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Folklore and Language

Experiences and Way of Life

[Page 216]

Fragments of Poems, Folklore and Humor

by Aba Lande

Translated by Phillip Frey

A Lida expression and its source:

“Tshekai Na Yurie” (“Yuriev Dien”-A Russian date upon which contracts for rented dwellings began and ended)-A Lida Jewish expression, despite its being expressed in the local gentile parlance—whose origin the people remembered. And the story went this way:

A respectable Lida gentleman, a rich widower brought a new wife down, a member of the “aristocracy”, who spoke Russian…on her side, it is to be understood, lineage and intelligence, and on his side—Wealth. He had promised her before the wedding a lovely dwelling, fine furniture and the like. A while after the wedding, she began to remind him of his promise. He used to repeatedly defer the matter with a pretext, that there not yet any available dwellings: “Tshekai, Milenkaia, Na Yurie”, he used to tell her-wait until “Yurie” time, when neighbors, who have ended their contract, changed dwellings.

Lida wiseguys needed nothing more. They were continually wisecracking about the wealthy “intelligent” with his peasant Russian, of course, and his generous promise, which was continually deferred, heeaven knows how long…so a saying remains: “Tshekai Na Yurie”, which means—you have to wait a long time.

Munie tsukernik (The founder of the Tsukernik family in Lida) in his day was know as Lida”s Motke Chabad (A folk-hero whose antics were comic-Ed. Note) His “Shtiklekh” (the word “shtick” has made its way into English=antics) consisted mostly in prankish acts, with the single purpose, to cheer himself up, creating comic situations, often it cost him money, because he had to pay the naïve victims of his fooling-around.

One time he bought at market a load of “moss” (which was used in wooden houses, to be stuffed between the wooden timbers of the walls, so that no open cracks might remain, so that cold could not penetrate, and similar purposes.) He brought the cart to the communal bath, opened the window to the Mikveh (ritual bath), telling the carter to dump the moss inside. When a considerable pile of the light moss had collected on the surface of the water, Munie tells the carter to go inside and stuff the moss ….Nu, one can just see the surprise of the carter over this sort of involuntary kosher immersion…..for the wagonload of moss Munie had naturally paid, perhaps with a drink of whiskey in addition. Meanwhile people were convulsed with laughter. Back then people were sane…. (said ironically)

When Munie Tsukernik got older, he called his friends together, because, he wished to write a will... He starts to dictate: for Yoel—thirty thousand roubles; for his second son, twenty-five thousand roubles, etc., with a broad hand tens of thousands. When his friends opened their mouths: “Munie, where are you going to get all this money?” he anwered with a straight face: “If there won't be, then don't give…”

A False World

About one of the religious judges the people of the city used to murmer under his breath, that he at times stumbles into receiving bribes, may the merciful one forbid….and they used to tell this sort of story”

Once there came two householders to the religious court for a religious court judgment before this very judge. One of the litigants gives him a broad handshake, and the judge feels a coin in his hand. By is size it had to be a tenner (five kopikes). Our judge lifts his hand, as if by accident, upward, the coin drops into his broad sleeve and he feels it slipping downward over his body straight through his trousers, which were stuffed into, according to the fashion, into his high boots. Having heard both pleadings, the judge reflects, having well considered the matter, as was customary, and reached a decision---in favor of the litigant of the coin…

Came home in the evening from the religious court building, he calls his wife and magnanimously allows her to pull his boots off, to surprise her with his earnings…shook out his boot and out fell a great big copper sixer! (three kopikes) one of the big old style sixers, which were as big as the new tenners. For such deceit the “honest” judge had not been prepared!

