out from their “palaces” at the end of the winter, when the first warm sun rays appeared, armed with all types of tools, declaring a war against the layer of ice and dirt that accumulated during the long winter. Now you will understand why they were coronated with the nickname “Jonaver ruffians.” I recall the scene when my father, may G–d avenge his blood, would go out with a sharp hatchet and a pickaxe, to declare a war of annihilation against the layer of ice. The dull thumping and banging of the pickaxe cutting apart the ice could be heard and seen through the Jonaver streets on such a spring morning. This does not mean, Heaven forbid, that the Jonavers had a special sense of cleanliness. No, my dear ones, this was all, unfortunately, under duress. The main guilty party was indeed the “Labas.” He caused the sweat, and therefore the curses that the Jonavers sent his way when he arrived in the town. He would go through the Jonaver streets and alleyways from dawn till dusk, terrorizing everyone. He would sprout up everywhere where one unfortunately would encounter him. He would always find something that another person would not notice. One would always notice that he could not pass by indifferently if a piece of straw or a forlorn piece of grass in the pavement was sticking out, or if the side of the cobblestone was not cleaned appropriately. What upset him most was the dirty, unchopped ice in the spring, or puddles of dirty water in the autumn. He would consider such things

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as a terrible infraction of the rule books. He had some sort of sixth sense of a bloodhound as he spots the guilty person at the place of the infraction, and he seldom made a mistake.

{Drawing page 344: A policeman in a cap, standing in front of the town, giving a salute.}

When the “Labas ” used to exit the house of the person who committed the infraction, that person would be certain that the penalty would arrive in the form of a ticket. There were various levels of penalties. The penalty would be very high when the “Labas ” would utter his beloved words “Tamsta Vadinasi.” From the gradience and intensity of the tone, one would already know how many Lit would be on the ticket. The first time, one would sigh, cry, and pay. When he appeared again a few days later, and some straw would fall down as if to cause a vexation, and the Jonaver householders would realize that the issue would have no end, some would decide that it is better to sacrifice oneself and discharge the penalty by going to jail. A person would go there for an entire day, so he would take along food, tallis, tefillin, and a small book of Psalms. He would then return exonerated.

With the sanitary inspections and accompanying fines, Jonavers suffered from the “Labas ” who never tired. He would consider it to be a godly injustice if the Jonaver carpenters, smiths, or shopkeepers disturbed the holy peace on Sunday. Whereas the former policemen used to spend the day resting in their homes, the “Labas ” ran around through the streets, searching for anyone violating the holiness of the day. He searched for the Jews who cunningly violated the laws of the state and engaged in commerce or general labor in the workshops.

At the same times, the Jews of Jonava were also correct. As it was supposed to be, they rested on the Sabbath, as God had commanded. Two days to observe was too much! One must have a livelihood for one's wife and children! Where is the justice? For him,

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the dedicated protector of the law, this made no difference. With his exceptional senses, he would sense and hear from afar every bang of a hammer in the master workshops on Kovno and Breizer Streets, and the smithies on Smith Lane. He would hear the voices of customers in the shops and stores. On such a Sunday, unlike any other day of the week, he would morph into a fierce form of a Sherlock Holmes spy. He knew all the back entrances to the shops, carpentry workshops, and wig salon. As if to vex, he would always catch the violator, even behind the closed doors of the wig salon, or the rear door of the shop or carpentry shop. The accused guilty person would always be certain of a good “earning” for the Sabbath.

The Jewish citizens of Jonava began to search for a cure for their affliction. They indeed found one. They gathered a group of young people, of course with payment, to follow the steps of “Labas.” The group would loudly announce the arrival of the peril. The group of youths thanked God and the “Labas.” They made pocketfuls of money that day, for the cinema, lemonade, or confectionary. It was indeed a general mobilization of the youth that day. They could not play or bathe, but it was worth it. My father Yitzchak Aharon and his brother David, who were turners and supplied material to the carpenters, could also not allow themselves the luxury of two days of rest. They hired me, and I performed my duty honestly for an entire day. I sounded an alarm as the peril threatened, as the “Labas ” with his blue cap appeared from afar.

Under the Germans, the “Labas” was expected to enforce the law. However, he related well to the unfortunate Jews. Nachum Blumberg relates that when the “Labas” accompanied the wagons that ran from Jonava to the Kovno Ghetto, he displayed great courage. When they asked to stop the wagons to purchase water to drink or food, he fulfilled the requests willingly. In general, he was a friendly man.


Noach the Roof Layer

by Yerachmiel Garber (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On Shul Gasse, opposite Shlomo the Shochet's house, there was a small, wooden house with a large garden. Noach lived there with his wife Hinda, who diligently tended to the vegetables in the garden.

