Translated by Hannah Kadmon
[Since Akiva Ben-Ezra wrote many of the articles in the book of Horodetz, he sometimes signed using different names It is him, all right HK]
Folklore contains the research of legends, superstitions, customs and the practices of all kinds of talismans and cures.
In the folklore of a people we find the expression of their view of life, their attitude to life and death, their views of mobile and immobile property. The inspirations and enthusiasm of simple people are expressed in folklore. Poets, composers and painters draw from the well of folklore to create meaningful works of art for their people.
Every nation has it own folklore. Every nation adds from its flesh and blood to the legends and traditions. The Greek mythology about the creation of the world cannot be compared to the Jewish comprehension of the creation of the world. There is a huge difference in the folkloristic customs, for example, between the Arabs and German and in the way they are reflected in their two literatures.
True, many of the traditions and beliefs of all peoples are alike. Still, every nation paints them with its own colors and imprints its unique stamp upon them. In each ethnic group we find something that was learned from a foreign ethnic group with whom it came into contact.
Our Jewish nation, one of the oldest nations in the world, because of its political situation, had come in contact with many nations and ethnic groups and willingly or unwillingly had to be somewhat infected by the surrounding nations. However, the Jewish people digested what stuck to them and it came out almost as its own. They discarded many of the pagan superstitions and with the passing of time the belief crystallized, in one God, the creator of the world.
Still, foreign elements stole their way into the folkloristic treasure of the people of Israel. It is impossible for a people wandering from land to land, for close to two thousand years, to remain pure, free of foreign influence.
As it is with the gentiles, so it is with us Jews- we became interested in our own folklore. Also, various organizations were founded for this end. They undertook the task of researching the ancient Jewish folklore.
Before WW1 an organization was founded in Petersburg for this particular purpose. S. Ansky took an active part in this field of knowledge. After the war the movement spread and grew and Jewish intellectuals were more meticulous about compiling and preserving Jewish folklore, as the Jewish image started changing and its social structure started to crumble. Noach Prilutzki, blessed is his memory, did a lot to advance this endeavour during the years between WW1 and WW2; also Yehuda Elzet (Rabbi Y.L Zlatnik), may he live long, who collected and adapted that Jewish treasure. In those years the Yivo (Jewish scientific institute) also started publishing many important works dedicated to Jewish folklore.
Hebrew literature, too, began to be interested in Jewish folklore, and personalities such as Byalik, Druyanov, and others, published special books Reshumot (records) dedicated to this subject. Nowadays, special journals are published in Israel that deal with issues concerning Jewish folklore and its creations.
The research in Jewish folklore has become an integral part of Judaic Studies that exercises Jewish intellects all over the world.
Our Jewish shtetl Horodetz, which existed for many hundred of years, preserved in it many traditions and customs that exist no more. It also absorbed from the surroundings beliefs and superstitions, which evaporated. To do them justice, these specific Horodetzer customs, idioms, sayings, proverbs, witticisms, etc., should be listed so that the historian and the researcher will have more material for their work.
It is quite probable that in the material [from Horodets] placed before them, they will find items appearing in other shtetles and shtetlech. This is also worthwhile because it may shed light as to whether a saying, a witticism or a custom was widespread or mainly a local phenomenon.
May the following section be an additional brick in the structure called Jewish Folklore.
Here, I have thrown here together some words and expressions that are worth pondering and whose origins are worth researching. I hope that the researcher of the Yiddish language will find in my short article added material for his work.
[Page 168-169] [redensarten]
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
* These, in a certain sense, are based on local events. Since people wander, and especially Jews, sayings from one region were carried to another region, according to where Jews went or stayed. We often encounter these manners of speech, transferred into a modified version.
The same happens with witticisms and proverbs. Therefore, it is possible that some of the following sayings, used in another shtetl or region, infiltrated into our collection. We hope that the reader will surely forgive us.
[Translator's note: In square brackets - Ben-Ezra's own comments that appear, in the original, in footnotes. When it is my comment - I sign HK.]
