« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 164]

Part IV

A Way of Life and Memories
from the Old Home


With Us at Home

By Shamai Bergwerk (New York)

Translated by Janie Respitz

When I was three years old, my father, may he rest in peace, wrapped me in his large prayer shawl and brought me to the Heder of our neighbour, the teacher Reb Berl. I only went there for one year, I do not know why. Then my father hired Khone Meir, or as he was called, Khone Meir Bundz. I do not know why they called him that. Khone Meir was known in town as a smart, strict teacher. The boys in his Heder had to polish his lacquered boots until they shone like mirrors.

When I was five years old I began to study the Five Books of Moses. My teacher Khone Meir taught me a nice sermon and every Saturday took me to another important household to recite the sermon of the week. I remained with him for a long time, even when I began to study Gemara, the commentary on the Mishna. He took great pleasure and was very proud to show off his first-class product and I enjoyed the food, or as they called it, the special Sabbath fruits the wealthy men offered.

When a child began to study the Five Books of Moses the family would prepare a feast and invite many guests, almost like the Bar Mitzvahs today.

In those early times they did not make parties for Bar Mitzvahs. In those days they went to synagogue and brought a bottle of Whisky and a cake. Wealthier men brought sugar cakes, poorer men brought honey cakes and this is how the Bar Mitzvah was celebrated. However, as mentioned, a large party was made at home when the child began to study the Five Books of Moses.

The chest of the celebrant, the boy beginning to study, who was usually around five years old, was decorated with watches and other gold jewelry. They would stand this five-year-old boy on the table and he would make a speech. Then there would be a ceremony where someone would ask him questions and someone would bless him.

The boy would stand on the table covered in watches and the questioner would begin the dialogue:

“Come here little boy”.

“I am no longer a little boy!”


The First Time Going to Heder

“Then what are you?”

“With luck, I am a fine, educated young man.

“And what do you study, young man?”

“I study the Five Books of Moses, the Khumash”.

“And what does Khumash mean in Yiddish?”

“Khumash means five”.

“What five? Five bagel for a groshn?”

“No, the five holy books in the holy Torah”.

“What are these books called?”

“The first book is called Genesis, the second is called Exodus, the third is called Leviticus, the fourth is called Book of Numbers and the fifth is Deuteronomy!”

“What are you learning young man?”

“I am studying Leviticus Vayikra”.

“How do you translate Vayikra?”

“Vayikra means he was called”.

“Who called? The beadle called people to come to synagogue?”

“No, God called to Moses in his beautiful language, the language of love, the language the angels speak to one another: Holy, holy – he should teach him the laws of sacrifice…”

Following this dialogue between the young student and the questioner, the one who would bless him stands up. He was usually a boy, a Cohen (a descendant from the ancient priests). He would place his small hands on the head of the young student and would bless him with the blessing of the priests:

[Page 165]

“May the Lord bless thee, and keep thee. May the Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; May the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace”. The house would be filled with guests and the enthusiasm was great.

Khone Meir the teacher was not your usual teacher. When he noticed his audience, the young children were getting tired, he would tell them stories about Aurochs (ancient extinct cattle), Leviathans, the war between Gog and Magog which would take place before the coming of the Messiah, or a story from our time about the king, the righteous Franz Yosef the First.

“I know the Kaiser Franz Yosef very well. I met him in person. One Friday afternoon I was bathing in the stream. Suddenly I saw I golden carriage ride by. I took a look, it was the Kaiser Franz Yosef who apparently came to bathe in the stream. I was terrified. I got out and he went in and stepped on my foot. Until today I have a corn on my toe”.

When I was a bit older my father hired Froym as my teacher. He was a modern teacher. Besides teaching the bible and commentaries he also taught me to write Yiddish.

After studying with Froym I went to the so-called Heder University at Yudl's. He was a teacher and his wife baked bread. However, he barely earned a living. He had a house full of children who were starving.

At Yudl the teacher's we learned together with


Efraim (Froym) the teacher


our good friend Avromtche Fisher as well as Bunye (Avrom) Tsukh and the Feder brothers. After Yudl the teacher I began to study alone in the House of Study. Many young men sat there and studied. They would explain what I did not understand. Reb Khaim Katz also came to teach there. He was a scholarly Jew with a modern perspective. He also was extremely good at explaining.

