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[Page 243]

From our Childhood Neighborhood

 

[Pages 254]

Memories From Father's House

By Mordechai Yaari (Perkelwald)/Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When you say “memories from father's house” it implies that the most important person in the family is the father. The memories that I carry with me though, are taken equally from mother's house as well. It was the wonderful, integrated mix between father and mother, which kindled pleasant, warm memories, which enabled us face the turmoil in our lives.

Father, may he rest in peace, Lejzke – that's what everyone called him – was in our eyes the emblem of honesty, who stood his ground for the principles of justice and boundless love of the Land [of Israel]. Father was not an expert in many fields but this did not prevent him from taking an active role in the activities of the Party. He took charge of the library in our town, Mezritsh. He worked to expand the library and each time he had the chance to go to the capital in Warsaw, he would come back loaded with packages of new books.

 

mie254.jpg
Library named after Y. H. Brenner
In the picture from left to right: 1. My father, Eliezer Perkelwald 2. Shlomo Rogoszyk 4 Hana Rogoszyk Wa

 

Most of his time was dedicated to this work, and he was aware of everything happening in Israel. The tedious business of selling clothes in his father's store was meant only to provide [financially] for the family, but he was constantly immersed, both in thought and action, in activities on behalf of the party and the Land of Israel.

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mie255.jpg
Father by the store

 

Mother – may she live a long life – rounded out Father's personality traits by creating an atmosphere of joy and reassurance about future. She was always bursting with happiness. The sound of her laughter regularly rang throughout the apartment. Even in the most difficult moments, whether of a financial or family nature, her mood did not sink. She consistently supported those around her and promised them – as if she had the power – that all would be well and would work out. She always had a smile on her face, and a joyful song in her mouth. It was impossible not to be infected by her optimistic spirit, as she tried to forget life's hardships.

Her mother, Grandmother Esther, who lived with us after being widowed for the third time, held a special place [in our home]. She was like a mother to us. Grandmother experienced tremendous sorrow during her life. She was married at 18. Of the seven children she gave birth to, only four survived, the others dying in the early years of their lives.

Grandmother had an excellent memory and amazing wisdom. She was proud to tell us, her grandchildren, stories about her past, including one about betting her brother, the teacher “Bulia” (nicknamed for their home town – Biala Podlaska). She bet him that she could learn the “Shmone Esrei[1] prayer of Rosh Hashana, a very long and difficult prayer, by heart. She, of course, won the bet.

Grandmother lived in our home until her death at the age of 90. A relationship of honor and mutual respect existed between my father and grandmother, although there were occasional disagreements, especially during her later years. Grandmother was very attached to Mother and even with the wisdom of her long life, she could not get used to the idea that her daughter had for many years lived independent [of her]. We remember how she slapped Mother on the cheek a few years before her death because she had come home late, leaving Grandmother home alone.

Only now, looking back, are we able to appreciate the greatness of her soul, and her ability to free herself from the debilitating characteristics of old age such as gossip and complaint.

[Pages 256]

Farewell to the Old

One of the childhood memories imprinted deep within me was the Arlozoroff murder[2]. Father read the daily Yiddish newspaper “Heintt[3]. One morning in the month of June, 1933 we heard groans from Father's bedroom. When we entered the room we were shocked to see Father lying on the bed, with the “Heintt” newspaper spread in front of him and his eyes red from crying. With his finger he pointed to the newspaper's banner headline, which proclaimed: “Haim Arlozoroff Murdered By Scoundrels”. We knew of Father's deep attachment to the Land, and all the souls living in it, but we did not fully appreciate the intensity of this identification and connection.

My parents' financial situation was good and our lives were comfortable. Some years, we vacationed for two months in the holiday village of Ilnytsya[4]. We children did not know scarcity. Anything that we wanted we received. We were overcome with surprise when [we learned of] the trip to the Land of Israel. For some reason Father imagined the Land to be a desert wilderness, where culture and comfort had not yet arrived. I remember well the preparations and the packing of our belongings prior to the trip, and the deliberations about which items to take and which to give away to the neighbors. Father, with Mother chiming in, insisted that we should take the minimum – only the bare necessities – because our future apartment would be very small. He claimed that “comfort items” such as curtains, carpets, sets of dishes, and other like items, were luxuries, and would be unnecessary in “Palestine”.

