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Holidays and Ceremonies


The Jewish Sabbath and Holidays

The sanctity of life is the Torah of Judaism. Religious principles are its foundations. Can a person labour all his days without a rest? Therefore, we were given the Sabbath and Holidays as days of rest that are both days of study and relaxation.

Holidays were given to man in order that he should be with himself, with his thoughts and with his people. They give us an opportunity to maximise the expression of our thoughts and spiritual meditations. The Holidays exist not only as days of rest, but also as days of spirituality, for the reading of the works ol philosophers, thinkers and. during the Days of Atonement, also for taking account of oneself. Each generation not only observes the national Holidays, but also adds something of its own personality. The generations keep the Holidays and the Holidays keep the generations and enrich them.

The customs, commands, prayers and folklore reinforce and enrich the human experience. The Jew takes off not only his everyday clothing, but also his mundane thoughts. He devotes his time to reading the Torah, to prayer and study of the Holy Books. In days like these he acquires an additional soul. This is sanctity with the joy of learning.

With the destruction of our shtetl Riteve, only a handful of the Jewish Sabbath and Holiday customs survive. We should not neglect our fathers' inheritance. We should instil in our children and grandchildren our traditions and it should be to our glory and fame.



The idea of one day of the week devoted to spiritual things is a sublime idea. Void of secularity, troubles and worries, the Sabbath was a day for the purification of the soul and devotion to the living G–d. The Sabbath was a part of the Jew – a part of his blood. Six days of work, with their toil and trouble, receivedb

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their meaningfulness from the Sabbath. The Sabbath erased the tears from the Jews eyes. It made him forget his worries, straightened his posture and made him a ‘prince’.

The Sabbath had its own culture. A style of its own, customs, manners, a way of life: special food for Sabbath, special ritual objects. The people invented wonderful stories about the Sabbath, its observers and those rewarded for honouring her. In addition, there were beautiful sayings about the Sabbath and ritual articles were also created to decorate, to give pleasure and to glorify the Holy day: candlesticks, Kiddush cups, spice boxes, covers for Sabbath challahs. The Sabbath was the source of all sacredness, the origin of glory. The Sabbath eased the hardships of life and lightened the burden of exile.

If the weekdays in Riteve were mundane and filled with turmoil, with running and movement, the Sabbath was a princess. The welcoming of the Sabbath, even in the smallest and darkest alleyway, was felt in the air. All the stores closed down, not a soul was seen in the market. The old and the young, men and women, would wash and dress in their best Sabbath clothes and flock into the synagogue.

One could see in every Jewish home the preparations in anticipation of the dear guest: the Sabbath. On Friday afternoon people went to the public bath in honour of the Sabbath. The women who maintained the Mikveh would light candles with a blessing and warm prayers.

There were always those who would never leave the synagogue on Friday night without bringing home a guest. There was never a shortage of guests. Returning to his candlelit home, the master of the house would welcome the angels with song. According to Jewish legend, angels would visit every Jewish house on Sabbath eve. The Sabbath meal consisted of meat, fish, tshulent. tsimmes and other delicacies and it ended with the singing of ‘Zmirot’.

Sabbath day was devoted to prayer, rest and sanctity. Afternoons were spent studying the Torah and Talmud and chapters from the moral books. The women would read the Tze'enah Urenah or Agadah books in Yiddish. These books were a source of spiritual upliftment for our mothers. They gave them the courage and integrity to withstand life's experiences. The three meals or the third Sabbath meal would exalt the spirit. The atmosphere was filled with holiness and prophecy. At twilight they would sing holy songs with longing, for they were unwilling to part with the holy Sabbath.



Preparations for Passover began the week before the Holiday. When the tasks of laundering and whitewashing ended, the job of taking out the furniture and dishes to be scraped and ritually prepared began. These tasks reached their climax on Passover eve, with the removal of leaven. Children participated in all the

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The synagogue and the shul (Beit Midrash) at Riteve and below, the Holy Ark with its artistic decorations.

