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Zinkov Folklore[1]

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Memories from My Hometown Zinkov

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

I must admit that we young folks did not take the solemnity of the High Holidays too much to heart. So, when we heard the final shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur, and the congregation quickly murmured the evening prayer and went outdoors to sanctify the new moon, we felt relieved and were overcome by a special joyous feeling.[2] We children knew that the joyous holiday of Sukkes was now coming, with Simchas–Toyre, and most importantly, with the hakofes.

At home, I, as the only son, was entrusted with the pleasure of preparing and arranging the sukkah. I crawled onto the roof and opened the “road.”[3] I laid all the poles, spades, and sticks on top and spread the sekhakh over them. I used two barrels and some noodle boards to create benches for sitting. My sister decorated the walls with flowers, and it became (as Sholem Aleikhem would say), “Quite a sukkah!” How proud and happy I was later, when the neighbors who joined us were full of praise for our beautiful sukkah.

My father, Shmuel–Lipe, my grandfather Sender, and (I believe) even my great–grandfather Itze Tcherkises (may they rest in peace) had all prayed in Gad's minyan at various times; it was called Gad's minyan because the person who had donated his house to serve as a synagogue was named Gad). The synagogue was next to the house of Khayim (Royze's son) Itzikson. Across the street was Mordechai Vertzman's house and Tzufenai's old synagogue. When the hakofes evening began, the householders went to the tavern of Elye's wife, and spent a few comfortable hours over a glass of sour wine accompanied by nuts.[4] Once “the king's heart was merry with wine,” and people felt simkhas–toyre–like, they joyfully went to join in the hakofes.[5]

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One of the members of Gad's minyan was the well–off Peysi Sitchkarnik, who claimed the right to chant the Ato horeyso loda'as.[6] As he was really exhilarated both by the wine and by the joy of the holiday, he would sing the verse out at the top of his hoarse voice: “Ato horeyso loda'as” etc. The hakofes around the lectern started immediately afterwards. The children were standing on the chairs holding candles, and flags bearing apples.[7] Their faces shining, they would kiss the Torah scrolls as they were carried by, and would call out in their chirping voices “May you live to celebrate next year! May you live to celebrate next year!”

For me, it was just a prelude to the real holiday that would come later, during the hakofes ceremony with the two rebbes, Moyshele and Pinchesl (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing). Life in a town as small as Zinkov was boring and monotonous. Young people instinctively yearned for life and sought stimulation and entertainment. Simkhes–toyre, the hakofes, and accompanying the rebbe out of the sukkah were therefore a truly marvelous experience for us. We were not devout hasids; to tell the truth, it wasn't the religious content of the celebration we were after, but the fun.[8] I'm a bit embarrassed now to add that we treated the hakofes as a kind of carnival (if you'll excuse the comparison).

Once Rebbe Pinchesl had slept for a while, the brightest lamps were turned on, and the synagogue soon became packed with a joyous holiday crowd. Most of the hasids, those from our town and from other towns, lined the walls to make way for the rebbe. A bit later, the Rebbitzin appeared with her children, all of them dressed in finery – like a queen with her princes and princesses.[9] Everyone gazed at them with respect and admiration. With every minute that passed, I felt happier and livelier. After each hakofe the hasids sang and danced in a circle, with real hasidic elation, their heads thrown back and eyes turned up to God in religious ecstasy.[10] The rebbe danced at the center, holding a small Torah scroll high above his head in one hand, with his other hand in his sash.[11] In this manner, he kept moving to the rhythmic clapping of the hasids and the entire assembly. People climbed up on tables and chairs to watch. With pounding hearts, flushed faces, and shining eyes, boys and girls surveyed and flirted with each other.

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There were also pranksters in the crowd, who liked to trick the hasids. They would strew the floor with a powder that caused sneezing and itching, or stick a pin into the sensitive flesh of a dancing hasid's backside. Sometimes they would let a bird loose in the synagogue; the bird became very agitated by the tumult and bright lights and would fly around flapping its wings from one corner of the ceiling to another, while the amused audience shook with laughter. When the noise reached a peak, the rebbe uttered a sigh: “Oy!”[12] The hasids immediately took it up and repeated, ever more loudly, like an echo in the Swiss alps: “Oy, oy, oy, oy, oy…!” And when the rebbe demanded quiet, “Sha!” the hasids would echo him: “Sha, sha, sha, sha…”

We called the Jewish guys who had to report for conscription “Twenty–oners” or “conscripts.”[13] At Simkhes–toyre, they would come and stand in a row, and each one placed a bottle of wine on the table as he passed the rebbe. The rebbe wished each and every one of them a release from military service.

