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[Page 152]

The Activist from Turka Shlomo Pelech

by Moshe Kershner of Haifa

 

Uncaptioned. Shlomo Pelech

Shlomo Pelech was the head of the Zionist-Socialist organization, the so-called “Right leaning Poale Zion”[1] for twenty years. He was also active in various professional institutions. He helped tens and perhaps hundreds of Jewish youths to find their way in life. There is only one thing he neglected: his own work, his tailor shop…

Meetings during the day, gatherings in the evening, he ran to and fro intervening with the authorities for those who had need of him.

One must state: In the political struggle for his convictions, in his principled stance and in his societal life, he was consistent and not quick to give in… On the other hand, his political lectures during the weekly Friday night gatherings of the “Hitachdut Poale Zion Union” were rich in content and dealt with the perplexing Jewish problems of the entire world. Nevertheless, Pelech was a Jew with a deep national consciousness, and he therefore exhibited a deep love for his people.

I now recall a fact that indeed characterizes Pelech. Once, the Polish minister Maruszewski came to Turka and convened a gathering. No Turka Jew dared to say a word. One did indeed say something – Shlomo Pelech. He indeed attacked the minister for his stance toward the Jewish

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question. The minister was insulted, responded with anger, and rebuked him strongly.

He struggled in the city hall on behalf of the impoverished Jewish population, as well as for the village Jews... He also made sure that the philanthropic organizations would distribute their monies in an equitable fashion.

 

The Turka orphanage

It is no surprise that he was a member of the committee of the Turka orphanage for twenty years without interruption.

In brief, he was a wellspring of toil, energy and might that was evident not only in Turka. The Orthodox, religious circles in Turka also appreciated him due to his good manner with people.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of life.


[Page 154]

The Final Hoshana Rabba[2]

by Eli Montag

One cannot find any organization that existed in any Jewish city or town that did not exist in Turka. We can note them – the Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick), Chevra Kadisha (burial society), Cheva Mishnayos (Mishna study organization), Chevra Tehillim (organization of Psalms reciters), and many more. Each organization had its trustee and its separate little room. Each one fulfilled its obligations honorably, and held their own kiddushes several times a year. One would drink liquor at those kiddushes[3], but not to the point of drunkenness, Heaven forbid, but rather to get happy, to wish each other “Lechayim,” to forget the concerns of livelihood for a while, and to talk with longing about former times when one could purchase liquor from large casks, called pesser, and nobody knew of any monopoly yet…

Among the organizations in our town, there was an organization called “Chevra Sheimos”. Whereas some of the groups consisted of important householders, the Chevra Sheimos consisted of course Jews, tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers, peddlers, and regular common folk. Aside from holding their regular kiddushes, and Melava Malkas[4], their activity consisted of collecting the Sheimos[5] from all the Beis Midrashes, and taking them to the cemetery on Hoshana Rabba with a large parade to bury them.

I do not know of such a group, or such a custom in other Galician towns. In Turka, this took on a colorful form that was well noted. The interesting thing is that everyone in town, without exception, derived great enjoyment from this. Of course, this was understandable for the members of the organization itself. This was their own joyous occasion, for which they waited an entire year. They prepared the large boxes in which the Shemos were laid. They themselves arranged the horse and wagon which was to carry the boxes, and arranged that the orchestra would come to play

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on a voluntary basis. They rode before the crowd. In short, it was their celebration, their parade. However, as has been mentioned, the large crowd of simple Jews, young and old, cheder children, and ordinary white comrades[6], all who had waited a long time for such a noisy opportunity, derived enjoyment from this.

The custom was as follows. In the large synagogue and Beis Midrash, and in all the smaller Beis Midrashes, a large carton lay in a corner of the anteroom. Tattered siddurim (prayer books), machzorim (festival prayer books), and individual pages, worn and faded, that were lying around – were all placed in the carton by ready hands so that they would not lie around and be desecrated. There were also people who would not hesitate to pick up Sheimos from the street, and would bring them to the designated place. The cartons would get fuller and fuller throughout the year. Then the day of Hoshana Rabba arrived, when the Sheimos from all the Beis Midrashim would be gathered together and brought to the synagogue, in order to carry them to the cemetery.