I can remember the atmosphere in the house before our departure, which resembled a farewell to city life and a hello to the land of the desert. One should not imagine from this that the atmosphere was bleak, as though we were being sent into exile. The opposite was true. There was merriment and happiness at home, in which all our neighbors joined. This mood expressed our determination to absorb and bear all of the hardships of absorption [immigration] in order to fulfill our deep desire [to live in the Land].

We sailed to Israel on a ship that made its way from the port of Constantza[5]. We reached Constantza, on the shores of the Black Sea via a train trip through Poland and Romania. I remember passing through the Bosphorus at night, as we leaned on the ship's railing, watching the dancing lights of the villages on the shores of Turkey.

We reached the port of Jaffa on October 1, 1933, a few days before Rosh Hashana. Before we even set foot on the soil of the Land we had an additional experience at the entrance to the port. This is the story of that event.

 

Disembarking On the Beach

As everyone remembers, there were no piers in the port of Jaffa. Passengers disembarked at some distance from the shore, were then transferred to small boat that then sailed to shore. Disembarkation onto those small boats was handled by Arab longshoremen –“Horani”[6]. They would transfer the passengers, carrying them on their shoulders from the ship to the small boats, which then sailed to the beach, all the while being tumbled by the waves of stormy seas.

[Pages 257]

When Mother saw those men, with their turbans and dark complexions, and how they loaded the passengers on their shoulders as if they were citrus crates, she broke into tears and declared decisively: “I will not get off in this port!” Our pleas were to no avail. Though she knew that Father did not have the cash to pay for the fare difference, she stood her ground and demanded to sail on, to the port of Haifa. There was no choice but to borrow money from friends that traveled with us. We disembarked at the port of Haifa, directly from the ship onto the pier, without having to be carried on the shoulders of the “Horani”. We traveled on from Haifa by train to the Brenner neighborhood of Tel Aviv, where the Rejnwejn family awaited our arrival.

We had heard of this, our first lodging in Israel, while still abroad. The Rejnwejn family lived in a wood bungalow in the Brenner neighborhood in the southwest section of the city. I remember the family fondly because of the warmth with which they welcomed us, as they welcomed other immigrant families that came from our town of Mezritsh.

The bungalow was overcrowded. The Rejnwejns had three sons, so we squeezed a total of nine people in a small house of only two or three rooms. But who cared about such a minor detail? We were joyful and happy all the days we stayed with them. The Rejnwejn's bungalow served as the gathering place for all of the immigrants from Mezritsh. Many families found shelter with them before scattering to other settlements throughout the Land. Despite their poverty, and the overcrowding in the small bungalow, the Rejnwejn's welcomed the immigrants with open arms. This warmth, offered at the moment of our first encounter with foreign surroundings, greatly eased our spirits, and strengthened us for the bumpy road of assimilation in the Land.

After a few days, an apartment was found for us on Kishon Street, which had been used prior to that time as a warehouse or a shop. The shutters were made of tin, and were lowered with a long pole. Arale Zuckerman's family also lived with us, in that flat of only two rooms. Each family was assigned one room. A small niche located outside the apartment, in the back yard, was used as a tiny kitchen for both families. Aaron Zuckerman, may his memory be a blessing, was killed in the massacre of 1938[7]. He was well known for his great sense of humor. He knew how to make us all laugh with glee, which reduced the tensions that would occasionally arise due to the difficult conditions under which both families lived.

Within a few months we moved into a larger apartment in an adjoining street. There were no smaller flats available, only large four–room apartments. Mother wasn't afraid of this. She gathered up a few girls and one Bulgarian couple she had met randomly on the street, and she thus became the landlord of thirteen souls, some of who lived in her apartment as sub–tenants. Only Mother, with her boundless energy, could have magically organized “Operation Settlement” as quickly and effectively as she did in a foreign country in which she had lived only a few months.