[Page 165]

[Note: Many of the lines in this section are written in Hebrew and then translated into Yiddish. This translation does not try to reproduce those repetitions.]

A Sermon

by Mordechai Geller (Kfar Hass)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

To the memory of my mother, z”l, who taught me this sermon when I entered fifth grade and began to learn Chumash.

[In Hebrew]: The asker and the asked, both go up to the table, where relatives and friends are gathered around the narrow table in honor of the occasion.

[In Yiddish]: Both children, the questioner and the new Chumash student, stand at the table, around which are the invited relatives and friends, and the questioner begins:

Questioner: Why, child, are you here at the head of the table?

Do you want to expound on the Torah as Moyshe commanded us?

Perhaps you want to deliver a d'rash [a lesson about Torah]?

Responder: Yes, my child, a d'rash I will say that is not common, so that my parents will have nachas from me.

The D'rash: In the Midrash it says, “There is a bird in the world, and its name is ‘Bird of the Vineyards.’ And what is the bird's song?

‘From whence cometh my help?’”

I ask why this is the song and not something else. I will explain.

It is written that when a child forgets what he has learned, one slaughters a bird and gives it to the child to eat as a treasure, so as not to forget the Torah.

But when the child reviews the Torah a hundred and one times [101 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “mei-ayin,” from whence] my help will come–The child will remember his learning and the bird will remain alive.

Therefore, the Bird of the Vineyard has this song and no other.

[In other words, the bird's song is the verse “From whence cometh my help.” If the child reviews his Torah learning 101 times, the numerical value of the Hebrew for “From whence,” that is where his help in remembering his Torah learning will come from.]

[Page 166]

In memory of my mother and teacher, the wife of our teacher and rabbi Moshe Langer, may his memory be a blessing, from Stretin.
Rabbanit Zippora Perl Twersky
The author of this article is the wife of our teacher and rabbi, the respected one of Talneh, and the daughter of Rabbi Moshe'le Langer, may his memory be for a blessing, from Stretin.


Preparing the Bride

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The mitzvah of preparing the bride was always considered a great mitzvah. Jews always sought to do such a mitzvah, and if the opportunity came along, they made real the saying: “The mitzvah that comes to you, you shall not profane.” Not only men were obligated, but women as well.

I will recount an episode about my mother, a”h, that involved the preparation for a bride.

It was my mother's custom that when a young woman worked for her as a servant, she would employ the young woman until she got married. This story that I am telling happened at the time when my mother lived at the home of her father, my grandfather, our teacher and Rabbi Yehuda Zvi from Stretin, may his memory be a blessing. My mother was then pregnant with her seventh child (she had nine altogether). A young woman worked for her–Rachel–a chubby orphan who was quite poor. One can say today that it is difficult to arrange a match for a girl without a dowry, but in those days it would have been easier to split the sea than to arrange a match for a such a girl. This young woman had a rich uncle, a lessee, but he was a terrible miser. He had pretty much promised to give her a substantial sum of money, on the condition that she first be married. But she could not get married because no one believed that her stingy uncle would give her anything. The young woman would pour her heart out to my mother because her uncle was so stingy, and even she did not believe that he would give her such a sum. My mother liked the young woman a lot, as if she were her own daughter, because she was so fine, so good and faithful. My mother decided to get the money from the stingy uncle as a dowry for his sister's daughter.

No sooner said than done. My mother hired a driver with a sled for early Tuesday, the day about which it says twice [in Genesis] “it was good,” to make the trip. You must know that my mother lived in Stretin and “rich” uncle lived in Narayev. It was winter, very cold, and my mother was risking her life. The young woman had pleaded with her to postpone the journey, but my mother said that one could not postpone such a thing. She had to go on her mission.

The journey was difficult. There was a blizzard, a storm. The horses lost their way and blundered about. By a miracle, that night they arrived at the uncle's courtyard. The uncle, seeing my mother in these circumstances, immediately understood that she came about his niece, and he said to her, “Come and take off your heavy coat. Sit down and have some dinner to restore your strength. Then we'll talk.” He quickly put all kinds of good things on the table, but my mother said to him, “Listen, I won't take a thing until you assure me that you'll give the money as a dowry for your niece Rachel.” The uncle was confused and did not know what to do. He looked for excuses.

“You don't understand,” he said. “Where can I get such a sum in the middle of the night?”