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
[In the first section, Ben-Ezra elaborates on the Polish and Russian influence over the diction, pronunciation and accent of the Horodetser Yiddish. My comments in square brackets. HK]
Yiddish was the mother-tongue of the Horodets Jews from the crib to the gave. True, when a child was three-four years old they wrapped him in a Talit [the striped tasseled shawl worn by Jews during prayer. HK] and took him to the Kheder, where he was taught another language, the holy tongue [Hebrew], but the Rabbi translated it into Yiddish. The same was true for the girls, who studied the Yiddish version of the first five books of the bible with [Teitsh Khumash] or the letter-writing manual.
Naturally, the studies of the holy tongue had its big effect on the Yiddish language and it absorbed many Hebrew words. Therefore, the Jewish child who started attending the Kheder, acquired a rich vocabulary of Hebrew. The element of lshon Kodesh [=holy tongue] was felt all around: in the house, in the street and in the market. When the grocer made notes, it was half Yiddish and half Hebrew. When someone who did not know Hebrew so well, wrote a letter to another, his letter was strewn with a good amount of Hebrew words and expressions.
The Gentile neighborhood also left an impact on the day to day language of the Jews of Horodetz. The Neighborhood was inhabited by Belorussians who spoke White Russian (khakhlatske). We cannot deny that Yiddish absorbed Polish elements. Horodetz belonged at one time to Poland and Poles settled in Horodetz and around it. That was before the pavstanye (Polish revolt) and after WW1.
Through Polish language, Latin, French and English elements stole in. Researcher of the Yiddish language pointed out a long time ago that certain expressions or words stemmed from English or Latin; for example davnen [=praying] stems from the word divine. It came out odd when we used the expression kind oon keit [=child and links] for the English Kith and kin, or fix oon fartig [=done and ready] from the English word fix.
I want to dwell upon a number of words that were used in Horodetz unaware that they were either English or Latin.
While still in the Kheder, the kids heard already from the Rabbi: Vayashkef = oon er hot gelookt [he looked]. If the Rabbi was good he would take the children on Stirdes (=oxen) (from the word Sturdy). However, he did not like a vysen (white) khevrenik [= a mischievous child] and would tell him: Sik shoyn sik! [=hiss] (from the word sik) The Rabbi would sometimes feel that taren di kishkes [his intestines were torn], (from the word tear), seeing that such an urchin was busy only with teibelekh oon verbliyes [= chicks and vertebra] (warble). At home you would hear such talk as: vos farsvaverste [=why force the issue] (from force)?
The same happened to Israel-Moshe the cemetery-man. He was also the Shamash of the burial society. Once the society had celebrated the completion of mishnayot [=collection of postbiblical laws] and asked Israel-Moshe to invite people for the hadran [reading at end of the study of a tractate Talmud] ; but instead of hadran he called to invite the people to the khandran. From that day on they called him khandran or khandranik. This nickname was not reserved only for him but stuck to every ignorant person
Forgive me Israel-Moshe. It should be credited to him that he was a quiet and honest Jew.
It also happened that they called someone according to his occupation. There was in Horodetz a Jew with the nickname dvike. Why? Because he was a milkman. It is well known that a milkman has to do with dvinitzes (=pails of milk) so they called him dvike Why should they call that particular milkman by this name and not any other milkman? This remains a question
There are persons with nicknames that cannot be explained. For example: Why was Yosl nicknamed Bak. Why? Elijah will solve the question Therefore, other persons with a nickname were lucky to knew why and what for.
[Below is an interesting facsimile of an invoice for Khaya Feige [probably paid as there are two diagonal lines over it] and the written words are in Hebrew and Yiddish
On the right side are the K (kopek) and each line starts with the name of the day and then the names of the items bought and sometimes the name of another day in between. The numbers above the items may denote the price (?) or any other notation of the shopkeeper. HK]
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
* I have dwelt upon only those customs that as far as I know were more or less specific to Horodetz. I have also left out some Horodetz customs that were already mentioned occasionally in various articles in this book. Translator's note: My comments are in square brackets. The author's footnotes are in italics.
A. Eating and Drinking
Our Sages said that you can get to know a person by his drinking. (ערובין סה). We can add that we can get to know an ethnic group by their drinking and eating. In the two tractates of the Talmud דרך ארץ זוטא [small good manners] and דרך ארץ רבא [big good manners] there is a discussion of how a Jew should eat and drink, and in שולחן ערוך [the Jewish code of laws] there are a considerable amount of laws about foods what is allowed and not allowed to eat. Besides the written laws there are those that are not written, those that the people had adopted, and through which we can learn about the way of life of this or that community. Horodetz was not different from Jewish people as a whole.