This is how the night of Simkhes–toyre passed. The first faint bluish light of the coming day was visible on the horizon. By now, all were tired, sleepy, with pale faces, and it was no longer as noisy as earlier. We went home for some sleep and rest, and to go to the synagogue again the next day, for the second round of hakofes and to accompany the rebbe out of the Sukkah once again.

The crush, noise, and joy of the holiday were strongest and most noticeable in Rebbe Pinchesl's synagogue. We would often sneak out to take a look at the events at Rebbe Moyshele's. Things there were very different. The crowd was much smaller, quiet, and behaved more respectfully.

In this manner, we young people would have fun during Sukkes, and would anticipate next year's Sukkes, Simkhes–toyre, and hakofes. We believed that this would continue all our lives long. Little did we know that war was in store for us, with its terrible consequences, and that this location of Jewish life would be erased forever.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. This title is repeated twice, once in Hebrew and once in Yiddish. Return
  2. The single shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur is the final one during the High Holidays. As the Jewish calendar follows the cycles of the moon, the appearance of the new moon at the beginning of the month is marked by a special ceremony and prayer of sanctification. However, during the period of the High Holidays (1–10 Tishrei), when the first ten days are devoted to repentance for wrongdoings done in the past year, the ceremony is postponed to the night after Yom Kippur. Return
  3. The Slavic word shliakh, used here, means “dirt road.” Its use here is unusual. Apparently, there was a special opening in the roof, normally covered over, which could be uncovered to make accessible a space that would be turned into a sukkah. The sukkah must be mostly open to the sky, though its top is covered with branches (sekhakh) or other means to simulate a partly open roof. It is decorated with greenery and colored fabrics. Sholem–Aleikhem is the pseudonym of perhaps the best–know Yiddish writer, Sholem Rabinovich. Having meals in the sukkah, sleeping there, and inviting guests in are important features of the seven–day holiday. Return
  4. In keeping with the Jewish calendar, the Simkhes–toyre holiday begins at dusk of the preceding day. There are two rounds of hakofes: that evening, and on the next day. I could not determine the reference to “sour wine.” Return
  5. The quote is from the biblical book of Esther, 1, 10. Return
  6. Ata horeyso loda'as is the beginning of a verse that has been incorporated into prayer: “Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightest know that the Lord, He is God; there is none else beside Him.” (Deut. 4, 35). The verse, which is linked with the reception of the Torah by the Israelites, is often sung at Simkhes–Toyre. Return
  7. It was the custom children to carry a candle stuck into an apple on top of a flag. The flags were decorated with a variety of Jewish symbols. Return
  8. The writer uses the Yiddish phrase “Not the Haggada but the dumplings,” meaning “not the actual occasion, only the pleasure.” Return
  9. Rebbitzin is an honorific for the wife of a Rabbi. Return
  10. For hasids, dance is a tool to express joy and worship; it promotes spiritual elation, and unifies the community. Return
  11. Many Jewish men (primarily hasids) wear a special belt during prayer and on religious occasions. Return
  12. The Yiddish oy! is an abbreviation of oy vey, expressing exasperation or dismay. Return
  13. In the late 19|th century, military service was made compulsory for all males at the age of 21. Return


b. “Doctor” substitutes in Zinkov –– royfes[1]

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

It is well known that studying to be a medical doctor takes years and years, and a tremendous amount of work and effort. One needs a formal education

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starting with elementary school all the way to university, then completing medical school, followed by several years interning in a hospital. Only then, after a rigorous examination, does one receive a license to practice medicine and to be officially acknowledged as a physician. However, among us in Zinkov things were much easier and simpler. The profession of doctor was hereditary.[2] The grandfather was a royfe, the father was a royfe, and, naturally, the son was also automatically a royfe. And, miracle of miracles! Not only had none of them studied at universities and medical schools; they had not even crossed the threshold of an elementary school. And yet, they became royfes, healed the townspeople of illnesses, wrote prescriptions (in Latin, of all things), and poor people believed in them and sought their help; he rich went to the official doctor. Of course, you will say, “What do you mean? How is this possible?” The answer: “As you see.”