But my mother, a”h, was very smart. “I have a plan,” she said. “Who needs the cash? Just give me a promissory note, an IOU, in Rachel's name. The IOU can be paid off in a month.”

The uncle begged her, “But first take something, taste something.” But then he realized that he could not succeed against my mother. He had no choice but to give her the IOU.

Only then could they eat. My mother's heart pounded with joy at her mitzvah; and she returned home happy. All of Stretin was astounded. No one had believed that my mother would succeed in getting the whole sum from that stingy uncle.

It was not long before that young woman became the bride of a fine young man and my mother became the most important “relative” at the young woman's wedding.

[Page 169]

(Memories from the Past, from our Old Home)

by Avraham Fisher (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In those days, when Boiberke belonged to Austria-Hungary, when a young man turned twenty-one, he had to present himself. That is, he had to come before a committee, where doctors examined him to see if he was fit to be a soldier and serve the emperor Franz Joseph. And one such presentation did not suffice. One had to present oneself for three years, referred to as three classes. He who was found fit for the military in the first class–that is, he was approved, or, as the Jews put it, he was delivered up–or in the second year, in the second class–he had to serve three years in the army. He who escaped in the first two years and was only found fit in the third year, the third class, only had to serve for two months.

You have to understand that Jewish mothers were not eager to send their children to three years in the army, among Gentiles. There would probably be no kosher food and little Yiddishkeit. And naturally people grew no younger and they wanted to marry, so how could they spend three years in the army? No one applied to go to the army.

Three or four months before presenting oneself, men began to seek ways to make themselves unsuitable for the army, that is, to appear unfavorable in the eyes of the regimental doctors before whom they had to appear. I said three or four months, but truth be told, those who were serious about it began right after Succos, because the committee usually came to our town of Boiberke just before Pesach.

So what do I mean by “torment”? I mean not to eat by day or to sleep at night. People began on the first Saturday night after Succos. The “candidates” gathered in the little shul and they talked until four in the morning. They did it every night except Friday. They ate little bread and no meat. Every Monday and Thursday they fasted. In order not to sleep in the shul, they danced, and in order to dance, they drank whiskey–schnapps. But schnapps costs money, so the candidates would tell the wealthy citizens that they could sponsor a “whiskey night.” This worked if the rich guy was nice enough and did not refuse but provided the necessary funds or even a quantity of liquor. But if he was stubborn and said “NO [lo] with a capital aleph,” they had to deal with him and find a way to get the desired offering from him.

I remember how one time they sent to R. Moyshe Kriss–a lumber merchant who had a large warehouse asking him to supply whiskey, and he said, “No.” He refused. His lumber warehouse was not far from the shul, so what did they do? The candidates got on each other's shoulders and they created a commotion at R. Moyshe's warehouse demanding boards so they could heat the shul, so they loaded up from a big corner of the warehouse. After that, people had only to glance and Moyshe Kriss himself would bring the money, because he knew what the tormentors were capable of. This was always the fate of those citizens who tried to turn down the tormentors. And if the denier had no lumber warehouse, they would not allow him to sleep. Or they took the cholent that his wife had prepared for Shabbos. No one dared make war with the tormentors, because it did not pay off.

An innocent victim of the tormentors was R. Alter Gira, a baker who was terribly poor, poverty-stricken, poor fellow. His bakery was across from the beis-medresh. It never failed that someone would say, “Let's go to Alter's bakery and see what he's made.” The group of tormentors, hungry as locusts, went over there and loaded up on what he had prepared. “Have mercy, have mercy,” the poor man cried. “Leave something for me to sell in the morning. I need the money.”

The life of these tormentors was not easy. One could not envy them; not eating

[Page 170]

during the day and not sleeping at night for months on end took strength. And truly, appearing before the committee were worn out, tormented bodies, skin and bones. Before appearing, they would go to the rabbi for a blessing that they should remain Jews, that is, that they should not enter the army; and the especially religious ones went also to the “macher” so they should be excused. Just to be sure. And after all of this it happened more than once that there was a “bad committee” and everyone was taken into the army. Then there was darkness in the city, a real Tisha b'Av.

People say that in earlier generations it was worse. People disfigured themselves cut off a finger; candidates would damage, or allow to be damaged, an ear or a knee. Some young people died as a result.