B. The whole year
And in Poland they used to sing:
C. General Customs
D. Auspicious and Inauspicious Omens, Remedies , Mascots and Charms
Translated by Hannah Kadmon If there is a disagreement as to whether a name has a meaning, I think there is no dispute as to a nickname. Everybody agrees that a nickname says something, and often, more than something.
Already in the old days we find people with nicknames, like Yerubaal in the Bible [God gave Gideon this name Judges 6;32] , Kalba Savua in the Talmud and Richard Lion-Heart in the Middle Ages.
A nickname not only characterizes the person who bears this designation but also provides insight on the period or the surroundings, in which this person lived. A nickname reflects the spirit of the time and the level of culture in a specific epoch. From a nickname we can learn about the social structure of a specific generation. We can also become aware of the sharpness of mind and the outlook of the individual, or the public in general, that nicknamed him.
Almost every town or shtetl contained jokers who used to crown everyone with a nickname, when the person was still a child. If a stranger settled in the shtetl he was immediately given a nickname. If one of the strangers got married in the shtetl he received a nickname immediately under the canopy. Under this nickname the person then lived his life. Often, people did not even know the person's first name.
Some were so fortunate that their children and children's children were called by their father's or grandfather's nickname. Their nickname was so naturalized that they were not offended by it at all when they were called by their nickname. Others even felt wronged when they were not addressed by their nickname, as though they were not from the same shtetl
Horodets was not an exception. In it, too, almost everyone had a nickname. You should understand that not all the nicknames seemed to make sense. Some were based on a deformity or character, such as kolhaver [talks to please] horbater [humpbacked] stsherbater [jagged] parkh [canker/ rat] kaliker [cripple] royter [ruddy/red-head] morza [slob ] noz [nose] etc, or based on their craft such as: shoemaker, tailor, peddler.
Besides, they called others by a father's or by a mother's name such as: Berl Zavel's, Hashke Frume Hinde's, or also by a wife's name such as Khayim Rasel's
Others had quite a special privilege. They were nicknamed to suit their spiritual status, as for example: Yankl Chassid because he was a great Chassid, or Itshe Malakh [=angel] because when he was praying he was entirely stripped off his earthiness. Is, then, the nickname hoptshik Leib ugly? Well, that Jew was a great Staliner Chassid and was fulfilling the mitzvah of being joyous.
Or take nicknames such as: Moishe der groyser and Moishe der kleiner. There were two shopkeepers, one opposite the other. They were both called Moishe. And how do you know which Moishe you mean? The people seized upon an idea: since one Moishe was tall and the other was short, they would name one- Moishe der groyser and the other Moishe der kleiner.
The stature of a person had a weight in deciding on a nickname. How does this nickname come to be: kohen gadol? [gadol in Hebrew is: big and Kohen Gadol is the chief Kohen to preside over the Temple] Very simple: this Jew was a Kohen [of the family of Kohanim] and because of his high stature why shouldn't he be named Kohen Gadol? And by his name they also called his wife: di kohen gadol'she.
A similar situation was with someone of a small stature who was very agile and could ride a horse like a real Kozak. They nicknamed him Moishe Kozak or in endearment: Kozakl.
The endearing suffix had often an additional taste. Adding a suffix ke or le to a name denoted more, such as fondness, affection.
It happened also that a nickname was given because of a specific situation or circumstance. There was in the shtetl a woman with the nickname of Bashe di Yoven'te.
Since her husband, right after their wedding was drafted as a Yoven (Russian soldier) she was a Yoven'te. And thus she remained a Yoven'te even when her husband was not a soldier anymore.
Often, a nickname was given because of a quirk of pronunciation. For example: Aharon Leib'n, the house-painter, was nicknamed Shleye because his speech was very fast, and when he called his wife: Sheine Leye! it sounded as if he called out: Shleye
Translated by Hannah Kadmon
Translator's note: Akiva Ben-Ezra's comments appear in the Yiddish original book under a separate heading on page 181: Onmerkungen = Comments.Russia is and was a big country. It owned many towns, big and small, Shtetlech and villages - quite countless. Russia did not have a sufficient amount of schools of medicine and doctors to cover the needs of such a huge country. Even in the bigger towns there were not enough doctors for the population. In the small Shtetlech and in the villages there were no doctors at all.
