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[Page 263]

From the Legends of Sanok

by Shimon Toder

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the old cemetery of Sanok there was a lone grave that stood out for its height. One day a year, fire would ascend from it at night, and a white dove with outstretched wings would hover over it during the day. My mother of blessed memory told me the following story about that grave.

Many years ago, when Sanok only had a few Jewish families, there was one three-person family among them who had arrived recently and settled in a place outside the city. Nobody knew from where that family came, but it was passed on from one person to another that they had come from a far-away place from where they had been expelled by royal decree.

The family, consisting of a father, mother and daughter, lived alone. They did not become involved in the life of the city, or come into contact with the rest of the people of the city. They were not seen outside aside from the attendance of the father in the synagogue and the visits of the mother to the marketplace for shopping.

There were those who said that this man was one of the 36 righteous people in the world who were hidden, and whose livelihood was given to them miraculously by G-d.

Like her mother, the daughter also did not leave the threshold of the house and did not follow after the boys like the rest of the girls of the city. Rather she sat at home and helped her mother, or she would listen to her mother's reading of the holy books such as Tzena Urena and other books of morality. Aside from reading the holy books, the mother would tell her of stories of the giants of faith and holiness who gave their lives in sanctification of the Divine Name. These stories attracted the young heart of the girl. Aside from them, she had nothing else in the world. The father spent all his time studying Torah and serving G-d. He did not pay attention to his beautiful daughter who was growing up every day.

Once on one of the long nights, when the mother sat and plucked feathers and the daughter helped her, a sigh burst forth from her heart and reached the ears of her husband. At dinner, he asked his wife for the reason of the sigh and she answered, “Our daughter is grown up. I have already prepared wedding clothes for her. The pillows and blankets will also soon be ready. However, the Holy One Blessed Be He has not yet sent her mate to her. We must do something for our daughter so she does not remain a spinster.”

The next morning after Shacharit (the morning service), the man approached the Shamash (beadle) and told him about her daughter who had come of age. He asked him to find a proper match for her. The Shamash, who did not know anything about the lineage of the family, did not hasten to do this, but he did chat with the man from time to time after the services. He told him about youths who had come of age. The man always answered that he would ask his wife, and do as she said. The parents who were close with the daughter would ask her, and she refused to hear of marriage.

The mother took ill from all her grief and she died after a few months. The father and daughter were left more isolated than they were. The daughter continued along the path of her mothers. She ran the household and tended to her father's needs. When she finished her housework, she would take out one of the holy books that her mother had left behind, delve into it and find her comfort. She found something in some of the books about the sanctification of the Divine Name[1] . She read these sections over and over again until she had memorized them. She aspired to reach the level of Rabbi Akiva who said to his students before his death: “All my days I was agonizing when I would be able to fulfill the interpretation of the verse 'with your entire soul' – even if your life is being taken.”

The matchmakers stopped speaking about the girl after their many suggestions had been pushed aside for no reason.

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The father and the daughter continued their lives without change and without interruption – he with his books and she with hers.

It was a harsh, cold winter night. The cold outside was very strong, and a great deal of snow covered the ground. A winter sled approached the house, and the landowner (poretz) descended from it. He was strong, young, and completely frozen. The father brought him in and gave him a glass of strong liquor. After he warmed up and regained his strength, the daughter set the table for dinner. At the end of dinner, the prince went to a room where a bed had been made from him, in the appropriate fashion for an honorable guest. However, the prince did not sleep all night. Since the time that he had seen the daughter at dinner, he became infatuated with the appearance of the young, pretty girl, and he began to think evil thoughts about the girl and her father, and to hatch plans to kidnap the pure soul.

At dawn, when the head of the household arose to go to the synagogue, the prince also arose, entered the girl's room, woke her up, and began to entice and seduce her.

The girl recalled her mother who had appeared to her that night in a dream, and trembled. However, she also understood that since she was alone in the house, it would not be appropriate to express her refusal, so she asked the prince for two days to think about it. The prince was happy with her answer, for he saw this as partial agreement, and he agreed to remain there for two more days. The snow had not stopped falling all this time, and this was sufficient reason for him to remain in the place without arousing suspicion.