Then came Hoshana Rabba of 5699 (1938). Jews from the Chevra Sheimos worshipped earlier than everyone else, and came home quicker than usual in order to eat quickly. The weather was sunny and warm. Groups of Jews from all areas of town hastened to the synagogue. The horse and wagon upon which the crate of Shemos would be transported was already standing ready in front of the synagogue. In the anteroom, people were busy emptying the cartons of sheimos. Outside, the crowd grew from minute to minute. The Jews forgot about their livelihood concerns as well as the black clouds that had already gathered in the Polish skies. Everyone was in a jovial mood. People spoke witticisms to each other, joked, and mocked the entire world. In the midst of the small talk, the crowd forgot about the preparations which were taking place in the anteroom, and the reason why they had all gathered together.

Suddenly, a deep voice was heard, “We are setting out!” All eyes turned to the exit of the synagogue, from which four

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people carried out a large crate covered with a tallis. Many others pushed forward because they wanted to be one of he carriers. The crate was slowly laid on the wagon. The coach driver gave a pull on the reins, and the entire crowd set out on their way. In truth, this did not seem like a religious parade, with everyone arranged in rows of four, or the children holding hands in pairs. No, it had the image more of a Jewish wedding during the chuppa ceremony, with everyone pushing forward. Old and young Jews pushed from both sides, from behind and from below. The procession went from the synagogue gate through Doctor-Lande's Street, over the bridge, out onto “Lokacz” and then along Sambor Way. The journey passed through hills with fields on both sides, from which one could clearly see the entire town in the valley.

Melech the peddler rode in front with his reddish yellow horse[7]. The mains of the horses were tied into pony-tails, decorated with colored ribbons. Melech himself was a husky person with wide shoulders, a reddish blond beard, and a jovial face. He was dressed up in a Purim fashion, with a light colored crown on his head – appearing almost like a real king. When the band started playing their instruments and the horse started stomping its hooves in beat, he strongly took the bridle in his hands. The crowd enjoyed this greatly.

Immediately after that, the band arranged itself in a wide row. It was one of the finest and most well-known Jewish bands in old Galicia. Throughout the entire journey, they never tired of playing their musical instruments. The air was full of heartwarming, joyous Jewish melodies. All kinds of young boys and girls stood along the root. Some of them whistled, played pranks, and laughed out loud.

The crowd grew as they got along. There was no shortage of cheder children, young and old. Joy and gladness poured forth from their charming, childlike

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faces. Here, they had to walk in pairs and hold hands, in the manner of school on the Third of May. Here they were going – and what does it mean to be going! – Literally wobbling along with the adults, with the musical instruments, and looking out at Hershele Poyker (the Drummer) carrying his drum, which he wore in front of him. If they wanted, they could have touched the belt in which the drum rested, and even the drum itself! With one jump, one would be right beside the horse and wagon. Soon they would find themselves around Melech the peddler, who was the top attraction for the crowd.

Slowly, the entire crowd began to approach the “Holy Ground.” Old Jews would check their belts. The Chevra Sheimos closely surrounded the wagon. Then, the entire crowd halted. A silence overtook everyone. Slowly, and with awe, the Jews took down the crate of Sheimos and carried it through the main gate of the Jawarer Way for burial. The crowd stood in silence for another while, but soon they got back to their usual selves.

Everyone in his own manner looked for a short route back to town, which was spread out over the valley. Some went by the foot path right next to the fence of the cemetery, and some went up the hill over the tunnel. Others simply enjoyed G-d's fine world in the late summer, and slowly paced through the straight path. Young people, however, remained until late in the evening, strolling over the broad fields. The surroundings were full of laughter and song, which echoed long through the surrounding hills.