I remember one royfe, Moyshele, whose image is now faint, like a distant dream. He was short and stout, with curly peyes[3] and a bald spot, and always had a black visored cap and thick eyeglasses. He wore snow boots, to jump over the mud puddles, and a woman's shawl wrapped around his shoulders, against the cold. This Moyshele the royfe had several sons. Of course, they all became royfes. However, I would like to linger on one of them in particular. He was called Shmuel, the son of Moyshe Royfe. He was our family royfe, who would administer smallpox vaccinations and heal croup and whooping–cough; or, at least, do his best to heal us, He pulled our teeth when the pain became too much to bear.

My tonsils were very bad; we called them “plums” (“tonsils” is the word in America). They would get inflamed and swell every winter. Shmuel (Moyshe Royfe's son) would come every day, use a small contraption that produced steam, coat my throat with iodine and glycerine, and tell me to wrap my neck in a sock covered in tallow. I really loved him, and we became good friends when I grew up.

But Shmuel was not only a royfe. He was, as they say in America, “three in one”: he was at one and the same time a royfe, a barber, and a pharmacist. He had a small pharmacy, and his wife Miriam–Freyde (Ranye's daughter) was his deputy pharmacist. When one opened the door of his house, a bell would ring. The Czar's portrait hung opposite the door. When a peasant came in, heard the bell, and saw the Czar's image,

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he would take off his cap reverently, and meekly state what he needed.

Let's pay a visit to Shmuel's barbershop on a Friday. A long rod extended outside from under the eaves, bearing a round red disc. A sign at the entrance depicted a man sitting in a chair, wrapped in a white sheet, with the barber standing behind him holding scissors. The man on the chair and the barber resembled rigid twins, both with thick stiff hair and large curled mustaches. Above them were inscriptions in Russian: “Parisian Hair Salon,” “Salon for Haircuts and Shaving,” in so many words.[4] Now, let's go in and see what's happening inside the “Salon.” A few people are sitting and waiting, but Shmuel isn't in yet. Influenza is spreading in the town, and Shmuel can't leave his patients. Meanwhile, a helper is there, doing his best. I think it was either Mordkhe Buke's son or Shmuel Stoler's son. Shmuel soon rushes in, breathless. He quickly empties out his pockets, producing a heap of ten–kopek and forty–groschen coins, and hands them over to his wife Miriam.[5] In addition to us, a peasant man and woman are waiting for him. He takes them into the kitchen, quickly diagnoses their problem, and before I know it the woman's back is covered with a forest of cupping glasses, and the man has sets of leeches on his neck, happily sucking his blood. Once he has finished his medical work, he starts shaving and cutting hair, talking incessantly and telling various tales. Whenever too much soap has accumulated on the razor, he wipes it off with a finger and tosses it at the nearby wall. The soap collected on the wall dries out and looks like a three–dimensional geographical map of the Asian Himalayas.

Meanwhile, Shmuel remembers that he needs to make up a prescription for a sick patient. As he is very busy with hair–cutting and shaving, he calls in to the kitchen, where his helper is standing at the oven, all sweaty, and tells her the following: “Miriam, my dear, please make up this mixture,” and starts instructing her as to what and how much, so that everyone can hear him and be impressed. Everything is in Latin, such as “acidum salicylicum, acidum censaicum,” or something else that sounds very mysterious and medically professional.[6] When a medical prescription is made up and a certain amount of water is called for, distilled water is used. This is

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water produced by water vapor that has been cooled and condensed back into liquid. The Latin term is aqua distillate. But Shmuel doesn't believe in such foolishness as distilled water. He tells Miriam, “Have you weighed everything? Now mix it and add six ounces of ‘aqua dishkalis’.” In simple Yiddish, this means “water from the basin.”[7]

I remember Shmuel best of all from the time when a terrible epidemic of typhus raged in Zinkov, in 1919. Hundreds of lives were lost. My father (may he rest in peace) died then, and I myself hovered between life and death for five weeks; miraculously, I survived. Shmuel watched over me the whole time, like a devoted brother. The town's young folks organized a Linas–tzedek association of their own, and each of us stayed overnight with a sick person at least twice a week. There were homes in which the entire family was sick in bed, and there was no one to even offer them a glass of water. Shmuel worked tirelessly, day and night, running from one house to another, and doing everything he could. During this period, he did not eat regularly or sleep. Pale and exhausted, he could barely stand. To this day, I really cannot understand how he himself avoided this terrible disease, unless it was God himself who watched over him.

