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6

Marriages

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Five Daughters of Chaskiel Teperman

At number 17 of Ozarow's best street, Ulica Kolejowa, there lived a well-off Jewish family who occupied a beautiful residence with a garden and a small gatehouse for the gardener. Chaskiel Teperman, the head of the family, was a prosperous merchant who dealt with the rich land owners of the region. His reputation for integrity enabled him to undertake lucrative transactions. His wife Chana-Dvoira was in charge of the household and the education of their five daughters.

Their eldest, Feiga, married a boy from a neighbouring village, and thanks to a generous dowry, the young couple were able to emigrate to Brazil shortly after the First World War.

The second daughter of Reb Chaskiel, Ethel, married Laizer Melman, a young craftsman from Yosefow who made shoe uppers. This Laizer represented the opening to new ideas. He was a militant of the Zionist Mizrachi movement and was the co-founder of the “Yavne” Hebrew school, where his own children studied modern Hebrew.

* * *

At the beginning of the 1930's, Leah, the third daughter of Reb Chaskiel, reached marriageable age. Unfortunately, she stuttered so hard that it was difficult to understand the tangle of her words, and when she came to the end of a sentence, she no longer remembered its beginning. How could she attract a suitor under these conditions?

A marriage broker got wind of this situation. He spotted a young student on the benches of the Zawiechost Yeshiva who could make a suitable partner. This Yossel spent his days studying the Talmud, while his father taught at the Jewish primary school. The marriage broker quickly arranged an interview. Shortly afterwards, the two fathers shook hands, sealing the union of their children. Delighted and relieved, Reb Chaskiel came back to Ozarow with the good news. In a solemn voice he informed the family who listened to him raptly, “Mazel tov! Mazel tov! My dear Leah, your happiness is now assured!”

The marriage ceremony would take place on the first day of the month of Adar, two weeks before Purim. The weather would still be cold, but what difference did that make? The performance of a mitzvah did not justify the slightest delay. And to marry off his daughter to a brilliant Talmudist like Yossel, that came before anything else!

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The union was celebrated in an atmosphere of gaiety. As was the custom, Reb Chaskiel provided the young couple with room and board. He also provided all expenses. At the end of a year, the week after Passover, Reb Chaskiel sat down to have a talk with his son-in-law. It was now time to start making a living. The young man suggested, “Leah's dowry is available. Why not buy some goods directly from Warsaw? Prices are surely much lower there.” Reb Chaskiel agreed, “There's an idea worthy of an intelligent Talmudist.”

Without waiting longer, Yossel boarded a train bound for the capital. Of course, he took along his prayer shawl and his tefillen in the hope of finding a prayer house where he could attend evening services. Once underway, he made the acquaintance of two merchants from Warsaw who must have surely noticed him in the crowd of travellers. After a few preliminary exchanges, Yossel confided his plans to them. Yes, he was going to Warsaw to obtain various goods. And he didn't stop singing the praises of Reb Chaskiel, of his beautiful family and of his wife who had already given him a son named Itchale, after the great Tzadik of Zawiechost.

In a very friendly manner the two men invited Yossel to stay with them, and after they arrived in Warsaw, they took him home and installed him in an attic room. There, their tone changed. They menacingly ordered him to undress and to give them all his money. Then they added , “And stay quiet until we get back!” Naked, quaking with cold and with shame, Yossel waited all night without daring to call for help.

The next morning, the two confederates reappeared at the door. They handed him his clothes. Then they gave him his valise and a ticket back to Ozarow. Taking him to the station, they adopted a sinister tone and told him, “Swear not to open this valise before the day after your return! Be very careful. If you don't keep your word, bad things will happen to all of your family.” Frozen with fear, Yossel promised.

When he got home, everyone urged him to open the valise, but being a man of his word, he resisted the general curiosity. At last the expected moment arrived....

Everyone formed a circle around the valise, which became the focus of rapt attention. The hinges were forced, throwing the cover in the air when they gave way. The family could make out a heap of multi-coloured trinkets. Astounded, Yossel fished around in the valise, eager to show everyone these fantastic things nobody had ever seen before in

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Ozarow. He threw off layers of fabric and then halted, petrified. He had just felt something with his fingers. Then, in horror, the household of Reb Chaskiel discovered, sliding about on its bed of frills, the corpse of a still-born infant.....