Two days later, the girl said that she agreed to marry him, but with the condition that no harm would befall her. As a nobleman from birth, the prince told her of the wealth that was awaiting her, and he promised to be faithful to her without bounds. The girl promised that immediately after the anniversary of her mother's death, she would come to him to be his wife.

After the prince left the place, the girl remembered the story of Rabbi Amnon the Gaon, the author of the hymn “Unetane Tokef”[2] , who accepted upon himself torture as a punishment for pushing off the answer to the call to convert to Christianity, and not expressing his refusal immediately. Like him, she also hoped to accept torture and give up her soul in Sanctification of the Divine Name.

The anniversary of her mother's death arrived. She woke up in the morning, set the table for her father, and then went to her room. She took out the holy books with which she lived all her life. Her tears fell upon the volumes to the point where all the letters and words were erased, as if she absorbed them into her soul. After she took leave of her books she approached the closet, took out her wedding clothes, and put them on with a winter coat over them. Rejoicing to meet her happiness, she marched quickly to the cemetery.

The cemetery was completely covered with snow. A holy silence pervaded it. The girl approached the grave of her mother, took off the winter coat, and recited the following prayer while dressed in her white clothes.”

Dear mother, all your days you yearned to take me to the chupa (wedding canopy), and I have now come to invite you to the day that you were awaiting. My joy is great that I have merited to reach this point… Master of the Universe, how did I desire to come to you in purity just as I left my mother's womb, and if I did not merit this through the holy books, I have now approached you through the steps that you created, through the evil inclination and seduction to impurity. Only you know, G-d, how sublime You are, and how wonderful are Your deeds. There are many paths to you, G-d, and even from impurity the value of purity is known. The soul is Yours and the body is Yours. Take my soul, it is pure. Hear oh Israel…

At that moment, her soul left her in purity, and a great deal of snow began to fall and cover all the monuments in the cemetery.

When spring came and the snow melted, a grave with a mound atop was found, and the earth reached the upper edge of the monument.

From that day, on every yahrzeit of the mother and daughter, a pillar of fire ascended from this grave at night, and a white dove hovered over it during the day.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The term 'sanctification of the Divine Name', often but not exclusively refers to martyrdom. return
  2. A central hymn of the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For the story of Rabbi Amnon, see http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshhashannah/unetaneh.html return

[Page 265]

Jewish Life in our City
in a New Novel in the Polish Language

by G. Givoni

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Signs of Curiosity and Tension

Not too long ago, the new literary creation of the Polish-Jewish author, a Sanok native who lives permanently in Warsaw, reached us. It is called “The Lovers in Sodom”[1] -- a novel that describes Jewish life in a town of which all of the signs, descriptions of events, and natural and human landscapes identify it with our town Sanok.

After you begin to read the story, you cannot put it down, whether because of the polished literary language, the beautiful construction, or the tense accusation -- or perhaps there is an issue of “local patriotism” that leads to curiosity and the interest to read words of confidence about the town in which you were born and raised, and in which your ancestors had lived for hundreds of years.


Sins of Love and Transgressions of Marriage

In Segal's book, a complete gallery of characters and personalities from the various classes and groups of the city and its Jews pass before the eyes of the reader: traditional, rabbinical Jews, petite bourgeois Jews of the “proper” households, assimilated Jews and members of the professional intelligentsia, who distance themselves from their language and culture, and are embarrassed of a “year round” Jew -- this may be a lawyer, doctor, or solicitor in the government court. On the other hand, members of the young generation appear, whose way of life is in opposition to that of their parents.

The novel begins with a sad, even tragic, event. Yocheved the daughter of Shaya the undertaker marries Wlodyja the son of the Pravoslavic Priest, and converts to his religion. Her father expresses his objection to this by committing suicide by hanging himself. How does the religious Jewish community or the local rabbinate express their objection? The rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Mandelbaum, who is very exacting in halacha, objects with the full stringency of the law. According to him, Yocheved, whose name has now turned into a curse, and who is no longer an Israelite, is considered as having died, and one must rend one's garments over her as with a deceased person. On the other hand, Rabbi Meir Dym, the great scholar who is good and behaves well toward the simple people, gets involved and stops Rabbi Eliezer from taking such a drastic step. He claims that Yocheved may yet return in repentance and, “in a place where penitents stand, completely righteous people do not stand.” His principle is that, “A Jew, even if he sins, is still a Jew.” Rabbi Meir is the rabbi of the city, and his decision is the law. Here we can see in the book a hint of the anguish of the people when Rabbi Meir died, and it was not easy to find a fitting replacement, who would be great in Torah and possess similar traits to Rabbi Meir Dym, of blessed memory.

