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[Page 384]


Biale possessed a rich treasure of folklore, in which legends, stories, customs, characteristics, words, jokes etc. are all intertwined. If it were possible to restore the folklore–treasures of our town, then one would have a picture of Jewish life in Biale in those days, when almost every Jewish family was called by a nickname and not by their family names.

Unfortunately, we managed to gather only a fraction of this treasure. But even this small portion, adds a special colour to the period of the last Jewish generations in Biale.

We managed to add clarifications regarding the nicknames, because firstly, today one cannot clarify the source of each nickname, and secondly, even the nicknames that allow themselves to be explained, needed to be a separate task, whose scope could not be compressed into the framework of this book.


Words, Aphorisms, and Jokes
by Biale's Sharp Minds and Fun Lovers

by M. Y.Feigenboim

Translated by Libby Raichman

This is what they used to say about Shualke Cohen who was one of the two richest men in the town:

A friend of his from another town, turned to him for a small loan. At the end of his letter, the friend added: –– “God willing, I will pay”. Shualke answered in writing: –– You did indeed present me with a good guarantee, and it is truly good with “God willing” but what if, God forbid, God is not willing?


Chaim Peisach, the warden of the Chevra Kaddisha [burial society], while lying on his death–bed, called to Yechezkel Erlich who came to visit the sick: Haskel, you now have a good opportunity to send greetings with me, to your father …


Motl Mintz used to ask: –– Why does the cantor wait before beginning the rendering of the Shmoneh Esray aloud, and when he comes to “Adonai eloheichem emet”, he does not even turn around, and continues to pray?

This was Motl's answer: –– if the cantor would have to wait until the Rabbi says “emet”, he would wait in vain.


A Chassidic Jew, who liked to play cards, died in Biale. At his funeral, women followed the procession, crying, and asked – oy, good angels should come out to meet you. – a friend of the deceased, also a card player, said to the acquaintances: –– I think that aces are better…


A Biale teacher used to pass judgement over his wife every day and to add, shouted – you have enough for yesterday, –– then his wife would ask of him: give me for today too, so that once and for all, the debt will be cleared.


In Biale and the vicinity there was a very well–known jester, Vigderl (Avigdor) Blankleider. Once when he happened to have two weddings at the same time, there was a substitute for Avigdor at one of the weddings. As the substitute began to seat the bride, he spoke and spoke, but not even a tear appeared in the bride's eyes. He became so angry, that he shouted: –– Nasty woman! Why are you not crying? …


The Chevrah Kaddisha person, Meir Korman used to say: –– you can put the deceased into my bed and I will sleep soundly with him.


Shlaymele Zaygerman [Watchmaker] (Lederman), who behaved in the town as if he were a heretic, gave his children a religious education. So his son Fulye (Rafael) once asked him: –– father, you do not observe all these things, so why do you send me to study them? To that Shlaymele answered: Fulye my child,

[Page 385]

you should know everything, but may your mouth become crooked, if you should ever use it….


Shmerl Hochman was also renowned in the town as a free person, and yet he would go and pray every Sabbath morning. When people used to ask him: Reb Shmerl, how come you are in the synagogue? – his answer was: one must leave the house and allow one's wife to sweep, so that you will not become entangled between the bristles of the broom….


Motl , the son of Peshke (Rozmarin) was known for his jokes.

During the ten days of repentance, a Chassid, who was known for his frequent bankruptcies, stood in the Radzin prayer house, and recited “Avinu Malkeinu” – “our father, our king”. Behind him stood Motl, and when the Chassid said, with great devotion, “Avinu Malkeinu m'chok et kol shitrei chovoteinu” – “Our father, our king, erase all record of our debt”, Motl called out – and what will happen to the huge debts? …


Yitzchak Pizshits had a dog named Karol, and Pinchas Nartman had a dog named Balak. Once Motl came into the bank to request a loan. When the official asked him: –– and who are the guarantors? – Motl did not have to think long and said: Karol Pizshits and Balak Nartman….


In his later years, it became very difficult for Motl to walk. Once, when he met the well–known dance teacher in the town, Motl turned to him and said: –– you teach everyone to dance, teach me at least, to walk …


There is bread, there are potatoes, dance Yosef Itshe!

(A few words from Yosef Itshe Ash, during the German occupation in the First World War).


Yehoshua Mirtenboim used to say: –– fasting, I do not even fast on Yom Kippur, but I do smoke a cigarette.