It is also no wonder that not everyone could suffer such torments for a year or two years or three and then still have to go into the army. People also sought other ways to escape. The chief way when self-torment became recognized and was declared illegal, so that practitioners had to appear before the gendarmes and be beaten, was that young people began to flee to other countries, especially to America, which was considered a free country.

That last year before the First World War, 1914, the committee came to Boiberke on June 14 [exactly two weeks before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand]. There were sixty young men in the first class, that is, born in 1893; interestingly, almost every one was released. People knew they would be available the next year. But those in the second and third classes were almost all taken, and they were all tormented for a longer time (and then excused).

Feivel the Tall One

by Meir Shtiker (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I will not take leave of you.
It could be that I long for the river
That washed out the poorhouse flowers
Together with their poor rags.
No, not even for that will I long.
Even that I can give you with my whole heart.

Tall Feivush would cease to be the people's laughingstock.
He would dispose of the yoke, the buckets,
His leggings and boots, his flea-bitten kaftan,
And no longer plod, plod in the mud.

Just as you did not come whence
I came, so it will not concern you
Where Feivel vanished one bright day.
Only the sun will accompany me to Lember's piers.

You will stand afar and await my obituary,
No longer able to laugh or to mock.

Even then I will no longer plead with you
And walk free and easy through the streets.
Near Jewish Willice I will stand for a moment:
The low thresholds, the broken windows, the cry
Of children and the grumbling of loafers
I will take with me, and I will move on.

I will no longer look around, because all
Is turned into a pillar of salt.

[Page 171]

Baking Matzohs
at Rabbi Avraham Breitfeld's House

by Dvora Rauch-Breitfeld

Translated by Regina Russak

Three days before Passover when the house was whitewashed, after fresh straw was put in our beds, when the every day dishes were scattered like orphans in the middle of the house and people were sitting on top of large cans, and we children were already tired of working and could barely stand on our feet, and our hands were already swollen from scrubbing the little bit of furniture, and when our eyes already longed for a little more sleep -- just then our father woke us up at five o'clock in the morning so we could prepare to bake the matzohs. With eyes half shut, we got up, we carried everything out of the house and our father went up to the attic to bring down all the holy equipment (tools) which are: the boards, the rolling pins, the water barrel, the large pans, the matzoh wheels (to pierce the matzohs) and other important utensils. Water had been prepared already yesterday, since it had to be water “that slept (stood overnight)”.

My sister Hinde's friends and also my friends, whom we invited a week ago, started gathering, white kerchiefs on their heads and wearing well ironed only-for-Passover aprons.

The water carrier form our street, Chaim (the gravedigger's son), had koshered the pails especially for the occasion. All dressed up in holiday clothes, he came over very early. It wasn't for everybody that Chaim agreed to carry water. For us he had a special feeling and felt a spiritual uplifting. Actually, he hoped that one of the two daughters in Reb Abraham Hirsh Mayers's household, would be his wife. First of all, we had the well in our yard. Second, our home had a tin roof (a very great attribute in a small town). And third, our father was the sexton in the big shul. And if Avraham Breitfeld will not give him one of his daughters, surely he could find a wife amongst the many girls who are rolling out the matzohs.

The roller of the wheel (the matzoh piercing wheel), through whose hands the matzohs passed, the head of the household, was my father Reb Avraham Breitfeld, may he rest in peace. There was one craftsman still missing who played a very important role in matzoh baking, known as the “pusher” (he pushed the matzohs into the oven with a wooden shovel). It so happens at that time, a student from Boiberke, Feivel Shleider (now Dr. Shraga F. Kallay) came home for Passover from his studies in Rome, Italy. This guest was a daily visitor in our house and my father immediately designated him the “pusher”. And so we began to work.

The girls started banging with their rolling pins, there was a cheerful atmosphere in the house, we sang songs form the “Hashomer Hatzair” because all the co-workers belonged the youth movement and Chaim the water carrier was very happy and had a big smile spread all over his face.

My father took over the piercing with the wheel and studies which is the perfectly round matzoh, and finds out that his daughter Hinde rolls out a perfectly round matzoh, as if it were cut out with a circle, and he shows the other girls how to roll out a matzoh.

The pusher of the matzoh was hot and red-faced and his shovel ends up touching the pretty Yetke Gottlieb. “Help”, yells my father noticing this. “You bandit, you will contaminate my matzoh “(G-d forbid!). The crowd is smiling and the beautiful Yetke blushes a little. The day was gone before we realized it. There were a whole lot of matzohs baked.