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preparations. They would take down the Passover dishes from the attic, including the wooden mortar, for making matzah meal, and the cup of Elijah. Every dish was received with cries of joy.

The synagogue was filled with light. Its floor was scraped clean. Its benches were whitened from cleaning. The faces of the congregation, who were dressed in festive clothing, radiated happiness. The excitement would grow until the tune of ‘Ma'ariv’ was heard.

Returning from the synagogue, the house was lit up and one could feel the spirit of the Holiday. All through the winter, the Seder night was longed for. Nothing could match the happiness and joy it inspired.

Father's seat of honour, the Hagadah, the four cups, the Passover table, eight days of merriment, would all stimulate our imaginations until each one of us saw himself leaving Egypt. Indeed, it was pleasant to expect Elijah the Prophet and in our childish imaginations we could see him drink his wine cup empty.

It should be noted that our town kept the beautiful custom of ‘Maot Chittin’. Before the ‘Sabbath Hagadol’, our rabbi would prepare a list, with the help of the public workers, for soliciting contributions to aid the town's poor. This was done to fulfil the appeal: ‘Let all those who are in need come and partake in the Passover festivities.’


An unforgettable Erev Pesach in Riteve

Rabbi Aharon Ben–Zion Shurin

My hometown Riteve, in what was then Jewish Lithuania, no longer exists. It was destroyed in the Nazi Holocaust, suffering the same fate as so many other Jewish communities of blessed memory. The only indication of its past Jewish life is the cemetery.

From time to time, especially on the eve of festivals, youthful memories of both joyous and sad events are evoked. I remember an event of 40 years ago, which threw the community into fear and panic. An unjustified accusation of a blood libel was levelled at the community when a young gentile boy suddenly disappeared. It happened on the eve of Passover and if I'm not mistaken in 1925 or 1926. It was well before my Bar mitzvah, but the events remain vividly in my memory. I remember clearly the fear and panic of the community as rumours and threats against the Jews were being spread by the local gentiles, in the event of the boy not being found before the festival. The issue was clear to them: a classic case of the blood libel, when it was alleged that Jews were unable to celebrate the Seder without the blood of the lost child for the baking of their matzot and the making of their wine. In short, all that was needed was for the priest to give the word to attack and kill the Jews of Riteve.

This is what actually happened. Two weeks before Pesach on the regular mar–

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ket day on Wednesday, hundreds of peasants gathered from the surrounding vil– lages to sell their wares to the local population in the Riteve marketplace. Due to the approaching festival of Pesach, the market was larger than usual. One of the peasants among the crowd had brought his young son, probably to show him the sights of the beautiful Jewish town and the Catholic church overlooking the marketplace. In the commotion of trading, the father did not notice his son's disappearance.

As night fell and he was preparing to depart, he saw that his ‘pride and joy’ was not there. After much searching, rumours began to fly around. Seeing that Passover was close, who knew what could have befallen the boy at the hands of the Jews? The peasants put two and two together, and for them there could only be one explanation… Attempts were made to placate the anxious father with suggestions that the boy had probably gone home on his own. since there was no knowing what boys get up to! The father accepted this suggestion, since relations between Jews and gentiles in Riteve had been good for generations and no such event had ever been heard of before. However, the next day the youngster was still missing and, in spite of intensive searching by both the Jews and gentiles of Riteve. the child could still not be found. The matter was reported in the local newspaper, but which peasant could read a newspaper? There was no response.

In Riteve, there was a so–called ‘intellectual’ who was a known anti–Semite. He began to threaten that if the boy was not found all the Jews would be killed. He began a campaign of incitement, warning my father (Rabbi Moshe Shurin) that he himself would gather the importart Jews of the town, lay them out and cut off their heads with a scythe as revenge lor the blood of the boy. The atmosphere in the town assumed the character more of Tisha B'Av than the festival of Passover. The Jews were becoming more and more alarmed every minute, while he, the anti–Semite, was preparing, in his fanatical, bloodthirsty rage, for his great moment.

