Reb Yoyel the Shoemaker and his wife Khasiye
Rebe Yoyel and Khasiye were very treasured and loved in the shtetl. Both were really an institution for social and in the fullest sense of the word.
They lived by the synagogue courtyard in a little ben house, which glowed of cleanliness.
Reb Yoyel did a little work with shoes, from which he barelyh meted out some earnings. Although they were only two people (with no children), they lived in poverty. In order to perform a mitzvah [according to Jewish tradition, a commandment prescribed by God], they rented out their house for Reb Berkey Yoshes kheyder. The most honred spot in the house, howver, was occupied by a small cabinet with glass windowed doors on top. AThere were various medical instruments in the cabinet; two thermometers, some tens of glass and rubber cups for bloodletting, one hot water bottle, one ice bag and of course, one enema syringe.
This was a tremendous property which the shtetl entrusted to their hands.
When someone used to (heaven preserve us) become ill with a cold, Moniya the barber-surgeon would pronounce the diagnosis "bedridden." He would prescribe castor oil and, whether it was necessary or not cupping and an enema.
One wold come to Khasiye with colladeral, sometimes a silver spoon, a cup or anything that had greater value than the cups. And both of them, by day
There was a hospital. Reb Mendl Kapelovitsh was the head of the institution (who does not remember Moshke Mendls store in the market?).
Reb Mendl Kapelovitsh used to give Yoyels Khasiye [meaning Yoyels wife Khasiye] sugar, she would russle up a few groshn [Polish coins], buy raspberries and cherries, and from them she would make preserves (jam) and give it out to those who were ill, who had no opportunity to enjoy luxury - - and so, it was said about supporting the souls of the inferm (so it was said in the shtetl): a bit of raspberries for ones fever, or - - a bit of tea to make the tea sweeter.
Reb Yoyel used to concern himself with making sure that the inferm did not spend the nights alone, in case help was needed, or if the person did not feel well, or if one needed to perform cupping (Khasiye did this as well).
Reb Yoyel used to make sure that the Mishmeres-Khoylim [lit. protector/guard of the ill] would send a guard, a young girl or boy (this was also decided thoughtfully ). More than once Reb Yoyel would act as the controller making certain that the guard had come. Woe unto him who did not fulfill his duty. But usually the young came, not in order to "earn" a mitzvah [following the Jewish tradition that one should "earn" credits of prescribed mitzvahs], but sometimes a romance would grow out of such situations, or even a heated love might blaze up.
Khasiye, when she was younger and stronger, used to bake for weddings and other occasions and thus, add to their earnings. If it was a poor bride and groom, she used to bake as a mitzvah, to help the young couple.
They made due with their little bit, were happy with their piece. And so, they were able to save groshn by groshn and present a gift of a seyfer-toyre [Torah scroll] to the Lubavitsh synagogue.
Reb Yoyel used to always pray with the first minyen [prescribed group of ten men required by Jewish law to gather for prayer several times per day]. After prayers he would grab and usher out his only goat to pasture first. Clowns in the shtetl used to say: "A little man driving a big goat." When the goat was full then Reb Yoyel would go eat breakfast. Somebody always came before him. Even the goat. That was his defining characteristic.
This is how I recall Reb Yoyel and Khasiye, the older people of Dokshitz I encountered. We, who were children then, are now already grandfathers and grandmothers in Israel.
Where were they from? Where did they spend their childhood years, their youth? No one I asked knew the answer. They were materially poor, yet spiritually rich, full of purport, love and joy. This is remembered by all and they recall it with great respect. May their memories be blessed.
Reb Mendl the Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer]
I remember Reb Mendl the shoykhet - - a tall man with a full beard, playful intelligent eyes, and always a pinch on the the cheek of every child he encountered. He was a friend of children.
On the eve of Yom Kippur he used to slaughter the geese for kapores [tradition of swinging a fowl around, overhead to rid oneself of ones sins before attoning in the [tradition of swinging a fowl around, overhead to rid oneself of ones sins before attoning in the Yom Kippur service] so that, heaven forbid, no goose fat would be missing come Chanukah. When a boy was born in the shtetl Reb Mendl was the moyel [performer of ritual circumsisions]. On the day of a bris [ritutual circumcision] we children would wait for him as if for the Messiah.