Two Biale brothers, both porters, when they argued amongst themselves, one would honour the other with the curse: may a spirit enter into your half father ….

Surnames according to towns of origin

by M. Y.Feigenboim

Translated by Libby Raichman

Hershl Lentshner, Shedletzer Bekker, Shimon Likkever (Lukov), Ahrele Slavatisher, the Ostrover, Moshe Lomazer, the Warsaw Feldsher, the Kobrinerin, Ahrke Komaruvker, Ahrke Pishtshatser, Iddele Proshekier (Proshuki), Yossel Terebiller, Mendele Sitnikker, the Zshelechoverin, Tzivia the Briskerin, Dovid Rososher, Meir Tsitsivorer, Moshe Vitorozsher, Simcha Loshitzer, Meir Nossever, the Stirnetserin,, Moshe Voliyer, Yehoshua Ossover, Dovid Koloder, Ahrele Sitshinner, Yossele Vohinner, Yossele Yanever, Chaim Svurer (Svori), Ya'akov Partsever, Itzele Rabinover (Grabanuv), Chavah Dibever, Yisroel Ritker, Yitzchak Radzinner, Yehoshua Ulinker, Mendel Ozerkover, Motl Domatshever, Fyvele Lublinner, Leibele Markushover, Pinchas Kodnier, Chaim Hushliever, Moshe Hishtsher, Shlayml Konstantiner, Bodker Melamed, Bielsker Shnider, Moshe from Slavatshinek, Shmuel Vlodaver, Binyomin Kozevilke (Koza–Vulka), Ahrele Kitelner, Dovid Sosnovitzer, Hershl Vishnitzer, Yonah Krakever, the Lyutbak.


Surnames according to Grandmothers and Grandfathers

Yankel – Beila Frimme Gittels, Yossel – Chanah Dovid Volfs, Yossel – Chavah Bashe Shmerkes, Yossel – Asher Shia (Yehoshua) Payes, Chaim – Sorrele Chanah Miriams, Yehudit–Shmilke (Shmuel) Mirreles, Gedalyah – Hershl Binyomin Moshe Tsives (Tsivia), Yehoshua – Yitzchak Yisroel Elyes (Eliyahu).


Surnames according to occupations


Alter Mulyer – bricklayer, Alter Shlosser – locksmith, Asher Stolyer – joiner, Menashe Maller – painter, Moshe Glezer – glazier, Leibke Shindlmacher – maker of roof shingles, Moshe Blecher – metal worker, Dudl Brukirer – paver, Binyomin Koval – blacksmith, Moshe Tokker – turner, Binyomin Tshesler – carpenter, Leibishke Shnider – tailor, Shmuel Shuster – shoemaker, Irma (Yirmiyahu) Kessler – boiler maker, Nachman Inebinder – bookbinder, Velvl Rimmer – harness maker, Velvl Mozshonzshnik – greased carts , Zavele Sherer – barber, Dudl Farber – dyer, Chanah Leah the Licht–tzierin – candlemaker, Ya'akov Shimon Bashleger – iron bender, Yehuda Leib Smoliarnik – pitch burner, Asher Kashemacher – maker of groats/gruel, Piniele Bagel–Bekker – Bagel baker, Raizele of the thin Pletzelach – cakemaker, Altele of the kichelach – kichel maker, Mottele Kicher– of the kitchen, Dudl Sarver – waiter, Avigdor Badchan – jester, Avrom Goldshmidt – goldsmith (also his surname) – Goldshmidt), Temele the Vattemacherin – maker of wadding, Yossel Milner – miller , Mendel Bendelmacher – maker of ribbon and lace, Elye – wine, Irme (Yirmiyahu) Bedder – bathkeeper, Shlayme Matzevah–Kritzer – inscriber of gravestones, Dovid Bekker – baker, Izesheliche of the Bilkes (Bulkes) – white loaves/cakes, Moshe Zaygermacher – watchmaker, Asher Tzukernik – confectioner, Berish of Viness – winemaker, Leibe Mednik – maker of med (mead), Moshe Dovid Shtrikken macher – rope maker, Feige the Kniterin – maker of candle wicks, Froyem Shtepper – quilter, Shye (Yishayahu) of soap, Zishe of sawdust, Kivele Fisher – fisherman, the Mangelnitshke (Mangel), Rochl Leah the Parrikn–macherin – wig maker,

[Page 386]

Tzalke of the wooden boards – (used to transport the boards from the sawmill), Yontl Drozshkarzsh – (cabdriver), Dovid Leib Fessel–Firrer (Assenzatziye) – barrel carrier, Shye Leizer (Yeshayahu Eliezer) Proshenye–Shriber – (writer of petitions), Nachman Shriber – (teacher of writing), Chaim “Roffe” – (doctor), Meir Michl the Feldsher – (doctor's assistant), Rochl Leah the Banke–Shtelerin – (applied the cupping glasses to those with a fever).