The Jews did their utmost to avert the disaster. They pleaded with the priest, they begged the police and sent emissaries to high places, but to no avail, for where was the child? The question remained unanswered and they were at their wits' end.

In the first few days, there were rumours that the child had been seen here and there. However, the community was already anticipating a bitter outcome, rather than a joyous festival. Their anguish grew day by day and no amount of pleading with the authorities could avert their evil fate. But Jews are a people who trust in miracles and they awaited a miracle to save them. And indeed, a week later, one occurred.

I remember the great joy when it was discovered that the hoy was safe and sound. He was found in a remote village by a Riteve youth who was completely unaware that the threat ol a blood libel was hanging over his home town. It so

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happened that the young man, Leibe Itzik Maze by name, who is to this day living in Cape Town, South Africa (Louis Maze), being a peddler by occupation, had come across a strange face in a small village whose inhabitants he knew well. He had not heard that there was a search for the young lad. since no newspapers reached these remote parts. On his return home, he became aware of the very serious situation due to the boy's disappearance and the fate awaiting the Jewish community. Suddenly it struck him that he had seen a boy answering to this description in the remote village. In no time horses and carts were made ready and Leibe Itzik directed them to the village, where the boy was found. When questioned as to why he had disappeared on that market day, he replied that he felt like working away from home. Thus a thoughtless act by an illiterate, ignorant, Lithuanian peasant boy almost brought calamity to a whole community.

That Passover, not only was the Exodus from Egypt the cause for celebration, but also the miracle brought about by a local Jew named Leibe Itzik Maze.


Lag Ba'Omer

During the 49 days of the counting of the Omer, the community would mourn. On the 49th day 1, Lag Ba'Omer, all limitations in force during the period between Passover and Shavuot were lifted. Marriages, haircuts and washing in the river were permitted. The greatest joy for the children was going to the forest with bows and arrows, accompanied by teachers and movement guides. Sometimes,


Lag Ba'Omer – a meeting of the. schools of Vorna, Keidan and Ritev near a forest, possibly on the Oginski estate.


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the youth would hold a parade and each movement would have its own flag. They would dance and sing until the end of the day. Occasionally they would make bonfires and the children would receive coloured eggs from their parents.



Although Passover was considered a nature holiday, when the earth awoke from its winter sleep, the Shavuot festival carried the true grace of the awakening of nature. The swamps in the shtetl would dry. The earth would grow flowers and grass. The trees would blossom and the birds would sing.

Despite being a religious holiday, the giving of the Torah, it was a day free of all limitations. As the saying goes: On Passover a man can enjoy himself wherever he wishes, but not everything that he wishes for fear of leaven. On Succoth a person can enjoy anything he wishes but not anywhere he wishes, because of the ban on eating outside the Succah. But on Shavuot a man can enjoy everything, anywhere. On the eve of Shavuot, our father observed a custom of bringing trees and putting them in the synagogue and in private homes.

The traditional tune for the ‘Acdamoth’ (a long mystical ancient poetic prayer, written in Aramaic and sung before the Giving of the Torah ceremony) is one of the most cherished and beloved tunes, with its special flavour, so befitting the festive spirit ol giving the Torah. This tune preserved a remnant of an ancient melody with a glorious echo of togetherness, pathos, a lofty tunc and solemnity.

Dairy delicacies were served on Shavuot, because of the logical belief that when the People of Israel got the Torah they did not have kosher meat at once … On the second day of the holiday the story of Ruth was read, because it speaks about King David who passed away on that day.


Ninth of Av

The Ninth of Av is a fast day. It commemorates the destruction of the two temples. This custom was dutifully observed in Riteve. The fast, the ban on working and the obligation to mourn made the Ninth of Av a day devoted completely to the reading of the Book of Lamentations, to listening to the sermons about the destruction and to the telling of events and legends.