I have inserted these comments in the text, in italics, in square brackets.
My comments appear in square brackets, not in italics.
Dr. Farber is the son of Shaye, mentioned in the article.
People were born, became sick, recovered, and in the end died, without the help of a doctor. However, it is not entirely correct to say that a shtetl such as Horodets managed entirely without medical care. No, on the contrary, it can be said that Horodets had an adequate amount, and even too many, doctors. Every Jewish community, no matter how small it was, had to have a doctor. This is a Jewish law and Jews observed that law. When God helped and the doctor was a specialist, it was fine and most welcome indeed.
It will perhaps not hurt to explain in some words what a doctor is. Here, in America, there is no such creature. A doctor had never studied medicine. He was merely infected with medicine. Usually he was a former soldier who happened to serve in a hospital and thus was acquainted with how the doctors conducted themselves. Later, the practice in the Shtetl made him wholly knowledgeable.
Horodets, naturally, always had a doctor. I remember two of them: Binyomin the doctor and his follower Naphtali. That Naphtali was a character who rightly earned and deserved a separate write-up about him. (See the article Naphtali the Doctor)
Besides the doctor, Horodets had it local specialists who devotedly served the population. We will list them in order.
Horodets had two midwives, or as they were called Bobbes [=grandmothers but also midwives] the bobbe Mindl and the bobbe Chaya Zlate. It is also interesting to know that the bobbe Chaya Zlate was the great grandmother of today's great opera singer Jan Peers. However, then, fifty years back, the second midwife bobbe Mindl- was, I think, of a higher standing. That, if you understand me, was due to the fact that bobbe Mindl came from the influencial Kostrinsky family. A child is born. Then he gets chicken-pox, measles and other childhood diseases. For that you needed a doctor. As for swollen zavalkes (tonsils) it was like this: in ordinary cases they used to put around the child's neck a woolen sock. However, in serious cases, it seemed to me that the bobbe Mindl used to press the tonsils with a spoon. [The bobbe mindl used also to lead the sick patient to the chimney, put her finger in his mouth telling him to scream oy, or to cough.]
When something falls into your eye here in New York, you go into a pharmacy and you come out well. In Horodets, something could indeed fall into your eye. What? - A little sand was there, in Horodets. There were no paved streets and no tall walls to stop the wind. So, there was enough sand and the wind blew it directly into one's eye. What can, then, be done? Here is where Yitzkhak Aharon's was very useful. He was an expert in licking an eye. You can believe me. Yitzchak Aharon really licked the affected eye with his tongue.
There was no dentist in Horodets. However, a tooth may, and did, hurt in Horodets as well. A cheek may, and did, swell in Horodets, too. What does one do, then? Here the services of Asher Dovid were used. Asher Dovid was the ritual slaughterer and a melamed [=teacher in Kheider]. He talked-away a toothache. Yes, you can believe me. He talked away a toothache [=expelled/convinced it to go away]. [In addition to the incantation he used to take a bit of salt, immerse it in whiskey and put it on the tooth. People also used to put garlic on the hurting tooth or wear the left shoe on the right foot against Jewish customs.]
You would think that we have already taken care of everything - from cradle to the grave. No, this is not the whole story. A certain health condition was in the middle neither healthy nor sick. Someone was not sick enough to call the doctor, but was not well enough either. Let us consider such a case: a child yawns and stretches himself. Ah, you start guessing. The mother knows immediately that the child has caught a good eye. She means: bad eye, but she counters it with calling it: good eye, because of: al tiphtakh pe lasatan [=don't utter words-of-mouth to allow the devil in]. You see, here neither a doctor nor a doctor can help. Here you have to go to Shaye to have him spell a good eye. [In a previous generation, before that of Shaye, Miriam Visotzky daughter of Alter Yosil, used a spell to expel a Bad eye, or a roiz [skin disease], etc. Also Rachel, daughter of Zavil, used to talk away a bad eye. She used to take grains of barley, turn each grain nine times around the eye of the suffering victim. Also Yosef Leib the mason, Aharon Yosl and his brother Chayim Itzik's, used to practice incantation to expel bad eye.]