My father thought of all his relatives and matzohs that had been baked for them. Then, close to the end, we drank a toast “l'chaim”, and we wished each other the privilege to bake matzohs again for years to come in the Land of Israel.

[Page 172]

Belz Chasidim Fight the Szwirszer,
the Stretiners in Boiberke

(Written in 1932)

by Hershl Gross, z”l (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Without swords and rifles, without cannon, without gas bombs or machine guns, and even without battleships and airplanes, but only with injurious actions, a war was conducted for three years between two Chasidic parties in a small Galician town.

I have never understood what people intend with such bitter revenge. Therefore I must say from the beginning, before I reveal the story, that when the rabbi of Boiberke, R. Binyamin Geller, a”h, expressed that the time would come when he would get even with the whole town at one time, it seemed to me as if he were calling on people to eat duckling roasted in butter during the Nine Days or on Tisha b'Av, or perhaps as if he said that people should fast only on Simchas Torah. But I did not expect that he would play such a trick on the town and give himself such a simple end. And his withering away was the greatest revenge on the town that he could have caused, so that if you did not want to look after your rabbi, you felt what it was like to have to appoint one.

The rabbi of Boiberke, R. Binyamin Geller, a”h, came from Kriwtsh, a small shtetl near Pshemishl (Galicia) and was one of the proclaimed “Belzers” [Chasidim from Belz]. I should make clear that soon after the [First] World War, Rabbi Ori Halevi from Szwirsz, a son of Rabbi Chaim'l Eisen, the head of the Beis Din in Szwirsz, who was the son-in-law of the old Stretin rabbi Rabbi Yuda Hirsch, came to Boiberke. The Szwirsz rabbi settles in Boiberke and began to function as a rabbi. He led his own prayerhouse, conducted tishes, etc. At the same time, it often happened that the Boiberke rabbi, r. Binyamin Geller, a”h, often felt isolated and he would then consult with and seek help from the Szwirsz rabbi. On the 21st of Tammuz in 5689–July 29, 1929–on an ordinary Monday, the Boiberke rabbi desired to play a trick on his people and he died–people will probably not believe me when I say that while they were still preparing the shrouds, people started to run after endorsements from both factions. To be sure, Chasidim from Szwirsz and Stretin went for endorsements for the Szwirsz rabbi, and since the deceased rabbi had a son-in-law, who was serving as a religious judge in Dolina, but who had long looked after his father-in-law's title, the Belz Chasidim immediately went for endorsements for the son-in-law, and soon there was a real conflict between the two factions. There were rabbis who, in their eulogies at the funeral asserted to everyone that there must be a clear claim and that the judge from Dolina, the son-in-law of Boiberke's rabbi, was entitled to the position. But the Szwirszer rabbi maintained that having been in the town for several years and having helped out the old rabbi, he had a legitimate claim to be represented, and because the head of the Kahal [the community organization], R. Eizik Alter, was on the side of the Styretiners and through an “act of Nature” belonged to the Stretin- Szwirsz side, so the community had meanwhile taken the Szwirszer as rabbi. So this was the first shot, the signal of a war breaking out on the theme of right of possession versus justice.

The Belzers immediately demonstrated that “what the community cannot do, the ruler can.” That “Belz” approached the authorities was an open secret, and the governor overturned the acceptance of the Szwirszer as rabbi. So the Stretiners went to a higher authority, to the head of the voivode, and there began the traumas of patronage, with Belz on one side and Szwirsz and Stretin on the other, so that even the head of the voivode was embarrassed. Just at that time there were elections in Poland for the legislature. There was a Jewish candidate from the Zionist party, and everyone understood how to exploit this battle for him. Understand, the Jewish candidate had a terrible dilemma, because the Szwirszers and the Belzers played up to the governor and voted for the Polish candidate, so it was the same old story with the same outcome–voted, chosen, sold out, and betrayed, but to what end? The governor regarded both sides as a plague and meanwhile named as provisional rabbi the old religious judge Rabbi Yosef Kluger. Since one cannot contradict the governor, there began a real

[Page 173]

Torah battle with a brand new basis: surely, just as a title can be proclaimed when it has a majority, so the majority of scholars in the city began their explorations of the weekly Torah portions by examining the heroes of the war in Boiberke.