Nachum Montsher – flour dealer, Motele Tabatshnik – tobacconist, Chanah Rochl – of the yeast, Chaim Naftsher – petroleum, Itshe Meir of the tea house, Gittel the Koylerke – coal, Gittele of milk, Yitzchakl of the feathers, Chaya Tzviah of soda–water, Moshe Izik of old furniture, Toibele the inn–keeper, Mendele Tandeter – dealer in 2nd–hand clothes, Kreindele of the children's shoes, Chavele of the pages (newspapers), Shimon the Milchiker – milkman, Leibe of the cellar – (vegetables), Moshe Betsalel the store–keeper of iron, Hinech Shmatnik – dealer in rags, Duvtshe Fisher – fisherman.



Chaim Shochet – slaughterer, Idl Sofer – scribe, Shlayme Lozer (Eliezer) one who removes forbidden veins from meat, Hershele Melamed – teacher, Pesach Tehillim–zoger – reciter of psalms, Feige the Tikkerin – bathkeeper, Yankele (Ya'akov) Shamash – beadle, Avremele Mocher–sforimnik – bookseller, Velvele Bagreber – grave digger.

Mocking Surnames and Nicknames

by M. Y.Feigenboim

Translated by Libby Raichman

Ox, astatni–grosh, ucha, amp, oppalala, adzshumes, ayber, onpoyer, imre, onufre.

Lady's boot, bull, bear, noseless, bezrutshke, Bolshoi, Bolshevik, bolomotsh, bubkes, wretched boy, bartek, big bad boy, carob, bow down, botshkele, lead bird, bembekyeche, broom, arsonist, blister, misfortune, blind, buffalo, chubby.

Little goose, noise of a cricket, fat, a crude Jew, big, getsh, gorontse, golden calf, paradise, gold tooth, non–Jew, ginger, triangular piece of cheese.

Thin, pest, awkward.

Hen, hunch, tall, little hand, tea cake, wood, chandelier.

Vetshik, white carrot, wolf–man, vertiche.

Frog, forger, nag, policeman, zshentsh, zlatte–rontshke, zatshes, soldier, zshadeliche, zshazshele, zshamme.


Tshumberl, deaf one, deaf, Turk, devil, dead purse, dozen, tatu, smear, tsherske, small bag, tryne, clash, scratch oneself, tuchmanke, dancer, lively one, wicked person, heavy shoe, trotske, ruminant, trumpet, forelock, dance, snuff sniffer.

Lizard, boy, blood of a beast, box.

Loose shirts, hooligan.

Mild/soft, load, doll, shovel, liorke, lilkele, liovke, laymerl.

Mirshke, metsh, peculiar, poppy cake, mostiever–kamf, mischievous, Mikado, my step – your step, minister, angel.

Nose, small nose, niyeboyis, successor to the crown, 90's, smell.

Nightingale, suche–duppe, legend, stimske, stop, stach, quiet, sheaf, savitske, saske, sik–sak, s'knepl, suchenoz, spudnitse.

Amalek, small ox.

A mark, scab, pollepon, animal forequarter, rabid, pep, dirt, pototz, preles, prondik, potelyuk, polker, provetz, prisoner, piyus, pantile, mouth, parsnip, pentemelache, pocket handkerchief, pindzsheriche, ferkop, ponk, pidiak, petke, a pole, parshke, pritzl, sporty, button hole, pip, break, pekl–mekl, button– holer, gratitude.

Tsuker–bob, toy/plaything, cigar.