This is how Shmuel (son of Moyshele Royfe), in his own way, served the poor population of our home town – a town that is no more.

We honor your memory, Shmuel Royfe!


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Hebraic term royfe is roughly equal to a barber–surgeon: someone who could perform surgical procedures including bloodletting, cupping therapy, teeth–pulling, and bone–setting. Return
  2. “Hereditary” is emphasized in the original. Return
  3. Many observant Jews do not shave the sides of their head but grow sidelocks, following the Biblical injunction (Lev. 9, 27). Return
  4. Both inscriptions are presented in Yiddish transliteration, followed by a translation. Return
  5. A kopek was a coin, of the smallest denomination, of a number of countries in eastern Europe, closely associated with Russia. A groschen is a small German silver coin, of very small denomination. Both were in wide circulation in the region at this time. Return
  6. “Acidum salicylicum” is salicylic acid. Censaicum may be an invented word meant to sound Latin–like. Return
  7. The Yiddish word for “water basin” is dayzhe; the speaker is apparently trying to make it sound more like Latin. Return


c. Judges in Zinkov

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

How a Christian Justice of the Peace made efforts to beautify and illuminate our town, and the end result of these efforts.

Our Zinkov had a peace court, and, of course, a justice of the peace as well. This judge was the president of the town (“head of the city”), though no one had asked us whether we wanted him.[1] The judge was a quiet, calm person, who evoked respect and politeness. Well, this judge/“city–head” thought up a way to make our town more respectable. We don't know whether he did this for our sake or for his own. Of course, he lost nothing by this deal. He approached a higher authority, and received a certain sum of money for the purpose of improving the appearance of our Zinkov. He wanted to pave the entire length of our main street, which ran from “city hall”

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to the bustling area near Rabbi Pinchesl's courtyard. He therefore brought over a whole group of laborers who were experts at this type of work from somewhere in the depths of Russia,. Stones were brought from the mountains in the vicinity, and sand was quarried from the area next to the Jewish cemetery. Unfortunately, a disaster occurred in the course of this work: Yisro'el Sichkarnik, a native of Zinkov, was buried alive under a hill of sand that broke down and covered him.

For us children, the best entertainment was to watch the construction and paving work. When our town president had finished dealing with the paved road, he gave instructions to plant trees on either side. He had the trees surrounded with wooden guard structure, to prevent damage from the town's goats and children. Next, he decided to make a “park” for us. Menashe Skulnik would have said of such a park, “Huh, you call this a park?”[2] It was actually more like a large garden planted on a vacant lot that stretched along the houses of Avrom Paripker, Itzik Khazn, Itzi Tayman, and Dudi Melamed, not far from Avstaryanik's house and the pharmacy. The park was not like a city park, where one could take walks and sit under shade trees. Our park was surrounded by a fence and had a gate that was always locked. In short, it was a park good only to look at, a decoration for the town.

When he was done with the park, he decided to do something about the dark nights when you could barely make out your own hand, especially during the muddy periods in the fall and before Peysekh.[3] He ordered large kerosene lamps, and had very tall poles installed in the four main points of the town. The lamps were set on the top of these poles; due to their great height, the lamps illuminated the sky rather than the town. I will always remember the wonder and pleasure of all the townspeople, myself included, the first time we saw the dazzling light cast by the lamps before they were hoisted to the tops of the poles. I doubt if any world's fair today could include objects as wondrous–looking as those lamps.

Unfortunately, the efforts of this industrious judge did not yield the hoped–for results. Within less than a year, the paved

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road developed deep pits that filled with mud and water, and interfered with human and wheeled traffic more than the unpaved road would have. The large volumes of water that flowed during snowmelt in spring simply undermined and swept away the sand, and the pavement that had inspired so much hope –and had cost so much money – failed completely. We did not get much pleasure out of the trees that had been planted, either. The poor removed away the wooden guard structures around the trees and used them to warm their cold, bare homes and their frozen limbs. The goats and the children finished off the job. During the war, no one cared for the park and everything withered away and shriveled away. The only relics of the judge's innovations were the lamps; but they, too, often hung there unlit, due to a shortage of kerosene. Besides, there was no one to take care of them.