So, you go to Shaye, he recites a spell - a good eye - and the child recovers. He stops yawning and stretching himself, and shalom al yisrael [=there is peace over Israel.] It should be clarified that all the experts, enumerated above, such as Yitzchak Aharon, Asher Dovid and Shaye, did not get paid for their effort. They used to do it for the general good. The farmers from the surrounding villages did present Shaye with a bit of grains or potatoes, but he did not charge the locals.
It seems to me that now, when all the Jewish towns and shtetles with their peculiar life and traditions are destroyed forever, we can allow ourselves to dwell upon the striking phenomena such as pretence, exorcism, etc., It is interesting to find out how a Jew, Shaye, born in Horodets, whose parents and forefathers were born and died in Horodets, had become an exorcise and a complete doctor with great many followers. Well, since Shaye was my father, and he used to tell us, children, very often, how he had reached that status, I can relate it to you. So this is how the story goes: He had a parnose shtub [=was making a living at his home] baking bread and beigel and later on also holnikes. His house was also a home-grocery-store. Nobody was standing ready to serve in the store. Only when someone came to buy barley, gauze, raisins, etc., they used to enter the store to sell. This is what happened one day: In a village not far from Horodets, a farmer's child got seriously sick. There was some swelling on his head. The farmer was what you called a baal goof, meaning a rich farmer. [=The original meaning of baal goof is a corpulent man] with a rich, vast great household. This farmer harnessed a couple of horses, took his wife and child and rode to Kobryn to seek a doctor. The Kobryner doctor gave up on the chance that the child would recover, and told the farmer to return straight home. On the way, they passed a court where the Pritz'te [=the landlady of the court] used also to practice a little medicine. She was pessimistic as well. They continued to travel home and when they drove through Horodets, they halted by Shaye's house to buy bread. The farmer left the wagon, in which his wife was sitting and crying aloud. Shaye, an inquisitive Jew, started questioning the farmer about the reason for her crying. The farmer told Shaye everything and Shaye comforted him: Bog Pomozshe, the meaning of which is God will help, and accompanied the famrer to the wagon. He saw the child with the swelling. He noticed that in one place the swelling was softer and whiter than the rest of it. He comforted them further and out of his good heart he showed them the soft place in the swelling and said: drive home in good health and you will see that by tonight this spot will have become loosened and the child will get well. He had some ointment in the house and he gave it to the farmer telling him to smear it on the soft place and wished them Bog Pomozshe. They drove away. Very soon Shaye forgot all about it. What was there to remember? Some weeks later, a wagon stopped at Shaye's house, full of bountiful things such as potatoes and grain. The same farmer carried it all, by himself, into the house, with thanks and praise. All had happened the way Shaye foretold them. It shows that he knew better than the doctors. Very swiftly the story spread in the neighborhood and farmers from the surrounding villages started coming with all kinds of diseases. What should be done now? The little grain, or the potatoes that they used to bring, could be put to good use as part of making a living. So, he started chanting a good eye, and with an encouraging word such as Bog Pomozshe [=God will help] and the like, he accomplished for his patients more than the great professors. He did not become rich as a result, but considering the poverty of Horodets, with ten mouths to feed, that was a great help. Later he also sold quinine for malaria and scorched a roiz )Erysipelas) [=a serious and infectious skin disease involving fever and pain] and the like. [Rachel, daughter of Zavil, used to scorch a roiz with flax. A great expert in scorching a roiz was the Poritz Snishke of Rodetz (a village near Horodets). Yosef Leib, the mason, also used a spell on roiz and Lichen skin diseases.] It also fell to Shaya's lot to have a newspaper write-up about him. This is how it happened:
There was a shkole (folk-school) Opposite Shaye's house. The teacher was then a tall gentile Stiapa the son of Maksim Sverdyuk. One day when Stiapa was standing by the school, he saw a wagon make its way to Shaye's house, with a sick woman lying helpless in it. Stiapa stopped the farmer and talked to him alone. Where from? Where to? The farmer answered that he was from Mekhvedevitch and because his wife was very sick he had driven to Shaye's. Stiapa asked further: If your wife is sick why don't you drive to Kobryn to see a doctor? The farmer answered thus: Shtsho doctori znayut? Doktori nitche nie znayot, Shaye znaye which means: what do the doctors know? The doctors know nothing. Shaye knows. Stiapa wrote down all that and mailed it to Petersburgh, to a newspaper called Birzshevye Vedomosti. The newspaper printed it as a human-interest story. One day the janitor comes in and calls my father to the administration office. The people who gathered there were: the ispravnik [=chief of Russian police] of Kobryn, the pristav [=assessor] from Antipole and the intellectuals of Horodets, such as the post-master, etc. The prominent men wanted to see the Horodetser Jew about whom they wrote in the newspaper. Maybe a year later my father happened to be in Prujine to visit his mother-in-law. In Beit Hamidrash he became acquainted with a Jew who told him that he was not a Prujiner and that he had already been dragging on, from far, for a long time. He had a sick child and he had already been everywhere with the child and could nowhere get help. Now he was going with the child to Horodets, because he read in the newspaper that a Jew by the name of Shaye was living in Horodets, and was helping everybody. It did not help my father when he told the man that he was actually from Horodets, knew the Jew Shaye and that Shaye not only could not do anything but also never claimed that he could. It didn't help. This man had already travelled so far and he would travel further. In short, father had to admit that he himself was Shaye and as long as he stayed in Prujine he would go to see the child. Did he help that child? I don't know.
To conclude a few words should be said about medicine in Horodets. As mentioned above, there were no pharmacies in Horodets. They used folk medicine. For Malaria they took quinine and for belly-ache they took castor oil. I seem to remember that children used to get verim-kroit [a certain vegetable considered efficient against worms in the digestive system], every first of the month. A sick person would eat a piece of chicken and a little chicken broth. When one cut one's finger, they used to cover the cut with spider-webs. If the cut was deep, they treated it with a cactus which they got from a Gentile. You would not expect that a Horodetser Jews would grow a cactus, would you?
Preserves also served as medications. What preserves? It depended on the sickness. For a light transitional sickness, a good eye [=meaning, actually, an evil eye], raspberry syrup would suffice. For a more serious sickness, such as measles, it was necessary to take cherry syrup. Berries-syrup was most seriously regarded. This does not mean that every Horodetser Jew was obliged to have, or actually had, all kinds of preserves and jams. Tut, pooh, nonsense! They managed. They already knew who had what. About the preserves one should understand it more in depth. You would not say or even think that Horodetser housewives all of a sudden would recruit themselves to cook various kinds of preserves. What's the matter? What is there to celebrate? Didn't they have any other things to take care of? Had they already taken care of everything? For the gown-up girls had they already prepared a nice dowry, for the smaller children had they already provide dresses, shoes, outfits and coats for winter? so why then? Had they already paid tuition fee, and stacked hatched wood in the stable? Is a filet of duck and potatoes all prepared? Is nothing missing but cooking all kinds of jams to have something to go with the Sabbath tea after the midday sleep? I am telling you that if in Horodets one could find such a Jew who had all the above mentioned things and his straw roof was not leaking, even such a Jew would be ashamed to deal with these worldly pleasures. You see, when it is, however, a question of medicine, the matter is entirely different. There is no shame, and every housewife cooks whatever she can and indeed in public. The neighbors come in for a visit, taste and relish themselves: oh, what a pleasure, Freyde Rive, may we never need it. May we live to see next year and cook again preserves. Chayim Itzik's supervised over the cooking of preserves to see that each of the housewives fulfilled her duty according to her ability. Now, so that they m'zol nit badarfen [=would hopefully not need it], he proceeded to take care of the needy. [In the nearest town Prujani there was an old regulation that the Gabai of Bikur Kholim [=Jewish house-call service for the sick] should always have reviving preserves at hand. (See registry of the town Prujani)
This is how Jews lived, became sick, recovered and died in Horodets.
Remedies and Medications
Translated by Hannah Kadmon Translator's note: My comments are in square brackets. When there is a comment by Ben-Ezra, it is in italics.