Wlodyja, who brought Yocheved-Marja to his home and entered her into the covenant of Christianity, has a poetic personality and is graced with talents. However, he had an affection toward the cup, and when he was drunk he would pour out his wrath upon Yocheved and beat her cruelly. The daughter of the Jewish undertaker could not bear her suffering, and she was seduced by the insane Hirsh-Leib Dobke. She returned to her house next to the cemetery. She became pregnant from Hirsch-Leib and did not concern herself with the attitudes of the hostile community. She continued to love Wlodyja, and he continued to maintain his love for her, for Wlodyja Polianski was not one of those “who killed over jealousy”. He may have been a drunkard, but he had a refined personality and inspiration. When he drank the bitter drop, he looked at his surroundings with the eyes of an angel. Marja-Yocheved seemed like a sprouting flower, and he himself was a burning bush that was not consumed. He was a devilish genius. Baudelaire, Reiner-Marja Rilke -- were his spiritual fathers. Even though he was afflicted with active tuberculosis and had to go to a sanitarium in Zakopane at least once a year, he did not see himself as walking on the side road.

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He was alert to the chauvinistic, anti-Semitic movement, and during the times when the Jews of the town were calmly partaking of their Sabbath meal, he ran through the Jewish street and warned them that they were sitting on a bed of explosives that was liable to explode at any moment, bringing a disaster in its wake. The Jews would be the first victims of the evil that is approaching. However, the Jews paid no heed to his warnings.

Blima Mandelbaum, the daughter of Rabbi Eliezer, also fell in love with a gentile, Dyonyzy Papowycz, the son of the forester. He was also an enthusiastic Communist who was involved in clandestine activity amongst the farmers of the regional villages, and worked diligently for the revolutionary movement. The soul of Blima went out toward Dyonyzy, but she was “imprisoned” in the world of faith and tradition. Since her brother Mendel had gone out into a bad crowd and was affected by the Communist microbe, something that crushed her father to the ground, she was not so brazen as to act on her desires. Her father married her off to Shimshonle, the watchmaker from Kolbaszowa, and she did not resist. Calm pervaded in the life of the young family for some time. However, despite the fact that Shimshonle loved her with all his soul, she could not get the image of Dyonyzy out of her heart. She continued to act in the traditional manner, without fault. On a Sabbath eve, after she had recited the blessing over the candles and her husband had gone to the synagogue to welcome the Sabbath, Dyonyze appeared in her house, and Blimale responded to him even though sadness had filled her heart after the deed. The match was not long-lived in the oppressive atmosphere. The separation between her and Shimshonle took place after six months, and it was he who untied the knot. He got up and left without an agitated spirit, leaving gifts for his beloved wife. Blimale returned to her father's home and lived in disgrace...

The face of the third couple was also no better than that of the others. Mendel Mandelbaum, the enthusiastic Communist, succeeded in arousing the love of Chana Hazengag, who was the daughter of well-off people and who knew how to play the piano. In this case, the father did not impose his will. Indeed, he would have been happy if both of them would make aliya to the Land of Israel, thereby avoiding the forbidden party activities that were dangerous to the groom. However, when this was not acceptable to them, he did not stop them. It is interesting that Reb Eliezer, who did not know about the relationship of his son with Hazengag's daughter, was prepared to compromise and agree to the aliya of his son to the land of Israel, so that he would not occupy himself with the devil that was standing behind them. He too did not force his way, even though his heart ached because his son had fallen into bad company.