So ended the efforts of our Christian judge to adorn the Jewish town. His dream, too, fell victim to war, revolution, and anarchy.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The term “head of the city” appears in transliteration from Russian. Return
  2. Menashe Skulnik (1890–1970) was a popular American Jewish actor, primarily known for his roles in Yiddish theater in New York City. Return
  3. Peysekh occurs in the spring. Return


d. Our Zinkov melameds

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

As I never studied with a Talmud melamed, I will linger only on three melameds of young children.[1] These three were Sani the melamed, Dovid the melamed, and Gedalya–Hirsh.

At that time, Sani was already a progressive. He was not at all the type of melamed that our great artist Sholem–Aleichem describes so richly in his stories about children. It is rare that children love their rebbe; yet we did love our rebbe Sani.[2] He wasn't too strict with us, didn't terrorize us, and rarely used the rod. We respected him, carried out his instructions, and could learn more than children in other kheyders. For us, kheyder was not a hardship, as it was considered to be in those years. Our rebbitzin Rivka was kind–hearted and a good housewife. She kept her home and the kheyder clean and neat.[3] And we never heard any arguments between the rebbe and the rebbitzin.

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Rebbe Sani never told us any preposterous tales, nothing about demons and ghosts, and never frightened us with descriptions of hell and beatings with flaming whips for sins, lies, and other such transgressions – as other melameds did as a matter of course. I believe Sani was the only melamed who went to people's homes and taught young girls who were already ashamed to go to kheyder.[4] He even taught modern Hebrew to those who insisted. But Sani never really loved this job. First of all, he made very little money. Second, it was physically difficult for him, as he suffered from asthma; we called it adushleyeve.[5] Every now and then he would have a coughing fit and could not catch his breath. Finally, he decided to close his kheyder and go off to America. This meant that he would first go himself, and later bring his family over: his wife, his oldest son Itzi and second son Nachmen, and the youngest child and only daughter, Frumele. I had the rare privilege of being allowed by the rebbitzin to rock the baby's cradle.

The news that Rebbe Sani was leaving and going away to America led to much concern and displeasure among the pupils, especially as we knew, of course, that we would be handed over to the melamed Dovid. He was the complete opposite of Sani, with all the features found in Sholem–Aleichem's collection of melamdim. He was unusually large and stout, with a huge, wildly overgrown beard; and was confrontational. The lash never left his hand, and he would strike out right and left, whether justified or not. He often clashed with his wife, and the children had to hear all the mutual scolding and cursing, in murderous anger. You can imagine how our spirits sank when we realized what was in store for us. But no one dared to complain, because we had to obey the unwritten law that there was no tattling about kheyder. So we silently bore the heavy burden, suffering, and longing for our good rebbe Sani and his kheyder. Once, when the rebbe wasn't in the room, two pupils had a fight. In the midst of this uproar, the rebbe unexpectedly returned. He flew into a murderous rage and started lashing out blindly at all the pupils. I was small and quiet; my chin barely reached the table. I clamped my tongue between my teeth in fright.

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When the rebbe struck my head from behind, my teeth sank deep into my tongue, and the blood started pouring. In sheer terror and pain, I let out a scream, broke out in tears, and fled home. After this incident, I could no longer be silent; I poured out my bitter heart to my parents and told them what a hellish place the kheyder was, probably exaggerating quite a bit. From then on, there was no more kheyder and no more Dovid the melamed. A while later the good news came that our rebbe Sani was returning. Because of his poor health, he hadn't been allowed into America. I now understand very well how disappointed, embittered, and disheartened Sani must have been then, and how hard it must have been for him to return to being a melamed, an occupation he had hoped to leave. But we children never fully grasped such things. We felt fortunate and happy. Each of us was overjoyed to return to our beloved melamed and his kheyder.