My father, Aharon Itche, son of Leizer, rest in peace, was a peddler around the villages. He used to pack his bag with merchandise and set out on the road. He would reach quite far. His clients did not include only farmers. Poritzes [=big Gentile landowners] would also buy from him. Thanks to these dignified buyers, my father brought all kinds of medications that circulated in Horodetz and they were indeed referred to as Malinke [=a small child in Russian] [this name is suitable because the dried raspberries would be hidden and used only when catching a cold.). [The Yiddish word for raspberries is malinyes[
My father used to bring home certain herbs (Korenyes) that Moshke Lea used to actually snatch and soak then in whiskey as medication for toothache. (I don't know how long its impact lasted, but it is a fact that it was used as a remedy).
Rumianik [=camomile] and dried yagedes [=dried berries] were used to cause one to sweat when he had a cold. It took some months for some women to get hold of the medications mentioned above, because not always was my father able to get them. And I forgot the highlight: the year-old wax. Moshke Lea, my aunt Chaya and also aunt Feigl and old Henye used to say that the year-old wax heals all disease, God forbid, only it was necessary to know how to prepare. This sort of wax was taken from young bees. A skilled hand was needed for this type of work. The young bees had to be separated from the old ones and to prepare for them their food for winter. Professionalism was needed, which only the Poritz's gardener could exhibit. My father used to bring home this wonder-wax from Viloysk, from the Poritz Shement. Chaya Zlate and Mindl, The two bobbes of the shtetl, would come to get this wax. So did my aunt Feigl. This mitzvah was divided into equal parts. My mother insisted that she should get an equal part in this mitzvah and she indeed got it, because she helped in separating the wax from the honey.
My father used to bring home, from his travels, dried raspberries. This was a medication for a juvenile pneumonia. I remember quite well the special bag where my dear mother used to keep the medications.
Translated by Hannah Kadmon Translator's notes: Bobbe in Yiddish has two meanings: a grandmother and a midwife.
When a Horodetser child was studying the Khumash about the two bobbes, Shifra and Pua, who saved the Jewish children in Egypt he did not have to use his fantasy to imagine them. He had seen them with his own eyes. In Horodetz there were two bobbes from years back, who delivered children from their Jewish mothers, or from a gentile woman in confinement when she had a difficult labor.
This profession of being a bobbe was inherited; from mother to daughter or to a sister. The bobbe was, in a way, also a lady-in-waiting for the mothers until after the bris. From the old bobbes I remember Sirke, Chayim-Leib's mother. Sirke taught her profession to her sister Chaya-Zlate, and after Sirke's death, Chaya-Zlate practiced the same profession.
About Chaya Zlate, we will talk a bit later. Now we will come back to the second bobbe - the bobbe Felte Machle or it would be more correct to say to the first, because she was wife of Itzik Chayim's, a prominent land-lord in addition to his being an important mohel [=circumciser] for free. He used to carry his humanitarian-religious mission without pay, just for the doing of Mitzvah.
The bobbe Felte Machle passed her profession to her eldest daughter Mindl, and for decades delivered children of Jewish mothers, and almost the whole shtetl were her Children. When a child became sick, they called for the bobbe Mindl. She already had her own medications and remedies and did what was necessary and with God's help the child recovered.
The bobbe Mindl did not wait for a child to become sick. She preferred to prevent rather than cure. When hearing that, God forbid, Scarlet Fever was spreading in the gentile street, she would bring a red band, put it around the child's neck or sew garlic in a small sack and hang it around his neck. When the old Rabbi passed away, she brought her children pieces from the Rabbi's shrouds as a charm for long life (as you know the Rabbi passed away at the age of almost 100 years.)