--Oy, says the judge—a world of falsehood!…
We needn't be suspicious of Lida judges that one of them might be dishonest, God forbid. A few of them had other failings, about which we've had the opportunity to tell elsewhere…but as far as we have heard about them, they were all honest Jews. But this is a lovely story on a source of moral education…

King David's Yohrzeit (Memorial of his day of death)

Jewish village-dwellers had for generations, dwelt in the villages around Lida. Innkeepers, leasees, who would lease “courts” from the landowners and cultivate them, or on their own tiny landholdings (From the time of Alexander the Second—as long as the Tzarist government allowed them to remain there). They were robust persons, unsophisticated, slightly naïve, generally also magnanimous. The city dwellers often used to amuse themselves about the villagers, who were generally far from learned…

A villager rides into town at Shavuot-time (The feast of weeks-after Passover) to spend the holiday and stays with one of his relatives. On the holiday morning before dawn, he hears knocking on the relatives' shutter: “Awaken to recite Psalms, King David's Yohrzeit!” The villager asks: “Whose Yohrzeit is it?” The relative explains that Shavuot is King David's Yohrzeit. The villager scratches himself behind his ear: “That's how it is, King David has died? I didn't even know that he was ill…”

Nachman's Signature

Nachman was a wealthy villager and for his children he maintained a young tutor, a learned man and a scholar, with fine innovative methods. Since Nachman was engaged in considerable business with the landowners and very often had to sign contracts and the like. The tutor taught him how to sign his name (in Yiddish naturally). Nachman used to demonstrate for his gentile acquaintances the “wisdom of writing” which his tutor had taught him:

“Treba Postavit Shest Kolov” he used to explain, that means: You have to set down, first of all, six marks (vertical strokes). Then he would set down five strokes one next to the other like the letter “vav” and a sixth like the letter “nun”. And further: “Tu nozshku treba”. Here, it means, one needs a foot—and he places a foot beneath the first stroke and it suddenly becomes a clear “nun”. “Here”, he continues, “Kraizshki treba”. In Yiddish: here we need a little roof- and he sets down a (horizontal) line over the next two strokes, and the emerges an accurate “Khet”. And finally (between strokes 4 and 5) a diagonal stroke, and it becomes a letter which is similar to a “mem”---“Ee vot tiebie lachman”, he ends with a proud chapter ending!—and what you have here is, that is to say---Nachman (Gentiles used to pronounce it “Lachman”).

The Yeshiva Student in the Village

The villagers from their vantage point often used to ridicule the weak citified creatures, which at times don't know how that which they eat grows.

A young groom-to-be travels to his father-in-law-to-be, the rich villager. The cart travels through a field covered entirely in white—what is this? The young bridegroom asks, and the father-in-law explains to him, that its is “Retshke” (i.e. the buckwheat grain eaten as kasha) (“gretshikha” in Russian) The Yeshivah lad exclaims in amazement: This Retshke is Kasha with milk.

Reb Moishe Ber and His Ideas

Reb Moishe Ber the teacher (Vaismanski) was very learned. Generations of students were taught Gemara (Talmud) by him. Behind the gray strict external figure (which, incidentally, is reminiscent of Isachar Ber Ribak's cubist painting “The Elder”)was hidden a “juicy” soul, which loved a flower, a tree, with enthusiasm for God's nature, in addition a quiet humor, which was capable of ridiculing his own small-town ideas.

He once related to his students his impressions of a cart trip to Vasilishok (several tens of kilometers from Lida): One rides, and one rides and one rides! And I think to myself—and this is still Russia!…

This was told with a jokesterish smile in his eyes. But he truly believed it, that the Nieman was the largest of all Russian rivers. When we told him, that the Volga for example is bigger than the Nieman, he remarked filled with wonder: but the Volga also falls into the Nieman?

He used to say: Of all the towns ending in “Shok” (Vasilishok, Oisishok, Yurazishok, etc) I care the most for Kilishok…(and it was true…).