Let us now turn to our third melamed, Gedalya–Hersh. Because he lived not far from us, I had the opportunity to get to know him well; besides, for a while his son, Moyshe, and I were friends. Gedalya–Hersh was completely different from the other two melameds, Sani and Dovid. He was easy–going, calm, and not too worried about poverty, health, or similar topics, which so affected Sani. Neither did he have the sullen and malicious disposition that led to Dovid's bad reputation. He was not highly regarded as a melamed. His pupils did not have to work hard. Besides, he was not overly observant, and not a fanatic. Who would have believed that a melamed of that period would have a “hobby!”[6] Gedalya–Hersh's “hobby” was pigeons; yes, pigeons.[7] He loved pigeons with a passion, and constructed an entire pigeon–house in the attic of his house. The pigeons would fly in and out freely through small windows that he installed; and, knock on wood, they increased and multiplied. No one was happier than Gedalya–Hersh when he stood on a summer's day without a kapote, dressed only in an undershirt and the tallis–kotn, his head covered by a kippah.[8] Holding a stick, he would guide his pigeons as they flew calmly around him, wings fluttering, rising and sinking, finally covering their master's roof. Apparently, the birds were also greatly enjoying this game.

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Apparently, people said that he spent more time with his birds than with his pupils – may it be no disrespect to him and may he forgive me…


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Talmud was studied by older boys, who started between the ages of 8–10. Return
  2. Rebbe is an honorific for a melamed. Return
  3. The kheyder was usually housed in the home of the rebbe and his wife, who was addressed and referred to as rebbitzin. Return
  4. Girls did not usually attend kheyder; the reference to “already” is not clear. Return
  5. This is probably a variant of a Russian term for asthma. Return
  6. The English word “hobby” is presented, here and elsewhere, in Yiddish transliteration. Return
  7. Some Eastern European Jews associated pigeon–raising with non–Jewish boys, pejoratively. Return
  8. A kapote is a long coat formerly worn by male Jews of eastern Europe and now worn chiefly by very Orthodox or Hasidic Jews. The tallis–kotn is a fringed garment traditionally worn by Jewish males either over or under one's clothing. Return


e. The Zinkov “photographer”

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

He was called “Shiye fotografshtchik,” or Shiye (Sender's son); he was my father's younger brother, which made him my uncle. I loved this uncle very deeply, really idolizing him. After I describe him in more detail, you will better understand how I developed such love for my uncle Shiye, and my admiration for his personality. You will be able to visualize the enormous, unbelievable talents that were lost in our small, impoverished towns.

 

Zin149.jpg
Yehoshua (Sender's son),
may his memory be for a blessing
(“the photographer”)

 

He started out as a wood–turner, making wooden legs for furniture–makers to use in tables, chairs, sets of shelves, etc. He also made curtain rods for windows and door, for hanging drapes and curtains. Soon, he became a wood–carver, using different types of chisels and other tools to carve beautiful figures, covered in gold; these were placed on top of the orn–koydesh in almost all the bes–medresh institutions as well as in the synagogues around Zinkov.[1] He also carved decorations for furniture. Everything he made was a real work of art. However, despite all this, Shiye did not lose his desire to do new things; he wasn't interested in making money as much as satisfying his need for artistic realization. We don't know how and where Shiye became interested in photography, and how he started to learn this new profession. The Zinkov pharmacist of the time knew a bit about photography

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and began practicing it to fill his spare time; and he certainly had enough time. As Uncle Shiye was a frequent visitor at the pharmacist's, he soon took up the idea of photography. Thanks to his gift of artistic intuition and talent, he gradually refined and developed his own photography, until he was so good at it that it became his new main occupation – though he occasionally still did wood–turning and carving. He used the one hundred rubles that he had received as a dowry to buy the basic equipment for his photographic work. As his little home was crowded, he built a shelf in the smaller room for all the precious photographic instruments. Under the shelf, he created a small, dark room that every photographer needs, a “camera obscura.”[2] I often stood at his side in this small, dark, stuffy “holy of holies” in the magical ruddy light that came from a red–paned lantern; trembling, I would follow the wonder of his work to which he dedicated so much enthusiasm and talent, as he did to all his artistic projects. Once, when Shiye stood on top of a chair to retrieve something from the shelf, the chair broke. He caught the side of the shelf, and boom! He fell, pulling down all his precious equipment with him. Most of it became useless. This was a terrible catastrophe for Uncle Shiye. However, he did not give up. Slowly, bit by bit, he reassembled the materials and instruments he needed, and continued to be called “Shiye the Photographer” to the day I left Zinkov, the last time I saw him.