This was the final Hoshana Rabba in Turka, which no longer exists.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Poale Zion divided into right and left factions around 1920. The right faction was mainstream Socialist, whereas the left faction tended toward Marxism. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poale_Zion Return
  2. Hoshana Rabba is the name of the seventh day of Sukkot. Return
  3. Kiddush is the prayer that introduces the evening and noontime meal on Sabbaths and festivals. Here, it refers to a mini-celebration accompanied by refreshments and the recitation of the noontime Kiddush. It often celebrates or marks an occasion. Return
  4. A Melave Malka is a meal had at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Return
  5. Literally “names.” Refers to worn our holy books containing the Divine Name that are not to be discarded in the regular fashion, but rather buried. Return
  6. I am not sure of the exact implication of this obviously colloquial expression. Return
  7. The word here is 'bolan'. I am not sure of the exact meaning. Return


[Page 158]

Ordinary Dear Jews in Turka

by Chaim Pelech

 

Uncaptioned. A group photo, labeled as “The Turka Orphanage”

[Page 159]

“Don't cast me away at the time of old age…”

There were many dear and nice Jews in Turka. They were called up to answer to every need that a portion of the Turka Jews required.

Avraham Yaakov Sprung was a highly upstanding Jew and person. He had a flour processing plant. Every Thursday, he gave flour to many Jews for the Sabbath and said, “You will pay me next week.” He did this in a manner that nobody would know, without publicity. This was the giving of charity discretely.

Nachman Brenes was a dear Jew. He gave large donations of much more for various benevolent institutions. He was a popular man with a good character.

Malka Hirt gave the greatest contributions in the entire city to all the benevolent institutions. She had an open hand and a good heart, which was a rarity. There were no poor people in town who did not receive a stipend from Malka Hirt. Weddings of the poor, circumcisions of the poor, sick Jews, sick children – Malka gave to them all. There was no equal to her in goodness. May she live long.

 

Pinchas Gotlieb at the marketplace

Chaya Dinstag lived in Sokolik and was a very pious woman. She came to town every week, and gave weekly stipend to her poor women. She gave especially to religious causes.

Mordechai Warzoger was a dear, upright Jews. He was a veteran Zionist. He went to the Land of Israel, returned, and was murdered in Lemberg.

Leizer Bort was a good Jew, who gave charity with an open hand.

The optician Feldman was a fine person and a good Jew. When a new synagogue was built in Turka, it cost a great deal of money. He gave charity with an open hand to all philanthropic institutions. He was chairman of Yad Charutzim for many years. During the Ukrainian period, he ran to the Ukrainian lieutenant in the city, and with self-sacrifice, he chased the Ukrainian soldiers from town, holding the revolution in hand. May he live long.

The director Bernstein from the large sawmill in Stryj was the chairman of the Jewish orphanage. He built the house and maintained in during difficult times.

Avraham Weiss, Asza Weiss' son, was the administrator of the orphanage. He dedicated his entire life to the orphans.

Dr. Rozenberg, himself a sick man, always went by foot to poor sick people. Often, he would take no more. Dr. Rintel and Dr. Freundlich were involved in the same business.

Melech Brauer was a veteran Zionist activist. Baruch Koppel, Naftali Kraus were veteran Zionist activists. Berish Laberbaum, Matis Maus, Mendel Filinger, Shlomo Feiler (the son of Izak), Moshe Krebs, Moshe Rozen (the son of Shlomo), Yossel Brenes (the son of Yaakov), Shlomo Ceckis – all of them constantly worked for various Jewish nationalist and philanthropic organizations.

 

The Rynek


[Page 162]

Chalvikes

by Moshe From of Haifa

Paupers, destitute people, and ordinary poor people existed in every Jewish town. In Turka as well we had no shortage of them. However, our poor people cannot be compared with the beggars of other Jewish cities and towns. For example, you can search throughout all of Poland – where would you find poor people living like one family in a single house, with a tradition of several generations?...