During a celebration in the shtetl Reb Mendl would always remember us, the children, fully stuffing his pockets with lekekh [gingerbread/cake or candies], teyglekh [round dough-pellets with sweet coating], and tarts (it wasnt the cleanest practice but it certainly tasted like the Garden of Eden). He used to come to school, to class. It was all joy and happiness. What teachers? What lessons? We encircled him, each one stretching out their little hand. And he - - in the middle, amongst all of the lively group, a tall smiling guy. It wasnt so simple though to receive a snack: The boys had to show that they were wearing their arba-knafos [ritual four cornered garment] and the girls had to show that they knew how to recite the blessing over the Sabbath candles.
Their was more than one instance when a young boy had forgotten to put on his arba-knafos on that very day and he would run home like a wounded rabbit and then return breathless to receie his share.
I remember: One time, in the middle of our teacher, Yekhezkel Tomarkins, class, while I was reciting the poem, "Hakoysel-Hamaaravi" [The Western Wall], the door opened suddenly and Reb Mendl entered with full pockets. The teacher retreated to a corner, he had no control over us at this point.
Reb Mendl was a good religious man. Poor people used to come to the shtetl from various places. They had a place to stay the night at Reb Mendls. It happened occassionally that in the morning after their departure something would be missing from his home. But this did not deter him from giving a place to sleep a second, third or tenth time. He did not take such instances to heart. The key for him was to fulfill the mitzveh of hakhnoses-orkhim [the commandment of receiving guests].
Teachers and Kheyders
One of our older people who remembers his kheyder years from tens of years ago told me about our teachers and kheyders. He asked me not to mention his name. It didnt seem appropriate. Today he is a respected man, a grandfather, it isnt appropriate that his grandchildren should know that he was such a prankster that the teachers were glad when he was taken from them.
My first teacher was Reb Velvl. I studied with him for some time. In Velvls kheyder there were some 20 students of various ages to whom he taught Bible and over whom he maintained discipline. A teacher would think that I wasnt with him for very long. But for a rowdy kid like me it was a long time.
I was taken from Velvl to my next teacher, Reb Berke Yoshe. That teacher had his own unique pedagogical method of teaching. Every Tuesday was the most difficult day - - exams. Everything that had been learned in the entire week, one had to know by heart on Tuesday. Whoever forgot a passage had his memory aided by the whip. More than one black-and-blue mark remained from one Tuesday to the next. Berke Yoshe did not get much pleasure from me. And me from him - - also not.
They tried a third teacher, perhaps it would be a lucky match. My third teacher was Reb Binyomin Meyer Tomarkin. There were other teachers with whom I studied: Reb Shloyme Motles, Reb Yisroel, Berl Mordkhe, Berl Kurokin.
At Berl Kurokins children from wealthy and nobly pedigreed [pedigree is literal translation of yikhes. The implication is that the family is one with learned members.] families studied. At his kheyder though, the whip was even nobler When we couldnt take the lashings anymore and the rear of getting a beating was great, we would stay for long hours in the toilet. We were certain that there we could wait out the wrath.
The nicest and best day of kheyder was the first day. Candies would fall on our childish heads. The older children would say that angels from heaven were throwing sweet things upon us.
But life in the kheyder was not really so sweet. Sitting from early until late in the evening on a hard bench, while the sun shined so nicely outside, repeating together aloud after the Rebbi read passages which we could barely understand. More than once is happened that I could not repeat with everyone because my mind was elsewhere. A pinch from the Rebbi would help bring me back to reality.
In the winter evenings we would run home quickly. A lantern in hand lighted the way. We would arrive to our good mothers half frozen.
That is how once upon a time we studied Toyre [Torah/Bible], which is, as is known, the best skhoyre [merchandise. From a well known expression that rhymes in Yiddish.]
Holidays in the Shtetl
Every yontef [holiday] has its religious content, symbols and specific foods.
For Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year], Yom Kippur and Succos they used to prepare round farfelekh [a kind of pasta] made of eggs and flour to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year.