After this macabre discovery, Yossel poured out his heart to Reb Chaskiel about his Warsaw misadventure. As a result, the two men decided to acquire an inventory of clothing in Ostrowiec. Yossel then went about selling this stock in the markets, but alas, this was not enough to feed his little family.

Feiga, the oldest sister of Leah, who had lived in Brazil for several years agreed to let Yossel come there, so that maybe he could find something to assure him a future. So it came to be that our man embarked for far-off Rio de Janeiro. During this time, Leah and little Itchale returned to live under old Reb Chaskiel's roof.

The fourth daughter of Reb Chaskiel was called Raizel-Sarah. She was vivacious, stylish and always well-coiffed. Her beautiful blue eyes enhanced her charm all the more, and she caused many boys' heads to turn in her wake. Her father did not worry about her chances. Businessman that he was, he had the habit of saying, “In my opinion, she's pre-sold merchandise.”

She met a certain Meyer Kudlowicz who had arrived from Ostrowiec. From then on, you could see the two youngsters walking arm in arm in the vast garden of Reb Chaskiel.

The young lady enhanced her well-turned phrases by gaily pronouncing them in the language of Goethe, a sure sign of education and impeccable culture - “Das ist unser garten. Man satz erbsen in unseren garten.” (This is our garden. We plant peas in our garden.) Nothing more was required for her to be nicknamed forever more “Sarah Pea Flower”!

Head over heels in love, the two lovers got engaged. But Mr. Kudlowicz Sr. began to find that things were going too quickly. He paid a visit to Reb Chaskiel to complain that the dowry was too small.

The engagement was broken!

Three years went by before Sarah was introduced to a young man from Zwolen. This was Herschel. He had a proud bearing, a rosy complexion and a gentle expression. A dream fiancé!

Once again, we could follow the leisurely walks of the young couple up and down the aisles of the garden. Once more, we could hear the gentle voice of “Sarah Pea Flower” carry through the bowers, enunciat-

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ing her German words..... “Erbsen in unseren garten.” But this time, the union stuck. Herschel and Raizel-Sarah married and settled in Zwolen where they led a happy life.

In September 1939, their house was burned down by the German bombardment. The young couple and their little daughter came back to Ozarow where they took refuge under the paternal roof.

The fifth and youngest daughter of Reb Chaskiel, Marmale, had no luck. Her father grew old, and she had to look after him. Her mother Chana-Dvoira died, so Marmale had some very sombre years. During this time, her beauty faded and she could no longer even count on an attractive dowry.

Laizer was lucky enough to survive combat on the front and to see his wife Ethel and his children again.

Itchale grew up with the hope of being able to emigrate with his mother to the shores of Brazil to see his father Yossel again.

Raizel-Sarah and Hershel counted the days and weeks of the war, hoping to be able to return to Zwolen and rebuild their life there.

As for Marmale, she only inspired pity. Prematurely aged, she resembled a dried up tree, without branches or leaves. She no longer lived on dreams or secret hopes. She no longer even believed in a miracle. That's what life did to the youngest daughter of Reb Chaskiel Teperman. There, at Number 17 once lived a beautiful Jewish family. Wiped out in 1942.

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oza140a.jpg
 
oza140b.jpg
Ozarow young men in front of a visible pull-down backdrop. Avrum Lederman (front centre), emigrated to Paris   Young Ozarow women, G. Kestenbaum, T. Birnbaum & R. Plichtentrain in costume, September 20, 1929
 
oza140c.jpg
 
oza140d.jpg
Avrum Orenstein,
who settled in New York
  Altu Sherman, who settled in Israel,
later in Montreal

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Yankele Gotlib the Marriage Broker
and His Family

Taking the road to Zawiechost, you could see a strange little house on the right hand side. Its walls were decrepit and the roof opened to the sky in places because of many missing tiles. The door opened on to a narrow little square once called “Hospital Square”. A very strange name, since nobody could ever recall any hospital in Ozarow! Travelling circuses would sometimes set up their tents in this square.