The people of Riteve would reduce all joyful activities from the start of the month. During the first nine days they were quite strict about the mourning customs: avoiding the eating of meat, the cutting of hair, the washing of oneself in the river, the laundering of clothes, the wearing of new clothing and the holding of any family feast such as a marriage or housewarming, etc.b

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All along the street in which the synagogue was located, one could hear the sad melody of Lamentations. The benches in the synagogue were turned upside–down and the community would sit as mourners. Into this web of grief and sadness sneaked an episode of frivolity. The young people adopted the custom of picking brambles on the eve of the mourning day and throwing them at the beards of the older men and into the hair of the women. It was very difficult to extract the brambles without pulling out one's hair.

On the eve of the Ninth of Av, after evening prayers, people would sit in darkness on the ground or on an overturned stool or bench with only one candle lit. Every person held in his hand one small candle in order to read the Lamentations.

A widespread legend said that every Ninth of Av, at midnight, the skies would open for a minute and whoever made a wish at that moment would see it come true immediately.


Rosh Hashanah

The modest quivering voice of the shofar could be heard. These were days of introspection. The Jews awoke early and hurried to the synagogue. The town stood to attention. When the year neared its end, all thought about their own end. With the blowing of the shofar, every Jewish heart would awaken to self–examination.

A week before Rosh Hashanah, the shammas would call everybody to ‘Slichot’ (prayers of forgiveness). The mood in Riteve was one filled with grace and charity.

The challahs for Rosh Hashanah were baked in the shape of ladders to symbolise that every person would either be sentenced to poverty or rewarded with riches, to go up or to go down. Some baked their challahs in the shape of birds, symbolising G–d's mercy – ‘As birds hovering so will the Lord of Hosts protect Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 31:5). Some also baked their challahs in the shape of crowns symbolising the crown of honour. A piece of challah from the ‘Hamotzi’ blessing (he who provides us with bread) or a sweet apple would be dipped in honey: ‘It should be Your will that a new and sweet year will come to us.’ People would go to ‘Tashlich’ to throw away their sins as if from their pockets to the bottom of the river.

The common form of prayer was not enough to express the spirit of the people and so they added different lyrics. The lyrics were songs of praise to G–d and the ‘Slichah’ was the pouring out of one's soul in confession and lamentation accompanied with supplication and hope.

Nothing could compare to the depth of thought and the elevation of the spirit during Rosh Hashanah in Riteve.b

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Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement

If the Days of Awe resembled a tall ladder with many rungs for reconsideration, repentance, introspection and censure of deeds between man and his G–d and between man and man, then the Day of Atonement resembled the highest rung in that ladder, the epitome of sanctity and purity. Before the Day of Atonement were the Ten Penitentiary Days when Slichot were recited.

A widespread custom at the time was ‘kapparot’: a chicken would be selected (a rooster for a man and a hen for a woman and one of each for a pregnant woman) and while verses from the Book of Psalms and Job were recited its head would be wrenched off. With this the following saying would be recited: ‘This is my replacement …’

The Torah commands that we eat heartily during the evening meal of the Day of Atonement. Overeating would balance the fast of the following day. The food consisted of kreplach, fish and honey cake. The custom of lashing was also fol– lowed by which every Jew would prostrate himself on the floor of the synagogue as the shammas lashed him 40 times minus one. Another custom was the ‘bowl’ or ‘plate’ in which contributions were collected to support the synagogue. In later years, this system was used by the Zionists for their fundraising.

The most pleasant of customs was the reconciliation between friends and neighbours on the eve of the Day of Atonement. This was done because there was no atonement for sins affecting the relationships between people. Before leaving home for the synagogue, mothers would prolong their blessing over the candles with bitter crying. This was followed with the blessing of the children. It was also customary to pay visits to homes of relatives and neighbours and greet them with: ‘May you be inscribed and sealed with happiness.’

Most memorable was the ‘Kol Nidre’ prayer. The sad melody would envelope the congregation casting its spell over every Jew. Its force and beauty were heart– rending. Twenty–five hours would follow – hours filled with the splendour of holiness, and the excitement of sharing the ancient traditions.