Several rabbis from different places and from both factions were called together. They gathered in Lemberg, and there the Jews of Boiberke, young and old, traveled for the inquiry. Everyone went…people ran, they quarreled, they were devoted, because the “examiners” knew how to tantalize one side or the other by inviting them to the inquiry on Erev Shabbos or Erev Yom Tov or at a time when it was too late to get a train there or back home, but still people came. People traveled by car, they rented whole buses, they went regardless of cost. Wives went with husbands, mothers with sons. People broke down the door of the hearing room and wrote to the examiners: “Who do you think you are, whippersnappers, that you want to make decisions about our sages?” One zealous Szwirszer even dared to exchange blows in that place and exclaimed, “You could more easily get a kiss than a low-class Belzer as a rabbi for our city.” This passion even extended to physical conflicts. Partners split up, engagements were broken, men and women pulled each other's hair, parents threw their children out of their homes, workers left their places of employment, people stopped buying at their usual shops or using their usual workmen. In the shop or at the butcher, at the baker oar at the tavern, in the beis-medresh, in the markets and the bathhouse, on the train or in carriage, with the rich and with the poor, the merchant and the worker, the intellectuals and the unlearned, at a simcha or at a funeral where people stood still, where they came and where they went, the question of the rabbi flared. Fights often broke out between strangers and the biggest confrontations came at Friday night meals. Perhaps the husband forgot and sang a melody from Belz. Then his wife would bring no more food or spill hot soup on him since she came from Stretin. Or, on the other hand, she came from a Belzer home and he sang Stretiner melodies. You can see that soon plates, forks, and spoons would be flying, and as people lost control, even the brass candlesticks, before the lights had been extinguished.

This battle went so far that when a pregnant Jewish woman felt that she immediately needed a midwife and no one was with her but her husband, to whom she had not spoken for weeks, she chose to find her father, a Chasid from Belz. But realizing that her time was near, she had to ask her husband to “run” for the midwife. He yelled angrily, “Why? So, heaven forbid, another Belzer boy can be born? Let what will happen happen,” and he refused to go.

The writer of these lines knew a couple who had a three-year-old child and who lived peacefully. But because the wife's father as a fervent Stretiner and the husband's father as a devoted Belzer, it fell out that the couple no longer lived together, and so great was the animosity that the marriage was in jeopardy and there were hints of divorce.

The working class, which had recently been so well organized, also divided into factions over the rabbinic war. The Zionist party as well, especially the younger people, was divided into two. It was both laughable and tragic that children were running along one of the finest streets and, seeing a very bright young man, they tore his jacket, threw stones at him, drove him crazy, all because he had always been a Belzer. Another Belzer, an older man, a member of the city council, was “honored” with a stone to his head and with broken windows. This was done by children, who were rewarded with candies by the other faction. And now the battle assumed a new character and people reverted to the old custom of slander, gossip, and denunciation. People cooked up a question and spoke about the “governor” himself. Deadlines were attested to have passed. People swore that the result, whether it went this way or that, would probably be, as usual, the result of criminality, and neither party would relax even a bit of its obstinacy. The religious judge whom the inquiry had appointed as the legal authority could offer nothing. The town, which had lost all common decency, listened to him as Haman would listen to a grogger…

It is also true–as people say–that the deceased rabbi himself had left a strong weapon against his faction, because it had once wanted him to allow a local barber to keep his shop open on Shabbos, that is, to work openly on Shabbos. After the outcry from other barbers and from

[Page 174]

the town's leading citizens, he sought to withdraw his Shabbos-desecrating permissions, but the barber maintained that business was business! He said that he had paid what the rabbi had asked and he should not be required to close his shutters, even when people were going to or from religious services, even though the barber shop was right at the entrance to the street which was the main approach to the beis-medreshes, and there was a great danger that the other businesspeople would follow suit.

This, and other “earlier” good deeds, surely brought no improvement to the town and surely undermined things in several respects. Naturally, everything served as a weapon in the war of the Chasidim. But if what I heard the last time I was there is true, there was a Mr. Leo Urbanski, the former mayor (certainly not a Jew and therefore not a Stretiner nor even a Belzer), but a lover of Jews, a helper of poor people and beleaguered merchants in need, a man suffused with true liberalism. It is said, if this is true, that if Mr. Urbanski would take a stand in the rabbi controversy, people could hope for an end of the battle. From reliable sources, we know of Mr. Urbanski's decision: that if both candidates, the Szwirszer rabbi and the Dolina judge, truly wanted to show their finer qualities, their menshlichkeit, their decency, both should withdraw their candidacies for the Boiberke rabbinate, a competition for a rabbi should be declared, an unaffiliated rabbi should be chosen, and this would bring peace to Boiberke. Let us hope that on the third yahrzeit of the Boiberke rabbi, Binyamin Geller, a”h, this miracle will occur.