This is where Yankele and his wife Leah lived. At the threshold of their house, there were always a few cans of milk for Leah to take on her rounds to the better Jewish families. Inside, a prominent place was given to a sewing machine that Chana, the younger daughter of Yankele, used in her trade of dressmaker. Meyer, her younger brother, worked for Curly Moishe Feldman, the best carpenter in Ozarow, while the youngest child, Isaac, a robust boy, worked at hauling sacks of flour to the mill from morning till night. No one ever knew the older daughter, who had left home to go to work in Warsaw at an early age, and never returned to visit her parents. The oldest son, Ephraim, had remained and had a family of his own.

Yankele had nothing to take care of at home. Sporting an immaculately trimmed goatee, he passed his time striding up and down the Main Street, swaggering his umbrella as though it were a beautiful walking stick, while inspecting the crop of marriageable boys and girls. Yankele had an infallible talent for nosing out those whose destinies could be harmoniously joined. His keen intelligence allowed him to lay down the bases of a future marriage. If an orthodox family was involved, he would first of all consult the father of the girl and sing the praises of the young man, in particular the quality of his pedigree. Once the father was convinced, Yankele had already won half the game.

In the case of less observant families, it was suitable to find a stylish well-informed girl for a young man who already had the beginnings of a situation. But so many obstacles to overcome! How were they to be introduced, and what to do if someone met them together? And if through misfortune the marriage didn't take place? Any such failure would harm Yankele's precious credibility.

Fortunately, our canny marriage broker lacked neither wiles nor solutions equal to any challenge. Here, for example, is how he went about

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matching Shloime, the son of Itchale the Carpenter, and Chana, the daughter of Pinchas the Talith Dealer.

Shloime had already noticed Chana some time before, and he liked her. But how was Yankele to make an introduction without scaring her away?

He called upon the services of Yankele, who advised him to stage a fall right in front of Reb Pinchas' house. It was thus one winter day that the young man slid on the ice ending up with his four paws in the air right at the doorstep of the house. Rivka, Pinchas' wife, opened her door and rushed to the assistance of poor Shloime. So before you knew it, there he was at the family table, a restorative glass of tea in hand, in animated conversation with Rivka, Pinchas, and... Chana, the young daughter of the house. One couple more to add to the list of Yankele the Marriage Broker!

He knew better than anyone else how to establish a dowry appropriate to a family's resources. It was in his interest to achieve an agreement of the parties, since his commission as a marriage broker was proportional to the amount of the dowry. Sometimes the families couldn't agree, and the marriage plan fell in the water. Bye-bye commission!

Ephraim, Yankele's oldest son was seriously wounded in the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920 and remained an invalid. He couldn't practice his trade of carpenter, so he adapted by helping out his wife at the markets. But this business turned out to be scarcely profitable enough to feed the little household. In the 1930's Ephraim obtained a war invalid's card, as well as a decoration in recognition of his heroism in the service of his country. The State also gave him a concession for the sale of tobacco. On this official document, which he had everyone read, the beautiful script stated, “Conferred on the valorous hero Ephraim Gotlib. The Nation in gratitude. 1920.” It was now necessary for him to obtain the capital which would permit him to buy a stock of tobacco. Furthermore, it would be necessary to make their store on Ostrowiecka Street more accessible. But in front of the doorstep, the sidewalk was cruelly missing. The children avoided playing in that spot, for fear of being hit by the passing carts and buses. So Ephraim made a deal with Shame Waksman who kept a store which sold candy, soda and lemonade on Lubelska Street, almost facing the town hall. Turning his skills as a carpenter to profit, Ephraim remodelled Shame's store so that its shelves could also offer packages of tobacco to the clientele. At the entrance, he put up the official sign,

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bearing the Polish coat of arms, on which you could read “POLSKI MONOPOL TYTONIOWY” (Polish Tobacco Monopoly). When customers entered the shop, they could contemplate a frame fixed to the wall in which were displayed his prestigious decorations, as well the official tobacco concession in his name.

He was able to obtain this entitlement before the death of Marshal Pilsudski in 1935. After that date, the situation of the Jews in Poland deteriorated further. One Friday afternoon a municipal commission inspected his neighbourhood, and decided that Ephraim's house encroached on public property, hindering the widening of the road. The corner of his house, level with the doorway, would have to be torn down. e protested strongly, arguing about his decorations, his heroism, his incapacity.... all to no avail. He would have to leave his house. The community made a gesture to help him. All the family were given refuge in a room adjacent to the ritual bath.