The entire day would he spent in synagogue. It was not surprising that this day is deeply etched in one's memory. Suffocating heat, light, memorial candles on every table and in every window, fainting in the women's gallery – all memories. Finally, with the concluding prayer of ‘Neilah’ the people would give a last vent to their emotions. The fast was forgotten, the fatigue overcome and with the final chant of the cantor, ‘Open for us the gates of mercy’, the heart would melt and the devoutness would reach us pinnacle. The final sound of the shofar and the words, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ would end the service.b

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Succoth – the Feast of Tabernacles

The evening after the Day of Atonement, the community would begin building the Succah. The thatch would be made of branches and straw. The Feast of Tabernacles was really the main Holiday. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were not real festivals, they were days of awe and days of judgement.

The Succah was a source of pleasure. The rich would reserve a room as a per– manent Succah. In place of thatch, it would be made of wooden planks and its roof could be raised or lowered. Building a Succah was not a difficult task. Unused windows and discarded doors, a broken bench and an old blanket would all find their way into the Succah. The Jews would actually rejoice sitting in the Succah catching glimpses of the twinkling stars. The children, of course, were most involved in building, thatching and decorating the Succah.

Hashanah Rabbah, the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, was called alter the ‘Hashanah’ lyrics. It was like pan of a note written on Rosh Hashanah and signed on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, on the eve of Hashanah Rabbah. people would sit up until late at night in the synagogue. In the morning they would pray with the melody of the Days of Awe. The main custom was the heating of willows.

Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah were considered Holidays unto themselves. On Shmini Atzereth the prayer for rain was said in the Mussaf prayer. The day of Hashanah Rabbah was a day of preparation for Simchat Torah.

Since there can be no rejoicing without wine, a Kiddush Rabbah was made during the day of Simchat Torah. Wine would be drunk in the synagogue and at home. Some people would even get drunk. Circling the synagogue with the Scrolls of the Law was a happy event. A big crowd of men, women and children would stand in two rows surrounding the pulpit. The children would carry decorated llags, topped with an apple and a candle. This was not done If Simchat Torah happened to fall on the Sabbath.

The cantor would begin with the chant. ‘Please G–d, help us’, and each of the attendants would be honouretl by circling around the pulpit with a scroll. The crowd would kiss the Torah and bless its carrier. This was considered a Miizvah. Overexcited with enthusiasm, the crowd would sing, clap hands, dance and be merry. Simchat Torah was a democratic holiday. Men, women and children par– ticipated equally. Most cherished, both for children and adults, would be the parade with the candlelit flags.

Every synagogue had its patron who would gather the children to one corner of the synagogue and call out: ‘Innocent ones.’ The children would answer confirming their presence. The young were called to the reading of the Torah. All the boys were even offered their own Aliyah, the reading of the Torah while standing on the podium.

For the benefit of the children, the ‘Redeeming Angel’ would be read while

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they were covered with the ‘tallit’. At this moment one could feel that the ‘Redeeming Angel’ himself was blessing the children and that the heavens were opening. The crowd would then sing. ‘Be happy and rejoice on Simchat Torah and give honour to it.’


The Simchat Torah which was brought to a close

Alter Levite

Life in our little town of Riteve was desolate and sad. Each day resembled the next, and there was nothing to relieve the monotony. Cinemas and theatres had not yet arrived in town and so the young people had no form of entertainment. Nature, too. did not bestow great beauty on the town. In winter the rains created great puddles which made crossing the streets difficult, and in summer the thick dust choked us. We swam in the river which flowed through the town. But the swimming days were restricted: during the seven weeks of Sephirah1 and during the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, swimming was forbidden. Thus much of the summer went by. Then the water became too cold. Furthermore, the days when one could swim were filled with fear and trembling because ihc priest's dogs menaced us on our way to the river.

