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[Page 307]

The House on the Narew

by Shmuel Kokhalski, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Outside the town, on a large lot right on the Narew, stood a house surrounded on three sides by trees and plantings. From the one side left open you could see the expanse of the Narew. All day you could hear the shouts of the fishermen and of the workers who dug gravel out of the river. And you could hear the Christian raftsmen who were transporting lumber and blocks of wood.

In the large courtyard of the house was a sawmill where the Zilbertal family lived. From their sawmill you could hear the saws cutting the logs into boards. The boards were used in making furniture and the left over pieces of wood were used by the bakeries to heat their ovens. It was my job to pick up the wood pieces for our bakery.

I would always see Herr Zilbertal, a tall man with a long beard, two fingers constantly in his vest pocket, ready to extract some money if someone asked for it for a specific purpose. I often made such a request of Herr Zilbertal on behalf of the Jewish National Fund or the workers in Eretz Yisroel and he would always pull out the money with those two fingers and give willingly and generously. He never counted the money and we could always rely on him.

In contrast to his quiet piety, you could always hear, from a distance, the shouts of his son Didek, the community activist and Bundist city council member. He didn't shout in anger, it was just his way.

There was also a mill in the courtyard, which belong to Herr Zilbertal's son–in–law, Nokhem Neufeld, the son of the Nowy Dwor rabbi. Jokers would say that Nokhem didn't run the mill; the mill ran him. There was also an electric generator there, which provided light for the town up until midnight.

We would go there to swim because we were sure the Christian boys wouldn't throw our clothes in the water there.

One of the rooms housed Nokhem Neufeld's large library. There was nothing you couldn't find there. You could find Rambam, Spinoza, the Shulchan Aruch, as well as the best of Yiddish and world literature. As soon as I knocked on the door I would hear the voice of Hanke Zilbertal, Nokhem Neufeld's wife, who would open the library for me. Nokhem would show up right away, and help pull out the treasures of Jewish literature, and Hanke would always serve me something to eat.

This was an unusual household where many witty people liked to visit and get together, among them the Warsaw writer Segalovitsh, Nakhman Mayzel, Alter Katsizne, Dr. Kruk, A.Sh. Yures, Ahron Zeitlin and Heftman. Dov Ber Malkin was a regular. That house and courtyard and their surroundings, with all their wealth and spirit, no longer exists.


At the Narew


[Page 308]

On the Shores of the Narew


The “Water Jews” on the Narew


From right, standing: Gershon Fraymen, a relative of the Papiers from Vlotslavek, Mendl Papier, Shloyme Kartsovitsh
Seated: Matis Papier, Malke Papier, Mendl Srebrenik, Dine Vaynshtok, Shmuel Shimkovitsh, Adele Papier, Dovid Papier, the wife of Khaim Kohen
At left: the boy Zishe Papier (fell as a fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto)


[Page 309]


A flood in 1924: Residents of Sukenge Street are carried across


When the Narew inundated the town


A group of Nowy Dwor firefighters
Standing, on right, Berish Mundlak; on left, Khaim Roznshteyn


[Page 310]

Aristocratic Yikhes[1] Names
for the “Gentlefolk” of Nowy Dwor

by Noekh Prilutski

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

In Noekh Prilutski's collection of Yiddish folkore, vol.1, p.49, a great many yikhes names are listed for the people of Nowy Dwor:

Nowy Dwor bandits
Nowy Dwor thieves
Nowy Dwor zemelekh [lit. “rolls”; probably slang for another designation]
Nowy Dwor beasts
Nowy Dwor tramps
Nowy Dwor gluttons
Nowy Dwor geniuses [ironic]
Nowy Dwor losers


Yulke the water–carrier


Translator's footnote

  1. Yikhes” denotes a person's pedigree or lineage, usually when it confers prestige. Here, it is being used ironically, since the cited “aristocratic yikhes names” are all derogatory. Return

My Father's Witty Sayings

by Dovid Top

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Do you know who the best tailor in town is? It's Mendl the Blacksmith. He can forge a pair of earrings that even Fayvish the Bookbinder would wear. But he wouldn't make as nice a fur coat as Borekh the Tailor.

A person is not a pig. If he eats as much as a horse, that's enough for him.


Crazy Shmiel


Mokele the town fool


Here's something you should know: When a dog chases a pig, it takes hold of the pig by its ear and shouts into it: “Don't be a pig! Be a dog!”

[Page 311]

Nicknames Used in Our Town[1]

by A.B.

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Many of the residents of our town were called by a nickname tagged on to their regular name, so that the nickname gradually became the usual name, so much so that if you did call them by their correct last name, no one would know who you meant.

This custom of using a nickname can only be explained by the intimacy of life in a town where everyone knew everyone else down to their bones, knew what was going on in their lives, down to the most intimate details. There were no skyscrapers there to hide behind, everything was out in the open. Every private, family or community event was immediately spread from ear to ear, and even from eye to eye, because even gestures were immediately understood.

The nicknames weren't arbitrary and most of them fit the person to a tee. There was a rationale, an aptness to them, and if the nickname didn't apply directly to the person, it applied to his ancestors from whom one often inherited the nickname, as one would inherit a royal crown. People were often quite willing to renounce such an inheritance, but if the nickname had already been accepted by the community and was in common use, it remained attached to whomever it maligned.

