Chanukah in Leżajsk, Poland

 

The following memory of Chanukah, written by Yehoshua Rotman and translated by Jerrold Landau, is included in the Yizkor book: Memorial Book of the Martyrs of Lezajsk who Perished in the Holocaust  (Leżajsk, Poland).

https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Lezajsk/Lezajsk.html

Chanukah

Many Chanukah Menorahs of various types were displayed in the windows. Children accompanied their parents to purchase candles, and they chose the type that they prefer. There was no house that did not have a Chanukah Menorah burning. The Menorahs were all different and of various forms; they were heirlooms passed on from father to son to grandchild.

The gentiles knew the time of the festival, and they came to town in the days prior to the festival with flax wicks and flasks of oil for sale.

Fathers would stand and unwind the wicks from the flax bundles. At the time of candle lighting they would recite the benediction with enthusiasm, as well as chapters of Psalms, and particularly they would sing the “Maoz Tzur” hymn which was the height of the celebration.

This was a very joyous holiday for the children. The lessons stopped at the eve of the festival. They were free from Cheder, and they went together with their parents to the synagogues, frolicked about and enjoyed the miracle of the Maccabees in their own way. The first candle in the great synagogue glowed from the burnished brass candelabra and spread the light of joy to the children who were gathered around its base. Reb Yosef the shammas sung the benedictions with his sweet voice. It was pleasant to hear, and if the day was snowy, the festivities would be doubled. The children would throw snowballs at each other during the time of candle lighting.

In the house, everyone was patient until the end of the ceremony, at which time they would receive their Chanukah money (Gelt), spread out on the floor and to spin their homemade tops (Dreidels) made of wood or lead. The older children would wander around the women’s gallery and they would play cards. On Chanukah it was permissible to play cards. Outside it was frozen and icy, and inside the house there was warmth of the soul. The home was pleasant on Chanukah nights, which left impressions of light and pleasantness for many days

On the next day, they slaughtered geese, and prepared fat for the whole year. The smell of the fat was strong. Granite bells were displayed from every Jewish window and door. On the long nights of Kislev, women sat around with their heads covered with large kerchiefs, and softened feathers to make down for the pillows of the girls about to be married, so that they should remember their mothers as they put their heads down on their warm, soft pillow. The house was white from the flying feathers, and the street from the snow and ice; this was a white world in the darkness of the exile.

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