[Page 171 - Yiddish]
by Dvora Rauch-Breitfeld
Translated by Regina Russak
Three days before Passover when the house was whitewashed, after fresh straw was put in our beds, when the every day dishes were scattered like orphans in the middle of the house and people were sitting on top of large cans, and we children were already tired of working and could barely stand on our feet, and our hands were already swollen from scrubbing the little bit of furniture, and when our eyes already longed for a little more sleep -- just then our father woke us up at five o'clock in the morning so we could prepare to bake the matzohs. With eyes half shut, we got up, we carried everything out of the house and our father went up to the attic to bring down all the holy equipment (tools) which are: the boards, the rolling pins, the water barrel, the large pans, the matzoh wheels (to pierce the matzohs) and other important utensils. Water had been prepared already yesterday, since it had to be water that slept (stood overnight).
My sister Hinde's friends and also my friends, whom we invited a week ago, started gathering, white kerchiefs on their heads and wearing well ironed only-for-Passover aprons.
The water carrier form our street, Chaim (the gravedigger's son), had koshered the pails especially for the occasion. All dressed up in holiday clothes, he came over very early. It wasn't for everybody that Chaim agreed to carry water. For us he had a special feeling and felt a spiritual uplifting. Actually, he hoped that one of the two daughters in Reb Abraham Hirsh Mayers's household, would be his wife. First of all, we had the well in our yard. Second, our home had a tin roof (a very great attribute in a small town). And third, our father was the sexton in the big shul. And if Avraham Breitfeld will not give him one of his daughters, surely he could find a wife amongst the many girls who are rolling out the matzohs.
The roller of the wheel (the matzoh piercing wheel), through whose hands the matzohs passed, the head of the household, was my father Reb Avraham Breitfeld, may he rest in peace. There was one craftsman still missing who played a very important role in matzoh baking, known as the pusher (he pushed the matzohs into the oven with a wooden shovel). It so happens at that time, a student from Boiberke, Feivel Shleider (now Dr. Shraga F. Kallay) came home for Passover from his studies in Rome, Italy. This guest was a daily visitor in our house and my father immediately designated him the pusher. And so we began to work.
The girls started banging with their rolling pins, there was a cheerful atmosphere in the house, we sang songs form the Hashomer Hatzair because all the co-workers belonged the youth movement and Chaim the water carrier was very happy and had a big smile spread all over his face.
My father took over the piercing with the wheel and studies which is the perfectly round matzoh, and finds out that his daughter Hinde rolls out a perfectly round matzoh, as if it were cut out with a circle, and he shows the other girls how to roll out a matzoh.
The pusher of the matzoh was hot and red-faced and his shovel ends up touching the pretty Yetke Gottlieb. Help, yells my father noticing this. You bandit, you will contaminate my matzoh (G-d forbid!). The crowd is smiling and the beautiful Yetke blushes a little. The day was gone before we realized it. There were a whole lot of matzohs baked.
My father thought of all his relatives and matzohs that had been baked for them. Then, close to the end, we drank a toast l'chaim, and we wished each other the privilege to bake matzohs again for years to come in the Land of Israel.
[Pages 175-177 (Yiddish)]
Translated from the Yiddish by Fanny Pere
What I am about to tell you today will seem to many of you to be far-fetched (bubbemeises) perhaps something out of A Thousand and One Nights illusory images, exaggerated, and imaginary. Some stories like this don't even make sense. But, to tell you the truth, I myself have actually experienced all of this, and if you will close your eyes and pinch your memory, I am sure that many of these little incidents will be well-remembered by you, too!
Strangely, even today they still ring in the ears, and one is tempted, on hearing all of this, to burst into uncontrollable laughter. But afterwards, you will gnash your teeth for what is so really serious and tearful, upon realizing that your happy and carefree childhood years are gone.
But, that is how things were, and maybe it was all fated to be that way. Perhaps it was all worthwhile, in order to lay down healthy foundations of Yiddishkeit and to gain the strength to withstand our bitter exile, until now.