We print here only a portion of the entire bouquet of nicknames, and for each of the ones listed there are many similar ones.

It appears that they can be divided into six categories.

  1. Plain nicknames whose derivation is unknown, which may have been adopted because they just sounded right or which may allude to some characteristic of the person so named. For example: Khaimke Zhalik, Shmil Babele, Khil Godek, Leye Katoshke, Moyshe Babiash, Note Babiak, Khaim Shtrune [string], Khaim Gavarushke, Khaim Gone, Khane Antoshke, Melekh Trender, Ahron Pompele, Rashke Pompe, Nosn Klingeray [noise], Fishl Klepke [sticky], Shloyme Kalkhomire, Itshe Beybe, Baltshe Mok, Avraham Moke, Hershl Hopladra, Sane Bats, Itshe Zelik Fiak, Hershl Trak, Liftshe Srak.
  2. Nicknames that reflect a person's social position or occupation: Itshe Meyer Katsev [butcher]; Mendl Brukarzh [paver]; Yankev Leyb Bagreber [gravedigger]; Mendl Kamashenmakher [kind of shoe worker]; Avraham Moyshe Droshkazh [carriage driver]; Ratse di Bekerin [baker woman]; Mendl Matseyve Kritser [engraver of tombstones]; Yankl Ganev [thief]; Eli Fisher [fisherman]; Hersh Dovid Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer]; Gershon Likhttsier [candlemaker]; Hershl Stolmakh [carpenter]; Peysakh Blekharzh [tinsmith], Itshe Stolarzh [carpenter]; Malke di Baytlmakerin [purse maker]; Sore Shedlitserin di Hitlmakerin [hatmaker]; Avaraham Ber Shenker [tavernkeeper]; Zayfnzider [soapmaker]; Kalashnmakher [galoshes maker]; Gershon Shindlleger [roofer]; Gershon Vasertreger [water carrier]; Penak [beggar]; Latek [tramp, beggar, petty thief].
  3. Nicknames reflecting habits or personal traits, with the intention of mockery: Mates Freser [glutton]; Zishe Kolbas [sausage, i.e. person who doesn't keep kosher]; Mates Kritsher [shrieker]; Tuvie Ligner [liar]; Treyfener Beyn [non–kosher bone]; Mendl Trotsky [after the Russian revolutionary]; Yosl Mazik [devil]; Itshe Adoyshem Koydesh [holy God]; Avraham Bronfele [word related to whiskey?]; Moyshe Grober Kop [fathead]; Binem Trasker [slugger]; Sholem Gey Geshvind [scram]; Tsemekh Fil Mol [often].
  4. Nicknames reflecting family relationships: Leye Bines [belonging to Bine]; Dovid dem Geln Hershls [who belongs to Redheaded Hershl]; Di Bnei Lozers [Lozer's sons]; Shakhne mit di bonim [the one who has sons]. Or reflecting the person's place of origin: Leye di Derfishe [from the village]; Khane di Nashelske Bekerin [bakerwoman from Nashelsk]; Sore Shedlitserin [from Shedlits].
  5. Nicknames reflecting characteristics of animals: Hershl Oks [ox], Noekh Koter [tomcat]; Malke Zhabe [frog]; Shaye Leyb Kalb [calf]; Khane Yalevke [barren cow]; Shloyme Malpe [monkey]; Khaye Bik [bull]; Moyshe Hoznveydl [rabbit tail].
  6. Nicknames reflecting physical appearance, clothing, bearing: Sore Mit di Hoyzn [who wears trousers]; Sher Lialka [doll]; Geler [redheaded] Mendl; Dovid Talisl [little prayer shawl]; Noekh Kuntsnmakher [trickster, juggler];
[Page 312]
    Di Groyse Mame [Big Mama]; Der Toyter [Dead] Hershl; Leybe Kleyn Tatele [Little Daddy]; Moyshe Kratser [scratcher]; Grobe [Fat] Rokhl; Leye Gergele [Little Neck]; Di Shvartse [Black,Dark] Malke; Ite Mit di Bord [Ite with the Beard].
All these names and nicknames evoke cheer and smiles, even laughter, but even more, pain. It is just these kinds of jokey nicknames that remind us even more of the way of life of a Jewish community that for generations, under tragic conditions, smiled through their tears and with humor and sarcasm created these unique names reflecting Jewish life.

Translator's footnote

  1. These names are from a list sent to us by Dovid Top. Return

[Page 312]

My Mother's Tear

by Shloyme Vronski, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

My mother's tear has stayed with me
wherever I have gone.
Wherever I was, when I needed it,
it would appear before me.

The tear scalded my cheek
and burned in my heart
and just like the glow of a star
it lit up the darkest night.

And when I came home,
along with the tear,
it wasn't granted me
to find my mother there.

Again I set off on my wandering,
again the tear came with me.
And we'll never part again,
we'll always be together.

Spring comes with its gentle breath.
The tear rests on the flowers.
Wherever life wakens and takes me
it will always be with me.


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