Reb Moishe Ber was, as we have said, a great scholar, but in addition-had imagination, but, was a believer. We heard many stories from him about ghosts, in which he believed: about his dead brother whom he suddenly saw enter the room of his (Moishe Ber's) mortally ill son with a big wreath of flowers (and the son quickly recovered!) He also used to avert (via speech formulas) “evil eyes” (as in “Kein Ayin Hora Nisht” or ”Kinahore”) He also believed in “Zugot” (pairs), this means, all those things which in twos can do harm (He would add: those who believe in it). Therefore he would never drink two glasses of tea: either one, or three, or five. In his elder years his mouth was twisted (probably from a stroke), it happened, as he told us, because one time he forgot his rule and he downed four shots of whiskey—forgetting to drink a fifth, it should be (an odd number) “and”…

Yidl Gilmavski was one of the Lida jokesters of the new time. A one-time student in the Mirer Yeshiva, a Torah scholar, a Hebraist, good with numbers, with good hands for different kinds of work, but to prosperity, he did not come. A pauper all his life,- but always joking.

One time he was standing in the merchants bank watching the cashier counting money. They ask him: Reb Yidl, is there something you need?---He answers: No, my wife sent me to see (to getting) a bit of money” for the Sabbath. Nu, so I've already seen…

For Passover, he used to say, I have to worry, actually, only about a chicken. I don't have to worry about matzot: Would people let a Jew be without matzot on Passover?

---A gentile woman, who is buying a piece of fabric from him bargains arguing, that the fabric is narrow. He answers her: “Ale Dlugi” (But it is long….)

Yidl is interested in all sorts of “antiques”: a sort of arty lamp with a tall green marble base which fits with great difficulty into his few and humble furnishings, a writing desk with a “secret lock” which takes up half a room, and the like---all bargains, acquired by barter or at some other opportunity. Once during the German occupation, during the first world war, much loss of business by the local merchants, who promptly rode off to Russaia. Somewhere Yidl scrounged out of the abandoned business of an acquaintance who was a salt merchant, a meter high glass (measuring) graduate which had served as an advertisement of sorts for the business. A young man, seeing Yidl “schlepping” his “bargain” on his shoulder, called to himfrom across the street: “Reb Yidl, what need have yuou for such a piece of glass?—“For doing (chemical) analysis—answers Yidl from across the street.”

They say, that in the ghetto, Yidl was still making jokes. But no details about that tragic “gallows humor” never made their way to us.

Parliamentarism

In the years 1918 to 1920, on the Jewish street meetings abounded. Debates without end, about the construction of the future Jewish community etc, lectures by people with axes to grind, obstructionism, counter-arguments. The president wishes to have parliamentary order, but who is listening to him. L. is a constant oppositionist. He is a solid business, with a fine little stone wall, with a factory, where several apprentice tailors were already working, yet he still remained the sworn opponent of the old community businessmen, the “fat-bellies”, the “blood-suckers”. At a meeting, when the president doesn't wish to allow him to speak out of turn and argues at him: Friend L. “You don't have the “word””- L. interrupts him: “What are you telling me, I don't have a word-I have more words than all of you.”…

A Thrifty Person

To be hatless inside your house had long been accepted by the very deeply religious in Lida. However, going hatless in the street, still appeared to be extraordinary (During the 1920s). Our friend M.., of a strong revolutionary character, was, so to speak, of the pioneers of going hatless in the street. Suddenly it became known, that M. was going to Erets-Yisroel!

On the Krumer(not straight) street, the matter of the pioneer was bandied about: what might such a lad do in Erets-Yisroel, without a trtade, sans money (In those days it was thought that to go to the land of Israel one needed to be either a tradesman or a capitalist) R. \Isaac Lande did not agree with that opinion: Why not? He said, it will actually not be difficult for him there: He is very thrifty: He doesn't need a hat.

Recited Goiml (The prayer “Asher Gamalti” thanking the almighty for his grace in allowing one to live as after a severe illness)

Reb Shoul Krasnoshelski, prayed in the “Metaskim Kloiz” (a prayer house for those who “occupy” themselves with Torah study), where he was a regular worshipper (He had a “city” (was important) there). He was honored with the Maftir (reading of the portion of the Prophets) and was given well wishes for his departure. In reply to the blessings Reb Shoul began: First I must recite Goiml that I have departed alive from the hands of the “gang” of Metaskim.

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