But this was not the last of his boundless, incredible gifts. Uncle Shiye could make models of beautiful fruit, and statuettes out of a kind of grayish clay, now called “ceramic.” He would also make beautiful objects out of gypsum, as well as portraits of people using a regular soft pencil; these likenesses were life–like. There was a fence behind his small, crowded house. Uncle Shiye himself built a kind of large glassed–in room, which he called “the gallery.” He also painted a large cloth with trees, architectural columns, terraces, and flowers, and used it as a backdrop when photographing people.

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When the war devolved into conditions of murder, rape, hunger, and total anarchy, and no one was interested in being photographed –and besides, the necessary materials were not available–Uncle Shiye persevered. He used his gift for inventiveness and made soap, cut tobacco, and developed a method for softening the raw leather that the tanners of Zinkov were making at the time. He also found a medical book somewhere and thought of becoming an unofficial medical practitioner; but he never did do that. He also built a secret hideawaying place in his small house, which saved our lives more than once.

I don't remember under which regime it was. But it so happened that the nightmare had eased a bit, and Jews could breathe a bit more deeply. Uncle Shiye pulled strings so that he wouldn't have to serve in the army and would become a militiaman instead. I will never forget the sight: they slung a sword over his creased, everyday clothes, and he would patrol the market. Jews would gaze at the sight happily and smile, as if to say, “Look at who's keeping law and order and who's guarding our lives and property.” I have never seen a more comical and pathetic sight since.

Though his Jewish and general education was extremely limited, he read a great deal of Jewish history, and understood politics well. He was a wonderful storyteller, recounting things he had heard or read about in books; I gulped down every word. When news came that Jews were settling in the Kherson province in order to be farmers, Uncle Shiye was the first to leave his home with all his occupations and “hobbies” with his family to become a farmer.[3] Regrettably, nothing came of this farming effort; and his wife also died there, unfortunately. Disappointed, depressed, and sick at heart, he returned home and had to start over again. Even his death at the hands of the Nazi murderers was more dramatic and tragic than that of other people. When the brown Hitlerite murderers drove together all the Jews of Zinkov, and everyone knew well that they were going to the slaughter, Shiye and his son still had enough courage to try and escape.[4] Sadly, they did not succeed, and were shot

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on the spot. This is what the grandson of Dadi (the butcher's son) or Dadi of Moldava recounted; he has miraculously survived and is now living in Tel–Aviv.

This is the history of Shiye “the Photographer,” the remarkable man whose roots in Zinkov went back dozens of generations, who never set eyes on the inside of a school (except for kheyder). Though he had the qualities of a true genius, he barely managed to make a living at several occupations, and no one acknowledged his unusual gifts. On the contrary: he was considered an odd person, a kind of eccentric. It is difficult to imagine what Uncle Shiye would have become, had he been able to study and utilize his phenomenal abilities; what a great and gifted artist he would have been… Beloved Uncle Shiye, your memory is so dear and holy to me! I will not forget you until my last breath. My heart will bleed each time I think of you and remember your bitter destiny and your horrible, tragic end.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The decorations referred to would most likely be depictions of animals such as lions, doves, etc., due to the religious injunctions against portraying human figures. The gold is probably gold–colored paint. The orn–koydesh is the cabinet in a synagogue for the Torah scrolls (“holy ark”). Return
  2. A camera obscura device consists of a box, tent, or room with a small hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where the scene is reproduced, inverted, (thus upside–down) and reversed (left to right), but with color and perspective preserved. However, the writer seems to be referring to a darkroom for the development of photographic negatives. Return
  3. In the 19th century, the Cherson Province was settled by Jews who left the northwestern provinces of the Pale of Settlement for the southern provinces which were developing in this period. The English “hobbies” is transliterated in Yiddish. Return
  4. “Brown Hitlerite murderers” would seem to indicate the participation of Nazi Stormtroopers (S.A.), who wore brown uniforms and were often called “Brownshirts,” but I was unable to find any reference to their participation in the murder of the Jews of Zinkov. Return


f. The Two Daughters of the Melameds Who Lost Their Way

by Moyshe Garber

Translated by Yael Chaver

The structure of human memory and the thought apparatus – the brain–is so remarkable, mysterious, and complicated! I need only to take out that deeply buried box in my mind, which holds the treasure of memories of my distant childhood and youth, over 60 years ago, and I find an inexhaustible wellspring. Each event, each place, each person, reappear as fresh, as alive, and as clear as though it was only yesterday.