Mendel, one of the revolutionaries of the generation, was not silent before Shmulik Wien, the Communist provocateur, who enticed Balszczok, the shoemaker's apprentice, to put up signs in the synagogues and the “impure places”[2]. They were then captured by the party activists that were hiding in wait for them there... Mendel executed the party verdict and shot Shmulik Wien in the civic park on a Sabbath eve. In order to avoid the death sentence in court, he crossed the border and fled to the Soviet Union. Chana, his beloved, left her house and joined a troupe of wandering popular actors.


Members of the “Proper” Middle Class

Three or, if you will, four households were troubled due to traditional laws. The conflict between the generations was very strong. Both sides stood stubbornly for the fundamentals of their faith -- and these are the results.

With the full fury of his heart, Segal passes judgment upon the assimilationists who reject their nation and are embarrassed about their language. He pours pitchers of scorn upon them. Mr. Hazengag is presented in this book as one of the members of this class. He owned a textile shop that conducted fruitful business. As has been said, he represents the “proper” middle class. He is not observant in his religion. Since he is wealthy and was fluent in the Polish Language, he often fulfilled the task of “intercessor” with the Starosta (regional ruler) when the Endeks incited the masses to foment disturbances upon the Jews. However, at the end, his own fate is not fine. The value of the cotton stock that he held dropped drastically, and he reached the point of bankruptcy. With difficulty, he reached an accommodation with his creditors and restored his clientele. He freed himself from the trade that had its roots in the past. Since he was a widower, he lived in extreme isolation after his two children left the house. (In general, this isolation threatened most of the wealthy people in this work.) He was attracted to a village woman, brought her to his house and married her.

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The decadence in the city continued to spread. In his story, Segal presents negative characters and events to highlight the situation, even though their place in the story is not that prominent. Along with this, he hides the positive characters in the town from us -- the characters of true righteous people. One of them, and perhaps the greatest of them, is Sara Mandelbaum, the righteous woman of the town. The writer describes only a few of her righteous acts, as well as the respectful relationships of the residents of the city toward her.

The book also gives some details about Abt, the Hebrew teacher, who earns honorable mention from the author for succeeding in instilling the love of the Hebrew language in the hearts of the young children as well as the adults.

The book accompanies the sons who make aliya to the Land of Israel with warm feelings and a sense of respect. He talks in no small way about how the parents came and shed tears of agony over the parting. Among those made aliya was the eldest son of Mr. Abt, who had red cheeks, sparkling eyes, and a smile that attracted the love of the girls.


The City Bustling on the Market Days and Quiet on the Sabbath

A picture is painted of the market day in the town with clear language and a bright style, with the chain of wagons moving from all directions toward the market place near the church (the Small Square), and the Rynek (the Large Square). An abundance of vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and fowl is brought to market. There is the hum of wagons, the din of horses, the noise of the farmers whipping with their whips, and the tumult of the gentile women selling their produce from atop the wagons. The movement of people is loud. Farmers go amongst the shops and the stalls, checking out which merchandise they can purchase. They do not forget about the existence of the tavern owned by the wife of Eli, and they make efforts to visit it.

The picture of a Sabbath afternoon completes the description of the realities of the town. In the morning, most of the Jews are found in the synagogue. However, in the afternoon, they are involved in various enjoyable pursuits. Jews of the ilk of Reb Eliezer Mandelbaum sit in the Beis Midrash and examine the children on the weekly Torah portion. The older children are asked about Talmudic discussions. The intellectual youths go out to discuss in the fields on the other side of the river, and the youths who are the children of the tailors and cobblers, as well as the youths who work in commerce (Sowiekitim) gather clandestinely in the forest and deal with significant issues of the world. The women sleep the sleep of the righteous. Later, the older ones sit on low benches or sofas, reminiscing positively about the days of His Majesty Kaiser Franz Josef I. The women who are in possession of their faculties engage in gossip. They literally grind up and pulverize anyone who falls between their grindstones. They know everything that takes place in every nook, and there is no soul in the town who does not enter their agenda. “Yutshe Treger” goes out on the street in his horse to take it to graze next to the San, and Kabaszniaszewski the gentile cobbler hastens toward his Jewish villager girlfriend.