No. It seems that this type of peculiarity can be found only in our town…

On the main street of the Ulica, between the houses of honorable householders, there was a house; not just a small house, but rather a communal house with a second story, a balcony in the front, and a workshop that housed a large tailoring business. From the outside, this house looked no different from all the neighboring houses. However, all the people of Turka, from young to old, knew that the city paupers lived there. They were called “Chalivkes.”

From where does that name originate and what does it mean – nobody could explain. It seems that even the Chalivkes themselves did not know… There were various versions of the explanation, but nobody could ascertain the truth.

All of the Chalivkes lived together and formed one large family and community of men, women, and children. Nobody knew their kinship, and it seemed that even the Chalivkes themselves barely discussed this… Despite the fact that they lived alone in cramped conditions, they fulfilled the commandment of hosting guests. Their house was a type of guesthouse for all types of poor people who would come here

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from all over Poland… There, they could spend the night, eat something, and set out on their way. The Chalivkes never lost their openness to guests. The wealthy householders would often permit themselves to refuse a guest, but they would not. Their home was always open for those in need… This is how they always conducted themselves, and all of the itinerant paupers knew this and used the opportunity well. They would come from all over Galicia, and even from cities and towns in Congress Poland.

Indescribable poverty and loneliness pervaded in the rooms of the Chalivkes. The furniture consisted only of beds and plank beds (pritsches), upon which there was old bedding with uncovered pillows. Flies buzzed about from the floor to the ceiling. The broken windowpanes were plugged up with red cushions, half inside and half outside, imparting a melancholy atmosphere…

Small, dirty children wandered around in that mucky place with noisy feet. Only their charming eyes peered out from their pale faces. They rarely ventured out to the street to play, for unfortunately they could not go down upon the broken, wooden steps which were missing many boards… With the passage of time, when they got older and were able to go with their own power, they would enrich the town with several other beggars…

*

Berl Chalvik was the oldest of the Chalvikes. He was a tall Jew with a black, unkempt beard, which had apparently never experienced a comb… He was always dressed in a black bekishe [Hassidic frock], a gartel [Hassidic belt], and a black hat on his head, definitely reminiscent of the times of Count Kalinowski…

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Berl belonged to the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] and the society of funeral attendants. When he would appear on the street, one would know that a misfortune had occurred somewhere, and that a funeral would be taking place shortly… He went around with a large, tin charity box and collected charity. He would stop every few steps, pluck at his beard, and shout out with a wail: “Charity saves from death”… A pall would then fall over the householders… People were more afraid of him than of the Angel of Death himself… People would indeed very quickly toss a coin into the charity box, and be free of him as quickly as possible…

A fact: When the lawyer Dr. Lowinger died, he stated in his will that the Chevra Kadisha should send another member rather than Berl Chvalik to the funeral… The community made sure to fulfill his request, and “Charity saves from death” was shouted out in a hoarse voice by Mordechai Zindel the beadle.

*

Berl had a brother named Leib. He was more formally referred to as Leon Chvalik. He had a dark, embittered face, upon which a smile was never seen. He would make the rounds to the houses seeking donations like a trustee after a payment that was owned… One could not free oneself from him with a piece of bread or a small coin. He would stand at the open door for a long time, staring with his piercing eyes until he received what was coming to him…

A specialist, their sister Rivka Chvalik, would collect pieces of bread, old outfits, and remnants from the tables of the wealthy. She was a small, short woman with a disheveled head of hair. She could barely drag herself along on her sick feet. That is how she went about all day to the homes of the affluent people to get a pot of cooked food, a bit of milk

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for the children, pieces of bread, old, worn-out outfits – everything that the merciful householders would give her.