Nursery School Today and Beginner's Cheder of Yesteryear
Today's times, when a child approaches the third year after being well-nurtured by his mother, having had the best of everything, indulged in many ways parents start thinking of a nursery school or kindergarten. They ponder over it over and over, inquire about it, as to which one is the best and nicest, does the nursery teacher appear to be qualified. Is she young and pretty, lively, perhaps a dancer? Is there a piano available, a radio, modern musical instruments, lots of toys, a place for TV?
Then, if they finally find such a place, and the blessed day arrives, the child is clothed with the nicest and best new clothes, hat, new shoes, perhaps even a furry coat. His food is packed with the nicest apple, banana, and also a little sandwich. The father excitingly seats him in his car and drives him directly to the kindergarten. He says goodbye with a kiss, asks the teacher to make sure that he eats all of his lunch. For a long time, the father stands behind the door, looking in to see how his sweet boy is feeling in his new environment.
The child really enjoys it all. There is singing, dancing, playing, listening to music, hearing the nice stories read by the teacher. Finally, the children are seated around a clean table to eat. Soon after eating, the father returns with his car, inquires as to how his child has adjusted, and brings him home to his mother joyfully. Well, the child has survived the couple of hours without her. This is how it goes, on and on.
But, in the old times it was quite different. Instead of nursery school, there was a cheder, with a strict teacher for beginners. When the first day of cheder finally arrives, the mother stands a little freer in spirit than usual, and starts getting busy with you. She pours a little water from a pitcher on your little hands, puts the yarmulke on your head, says a little prayer of thanks (Modeh Ani and Asher Yatzar). She washes your face, gives you something to eat, dresses you warmly, wipes your nose, and awaits the person who carries little ones to cheder. He comes in, puts you down on the bench, intones a couple of barachas with you some in the holy tongue and some in Yiddish then puts you on his shoulders and carries you right into the cheder.
The Beginner's Cheder
Inside an old home is a large, stuffy room with hardly any air, sun or light. The students very young little boys are lying around on a long bench or on the naked floor, making holes or playing with buttons. Here and there a noise, a commotion, a cry is heard. The little ones, smeared with dirt, soiled underwear sticking out from behind, little snotty noses, sidelocks askew, outer warming underwear, and yarmulkes pushed to the side that is the picture.
Sitting at the head of a long table is the rabbi, with a stick in one hand and a pointer in the other. Near him, on the side, sits a crying child, who is looking deeply into a yellowed, tobacco-stained thick siddur in which the enlarged letters of the Aleph Bet stand out. From a small, wooden pushka the rabbi every now and then takes out a little tobacco between his fingers and stuffs it into his nostrils. The droppings of the tobacco fall down onto his heavy whiskers. His long white beard is almost always shaking. His sharp eyes dart here and there, and he hollers at a child who is fighting with another not far from him. With his large pointer he gives the child a jab every now and then. A child sits crying near him, and he orders him to look carefully at what the rabbi is showing him in the siddur: Look, you little Goy, look good, good. Do you see what an aleph is? A crooked little stick with two little feet, one on top and one from the bottom. Say it after me aleph, aleph, aleph. And what do you see under the aleph? A little line, in the middle of which is a little foot. This is a kametz and together it makes aleph aw. A whole row of children on the bench learn this way kametz aleph aw, aw, aw.
In the midst of the lesson, the children's carrier barges into the cheder. He is a tall, skinny boy, with peyot askew, the collar of his shirt open, wearing filthy boots, his skullcap displaced. He carries two heavy, long baskets. A hot vapor erupts from them. Inside are pots of food for the children. The rebbetzen calls the rabbi to come into the kitchen, so he should also grab something to eat. The children seat themselves on the bench and on the floor. The carrier starts dishing out to each one his pot of food with a spoon inside.
The noise becomes a little quieter. Altogether is heard the shouting of the baracha by the children and the carrier, thanking God for the food. The carrier tells them, Eat, children, eat.
Soon the rabbi is coming back and the carrier hollers to the children to eat faster. The rabbi comes back, hasn't ended his prayers, murmuring them between his teeth, and quoting, A youth I was and I have gotten old. He shakes out the pieces of noodles that have fallen from his beard, wipes the potato grits from his mustache, seats himself down again at the head of the table, takes his stick and marker into his hands, and starts again with one child, with a second, with the third kametz aleph aw, aw, aw.