Rosh Hashanah we used to eat more sweets. Apples dipped in honey, for a sweet year.
Shehekhiyanu [the prayer said for something new thanking God for "sustaining" one to realize the moment/event] was said over a piece of sweet watermellon. It wasnt very cheap, but whoevers pocket was a little deeper would buy a bit of grapes or dates, the fruits of the Land of Israel.
Baked goods fror Rosh Hashanah were not just the usual. Different challas were baked for the Sabbath, like a ladder, so that all of the prayers would be able to climb up to the heavens
For us children Rosh Hashanah left beautiful memories. First of all - - the new clothes and shoes. Dressed up in the new outfits we used to go to hear the shoyfer [the traditional rams horn blown on the Jewish high holidays] blown. In the synagogue courtyard groups of young boys stood who used to "throw eyes" at us [slang, i.e., "check us out"], and we, the young girls would blush and, with hearts racing, duck into the womens gallery of the synagogue.
Before the shoyfer blowing "lamenatzeyakh" was said seven times. Whoever came early to say the "lamenatzeyakh" came out quite victoriously. We used to really pay attention to one another for frear that someone might omit a word or sentence. A holiday in which such a girl was caught in such a transgression was a marred holiday.
In the Lubavitsch synagogue Reb Shmuel Moyshe Yishayes blew the shoyfer. I remember it as if it were today, waiting with a lack of patience for that oment when he used to blow the shoyfer. I can still hear his tkiya gdoyla [one of the requisite soundings of the shofar on the high holidays, a very long steady note] today. He used to get such clear pure notes out of that shoyfer, it would catch ones heart in synagogue and it was so quiet. Therefore I used to say the lamenatzeyakh to the very end, or sometimes not even be able to finish.
The second day of holiday, after supper and the sweet midday nap, we used to go for a visit. The aunts and uncles would meet the children for a simple strong glass of tea with sweet flat cakes and preserves. In the evening, the shtetl would go out
for a walk on the Glubock, Barisof and Poletsk streets. When one would tire, one would sit to rest on a little bench, observing and chatting with those who were strolling.
The shtetl was so yontefdik [lit. holiday-like, full of the holiday spirit], so yiddishlekh [full of Jewish spirit]!
With the nearing of Yom Kippur the spirit would become gloomy, fearful. The Days of Awe. On the eve of Yom Kippur the very religious would go to the cold Chabbad [a "sect" of Hassidic Jews] synagogue where, for a few groshn the sexton would give a couple of lashes with the belt of his robe so people could atone for their sins.
My grandfather, Reb Yisro'el Tzoduk had many grandchildren. It was our family custom on the eve. of Yom Kippur for the grandchildren to go to our grandfather to be blessed. This was the nicest moment for me. I loved my grandfather very much. When he placed his hands on my little child head I wanted to stay like that forever with my grandfather. He would say the blessing in a crying voice, which I didn't understand and later understood: "May you hear your father and mother."
When I was in Hachshara [training and immigration to Israel in a rural development movement] preparing to immigrate to Israel, I was the only grown grandchild who used to go to my grandfather and ask: Grandfather, would you bless me? Then I cried together with him. Writing these words I see him and hear many of his warm blessings.
The fear of the Day of Judgement extended itself to some tens of Christians as well. They used to tell that they had seen a "khapon" (ghost) [see author's explanation further] with their own eyes, which drowned a Jew in the well. And every year the same Jew was drowned. Why a "khapon"? On the eve of Yom Kippur a Jewish woman told her son to go grab [khap] the white hen to use for shlogn kappores [pre-Yom Kippur atonement ceremony], ("khap im on!" ["grab hold of it!"]). A non-Jew must have heard this as if she were shouting "khapn." And so, he thought that "khapon" meant ghost. And Dokshitz Christians believed that on the eve of Yom Kippur Dokshitz is visited by the "khapon."
It was nice when after ne'ilah [the last prayer recited on Yom Kippur] one would walk home with a kindled lamp in hand, so as to assure a bright year.
After the Yom Kippur fast the most religious Jews would pound the first stick of the sukkeh [tabernacle erected in celebration of the holiday Sukkoth, the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles, in which meals are eaten during the holiday] into the ground.