*

An especially unique character in the family of Chavilkes was Zalman Chvalik. He was a tall, broad-shouldered Jew. He was a porter on call. He always had a thick rope tied up in the front, with a sack for an apron. The merchants used to engage him to carry various items of merchandise, and the wagon drivers used to hire him to load and unload heavy sacks of flour, rice, and sugar, barrels of herring and other merchandise. For him, it was no big deal to carry a sack of flour on his shoulder from Sprung's flour warehouse in the Rynek to Hinda-Moshe-Hentche's shop at the end of Ulica. When Zalman took the sack down from his shoulders, placed it in its place, and received his payment, he would straighten out his bones and yawn so loudly that he could be heard from one town to the next… That is how he would notify his employers that he, Zalman, was prepared for his next mission.

As long as Zalman maintained his strength and earned his own morsel of bread, he did not go around soliciting donations. He would visit the homes of the affluent people only three times a year: before Passover for Maos Chittin[1], on Purim for the feast, and on Chanukah for a Chanukah gift.

*

Aside from Zalman, there was another productive element among the Chalvikes, living from their work and earning their livelihood in an honorable fashion: shoemakers who used to fix shoes that no other tradesman would take into their hands… there were also tinsmiths, painters and other tradesmen who would toil

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hard. However, to rent a dwelling and tear themselves away from the Chalvikes was not something that they were able to do.

*

In the year 1939, when the Soviets entered Turka, everybody thought that the new Social order would finally bring a salvation for the poor Chalvikes. However, the reality was otherwise: their situation worsened. Private enterprises were liquidated and there was nobody willing to give donations… There was a shortage of bread, and the tables of the middle class became leaner. No leftovers remained… The situation declined further during the difficult winter of that year. The temperature went down to 30 degrees, and there was no wood. Therefore, our Chalvikes suffered from hunger, cold, loneliness and need.

When the German murderers liquidated the Jewish settlement of Turka, they did not pass over the Chalvikes. On that occasion, they treated them exactly like everybody else… Along with the affluent and important householders in town, they went along their final way to the extermination camps.

However, nobody was referred to as a “Meit Mitzvah[2] on that occasion. Neither Berl Chalvik nor Mordechai Zindel the beadle clanged their charity box and shouted “Charity saves from Death!”…


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Literally “Money for wheat.” Donations given to the poor prior to Passover for the purchase of the needs of the holiday, such as matzos. Return
  2. A “Meit Mitzva” is a dead person whom has nobody to tend to him. It is considered a very important commandment. “Mitzva” to occupy oneself with the funeral arrangements of such a body. Return

[Page 167]

Stories from Turka

by Chaim Pelech

 

A. Reb Hirsch and the Get [1]

There was a Jew with us in Turka called Reb Hirsch. He used to enjoy drinking a little. One evening, he came home and said to his wife, “Gittel, dress up in your Sabbath clothes with your head kerchief. We are going to the rabbi to get divorced. Get dressed quickly!” Gittel saw that her Hirsch was drunk. She said to him, “Go lie down to sleep, for you are not completely with us today. And secondly, why all of a sudden do you want to get divorced from me? We already have grandchildren – in your old age did you decide that I am not suitable for you?” Hirsch said to his wife, “Gittel, you know Hirsch very well. If Hirsch says we must get divorced, then you must go to get divorced. Fifty-five years was enough to be plagued with you…”

Gittel realized that she cannot do anything with him. She dressed up in her Sabbath clothes with her head kerchief. Reb Hirsch took Gittel under his arm and they set out to the rabbi. The door opened and he said, “Good evening, Rabbi”. The rabbi answered, “Good evening, Reb Hirsch. Oh, what type of a guest do I have? Sit down Reb Hirsch.” After Reb Hirsch sat down, the rabbi asked, “Reb Hirsch, to what do I owe the honor that I have a guest now?” Hirsch answered, “Rabbi, I came to you to get divorced from my Gittel. Rabbi, I beg of you, do not ask me why and what. I am going to get divorced from my dear wife, and nothing will come from your questions. If Hirsch says to write a Get – you indeed know Hirsch well – nothing will help.”