The scribe who spends all the days of his life writing Torah scrolls goes out to see if the first three stars have appeared in the sky, for after the stars come out, he will resume standing next to his podium with the parchment stretched out, his inkwell next to him, and the duck quill between his fingers. His gaze happens upon a group of noisy youths wearing fine cloths, and he remembers, with a deep sigh, days gone by, when the town was a solid fortress of strong faith. As the first star appears in the skies of the town, the scribe contemplates the value of the world and thinks about the realities of life -- a broken life that flitters away with the world dishing out the fates of man: “birth, life, and death.”

This is the way that the town spends its Sabbaths, between mitzvos and transgressions. We are now approaching the end of the novel.


The story is indeed brief, and this is actually the author's first attempt at a novel. Did the attempt succeed? I do not know what impression a reader who is not a native of the city that accompanies and brings life to the soul of the novel will have. The sections of intrigue are woven well one with the other, and the images of reality are thrilling. The general feeling is that the writer embraces the town, with all of its failings and good points, and sees the rebellious younger generation as fulfilling a traditional mission by clinging to lofty ideals with deep moral value. That town is lost and no longer exists.

[Page 268]

Sections of Memories[3]

by Eliahu Berger

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My childhood passed by almost without special unique impressions. I have an impression that I was not different from the rest of the children that lived as tenants in my parents' house. I know only that I was born in that house that stood on Berka Josolowicza Road #51 in the city of Sanok. When I was born on August 4, 1895, the house was still in the possession of Grandfather and Grandmother, Reb Mendel and Tzirel Berger of blessed memory who lived there until they made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1902. This event is cloudy in my eyes. We traveled in a special wagon to the train station in Sanok in order to accompany them, and many people came to take leave of them: relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, with traditional blessings, and looked upon them with jealousy in that they left the exile and merited to make aliya to the Land of Israel during their lifetimes, and will not have to roll through the tunnels to the Holy Land after their deaths. I was the only son of my parents, my father Tzvi Aryeh and my mother Chana Leah the daughter of Moshe Cohen of blessed memory. My older sister Shoshana of blessed memory was born before me, and my younger sister Tova Feiga of blessed memory after me (she perished in the Holocaust).

When my grandfather and grandmother made aliya to the Land of Israel, my revered father of blessed memory purchased half of the house from them. The second half was given by them as a gift to their second son, my uncle Berish (they only had two sons). Since the joint ownership was not particularly successful, my father also purchased the second half from my uncle for a full payment, and my uncle purchased with this money a whole house in Sanok in the Posada Quarter. Our house had nine tenants. The house was built of wood, and every apartment included a room for the entire family, as was the situation in those days on the Jewish Street. Each tenant divided up this room with partitions, so that there will be a room and a kitchen. These apartments served as a bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. Children were born who grew up and were educated there until they became adults and left the family. At times, 10 people would live crowded into a room that was 15 square meters, or even less. For some of these tenants, these rooms also served as a workshop, such as for shoemaking, tailoring, or classrooms for teachers. Behind the house was a slope on which there were two wooden outhouses that served all the residents of the house. There was an area of about 100 square meters on the slope that served as a field for children's games, both for children who lived in the house, or for others who came there from other houses. No plant or grass even grew on this field. It was not plowed or sown, and nothing was ever planted there, aside from one cherry tree that stood in the corner next to the fence that bordered on the neighbor's property. It grew cherries, most of which were picked before they were ripe by the children of the area or the children of the house. I too was one of them. Once I jumped upon the branches of the tree to pick cherries and injured my leg so badly that I required the assistance of a doctor. From that time to this day, I have a scar on my right leg, below the knee.

Grandfather was a scholar, a relatively wealthy man, and honored. He worshipped in the Tzanz Kloiz. I do not know with what he was occupied or how he earned his livelihood in his younger days. During his older years, before he traveled to the Land of Israel, he earned his livelihood from the rent that he received from his tenants. He also had savings in the bank. After my father purchased half of the house, Grandfather traveled with Grandmother to the Land of Israel, as I already mentioned. He lived for four or five years in the Land. After he died, Grandmother returned to the Diaspora, and died about two years later.