Since the wooden houses of Jonava were mainly covered with shingles, people had to go to Noach the Roof Layer.

He was a quiet man. He would mutter about how much the work would cost, not looking his customer in the eye. His work was reliable.

He had a grey beard and a pale face. He would wear a black cap, and he would often look towards the sky with his eyes. Therefore, the jokers gave him the nickname “the sky wanderer.” Some sort of tear emanated from his eyes.

Young householders – in honor of their father–in–law and mother–in–law – used to go to the Large Beis Midrash, at least

[Page 346]

on the Sabbath, to worship a bit and to catch a conversation or tell a joke. But this was not sufficient. There were various sorts of pastimes: tying together the tallises of two people absorbed in their prayers, confusing the prayer leader regarding the correct tune, mocking somebody.

Tossing a wet handkerchief at Noach at the right time – this was the chief act. When the moment came – everybody knew. Noach's place was a bench at the back on the right. When the cantor ended the Shmone Esrei: “He Who makes peace on high…” Noach would become very agitated. He would jump up from his place and shout out his own version: “He will make war and destroy Israel, and let us say Amen.” He would be very pale, shake his head and tremble. At that moment of ecstasy, when he did not notice what was going on around him, someone would toss a wet handkerchief at him from behind. The tosser would then go to retrieve it.

Noach the Sky Wanderer had the type of end that he had requested for everybody: he was murdered along with the other worshippers.


Where is Father

by Rachel Dushnitzky

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Menachem–Mendel Teitz, the Rosh Yeshiva [Yeshiva Head] of Or Noga in Jonava, had lots of children. His livelihood was not so good.

However, on the Sabbath after the cholent, Reb Mendel would go for a walk on the streets of Jonava, dressed in his long, black, silk kapote. His light brown, long beard and peyos would sparkle with the Sabbath enjoyment. Nobody would be equal to him. A bunch of children with their peyos and streimels would accompany him on both sides.

As is the custom of children, they would ask him questions. Menachem–Mendel would answer them all calmly, bending down to the right and left.

As they passed Pogirsky's house, where a large poodle guarded the entrance, the small youngster asked a silly question, “Daddy, does a dog have a father?”

“Yes my dear,” was the answer.

“Daddy, is Reb Avchik Pogirsky the father of Pogirsky's dog?”

The jokers caught on to this.


[Page 347]

My first year working at Filvinsky's

by Yisrael Yaakov Pogir

Translated by Jerrold Landau

For a thirteen year old boy, being an assistant[1] was an honorable profession – something of a trifle!

After Sukkot, when I went after services to Velvel Filvinsky, he treated me to a glass of tea. First he taught me how to make a glass of tea: one puts in a third of concentrated tea essense, a third milk and then fills it with hot water. The dwelling was on the second story. On the first day, I made eight glasses of tea! One went up and down on the steps.

Once I was silly and made it the opposite way – first the water, and the essence at the end. He noticed it and did not drink it, and I had to bring him another glass of tea.

Once I opened the door angrily with a glass of tea in my hand. He closed the door with great anger and gave me a smack on the hands. The saucer remained but the glass fell victim. I returned and brought another glass of tea; but he continued on with his anger and told me that today's glass of tea would cost me dearly. The wonder is that in carrying 8 glasses of tea for 300 days, I only broke one glass.

When did the day of a 13-year-old assistant end? In short, I did not study the Code of Jewish Law. I had to wait until Filvinsky closed the business. However, Filvinsky waited until Elazar Levi Itzik's (Yudelevich) closed his business. I would go to take a look every few minutes to see whether Eliezer Levi Itzik's[2] closed the lamps. Perhaps he was waiting for Filvinsky? In the meantime, I sat there until approximately 10:00 p.m. No customers came. Therefore, I was happy when Leib Gronevich, Alter the lawyer with his powerful voice, Moshe Itzik and other businessmen came to converse.

During the evenings, I waited. I used to sit in the corner on a sack of sugar and listen. They talked about the Governmental Duma, Hamelitz, and Jewish tribulations. Today I think about the stories that they used to tell! They laughed so much. Were I to have known this then, I would have collected the Jonaver humor, and I would have sweetened it today. Alter always had the last word. Since he talked loudly, he won all the debates. My boss had candies and nuts, but he never treated his guests who sustained him. He finally let out a smile…

A day came when an agent from “good things” for the Krasna market arrived. Before the Julians arrived, the Barishnies came to search for sons-in-law and vice versa. The events took place before the Polish church, right in the place where Filvinsky was sitting[3].