We learn, we groan, we cry into the dark evening, as he says then, Dear children, go home. And the carrier carries those that need to be carried on his shoulders, and the rest the bigger boys walk home alone.
This is how it is, day in and day out, with serious little faces out of the house into cheder, from cheder to home again. But, the dirty faces become happier as they go home. Between the cheder and going home, the carrier carries them and they all say the Shema together.
Sometimes, a break. Toned down, though still noisy, the children go quickly until they come to a special, blessed house where there is a newborn baby. Happily and loudly, the children push their way into this house, where the new mother lies covered with a sheet. On the walls and on the sheet are glued congratulatory letters for new mothers and blessings written in large letters. Shouting loudly good evening, mazel tov the children repeat the blessings of the carrier.
A woman with a fine apron starts portioning out little pieces of lekach (honeycake) and a drop of Vishnik for the lips. Happy and satisfied, the little children run home. But this exceptional enjoyment doesn't happen every day.
And the lessons in the cheder go on and on. One boy goes away and the second squeezes in. In the meantime, the learning becomes more difficult, not only Hebrew letters of the alphabet do we learn, but also whole words translated from Hebrew to Yiddish and trope. Fear grows from the long words and the trope and the stick that grows longer each time. And this is how a little boy sits for so long, until with good luck, he becomes a choomish bucher. From the translations alone, you had to get up from time to time to stretch until the next parsha. But, soon things become smoother and you end this reciting of the parsha happily with a blessing from the rabbi.
You drink l'chaim and nibble on food and are rid of it. But the heavy learning starts with you only a day later. You start with the choomish, really from the beginning, choomish with Rashi with all the meaning those that are found with difficulty and those that the rabbi tells you by heart. Translation from the forefathers, the Exodus from Egypt, receiving the Torah, the Golden Calf that Aaron made you become one with the generation of 40 years in the desert until you reach Eretz Israel. And you learn this over a span of six years, hating it like the Goyish Cross that stands before your eyes every day, and you must bear it. And so you must torture yourself for six years until you become a Bar Mitzvah.
A Bar Mitzvah Boy
Now you are a functional Jew, with the entire yoke of doing good deeds as handed down through the ages. In those days, being a Jew was much more difficult than today.
Today, if you want to become a Bar Mitzvah, it is enough for the Bar Mitzvah boy to make a visit to the synagogue once or twice, allow himself to be called to the Torah, say the blessings of the Haftorah with the tune he has learned through suffering and that has sadly cost his parents not a small amount of money. In the true Bar Mitzvah, it is not worthwhile to outlay so much money to say the Haftorah one time and to learn how to use the phylacteries. However, for today's Bar Mitzvah boy it is really worth it a little work and lots of gain.
In these times, the parents make a great celebration in his honor it is called a party. They invite many, many people. You are given a nice present from each guest. You simply become rich with money and gifts. Yes, you must also have something to say at the party a speech, the speech you have been taught to say by heart but all of this is well worthwhile for you. Sadly, though, it has cost them the real equivalent of a dowry or a wedding. Many parents are put into debt but this is the pattern of what parents do as of today. This is all today.
But in those other times, it was quite different. First of all, the Bar Mitzvah boy suffered long months, learning all kinds of laws of the Talmud, using the phylacteries (teffilin), the laws of prayer, laws of blessings, rituals of cleanliness (immersion in the mikvah for the purifications of the body, and other little laws without end), not to forget half of the Shulchan Aruch (laws governing the life of an Orthodox Jew). The tefillin procedure had a face of its own like real, true teffilin large as a large apple, enough room for four sets of teffilin. The Shin was boldly seen. The leather bands were wide, strong, and black, and inscribed upon them by a genuinely religious writer (written according to the laws of writing prayers), not like today teffilin are fabricated and small as nuts.