During my childhood, Father had a small factory for wooden pocket mirrors,

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5 cm by 8 cm by 1 cm in size. The mirror was made in the form of a small box, which could be opened and closed. The mirror was inside. Thus, it would not break even if it fell to the ground. An entire village near Sanok (Czertez) was occupied in making the pieces of wood according to the appropriate dimensions. Father also employed several Jews to fasten the mirrors inside, and place the nice iron wires outside that were wound around hinges, for opening and closing. Every soldier who went to the army obtained a pocket mirror of this sort for himself. After some time, other Jews started to compete with Father's work, and even invented a new form of pocket mirror that spread out throughout the world as well as in the region of Sanok. They are on the market to this day and, of course, displaced the former product from the marketplace.

My father purchased a house on Kosciuszko 38. The street was populated by members of the gentile intelligentsia, mainly officials who left their houses next to the bustling main street and moved to quiet side streets. Father renovated the dwelling. In one place where a window was open to the street, he replaced the window with a door, and set up the room as a grocery store for the residents of the area. Father had many customers and earned exceptional trust. Business was not bad, and sustained its owners honorably. At the entrance to the house there was also a small garden of bushes and flowers that was cared for by one of our tenants. I recall that once, I took a handful of barley from the store and planted it in the ground without knowing that the Christian tenant had planted flowers there. After some time, barley grew instead of flowers. Finally, they found out that this was my work. I received a harsh reprimand from my father of blessed memory as a reward for my work. Across from us lived a doctor who had a garden with fruit trees. It had tended bushes with fruit and berries. I went in secretly and picked fruit without paying. Apparently, they saw this through the window. They chased after me, and I fled. Along the way, my yarmulke fell of my head. The gardener picked up my yarmulke, brought it to my father, and said, “Do you recognize, is this your son's yarmulke or not?” Of course my father told me about this at home and reprimanded me greatly. That time as well, he contented himself with a reprimand, for he never raised his hand against me.

When I was seven years old, my parents registered me in the gentile public school that was not too far from our home at that time. The school principal, who was one of Father's customers, spoke at the request of my father to the grade 1 teacher of the school, who agreed to let me attend school and sit in class with a yarmulke on my head. I only attended the school for a few days. The “shkotzim”, that is, the gentile students of the school, did not agree that I be an exception and that I sit with them without a bare head. They forcibly removed the yarmulke from my head. I stopped attending school. A fine was imposed on my father for it was illegal to enroll a child in school when the child does not attend. Therefore, I decided to attend once again, and I again stopped. This went on for several rounds at the advice of the principal, who was concerned that I not be listed in the truancy list, even after my definitive end of my school attendance.

Of course my studies in the cheder, in which I was enrolled at age five, was without interruption. Among the tenants in our house was a teacher of children who was called “the red teacher”, on account of his read beard. I received my first education from him. His wife Dina taught the girls, who were slightly older than the boys. The “subject” was the letters of the aleph beit and the vowel marks until we began to learn “Hebrew”, that is, reading from a siddur.

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This teacher had an assistant. The students went one by one, in turn, to study for a few minutes with the teacher. From him they passed to the assistant, and also only spent a few moments with him. Approximately 20 children studied in this cheder, and therefore each child had two or three “turns” of study with the teacher and his assistant before lunch and after lunch. Thus did student's day in the cheder end. The day also included games on the floor of the cheder or the yard. The classroom was no larger than 20 square meters, and served as the dining room, bedroom, and kitchen of the family as the teacher, and also as the cheder -- i.e. the classroom. His two daughters and son were also born in that room...

Around that time when I had my first “experience” in attending a government school, I graduated to study with a teacher of a higher level. With him we learned Chumash with sections of Rashi, the Early Prophets and also a bit of Gemara. This teacher was Reb Menashe Eder, who was known by his nickname “Menashele the Apikoros”[4] for he knew grammar, Bible and Hebrew and looked into books that were not acceptable in the Orthodox Jewish community at that time. It was said that he also had a Chumash with the commentary of Moses Mendelssohn in his home. I cannot determine the veracity of that situation, but it was true that he was very dedicated to teaching his students. However, there was no great benefit to learning with him, for his language was not clear, and we could not understand what he was saying. There were some things that were unique about him, as compared to other teachers. For example, I recall that when we came to the Torah portions of Teruma and Tetzaveh, he would draw the vessels of the tabernacle and also the tabernacle itself, pointing out both the large and small details, such as the length and width of the tabernacle, its poles, sockets, coverings, dividing screens, and the ark covering. He tried to explain it to us with great precision. He was also very strict that the prayers we recited in cheder be pronounced properly by us, and that we not mix up the vowelization and the meaning. He also made sure that the students would advance in their studies. Each Sabbath, he sent the advanced students to scholarly laymen for an examination.