The Teacher

by Meir Shtiker (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

From all the best homes they bring them to me:
The young ones, polished and spiffy,
The girls in starched white garments.
They hesitate to cross the threshold and go through the door
Of Chana Meir Buncz's and Moyshe Katzir's cheder–
The rich man's son and the daughter of the wealthy
Their mothers chatter away and say:
“I bought Lonek a navy sailor's jacket
And said to him, ‘Enough with wearing arbe-konfos’”[1]
“My Duvid is preparing for the university.”
“And my son dreams of travel to great cities.”

I sit them there on padded benches.
I teach them everything that I remember
From the several years I spent in Vienna:
A little German, a bit of Polish, a touch of Yiddish,
All from those good old days,
And I allow those well-groomed girls and high-class boys
To hang upon my neck as long as they desire.
I have no whip. I need a whip!
But one fine day I'll do a trick
And open up a school like Moyshe Katzir and Chana Meir Buncz.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. traditional undergarment with tzitzit on the corners. Return to text

[Pages 175-177]

Childhood Years in Buberika

Translated by Fanny Pere

What I am about to tell you today will seem to many of you to be far-fetched (bubbemeises) – perhaps something out of “A Thousand and One Nights” – illusory images, exaggerated, and imaginary. Some stories like this don't even make sense. But, to tell you the truth, I myself have actually experienced all of this, and if you will close your eyes and pinch your memory, I am sure that many of these little incidents will be well-remembered by you, too!

Strangely, even today they still ring in the ears, and one is tempted, on hearing all of this, to burst into uncontrollable laughter. But afterwards, you will gnash your teeth for what is so really serious and tearful, upon realizing that your happy and carefree childhood years are gone.

But, that is how things were, and maybe it was all fated to be that way. Perhaps it was all worthwhile, in order to lay down healthy foundations of Yiddishkeit and to gain the strength to withstand our bitter exile, until now.


Nursery School Today and Beginner's Cheder of Yesteryear

Today's times, when a child approaches the third year – after being well-nurtured by his mother, having had the best of everything, indulged in many ways – parents start thinking of a nursery school or kindergarten. They ponder over it over and over, inquire about it, as to which one is the best and nicest, does the nursery teacher appear to be qualified. Is she young and pretty, lively, perhaps a dancer? Is there a piano available, a radio, modern musical instruments, lots of toys, a place for TV?

Then, if they finally find such a place, and the blessed day arrives, the child is clothed with the nicest and best new clothes, hat, new shoes, perhaps even a furry coat. His food is packed with the nicest apple, banana, and also a little sandwich. The father excitingly seats him in his car and drives him directly to the kindergarten. He says goodbye with a kiss, asks the teacher to make sure that he eats all of his lunch. For a long time, the father stands behind the door, looking in to see how his sweet boy is feeling in his new environment.

The child really enjoys it all. There is singing, dancing, playing, listening to music, hearing the nice stories read by the teacher. Finally, the children are seated around a clean table to eat. Soon after eating, the father returns with his car, inquires as to how his child has adjusted, and brings him home to his mother joyfully. Well, the child has survived the couple of hours without her. This is how it goes, on and on.

But, in the old times it was quite different. Instead of nursery school, there was a cheder, with a strict teacher for beginners. When the first day of cheder finally arrives, the mother stands a little freer in spirit than usual, and starts getting busy with you. She pours a little water from a pitcher on your little hands, puts the yarmulke on your head, says a little prayer of thanks (Modeh Ani and Asher Yatzar). She washes your face, gives you something to eat, dresses you warmly, wipes your nose, and awaits the person who carries little ones to cheder. He comes in, puts you down on the bench, intones a couple of “barachas” with you – some in the holy tongue and some in Yiddish – then puts you on his shoulders and carries you right into the cheder.