Sukkos was a joyous holiday. Especially the eve. of Sukkos when people would bring the skhakh [branches used for covering the roof of a sukkeh]. People used to build sukkehs attached to a wall so that a window of the house looked into the sukkeh, so stuff could be passed through the window into the sukkeh. Neighbors in one courtyard built a shared sukkeh. The wealthy built their sukkeh on the veranda, but they had to lift the roof and cover it with skhakh. But I think that the joy in building the sukkeh was much greater for the children whose parents did not have verandas.
The most joyous was Simkhas Toyre [Jewish festival celebrating the completion of the yearly cycle of reading of the Torah in synagogue]. The children received flags with various pictures on them, such as: Moses, or the Holy Ark with the doors opening. (That was a very precious flag.) On the tip of the flag we would put a potato or an apple and in that - - a candle. For Simkhas Toyra all went to the hakofes [perambulations with the Torah scroll] in the synagogue. Little children were carried. The bigger children pushed to get a chance to kiss the decorative mantle of the Torah scroll.
But the adults, especially the Hassidim, were completely out of their minds at Simkhas Toyre performing tricks. There were Jewish revelers in Dokshitz who, on that day, forgot all the years' concerns about finances. All of the knots left their faces, their eyes were bright, and there was joy and merriment. Hassidic melodies, dances, a good glass of spirits - - were not lacking on that day. Even people who were respected middle class citizens during the year allowed themselves certain wiles on that day.
The Hassidim used to go from one to the other. Taking a drink in one place, a bite to eat in another, moving to a third place and partaking in festival feasts.
Reb Meyir Mendl's goblets of liquor resulted in a joyous Hassidic melody warming the blood and people taken up with dancing on the tables until the windows rattled. At the end they would put Reb Meyir Mendl out on the floor and measure him with an arshin to see if he shrunk at all that year.
Every year they would measure him. He was the tallest and the skinniest guy in Dokshitz, full of confidence, also money (a soap maker?) - - it was remarkable. His son, Shmuel-Leyb, was the same way and was one of the most devoted Halutzim [member of the Zionist pioneer movement], who never got the opportunity to make aliyah.
Reb Yoykhenen Gordon, the slaughterer, who was a short serious man with a broad yellow beard year round, was not to be recognized on Simkhas Toyre. He put on a new skin. He had a very nice
voice. So, what does a Jew do on such a happy holiday, when one is allowed anything? He knew many happy Russian melodies with Hassidic words. When he became ecstatic he went from window to window of the Hassidic houses and crowed like a rooster, and the shtetl gasped with laughter and happiness. These kinds of people brought joy to the holidays, they made all of the worries of the poor small shtetl be forgotten.
It is hard to believe that it was and is no more. I close my eyes and see the streets, alleys and market where my parents' house stood. I still see my father (Shmuel Ahren) sitting bent over the sewing machine, sewing hats and singing to himself, "Oh, how you ring, church bells." I see my mother, as she prepared for the Sabbath. And my brother, Gershon, as he pushed himself away from the sewing machine, grabbed his violin in hand, played a couple of minutes and sat by the sewing machine again. A winter Friday. People prepare for the Sabbath. The shtetl breathes with the smells of the Sabbath foods together with the cold air.
My father goes to Fishkeh the barber for a haircut. Or he went to Yankev-Moyshe where one could hear gossip of the shtetl, and talk about politics. All of the tradesmen in the craftsmen-union [lit. handworkers-union] went to Fishkeh the barber. There was a sort of shtetl "parliament" there. My father used to sit there for quite a long time and then run to the bathhouse. When he came home the house was already set up, the sewing machines shoved in their "Sabbath corner." My mother used to serve a hot glass of tea with a fresh pletzl [cake or flatbread], after that my father put on his Sabbath clothing and went to synagogue. Throughout the shtetl one could hear Avrom-Moyshe the sexton's voice ring out: "Candle lighting! Candle lighting!" When he was on Gluboker Street he could still be heard on Polotzker Street.