Only on one day in the year was our joy full and undimmed. That day was Simchat Torah. On this day, young and old, men. women and children rejoiced. The rich men of the town who sat each day at the long tables in the Beit Midrash and pored over the Gemara would gather at the rabbi's house and enjoy a glass of brandy. The poorer folk were invited to the home ol the president of the Chevra Kadisha, where the drink flowed freely. We, the young ones, took pleasure in seeing the adults inebriated. In the synagogue all restrictions were waived and there was no difference between rich and poor, young and old. If you wished to stand at the eastern wall, you were welcome. If you wished to stand on the benches, there was nothing to stop you. We were all overjoyed and. if one managed to take hold of a Scroll of the Torah and do the rounds with it along with all the important people, there was really no limit to one's joy.

On one occasion this great day of joy was marred. But we, the young ones, were not at all upset about that. On the contrary, we derived much pleasure Irom it. It was for us a Simchat Torah of victory, of great success. But first, I must tell of my friend Nathan. He was a dreamer and had a wonderfully fertile imagination. From his teacher in the modern cheder he had heard of the near–yet–far Land of Israel. He was very moved and concentrated all his thoughts on the revival of the land and the return of its people.

During the First World War, we were cut off from the outside world by the German occupation. After the war, a rumour reached us that a Jewish state had

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been established in the Land of Israel with a Jewish government. Those who spread the rumour had magnified the Balfour Declaration until it became a declaration of independence. But this rumour served to fire the imagination of the Jews of Riteve and especially of Nathan, my friend. What could a Jewish boy do, wishing to help in the establishment ol the land?

He decided to work hard for the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) and went around the town urging each household to take the ‘Blue Box’, and pleading with the women to put coins into it every Sabbath eve. Many of the inhabitants of the town laughed at him and his dream. However, they could not refuse him, especially as he was of a good family, and so they took the Blue Boxes reluctantly. However, he soon realised that the contributions were too meagre. How could one rebuild a land with only pennies?

He thought of other ways to raise money more effectively. He knew that on Simchat Torah every Jew goes up to the Torah and donates money to the synagogue and the Beit Midrash and all the communal institutions, so why should they not do so for the Keren Kayemet as well? He found a solution. He prepared a large sheet of white paper on which he drew a blue Star of David and in the centre he wrote Zion in gold letters. Above he wrote in bold letters: ‘When you go up to the Torah, remember the Keren Kayemet.’ All this was executed in the best of taste, and he planned to stick his poster on the synagogue door. Bui how could he ensure that it would not be removed? As luck would have it, that year the festival of Shmini Atzeret fell on the Sabbath, and no one would desecrate the Sabbath by removing the poster. So he put the poster in its place on the door of the synagogue. Soon the congregation started to assemble and the poster was seen by all. No one had ever seen such an unholy thing in a holy place. The rabbi, on arrival, was about to remove it and then he remembered the Sabbath, so the poster remained in its place. All of the next day, people were curious to know who had desecrated the sacred place, but my friend kept his secret.

That day the congregation did not indulge in drinking or in dancing, as was their custom on Simchat Torah. They were upset because, in their eyes, the synagogue had been desecrated by the poster. They were depressed and downcast. That evening, the eve of Simchat Torah, the prayers were said hurriedly and they began the circuits around the bima (the podium). The chazan was chanting the well–known verses ol the prayer and awaited the usual responses, when suddenly the young men took over and sang out together, ‘Our hope has not yet been lost’, the first words of Hatikvah, the Zionist anthem. The older men were stunned at first and were unable to accept that Hatikvah had been sung within the walls of the synagogue. But in a moment they themselves began singing: ‘You are one and Your name is one.’ The young people were not intimidated and broke into a new song: ‘There in the pleasant land of our forefathers.’ The crowd was divided into two competing singing groups. From the one, came

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the strains of ‘How good is our lot and how happy we are’, and from the other ‘We shall be the first’ rang out in reply. The voices of the youth prevailed over those of the older folk, so that the synagogue was filled with the singing of the songs of a young and vigorous generation in praise of a new life in a new land. Slowly the old people returned the Torah to the Holy Ark and one by one they left the synagogue as if they had been defeated in war.