[Page 348]

The agent came in the evening and left his merchandise, various types of sweets. Immediately thereafter came the humorous customers who talked about G-d and his Messiah, about trees and stones. They were the experts about the candies. They continued sampling and ate up his entire stock. The agent shouted that they ate everything up. I quickly fled home, cursing all the businessmen. If G-d desires, I would not longer be an assistant[1]. Eating a Vilna Jew out of his livelihood? Such businessmen I could not tolerate.

Every Monday was market day. As Filvinsky waited to sell and not to purchase, his business began after midday. In the evening after the commotion, Filvinsky sat down to count the hard tens, the silver 20 kopecks, the guilders – and tie up the packages. He handed me a heavy load:

“Go off to Sarel Blume's (Pogirsky), give her the 85 rubles and small change, and ask her for a full hundred. She owes me 15 rubles to pay a promissory note.

For her I would never lend, even if I had to go hungry; and for him I had to shamefully borrow, all for a ruble a week!

Sarel Blume's gave me a hundred ruble bill and told me not to lose it. I brought him the money. First I had to go to Moshe Tzvia's (Lukman) in the hotel, find Yankel Asher's and ask whether he was travelling the next day to Kovno with the coach. Then I had to take the hundred ruble bill and trudge on to the businessman who was traveling to Kovno, telling him to take the money to koznochistova and pay the Filvinsky's debt.

On Monday evening, I did not have to wait for Elazar Levi Itzike's to close his business. When I returned home, Lozer's (Elazar's) business had already long been closed…


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The word here is “Prikozhik'.Return
  2. This style of name, appearing several times in this chapter, was common in those days. A person would be nicknamed for his mother or father, with the possessive form applying to the parent names. In this case, the father was Itzik, so the man was called Itzik's.Return
  3. 'Julians' would be Russian slang for 'boys', and 'Barishnies' for 'girls'. This cryptic paragraph is obviously describing some matchmaking that was going on in this store.Return


From the Series of Folk Songs

Prepared by Elchanan Katzenerg and Yitzchak Dembo

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Our dear rabbi, oy vey
A mother cries out such,
What has happened with her daughter
Thursday morning, another family has fled
It was slippery, oy vey, she is lying prostrate,
And the little hill ran off.
That is what she knows. Dear rabbi, imagine
How her belly has become swollen…
And there is nothing to laugh about that,
How did all these things happen to my daughter!
The rabbi heard this out and decided
The Sabbath was approaching, one must prepare for the Sabbath…

[Page 349]

(About Zelik Kapol)
A fashion store, following after fashion, fashion, fashion
They arrested him, and brought him to the commandant.
They took him for a very fine person
And therefore he punishes him
His brother hears, it will not right
If he does not send in the fine.

Couplets It is now a new time
Everyone goes with a short shuffle
The young and the old now are dancing
Mother and Father are dancing
Even Mitka and Agata
Grandmother is also jumping with her feet.

(Ch. Katzenberg)

Where are you going, away from me.
You lovely Maccabeist?
Where are you going, away from me,
You terrible one, that you are? –––
To the Land of Israel, my love
I want to be a pioneer there.
My love, adios, you my dear.

(H. Levin)

Between Dizzy Mountain and Viliya River
Is a town, large and high;
And there in the small Jonaver Valley
The large and small play football.

(L. Stern)

“Hakoach” came to us
To play football –
Jews with blessed feet
Shooters of a goal.
Everyone is an expert
A master of the trade,
Everyone shoots goals.
They have a lot.
It is over in a short time.
One day in all –
The last few goals
Were scored by the L.P.L.S.

[Page 350]

They should reciprocate
And answer with a goal
But it is not their luck –
With football.
They wanted, very, very much
To shoot a goal in the goal post, in the goal post.
But we can help them laugh,
For they don't understand football issues
And they cannot shoot goal after goal

(Composed by Notinger in 1925 and sung by the Jonava ball players.}

There was a city in Lithuania
It is situated in a valley
It is difficult to travel there with a train –
Therefore, they have a car
A carpentry shop on every corner
They work – tables and benches;
So that there will be what to sit on
When they come to the tavern…
Oy, oy oy, only in Jonava,
A city of carpenters, ducks, and Yeshiva students, oy, oy
Only in Jonava does one make a drawl
Until the day
The eyes were on Jonava
With girls everywhere
One passed by along the waist,
The other – for two…
They are waiting for a match
Literally without limit;
One wants a genius from Kletzk,
The other, a red commander…
Oy oy, oy, only…
There is a war in the world
One struggles for fuel
The lamps run dry,
Punished, unfortunately, from G–d,

But it still is Jonava
Far from a yokel;
They find something else instead of kerosene
And put it into the lamp.
Oy, oy, oy…

Given over by Miriam and Sinai Persky

 

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