My mother lit the four Sabbath candles in two brass and two silver candlesticks, covered her face with both hands, said the blessing over the candles and after that added: "Just as the candles are lighted, so shall the souls of my children light." Until my father returned from synagogue my mother sorted the newspapers of the entire week, taking out the articles that they hadn't had an opportunity to read - - and after eating, reading these was one of the most important Sabbath pleasures for my parents.
When my mother married my father she brought him a very large dowry: two baskets. One was small and one large. Her library was packed in the large one, the Russian classics and even a small brochure by Karl Marx (which I found many years later in the attic.) She donated the books for the founding of a library. The second basked was for my mother's clothing, white "historic" handkerchiefs (that I played with later.) The first supper my mother cooked was a potato soup with. herring. And my grandmother just had to see that my mother peeled the potatoes in white handkerchiefs. I can imagine what kind of uproar there was among all of the aunts and uncles! A bride without a dowry and furthermore she peels potatoes in handkerchiefs.
My mother loved the Russian language, which she had mastered, very much. Yiddish as well. My parents loved to read in general. They were active members of the "Bund." My father was active with the socialists ("sisilistn" as some Jews used to say/pronounce) when he was a young man.
As members of the "Bund," they and other members (Avrom and Libeh Khoydesh, Muleh Gleykhenhoz) organized a reading parlor, helping to found the Yiddish library, one of the most important institutions for spreading the Yiddish language among the children who studied in the Polish school. That is to say - - teaching the children to read and write Yiddish, they become aquatinted with the literature. They organized Yiddish evening courses. The teacher was Shimon Madeyski.
We have him to thank for much joy and nice experiences.
Our first children's-performance, "Der Friling Kumt" [Spring is Coming] is unforgettable. I am certain that these were the first child artists in Dokshitz. The amount of pleasure we received from it is evident in the fact that until today I recall full sentences and scenes from the performance: Reuveleh Kozak was the bad winter, Kreyneleh - - the beautiful rose, I - - the queen, spring, who awakened the flowers from wintry sleep.
We Jewish children, who never saw a flower at home, wandered around in the cold winter evenings amidst fragrant flowers, thanks to the teacher Madeyski. If he remained living somewhere, or anyone from his family, may these few words of mine be brought to him as thanks.
Since there were no financial plans for holding the evening
courses, to pay the teacher, the courses were terminated - - to the great regret and loss of the children.
My parents subscribed to the "Folks-Tsaytung" [People's/Folk-Newspaper]. For me and Gershon - - "Di Grininke Beymelekh" [The Green Saplings]. That was a wonderful children's journal. Later the "Folks-Tsaytung" also put out a weekly children's paper: "Di Kleyne Folks Tzaytung" [The Little People's Newspaper]. This was when the "Bund" was strong. Later on the Bundist organizations had less influence over the Jewish community and its place was filled by the Zionist youth organizations - - the Hekhalutz, Hashomer Hatza'ir, Beitar. A change to this position took place in our family as well.
Ideologically my parents were Bundists. However, at home the future and practical decisions for the children became the topic of conversation. Sending me to study in high school was a dream. Teaching me a trade so that I could remain in Dokshitz was also not a future. Boys and girls floundered about idly without a purpose. The only way out was joining one of the Zionist pioneer organizations, or the Communist party, which was illegal.
As "Bund" members it was difficult for my parents to be role models for their daughter to join HaShomer HaTza'ir. The education they gave us was something completely different. If the Communist party hadn't been illegal, my parents would even have been agreeable to my going that way.
The youth that did not join any organization was faced with great hardships. Everyone thought to himself: "The HeChalutz and HaShomer HaTza'ir with its happy horah dance and excursions, the Beitar - - with the brown uniforms in various deliniations. And the Communist group had its magic too.
With the help of my cousin Mendl Markman (today - - Mendl Ashal), I joined HaShomer HaTza'ir. For my parents it was a question of finding good company for their daughter. For me it was a life question. A question of building a world view.
Little by little my parents got used to the situation. The newspaper, "Der Haynt" started to come to the house, for which they subscribed with a neighbor (The "Haynt" was a more liberal paper). The took the "Moment" paper from Reb Zalmen Taytz. Despite the fact that income was low, my parents
went without other things and subscribed to the "Folks-Gezunt." As a member of "HaShomer HaTza'ir" I had to read the newspaper, "Dos Vort."