The bobbe Mindl, a short old Jewish woman, was always occupied, always. Even when she did not attend a woman at birth she would run around quickly, never having any free time. Don't forget that she had quite a number of children and grandchildren spread in Russia and America. She had to write letters to her daughter in Yekaterinoslav, send a receipt for money that her daughter and grandchildren had sent her from Amerika (monthly), and she could not write by herself. So she would ask someone to write a letter for her, and another day she would ask somebody else. And when the bobbe Mindl asked - one had to fulfill her request. After all, you are one of her children. And she did not let off. She walked, or rather ran, several times to a person until her letter was written. Then, she would ask another person to help her change the beddings. She was an old woman and did not have the strength to peal off the covers of all the quilts and pillows that lay on her bed like a pile of hay. Her cubicle was tidy and clean. On the table, on the walls, hang photos of her children and grandchildren in America, and on their weddings - with their brides. The bobbe Mindl had a good memory. She remembered all of them by their names, how old they were, what they were doing, and the amounts of money each of them sent her. May they be healthy and strong and God, praise his name, will give me long years that is how she concluded telling about each child separately. Blessed be God's name was a phrase that she always used, and with God's help she delivered children. In truth, she used other means: She ordered the woman who was in labor to hit the pan with a grinder, and say: there, there, get out, baby or she would tell the woman to hit with her hand on the wall and she would in the meantime say: hit, daughter, with the hand against the wall you will be helped.
When the bobbe Mindl says: give strength [=push] that is when the delivery is starting. Very rarely is it necessary to call for the Polish doctor Tshekhatshinski from Antipole. The bobbe Mindl used to say that Tshekhatshinski had said: If the bobbe Mindl is there, they don't need me
And when God, blessed be his name, helped and a son was born, there was a double joy in the house: the parents were overjoyed, and also the bobbe was pleased. In addition to the weekly Rubel to ten Gulden that she usually got, it was possible also to put a dish at the bris, into which the participants would throw two or three Kopeiks which added another Rubel or Ten Gulden. The sign that the bobbe Mindl was pleased was that she opened up her box of tobacco whiffed the tobacco and everything was fine, and thanks to God, blessed be his name.
In addition to her sideline income, the bobbe Mindl had a yearly income. The housewives used to send her shalakh Mones [=the ritual sending of baked and prepared sweets on Purim] and besides the sponge-cake, candies and other good things, they would put in the dish some Guldens for the bobbes. However, after all the good fortunes, the bobbe was quite poor - especially the bobbe Mindl who was a widow. Thanks to her children in America she managed in her very old age, and after Yom Kippur 1915 she died, her memory be blessed.
The bobbe Chaya-Zlate was Sender the melamed [=teacher in Kheider]'s wife. In her case, her profession was a sideline income, while her chief income was drawn from teaching. Chaya-Zlate used to say that Kindler, the Kobryner gynecologist said of her that she was a great expert and people could rely on her. However, she was not as popular as the bobbe Mindl. Possibly, because the bobbe Mindl's family had many branches in Horodetz and her clientele was bigger.
Chaya-Zlate possessed a natural humor. Many wives preferred her because when they were in labor, she used to tell jokes and humoristic episodes, and though the wife was in great pain, she would still laugh through her pains.
In addition to these psychological means, Chaya-Zlate used to give the woman in labor a bottle and tell her to blow into it. And, when it was a difficult labor, they tied a long rope from the woman- in-labor's to aron-kodesh [= the ark of the synagogue] so that she herself would open the ark and God, master of the world, would open the gate of mercy and help her.
When God up high had already helped and a son was born, the bobbes were very busy. Every evening the children from the kheider would come to read kreeat Shma [= the words of the prayer that is also said upon going to bed are: Hear of Israel, our God is the only God. This prayer is said on the eve of a male baby's circumcision, involving also school children]. The Bobbes had to cook chickpeas and give the children handfuls of the peas. On that week's night they also had to give candies in the form of goatees, and for Friday night they had to cook chickpeas with beans for a male child. Why beans? - Because the acronyms of the word beans [in Yiddish bab] spelled: Baruch Ata Bvoakha [Blessed are you in your coming]. And soon came time for the bris. The bobbes didn't know what to do: who would they recommend to be the mohel [=circumciser]. True, they would like to get a nice coin from the mohel when they mediate between him and the bris, but for a Mitzvah you do not charge money.
When a girl was born there was also a lot of work. On the Sabbath day, women would come to congratulate mazel tov. That meant that they had to prepare sponge cakes. So, there was never a dull moment there was always work to be done. However, thanks to the master of the world that things were back to normal, we can say mazel tov, may you live to ring up them the new-born to torah, [=learning], khupa [=wedding] and maasim tovim [=good deeds].
And son and daughter grew up to become God fearing Jews.
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