After I studied for two years with Reb Menashe, my father transferred me to Reb Lemele the teacher. He was superior to his predecessor in clear and understandable explanations, and also in the teaching of additional subjects such as the cantillation notes. He reviewed the weekly portion with us with its cantillation. He also had a fine Hebrew calligraphic writing. His teaching “methodology” was -- writing with his beautiful handwriting one line, at first on the top of a piece of paper, that included a verse from the prayers or the Torah. Then the students recopied the line, word for word, repeating it with a word under each word. Thus did we fill the entire page with lines of our handwriting. We also tried to write these letters in the same handwriting style of Reb Lemele. He taught us the Latin alphabet in this manner, for almost 90% of the students of this cheder did not attend the secular school.

This was the methodology of education and wisdom in order “to hold a pen in the hand”, as was said in Orthodox circles. The meaning was, in accordance with the style of the times, that a Jew must be able to write an address on an envelope that “would even be able to reach Vienna”.

At the age of 10, I transferred to a teacher who already taught Gemara with Tosafot. This was Reb Eli the Teacher, with whom I studied until the time of my Bar Mitzvah. He lived near the Maja 3 Street, on the slope of the mountain that leads to the Posada Quarter, near the old cemetery. It was a long way on foot to his house from our home. I made this journey two or three times a day. During the winter, our studies ended at 8:00 p.m. Often, my mother came out to meet me on my way back, so that I would not walk alone and perhaps fall into the hands of the railway workers, who were for the most part anti-Semitic, as well as regular “shkotzim” who were returning home from night school in the center of the city.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: Kalman Segal, “The Lovers in Sodom”, published by Szlonsak, Katowice, 1966. return
  2. Likely a euphemism for churches. return
  3. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: These sections, which are of interest to the readers of this book since they include descriptions and events from the experiences of the Jewish population in Sanok from 60-70 years ago, were given to us by the author from his diary that he kept. return
  4. An Apikoros (literally Epicurian) is the Jewish term for a non-believer or heretic. return

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Common cures and Charms[1] Amongst Sanok Jewry[2]

by Shimon Toder

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A baby's bathwater was poured out into the road upon which people walk, as an omen that the child will quickly begin to walk without setbacks.

When a baby is placed into the cradle for the first time, the children of the neighbors would be invited. They would throw sweets and cookies into the cradle, which the children would then snatch. This is an omen for a good, sweet life.

The baby's diapers would be made out of the clothes of adults, so that the child would merit a long life.

Upon entering a new dwelling, one would first bring in bread, salt and a candle – as an omen for a good livelihood and light in the house.

Shoes should not be polished before setting out on a journey – as an omen for success.

When falling stars that go out are seen at night, one should say: Not my star, not my children's or grandchildren's, not my relatives'.

One would tie a red band around the hand to ward of the “evil eye”.

When there is powerful thunder and lightning, a cup of water would be placed on the windowsill as a charm against the danger of being struck by lightning.

A female neighbor would not be brought into the house when duck fat is being fried, as a portent against the “evil eye”. To this, they added: Once a woman entered and saw the fat frying and said: How nice is the fat. Then they fried the fat all night and nothing came of it at the end.

A hen that crows as a rooster must not be kept for even one moment, and must immediately be brought to the shochet for slaughter.

It is dangerous to bathe in a river as long as nobody has yet drowned in it that year and the water has not yet received its annual sacrifice (in Yiddish: zein yahr korben).

When a person becomes ill on the yahrzeit day of one of his parents, one must be concerned for his life.

One must not borrow fire at the conclusion of the Sabbath, for thereby fortune departs from the house.

Whoever sleeps in the presence of the moon will be afflicted with lunacy[3].