In the long winter evenings, when the sewing machines would quiet down a bit, my mother would read aloud articles to her partners (Khaykel der Kirzshner [the cap-maker], Berl Freys) especially the novels, "Urke Nakhalnik" and "Yosheh Kalb." There was a pervasive atmosphere of study and work in our home.
My father was an active member of the craftsmen-union [lit. handworkers-union]. All management meetings and all gatherings took place in our house. Even if there weren't any meetings, father's friends from the organization came to visit for a chat: Muleh Kugel, Moyshe the bookbinder, Max Goltz, Khayem Refo'el Gilenson and others I don't remember. These people were connected to my father because of joint community work. They had a need to meet, discuss, politicize. Because how else would they there their happiness about "Itshele's briv [letter from Itshele]", or Moyshe Kleynboym's (today Moshe Sanah) sharp pen, and where should one have discussed what Yitzkhok Grinboym said in parliament?
The Khabbad and Starosheler synagogue was an important place for discussion. My grandfather used to come and tell my mother that my father was standing and discussing politics in groups more than praying. At the same time he would ask: "What's in the paper today?"
My grandfather, Reb Yisro'el Tzaduk was a tall, nice and intelligent man, pious but not fanatical. The big world interested him no less than his son, my father.
My grandfather used to say, "To live to see the end of the Poles!" He despised them. When my grandfather would come over and put on the headphones of the small radio we had, to listen to songs from "the olden days", that is to say Russian songs (Dunayevski's beautiful songs were in fashion at the time), his face would shine as that of a young man.
On Sabbath my mother would hand me and Gershon over to my father and she would say: "Don't forget to wish your grandfather a gut-shabbes [good Sabbath]."
How tragic it is that a generation has grown up without memories of grandfather and grandmother.
As I said, finances were difficult. Mother used to stay in the store and sell hats. As she treated the peasants very well, they paid her with the same coin. The peasant women would entrust her with their most intimate and asked her advice more than once.
My mother was also skillful at different community functions, organizing a tea-evening, a charity function and the like.
It was a real happening when a theater group would come to the shtetl, whether it was real art or lower level performance. It was a real holiday for the shtetl. It is worthwhile to remind the reader that there was a dramatic circle in Dokshitz as well, and that Sheynke was the star performer. I remember her in the role of Leah in "Dibbuk." I was still a little girl then. My parents wanted me to see theater and to become interested in the Yiddish classics. I went with a friend to see "Dibbuk." I was so taken in by her performance that when the dibbuk went into Leah I was terrified and I screamed along with her.
My parents' intention was good, but the play was too strong an experience for me.
My parents stood before a tremendous problem when it came time for
me to go to Hachshara. They understood that it was a necessity. But we would have to separate. Meanwhile, Gershon also joined Hashomer Hatza'ir. It was difficult. We avoided talking about it.
It was my good fortune that Yoysef Kaplan, of blessed memory, visited my ken [lit. Hebrew, nest - - the word used for groups of Zionist organizations and youth groups]. The gang put forth that I should invite him to our home. They told him the reason, my parents agreed and my mother prepared a lovely dinner.
Yoysef Kaplan told my parents the entire truth about the difficult life of Hachshara. He gave my parents a lot of confidence, which brought results. We exhaled. My parents knew what a difficult way lay before me. Politically they were opposed, but they knew that there was no alternative - - and my onetime Bundists sent me to Hachshara with a heavy heart.
When I came home to prepare for aliyah I found my father to be even more active. His big dream was that the members of the craftsmen-union would have their corner, their own place where they could meet and gather. Thanks to his initiative a room was rented and that is where the club of the craftsmen-union met.
There were already rumors floating around about a war before I made aliyah. Antisemitism reached us as well. The situation was tense. People started to gather salt, soap.
The last day before my aliyah was the most difficult. My aliyah was an illegal one. It had to be a secret. I can still see today all of the people who stood in their doorways and escorted me with their sad eyes, giving me their blessing.
That is how I separated from my shtetl and from my family.
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