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The Jews of My Generation

(Memories and Notices)

Yaakov Kaplan

I belong to a generation, which at the beginning of this century emigrated from Olshon to America. I left in 1906. Until that time, I had already experienced "a good piece of life"(hard times). I studied at a Yeshiva until age 14, took root in traditional Judaism. The brreak from the pious life took place, and I went to a secular life: from Gemora, Rambam, sacred commentary - to the Hebrew and Yiddish literature, to the unity of man, Breg in, Berdichevski, and the Yiddish classics.

We were in the majority of the yourh then in the town of Olshon. Not many of my generation remained I will strive to recall from memory, some episodes, illustrations, images, "mental beauty" of our erased Jewish life in Olshon.

The Outward Appearance of Olshon

The town of Olshon lies between hills, something like being forelorn in God's care. On one side of town, toward the south, flows phlegmatically a small river (perhaps today it is a bit cleaner), with wild grasses growing around it from the beginning of time. One time, Leyb the miller "knocked in diamond shaped nails" and from the river created water power for the big wheels, that turn and grind the grain for the poor peasants.

On a summer's day after Shalash Sudis(thrid meal), Jews with their children set out on Traber "Gos" (Street) and took over the entire width of the street and then walked away from the city between mature corn stalks, as tal as a person. Jews enjoyed to stop in front of the wheel of the water mill. The wheel turns, the water sprays itself opposite the setting sun and is broken down into sparkling beams. When it becomes darker, the young ones are occupied on the other side of the mill, where they can wrap themsleves among the high rows of cornstalks- an occasion for pranks, tricks, and ,ischief. And for loving couples to flirt, concealed from human eyes. But when the stars show in the sky, all realize it is "time to pray Maariv". Young and old bathe weekly in the river. Competing in the novelty of swimming: who can more quickly "crawl swim" to the mill wheel. The big church ringed with a row of stores. The shopkeepers wait for Sunday, when the peasants from the poor towns come with their property and goods: flax, pig hair, gloves, eggs and chickens. On Sunday, the market becomes lively. Jews with beards, Jewish ladies standing with kerchiefs on their heads, feel the chickens, bargaining, competing with one another for bargains. The stores are filled with customers. The church bells ringing, horses whinny, drunkards curse each other.

Items to sell are put on tables: candles, graters and other metallic utensils, made by Naftali the tinsmith. Aslo Khatskel the sexton with his tortes, teyglakh, cakes, and sweets, has his place in the market. The merchants were busy in an eminent place in the market. In summer, they sat perspired near their baskets and in winter - with a pot filled with glowing coals, under their old, worn out clothes, their head, over the ears, wrapped in rags, selling mostly cloth, vegetables, fruit, grains and the like, labored so that the men can sit in the synagogue to study Torah and to prepare for a seat in paradise, after 120 years.

In Olshon, Jews made their livelihood from having shops and small trade. The peasants from the nearby towns brought grain, fruits, pig hair, and the like. The shopkeepers and merchants bought the products or traded for other products and sent to Vilna. The peasants also shopped in the Jewish shops in Olshon. In women's hands there was also another way to earn a living. Namely geese kept in cages so they could not move. They were stuffed, given a lot to eat. They should become fat and then sold them in an inn and also in taverns. Another livelihood also came from plucking feathers which employed pluckers, Children enjoyed crackilngs. mothers took the cracklings after frying them in fat. Poured into jars and with the cracklings, treated the children.


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