The rabbi saw that Hirsch was as drunk as Lot, and that it was impossible to reason with him. He searched for a pretext against him. Hirsch was a poor man, he had no money. He would request a large sum of money for the Get, and certainly nothing would come of it. He told Hirsch, “Good. If you, Reb Hirsch, want a Get, I will write you a Get. What can I do with you? … I will make it cheap for you – the entire Get, including the writing, will cost you 30 Crowns. (In those days, a Get costs 6-10 Crowns)…”

When he heard this, Reb Hirsch jumped up from the bench and told the rabbi, “Rabbi, G-d is holy and the Torah is holy, but you, rabbi, are a sheketz of skotzim [2] and a devil of your father's father until Abraham our patriarch… You want 30 Crowns from me for a Get. Gittele, go home and cook supper… Good night, Rabbi!...”

 

B. Roizele's Wedding

Many years ago, there was a girl called Roizele in Turka. She was a little “odd” but not crazy… She loved to dress up nicely, but more often than once she went around “spiffed up” in torn dresses. She used to go into many rich homes, talk a great deal and tell various stories. She was gladly received in all of these places, and everyone in the city became her acquaintance.

One year in the early summer, a Jewish worker from the wide world came to Turka. He was probably a bit like her, and he fell in love with Roizele. Roizele went around boasting that they would soon be getting married. When the town found out about this, some Jews, especially women, went around to collect money for a wedding of a poor girl. Everyone gave money for Roizele's wedding! The wedding was indeed planned with great pomp, and all of the women of means came from all sides to help Roizele.

A few days before the wedding, Roizele went around from house to house to invite everybody. Roizele said, “My wedding will be a wedding the likes of which Turka has never seen since its founding… the ceremony (chupa) will take place in the middle of the Rynek. Many relatives will come to me, and everyone will see how beautiful a bride I will be!…” People made sure that the wedding dress would indeed be decorated with various sparkling stones and pieces of metal, and the chupa was indeed planned for the middle of the Rynek.

The wedding took place on a Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Two boys – one of them was Anshel Reis – ascended the roof of the city hall, one on one side of the roof and the other on the second side. At exactly 3:00, they began to blow trumpets. They thereby alerted the entire city that Roizele's wedding was commencing.

As soon as everyone heard the blowing of the trumpets, all of the Jews, including women and children, set out for Roizele's wedding. Jewish homes were emptied and locked, and everyone went to the Rynek, along the route from Moshe Shechter's place until the bridge that led to the small alley where Roizele lived with her poor mother. Then the entire band of the large Operman family, with all of their assistants, drummers and flutists, began to play. The musicians were divided into two groups. One group played in the alley near the bridge where Roizele lived, and the second group played in the Rynek itself. The trumpeters on the roof also blew incessantly. In the meantime, hundreds of Christians ran out from the city. They thought that the Jews had taken leave of their minds…

Finally, they went to the chupa. One group of musicians accompanied Roizele to the chupa, and the second went opposite her. But then something happened: so many people were passing by that it was impossible to lead Roizele through. The route from the bridge to Moshe Shechter's house was one solid mass of people. People shouted and begged: “Let the bride and relatives proceed to the chupa”. However, it was impossible… They could not pass. Everyone wanted to see Roizele the bride, and people were afraid that the young couple would proceed on…

At that time, there were a few Jewish bricklayers in Turka. They were healthy, communally-conscious people with strong muscles. They saw the fear, and they began to push through and make order. With great effort, after two hours, they succeeded in getting the couple to the chupa. After the chupa, the real celebration began.