One day in the summer of 1939, we saw Mindele, the oldest daughter of Yankele the Marriage Broker get off the bus in Ozarow. She was accompanied by a young man she had come to introduce to her parents.

The two of them had come straight from Warsaw and hoped to marry.

She had worked in a Warsaw bakery for a long time. One day one of her work mates proposed to Mindel and a customer that the three of them share in the purchase of a lottery ticket. The day of the draw came, and to everyone's great surprise, they won the jackpot!

They divided the sum three ways, but the two workers decided to preserve their fortune by marrying each other. So it was with the one who had brought her such luck that Mindele, all radiant, returned to Ozarow.

A beautiful plan, which surely could have been realized. Unfortunately, the war broke out and destroyed their hopes. Mindele and her husband could never return to Warsaw.

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A Marriage in Lasocin

On market days Yankel from Lasocin got up at dawn. He would fill up his round basket with cheese and eggs, then sling it over his back. On the way he would also grab a few chickens by their feet. Taking a narrow path that wound through the fields, he merrily trudged the six kilometres to Ozarow where he sold his wares.

Once his merchandise had been turned to cash, he would go to visit his friend Itche-Nissim and share a nice glass of tea with him. And what would these two cronies talk about? Everything and nothing, of their children and of their marriages to come. So it was that one day Yankel let his friend Itche-Nissim in on his brilliant idea: “Why not join the destinies of our children? Your Moishe can marry my Golda. They would make a handsome couple, and since the two of us have gotten along so well for such a long time, all the difficulties of the match will be ironed out.”

Itche-Nissim raised no objection. True, the daughter of his friend was just a simple peasant.....but she was worth several of her kind! As for Yankel, the idea of marrying off his daughter to a boy from town appealed to him! He proudly took the road back, and as soon as he arrived in Lasocin, he ran to tell the good news to his wife, daughter and friends.

The preparations for the marriage began. Yankel's house was scrubbed and freshly painted with whitewash. Shoes and pumps were waxed to shine with all their lustre during the traditional dances. Even Yankel greased his boots.

The day so eagerly awaited arrived. In keeping with tradition, the father of the bride left to meet his future son-in-law, his family and the guests. Yankel welcomed the young man and solemnly led him and his escort to Lasocin. A master of ceremonies with lots of verve enlivened the atmosphere. At the sound of the violins and the accordion, the entire party repaired to the site of the ceremony.

Two merry young men carried a foot stool on which the master of ceremonies was enthroned. Everyone egged him on: “Come on! Tell us a few jokes. Make us laugh because it's a celebration today!”

The master of ceremonies glanced at the young bride, blushing with emotion and clinging to her mother's arm. With a few broad winks, he quietened down the crowd. He seemed to be telling everyone: “But wait! Wait until this Ôschmoiger', this simpleton Moishe arrives! As soon as

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he shows the tip of his nose, flanked by his father-in-law Yanek and Itche- Nissim, I'll throw him a few gibes of my own invention. You'll tell me how they go over!” What emotion when Golda, her face veiled, was led under the wedding canopy! The master of ceremonies didn't disappoint his audience! He didn't miss a trick, alternating pearls of wit with expressions of joy and hope which brought tears to every eye.

Then came the traditional dances. Everyone formed a circle around the newlyweds. Moishe the “simpleton”, on cloud nine, didn't touch ground! Drunk with joy, he passed the most beautiful day of his life.

“Mazel tov! Mazel tov! L'chaim!” And the glasses clinked joyously, merging their crystalline tinkle with the throb of the band and the song which everyone chorused.......

In dem groissen dorf
freilich is a tzind
Yanek der Mechit'n
macht chasene a kind.
Oy da dy'a dana
Oy da dy'a da

Through the village
joy runs wild
for fath'r-in-law Yanek's
wed his child.
Oy da dy'a dana
Oy da dy'a da

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Gravestones in Ozarow cemetery photographed in October 1994 by Rita Frost Sniatowski, daughter of Chaya (Ida) Rochwerg, aunt of the translator

 

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