The day of the Bar Mitzvah, the father would awaken you at daybreak and lead you to the mikvah for dipping into the waters of it (the father had previously requested the mikvah be properly cleansed). Then he takes you to the House of Study, and you walk with the velvety tefillin case under your arm. You are honored with liquor and honey cake, not more. And they put you into a corner and request that you say the necessary prayers without any mistakes. You roll up the sleeve of your left arm, say the prayer while putting on the tefillin. You kiss them here and there and prove that they are in the right place against the heart and against the forehead entwine the fringe on your finger, and you stand and daven with the minyan, word by word. One must not make any mistakes. You stand like a bent fool and can't move. If it is Monday or Thursday, they call you to daven also on Saturday. The father blesses you after you are called up to the Torah with a blessing of your new status (probably blessed that I have done my duty, now you are on your own.) From now he sheds responsibility for your sins, from today you also carry the entire yoke of being Jewish like all grown Jews. Getting up at daylight for a minyan, fasting for whatever written reasons, must not do any sinning, not carry anything on Shabbat, not go outside the limits, not do childish things. You are already a complete Jew! If not, they will torment you in the next world. For you alone, the Bar Mitzvah boy, life has become a little more difficult. Not a single gift do you receive, only a heavy yoke is put upon you, a yoke of 613 mitzvot a yoke taken away from your father and it hardly cost him anything. Yet you have gained a little something from this experience a little cuvid (respect). You can fill in for a minyan, if needed, and you already can read at Purim the Magillah for the women, and can even possibly earn a couple groshen. Together with this, you, in the meantime, become a Gemorah bucher, given more respect. Until now you had only a smattering of portions of the Gemorah. Yes, now you are given a bigger portion to recite, almost a whole page of Gemorah, and with it a piece of additional prayer. No more less important readings. Whether you understand or not, nobody says anything. And you must know all this because after his Saturday meal, the Rabbi comes to your house to listen to you daven. You no longer are learning from the yiddele teacher but by Fivel, the real learned teacher. If this doesn't satisfy Fivel the Melamid, he gives you over to someone else to teach you more about additional prayers, rules of trope, or intricacies of slaughter. He has aspirations to make a rav out of you, or at least a tutor.
Translated by Myra Rothenberg and Melvin Schmier
(Thoughts about my old home, while having an extended talk and with my parents, Joseph Krieger and Bella Pantzer). Lublin, Warsaw, Lodz, Lemburg, and even smaller, less well known shtetls, are remembered by thousands of Jews. Because even in the tiny places, where there was found only a very small Jewish community, there lay buried, thousands of our memories. Our souls are bound together very strongly by ties which cannot be broken.
But my poor shtetele, which alligns itself only in name with Shalom Aleichem's Boiberik, now possesses only one single family, ours in Montreal. And that family is now so Canadian, no one can share any memories with them. Even though we want, during the week of the yartzeit of their demize, to lose ourselves there in a rendezvous with them and warm ourselves from the in the shining sun of their immortal souls.
Like giant bright figures, they stand straight in a row in my fantasy, in my dreams they are the ones who risked all. The hardened water -carrier, Samuel Kometz, Shmerl the porter with the thick rope around his hips, Shmuel Nakhum's Chaya Pearl. Mkhla the glazier, Uncle David's Leyzer, the singing young journeymen. Reizele Aushteyn, the charm of the place, dancing little orphans, all it's toughness, its hungry souls, even in the good times they took everything with love and never complained.
To our young people in the shtetl who suddenly heard sounds of progressive modernism from far away places. And had the hunger still to educate themselves.
Even though we didn't own a school of higher education or a high school, many of the people reached high and noble goals.
Soon after the Balflour Declaration, our muddy streets came alive with clatter of Hebrew subjects and strolling young boys and girls. The youth threw themselves into studies of Dr. Herzl's Jewish state. From the thick woods behind the cemetery, voices rang with songs of freedom on the fallen monuments, our voices almost awakening the dead. . We sat there and studied (from the Book of Lamentations) and sang from the Song of Songs and interpreted chapters from The Jewish State. Everything, everything we devoured.
Daughters and sons of the very old, all at once they awoke to progress, endured the obstacles of poverty and with rags on their hands, and with strength and vigor on their lips they made it to Israel and were it's first pioneers and guardians:
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