Afterward, another curiosity arose: loafers arranged a different spectacle. They arranged a makeshift room for the bride and groom so that they could have some privacy after the chupa. When the couple was already inside, someone from this group pulled at a string, and boards of the room separated…

Don't ask about what took place…

 

C. A Scandal in the Tailor's Synagogue

On Sukkot of 1922, a large scandal took place in the Tailor's Synagogue of Turka. Some pregnant young woman, who wished to have a son, bit off the pitam of the only etrog in the synagogue – such ill fortune! [3]

It happened like this: The Tailor's Synagogue purchased an etrog for use during the services, and for it members to recite a blessing over in their homes. To that end, the gabbai (trustee) of the synagogue, Reb Avraham, asked someone, Shlomo the Geregerins [4], to go around to the houses each morning so that the families of the tailors could recite the blessing over the etrog. As the gabbai was an experienced and practical man, he told Shlomo that as he goes from house to house, “You should not give the etrog to anyone n the hand. You should be especially careful in a house where there is a young wife – for such people are always interested in biting the pitam…” Shlomo answered him, “Don't worry, Reb Avraham. Don't be concerned about the etrog. You can leave it to Shlomo…”

And indeed. Shlomo was a relatively tall Jew with a fine beard – and one could trust him…

Shlomo went out and was supposed to return with the etrog before the services began. He could not be found… It was already 8:00, 8:30. The gabbai was supposed to go to the synagogue with the etrog, and Shlomo was not there… The gabbai began to think that something happened with the etrog – and there are no other etrogim that can be obtained in the city! Without having an option, the gabbai went to the synagogue without the etrog. As he neared the place, two Jews ran up to him and explained that Shlomo had brought the etrog to the synagogue. As they drew nearer, two people ran to him to inform him of the misfortune. They opened the little box and saw – the pitam had been bitten off!

Do not ask about the end of the story. When the congregation recovered from the great misfortune, they ran to the surrounding synagogues… for one cannot worship without an etrog! The rabbi indeed issued an edict that if the congregation has no etrog, it can conduct the services without an etrog – but this did not help!

The synagogue was empty for the entire holiday, and the gabbai had to beg a few young people to come to minyan (the quorum required for services)! He himself was ashamed to seek out a strange place to worship…

 

D. Feiga Malia the Woman of Incantations

Feiga Malia the Anshprecherin (Incantation recitor) was a very interesting woman from the older generation. When a woman or a child became ill, they called Feiga Malia. She extinguished the coals – for this was a means against the evil eye. Her other remedies included: incantations over various metallic coins, or simply direct incantations over the sick person that they should become well. If someone had been frightened by a goat or a dog – she had to resort to more technical means: She hoarded lead, which showed whose child was frightened… With an incantation directed to the lead, the child was helped. At least, that is what Feiga Malia said…

Aside from this, Feiga Malia was the leader of the woman's Chevra Kadisha (burial society), which sewed shrouds and washed the deceased women. She was also the official “beggar of pardon” of the deceased women [5]. Nobody knew how Feiga Malia had learned her trade. She had a special incantation with a special tune for every occasion. Nobody could even imitate her. The manner of her begging of forgiveness was not so simple – she did it so masterfully. Aside from this, she had a different incantation for each deceased person.

She also knew where everyone lay in the cemetery. When the month of Elul arrived, when all of the women went to visit the graves of their parents – she was the person whom everyone approached, for the women from the city and surrounding villages did not know where their dead lay, and they were afraid to wander around the cemetery. Feiga Malia saved everyone…

If a woman came to her, Feiga Malia would speak curtly and almost officially, “Who are you, what are you called, and from where are you?”. As soon as she said her name, Feiga Malia knew everything. She led the woman to the grave of her mother or father, and shouted out, “Lay down, Rachele, on the grave of your holy mother, the great pious Gittel the daughter of Yente, and request from her that she should run to the Heavenly Bezn (Beis Din) [6] and beg that your husband and your children should all be well, and that no illness should come through the threshold of your house. Your husband should have a livelihood, and his livelihood should be with riches and honor. G-d should send your eldest daughter her appropriate match, so you will be able to make a wedding for her with an upright and observant young man, and you may have contentment from your daughter as with all good Jews…”