Small island, cheat, kitten, gruel, small duck, kozshol, kremenoz, short, dwarfs, hernia, butt of a gun, squint, ketshe, kuliatsh, Cossack, katsap – nickname of a great Russian, kigelichesforem, kigl, white loaf, taffeta, klet, konye–po–itsh, cat, kotshemoinik, kopyan, krempl, pickpocket, kytush, koshetz, kunepye, kulevenever, kakashte, kaponde, heads, intestines, wood–pile, log, galosh, krakus, kakkerulik, kayito, katik, small tub, kitayetz, cold–udder, head, excrement, bone, scratch, kupke, small bones, emperor, complainer, drags his feet, cold–doshe, log/block.

Rust, rondel, scab, rusty.

Black, black one, dirty, one who messes, disturb, agreeable, currant cake, shalonik, stabber, shkop, broken earthenware pot, jumper, shma–kolineche, shataneche, wading, sponger, interferer, fashionable, non–Jewish boy, convert, proud, dawdler, roan horse, shmoch.

[Page 387]

Customs and Charms

by M. Y.Feigenboim

Translated by Libby Raichman

It can be assumed that the following customs and characteristics were not specific to Biale, and that they were known and accepted in other towns and villages in Poland as well; but as they were accepted in Biale, we feel that it is appropriate to record them.

Moshe Ahrele used to walk through the town every Friday at 12 during the day calling: –– leaders, into the bath–house!

On Friday evenings, the beadle of the synagogue would walk through the town calling: –– into the synagogue!

Every Friday evening the assistant at the cheder (religious school) would take his students into the synagogue to hear Kiddush (Friday evening prayer for wine). When the cantor recited the Kiddush, the children would respond aloud “amen” and receive a sip of wine from the traditional Kiddush cup.

When a male child was born, the assistant to the teacher of the youngest children, who already had a claim to the family of the newborn child, and hoped to have him as a student, took the small children of the beginner's class every evening, to the woman who had just given birth, and read the prayer Kriat Shma [prayer said before going to bed at night] with the children, at her bedside. After the reading of this prayer, the children were given sweets and candy. This continued for a whole seven days, until the watch–night (the night before the circumcision). As the watch–night was regarded as dangerous because of demons that lie in wait for the child, the beadle of the synagogue would bring the Mohel's [circumcisor's] knife and place it at the head of the bed, under the birth mother.

At slichot time, in the days preceding the High Holy days, the beadle of the synagogue would wake the community with three knocks on their shutters. If, however, there was a death in the community, he would only knock twice.

In the Hebrew month of Elul, the last month of the year, the students who studied the Pentateuch, began to recite about ten chapters of psalms in the synagogue every day. The leader in prayer was Yossl Vetshik. He would say a verse and the children would repeat it.

Due to a case of Blood–Libel that was supposed to have taken place in Biale (see a separate chapter), it became customary in many homes before Passover, to heat the oven after cleaning the house.

Because of an event that was tied apparently, to the pouring of water on the clothes of a dead person (more about this later), in many houses it was accepted not to go out alone at night, to pour out this unclean water. When the water was disposed of, they would call out three times: –– beware, beware, beware. Although later it was apparent that the whole matter of pouring water on the clothes of the dead was implemented by a baker's lad, yet the custom remained.

After the “Sabbath call–up” (the Sabbath before the wedding, when the bridegroom was called to the reading of the Torah), the Bride and groom did not go out alone at night, only with an escort.

On the day of the wedding, the bride was not permitted to go out into the street alone. It was accepted, that on the day of the wedding, the bride should carry a small knife.

These customs no longer exist, and had already diminished even before the First World War. Some practices remained but instead of calling out “to the bathhouse” or “to the synagogue”, the beadle would walk around the town, before candle–lighting, and would knock with a hammer on the doors of the shops, or on the shutters, announcing how many minutes still remained before candle–lighting. In recent years, this task was performed by the beadle Azriel.

During thunder and lightning, the women would engage in this practice: they would put a quart of water on the window sill and a broom in the kitchen. If a non–Jew was in their house at the time, they tried to prevent him from leaving ….

Clothes and Fashions of 80 years ago

by M. Y.Feigenboim

Translated by Libby Raichman

Men: Loose shirts, trousers, and waist–coats – all made of cloth, boots, small hats, the so–called “Jewish hats”, half silk scarves instead of cravats. Trousers were tucked into boots.

Women: Long dresses of various materials, home–knitted socks, lace–up shoes (later buttoned), long hair plaited. Immediately after the wedding heads were shaved, and a cap or a turban was worn. In those days, if someone dared to wear a sheitl (wig), the religious people would pull it off.


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