I have already mentioned how the first young revolutionary shoots appeared; how organizers and activists came to our town from the larger cities around us, how they roused the workers from their lethargy, and how they opened up the minds, hearts, and eyes of the enslaved laborers. The following event happened during one of the secret meetings: The Secret Gatherings, as we called them, took place mostly in the fields, about a verst away from town, in the “deep valley.” I don't really know the reason for this name, as

[Page 153]

it was not deep at all. Yet it was a valley. A small narrow area was created at the junction of two sloping fields; we called that “the deep valley.” The peasants did not cultivate that bit of land, because it was often flooded by rainwater and snowmelt. However, in summer, when the water dried out, the earth would be covered with tall, aromatic grass, and colorful wildflowers. Guarded on both sides by the high–lying fields and the tall vegetation, it was concealed from the police's “good eye” and suitable for secret gatherings.[1]

One Saturday evening after the traditional stroll, the crowd of young folks gathered there to hear a newly arrived activist. The summer day had been hot. The valley air was cool and a light breeze caressed us. The young people were in a good mood; they sang under their breath, and did not feel like going home. However, two women in the group were milliners, daughters of Leybl melamed and Yechiel melamed. They were afraid of their parents' reactions if they came home late, and decided to go back to town on their own. A narrow path led from the valley through the grass to the main road, at the black cross.[2] The road was split at that point; the left–hand road led to our town, and the right–hand road led toward Derazhnia and the train station, to the town of Michalpole and the peasant village of Petrashie.[3]

The gathering finally ended, and everyone went back to their home in town. Very early Sunday morning, we heard a buzzing, like bees. I looked out of the window that faced the field, and saw the entire area full of people. I quickly got dressed and went to see what was going on. Very soon, I heard the terrible news: the two women had not come home the previous night, and no one knew what had become of them. It was as if the sea had swallowed them up. The mothers were wailing, tearing their hair, wringing their hands, and already mourning the untimely death of their unfortunate children, who had either been dismembered by wolves or murdered by highway robbers. Simultaneously, they were cursing the Bundists, who had led their children astray. The afflicted fathers were silent, but they were miserable and their faces were pale and dejected.

[Page 154]

Almost the entire population of the town had gathered in the field and began looking and rummaging through every nook and cranny. Suddenly, they noticed, in the distance on the Petrashie road, a tiny dot that was moving ever closer. It soon became clear that this was a horse and cart, with what seemed to be people sitting on it. All those assembled, old and young, with the weeping parents at their head, set out to greet the cart. And who was sitting there if not both our lost girls? They were pale and embarrassed, their eyes downcast.

It took some time for the townspeople to calm down. Then, the girls who had been lost and undergone so much suffering and anguish before they were found, started to tell the following tale: By the time they arrived at the black cross, it was pitch dark. Instead of turning left to the town, they started walking right, to the village. By the time they noticed that the way was taking too long, it was too late to turn back. So they kept walking, eventually came to the village, and stopped at the first peasant hut they saw. Frightened, their hearts trembling, they knocked on the window. After a while, the peasant who lived there appeared at the window; in tears, they told him what had happened. He took them to a Jewish house in the village.[4] He knocked at the door and identified himself. A light came on. The girls were taken inside the house. They repeated the series of events, and asked to be taken home; they were calmed down and given some food, but the householder was reluctant to drive at night. The girls spent the night sitting up (they were unable to sleep in this situation); early in the morning, the Jew harnessed his horse and brought the two melameds' daughters to town. This is how the two girls made a small mistake and caused a commotion in our quiet town as well as frightening their parents out of their wits.

You may be sure that the girls were no longer allowed to attend the “secret gatherings.” Their parents watched them carefully, and it was a topic of conversation in Zinkov for a long time. The wonderful tale was told and retold, with a slight smirk, as if to say, “After all, what can you expect of the daughters of melameds!”


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The writer uses the Yiddish euphemism “good eye” for “evil eye,” as a way of avoiding the attention of any evil power. Return
  2. Tall crosses were often set up at road intersections. Return
  3. I could not identify this village. Return
  4. Rural Jews were farmers, forest workers, tavern owners or mill leasers, and often served as managers of leased estates. Because of their distance from an organized Jewish community, town Jews often considered them uncultivated and coarse. Return

 

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