On the following day, something happened which my friend Nathan had not anticipated. The community which had recovered overnight from the confusion of the Simchat Torah evening, paid attention to the appeal made to them by the poster, and all, to a man, contributed generously to the Keren Kayemet. My friend Nathan was overjoyed. He guarded his secret of the forbidden poster which was the source of ‘impurity’. Only to me did he reveal his secret. The whole town felt, however, that the poster had brought about a revolution in their lives, calling them to the banner of the Land of Israel.

My dear friend Nathan did not live to see the realisation of his great dream – the Return to Zion. When the Second World War broke out. he wandered off to far Siberia, where he died in the prime of his life after a long illness and found his last resting place in a cold land far from any Jewish habitation.


Hannukah – the Feast of Lights

Hannukah was celebrated with praise and thanksgiving. Warmth and excitement were typical of the spirit of this Holiday: parties, psalms, and melodies. The lighting of the Hannukah candles was the centre of activity. The lighting ceremony was accompanied before and after with liturgical singing. The adults would play cards and eat ‘Latkes’ and the children played with a metal or wooden ‘dreidel’ (spinning top). They would receive Hannukah gifts, usually money, which would make them very happy.


The Fifteenth of Shevat

In the middle of the month Shevat, when it was cold and there was still snow, this Holiday would be celebrated. This was the Holiday for the revival ol nature in Israel and it was known in Riteve as the Fifteenth. The teachers would explain to their students that this day was the day for planting trees in Israel and it was customary to eat the fruits of Israel: carobs, figs, dates and raisins. This holiday emphasised our attachment to Israel and the desire to emigrate and build the country and enjoy its fruits.b

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Above: A Purim party at the Hebrew School in 5689 (1928/29) and, below, a later party in the same venue, with the children dressed up, with their teachers, Miriam Levite (second row from the front, extreme leftj), Izchak Paktor (extreme right, front) and Alter Goldberrg (second row from the front, with glasses, wearing a hat.)

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The legendary literature has many shades and nuances: research, commentary, prophecy, morals, mysticism, charity preaching, etc. And all these features of a legend can be found in the Feast of Purim. This holiday was celebrated with great joy in Riteve. Preparations would begin at the beginning of the month of Adar: ‘With the beginning of Adar. we must multiply our rejoicing.’ The children were the ones who would prepare most industriously for the celebrations. It was a day when no one worked and it was customary to send Purim presents to one another. It was a day in which the heart would fill with joy.

Many relatives would be invited to the Purim meal which was eaten by candlelight in order to fulfil what was said in ihe ‘Megillah’: ‘And Jews had light and joy and mirth and honour.’ It was said in our folklore that when the Messiah comes, all Holidays will cease except Purim.

Reading the Megillah in a festive way was an open invitation for merriment. Whenever Haman's name was mentioned, the silence was broken by hundreds of noisy rattles and sticks. It was as if the air was touched by a magic baton.

The Purim songs were popular and well liked, especially the song ‘Shoshanah Yaa'kov’ that was widespread as a folk song. The special food for Purim were those reminders of Haman's hat, Harmntaschen. Triangular shaped, they were filled with poppy seeds. Twisted loaves with crocus (saffron) were especially liked and they were called ‘Purim Koiletch’.

It was said in Riteve that during Hannukah an open miracle occurred and so we ate latkes, but during Punm a hidden miracle occurred and so we ate Hamaniaschen. During Hannukah the awakening came from above and therefore one held the dreidle with its handle turned upwards; during Purim. the awakening came from below and one holds the rattle with its handle turned downwards.


  1. Sephirat Ha-Omer - counting of the Omer: a Pentateuchal injunction to count 49 days from the first offering of the Omer sheaf of corn - in the Temple. The counting starts from the 16th of Nisan until Shavuot (Pentecost). On each day the counting must mention both the number of days and the number of weeks. The days of the Omer are also characterized by semi-mourning customs. It is a very old tradition normally associated with the death of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. The solemnisation of marriages, as well as haircutting and the playing of musical instruments arc prohibited during these days. Return


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