It is forbidden for a male child to eat the brain or heart of an animal for thereby his brain would become dulled and he would be liable to become forgetful. (A girl is not included in this prohibition).

Whoever wears a cloak inside-out or a braid toward the left side will become forgetful.

Whoever passes through a window will no longer grow.

Whoever walks under a table will no longer grow.

Whoever plays with a cat will forget his studies.

A groom must not go over a bridge.

It is a bad omen when a vessel breaks in the house as a person is preparing to go forth on a journey.

[Page 272]

If there is a storm wind, it is a sign that a crazy person hanged himself in the forest.

One should not give a pocketknife as a gift, as it is dangerous.

If one sews a button on an article of clothing while a person is wearing it, the wearer must chew the thread. Otherwise, his intellect may be cut.

If one sneezes while one is talking about a dead person, he should grasp his left ear and turn it upward.

One must not extinguish a candle at night by blowing it through the mouth, since it is forbidden to utter the word “Pu” at night, because it is the name of an angel (it is possible that it means that it is the name of a demon, but I heard that it was the name of an angel, as I have written).

One must not utter the word “sheid” (demon) or “ruach” (spirit) at night. If one does so, one is liable to come to danger.

One must not pour out dirty water at night due to the danger of demons.

Keeping the afikoman in the house is a protection against mice in the house.

A book or the mohel's (circumcisor's) knife would be placed under the pillow of the mother on the night before the circumcision of her son as a protection against evil spirits. (I recall that once they used the Noam Elimelech of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk for this purpose.)

If a pregnant woman becomes frightened and touches at that time a part of her body, the baby will be born with a black mark with the oblong shape of a mouse.

When a baby was placed in the bath for the first time, the relatives would throw silver coins into the water as an omen for riches. These coins would belong to the mother, and would be called “bath money”.


Omens and Incantations

If a burning coal suddenly leaps forth from the oven, it is a portent for guests.

If one feels a tickle in the left hand, it is a portent of an impending great merit.

When the left earlobe tickles, it is an omen that one is being spoken of in some place, either for good or for bad. If one hears about this, he should say: If they are talking good, they should be good, and if they are talking bad, they should be even worse. If they are talking about one of us, let it fall upon all the empty forests.

When a pregnant woman asks to borrow something, and they do not agree, mice come to take revenge.

Incantations against bad dogs:

  1. Read the verse: “You may lend with interest to a gentile, but do not lend with interest to your brother.” (Deuteronomy 23: 21)

  2. You should say: “And for the Jewish people, a dog will not whet his mouth”. (Exodus 10:8)

  3. Dog, dog, you are Esau's child, I am Jacob's child. If you wish to bite me, the spirits will come and tear you apart.
For a bad dream: All dreams should turn to good. All evil dreams should fall on all deserted forests.

When a baby is placed into the bath, one would say the incantation: In small and out big.

When a tooth falls it, it is thrown into the oven, and one says three times: Meizele Meizele (perhaps the intention is mazele mazele?)[4] take for yourself a bony tooth and give me an iron tooth.

Most of what I recorded here I heard from my grandmother Alte the Soferte (the writer), and some are from other sources.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Hebrew term is 'Segula', which in this context means a charm, omen or remedy based on kabbalah, or perhaps superstition or old wives tales. Some 'segulot' such as reciting certain prayers on certain occasions, have basis in Jewish tradition, whereas others are more based on superstition. It is sometimes hard to differentiate. Some may have legitimacy in that they create a circumstance where one might pray for one's wellbeing. Other 'segulot' have to do with avoiding putting a friend or neighbor in a position that might arouse jealousy toward what one has. Numerous traditional segulot or simanim (signs), most notably those commonly used on Rosh Hashanah eve, relate to similarities in word sounds. In the fascinating litany in this chapter, there seem to be 'segulot' filling all of these categories. return
  2. Several of these cures and charms are found in Sefer Chasidim, ascribed to Rabbi Yehuda HeChasid. return
  3. In the Alkalai dictionary, saharorit (root is the Aramaic word sahar which means 'moon') translates as one of: sleepwalking, moonstruck, or lunacy. return
  4. Mazele would be the diminutive of Mazel – i.e luck or fortune. return


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