The woman finished hearing Feiga Malia's statement. Then she threw herself onto the grave and wept and shouted with all her energy. Some women became so engrossed in weeping that they no longer knew where they were in the world…

However, Feiga Malia kept her accounts. When she concluded her first statement, she knocked the gravestone with her cane and shouted out, “Gittel the daughter of Yenta, your pious daughter Rachel lies over your grave. Arise and run to the Heavenly Bezn (Beis Din), beg and tear through worlds for your honorable and pious daughter, that she her husband and children should be healthy, that they should have livelihood and all good things; that no evil eye should harm them. Go, run and beg for your granddaughter, Rachel's eldest daughter, that G-d should bless her with her appropriate match. Go and beg for all of your children, and for all of the Jews, that they should be helped, and our enemies should not have joy, until the Messiah comes, Amen!”

When Feiga Malia finished that second statement, she leaned on her cane, and shouted out for a third time: “Enough Rachel, you have done what you can for your holy mother…” The woman quickly arose from the grave, paid Feiga Malia her fee. Feiga Malia then went over to another woman who was waiting for her…


Feiga Malia worked hard for her entire life. She never had any time to rest. During every spare moment, she would concern herself with her ill and poor women and children. She would go around to the houses of the poor to inquire and see what is going on in the house. If she found that the woman was ill, Feiga Malia would say, 'Sara, you are ill again… Has Melech the Doctor visited you already?”. When the ill woman answered, “No”, Feiga Malia would then summon Melech the Doctor that he should quickly come. Feiga Malia had the greatest of respect for him. After such a visit, Feiga Malia would take out a cloth from her pocket, and go around to collect money for the ill person.

Above all, she would collect money for poor people for the Sabbath every Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, she would go around an entire day with a bag to collect rolls, challas, and candles for the Sabbath – everything for poor Jews. She never rested. Day after day, she had someone to worry about.

When Feiga Malia went off to the other world, there was nobody to intercede. There was no second Feiga Malia in town. Women remembered and sighed, especially the women from the surrounding villages…


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A Get is a Jewish divorce document. Return
  2. A sheketz (plural shkotzim) is a derogatory term for a gentile. Return
  3. An etrog (citron) is one of the four species that are used as part of the Sukkot ceremony, as prescribed by the Torah. The pitam is the woody stamen of the etrog. If the pitam is removed from the etrog, the etrog is no longer valid for the commandment. It is considered by some that biting off the pitam of an etrog (of course after the holiday is over) is a fortuitous omen for the birth of a male child. Return
  4. Shlomo the Gregerins means Shlomo the son of the mother who was known as the noisemaker. Return
  5. The Chevra Kadisha conducts a formal ritual washing ceremony (called a tahara – purification) on a dead body. Women perform this rite for women, and men for men, for obvious reasons. After the tahara, a representative of the Chevra Kadisha begs forgiveness of the deceased person for any impropriety that took place during the ceremony. Return
  6. Court of Law – referring here to the Heavenly court. The text makes a point of showing how she mispronounced the word. Return

[Page 174]

There were Jews Who Lived Very Well…

by Mirialm Taller (daughter of Yosef-Meir Bank) of New York

 

An episode

 

Uncaptioned. Seemingly Miriam Taller

Jews lived very well in Turka, especially in former times. They felt at home in Turka and did not strongly feel the exile…

A story is told of Shlomo Rozen who lived on Ring-Plaz. It took place on a certain Shavuot. Rozen dressed up in a festive manner and went out to the street. A certain Christian named Pajowicz met him and told him:

“Mr. Rozen, when will it be already? I Pajowicz will be in exile and eat kreplach [crepes], and you, Mr. Rozen, will chop stones for a highway… Indeed, how woud you like that, Mr. Rozen?...”

 

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