[Pages 258]

Absorption Difficulties

As soon as we settled into the new apartment, it began to be used more and more often as a gathering spot for all of the Mezritsh immigrants, and quickly replaced the Rejnwejn's home in the Brenner neighborhood. This seemed only natural for most of the immigrants. A relative or our family, Fejvel

 

mie258.jpg
A meeting of fellow–residents in the home
of Yosef and Yente Rejnwejn, Purim 1934
Pictured are: Yankel Lejbenglik, Lejbel Winograd, Godania, Shragaa BenGal, Shalom Bubkin, Yentele Levinzon, Moshe Kac, Eliezer Perkelwald, Moshe Tron and others

 

[Pages 259]

Fiterman, the two Dolinski brothers, Hinda Halperin, and others all knew my parents' home in Mezritsh and the goodness of my mother's heart. As each arrived, they came to us for help, advice, encouragement and often for a meal. Although the meal might have been a poor one, it was always seasoned with good–will and the desire to help. It would take far too long to count how many people passed through our home, finding support encouragement for their spirits as they struggled through the first difficult adjustment.

Avrahamele Gafni (Weintraub), whom we adopted as a brother, remembers fondly how Mother encouraged him to desert from Anders' army[8]. As is known, this was an army of refugees from Poland who stayed in Russia, among them several thousand Jews. In 1942 [the Anders] Army was expelled from Soviet Russia and sent to the Near East. During the time the Anders Army was in the Land, headed by a Polish general named Ladislaw Anders, many Jewish units stayed behind and joined the other Hebrew warriors.

Yosef Nejsztejn, who joined our family and lived with us in Shchunat Hatikva [a neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv] for over a year, also remembers this. At that time, we lived in overcrowded conditions, with seven people living in one and half rooms. This was long before the Ministry of Housing ruled that three people living in one room was considered to be sub–standard housing, not allowing a person to live a proper life.

Father's adjustment to his new trade was very hard on him. As previously stated, his career beforehand had been in the fashion–clothing trade, but in Israel he began to learn a new trade – construction and plastering, which very physically demanding. Father was proud of his new job and was not ashamed of it. He was always dedicated to the idealism of Poalei Zion[9].

For the first few weeks, while learning his new trade, Father suffered lime burns [from the plaster] on his delicate hands, which were not used to this taxing work. Even among younger men, this work was not thought of as easy. It was so hard on him, that during the first six months of this labor, he would just come home, go straight to bed, and not get up until the following morning. All Mother's pleading did not help him get out of bed to greet guests who would stop by, inside or outside the house. He simply was unable to do it physically. With time, he adapted to his new trade. Quickly enough, though, his employers saw his talents and dedication, and allowed him work as Master plasterer, a job usually only given to plasterers with decades of experience.

These memories illuminate the paths we chose, the essence of our life's journey. They instruct us as to “what to do and what not to do”[10]. Some serve as a good lesson and it is up to us to live according to that light. Others are warnings of things that should not be repeated.

Happy is the man who carries with him the memories of his parents' home, and the values learned there, and uses them to light his journey through life and strengthen his spirit in difficult times.


Editor's Footnotes

  1. Shmone Esrei – Also known as the Amida, this is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy. It is expanded considerably at Rosh Hashana. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah return
  2. For more on Haim Arlozoroff and his murder, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haim_Arlosoroff return
  3. Heintt” – meaning “Today” in English. return
  4. Ilnytsya [Ilnice] is a town in the Ukraine, 585 km WSW of Kyyiv. return
  5. Constantza – A port city in Romania. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ConstanČ›a return
  6. Horani – Horani was an important agricultural area in Syria. Sophisticated city dwellers looked down on the uncultured farmers and Horani became a slang word for someone who is dirty, messy, etc. It is difficult to know whether the author retains any of the original meaning of the word. return
  7. For more information on the anti–Jewish riots that gripped Israel during the British mandate, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936–39_Arab_revolt_in_Palestine return
  8. For more information on the Anders Army, which was the name used for the Polish Armed Forces in the Soviet Union during the Second World War, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders'_Army return
  9. Poalei Zion – the Socialist Zionist Party. See pp. 148–153 in this Yizkor Book for more information about Poalei Zion in Mezritsh. return
  10. The original Hebrew text presents this in the language of “ mitzvot ase and al–taase”. Mitzvot ase –positive commandments/obligations we are required to fulfill; Mitzvot al–taase – negative commandments/prohibitions. return

 

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