The Beginner's Cheder

Inside an old home is a large, stuffy room with hardly any air, sun or light. The students – very young little boys – are lying around on a long bench or on the naked floor, making holes or playing with buttons. Here and there a noise, a commotion, a cry is heard. The little ones, smeared with dirt, soiled underwear sticking out from behind, little snotty noses, sidelocks askew, outer warming underwear, and yarmulkes pushed to the side – that is the picture.

Sitting at the head of a long table is the rabbi, with a stick in one hand and a pointer in the other. Near him, on the side, sits a crying child, who is looking deeply into a yellowed, tobacco-stained thick siddur in which the enlarged letters of the Aleph Bet stand out. From a small, wooden pushka the rabbi every now and then takes out a little tobacco between his fingers and stuffs it into his nostrils. The droppings of the tobacco fall down onto his heavy whiskers. His long white beard is almost always shaking. His sharp eyes dart here and there, and he hollers at a child who is fighting with another not far from him. With his large pointer he gives the child a jab every now and then. A child sits crying near him, and he orders him to look carefully at what the rabbi is showing him in the siddur: “Look, you little Goy, look good, good. Do you see what an aleph is? A crooked little stick with two little feet, one on top and one from the bottom. Say it after me – aleph, aleph, aleph. And what do you see under the aleph? A little line, in the middle of which is a little foot. This is a kametz and together it makes aleph aw.” A whole row of children on the bench learn this way – kametz aleph aw, aw, aw.

In the midst of the lesson, the children's carrier barges into the cheder. He is a tall, skinny boy, with peyot askew, the collar of his shirt open, wearing filthy boots, his skullcap displaced. He carries two heavy, long baskets. A hot vapor erupts from them. Inside are pots of food for the children. The rebbetzen calls the rabbi to come into the kitchen, so he should also grab something to eat. The children seat themselves on the bench and on the floor. The carrier starts dishing out to each one his pot of food with a spoon inside.

The noise becomes a little quieter. Altogether is heard the shouting of the baracha by the children and the carrier, thanking God for the food. The carrier tells them, “Eat, children, eat.”

Soon the rabbi is coming back and the carrier hollers to the children to eat faster. The rabbi comes back, hasn't ended his prayers, murmuring them between his teeth, and quoting, “A youth I was and I have gotten old.” He shakes out the pieces of noodles that have fallen from his beard, wipes the potato grits from his mustache, seats himself down again at the head of the table, takes his stick and marker into his hands, and starts again with one child, with a second, with the third – kametz aleph – aw, aw, aw.

We learn, we groan, we cry into the dark evening, as he says then, “Dear children, go home.” And the carrier carries those that need to be carried on his shoulders, and the rest – the bigger boys – walk home alone.

This is how it is, day in and day out, with serious little faces – out of the house into cheder, from cheder to home again. But, the dirty faces become happier as they go home. Between the cheder and going home, the carrier carries them and they all say the Shema together.

Sometimes, a break. Toned down, though still noisy, the children go quickly until they come to a special, blessed house where there is a newborn baby. Happily and loudly, the children push their way into this house, where the new mother lies covered with a sheet. On the walls and on the sheet are glued congratulatory letters for new mothers and blessings written in large letters. Shouting loudly – good evening, mazel tov – the children repeat the blessings of the carrier.

A woman with a fine apron starts portioning out little pieces of lekach (honeycake) and a drop of Vishnik for the lips. Happy and satisfied, the little children run home. But this exceptional enjoyment doesn't happen every day.

And the lessons in the cheder go on and on. One boy goes away and the second squeezes in. In the meantime, the learning becomes more difficult, not only Hebrew letters of the alphabet do we learn, but also whole words translated from Hebrew to Yiddish and trope. Fear grows from the long words and the trope and the stick that grows longer each time. And this is how a little boy sits for so long, until with good luck, he becomes a choomish bucher. From the translations alone, you had to get up from time to time to stretch until the next parsha. But, soon things become smoother and you end this reciting of the parsha happily with a blessing from the rabbi.

You drink l'chaim and nibble on food – and are rid of it. But the heavy learning starts with you only a day later. You start with the choomish, really from the beginning, choomish with Rashi with all the meaning – those that are found with difficulty and those that the rabbi tells you by heart. Translation from the forefathers, the Exodus from Egypt, receiving the Torah, the Golden Calf that Aaron made – you become one with the generation of 40 years in the desert until you reach Eretz Israel. And you learn this over a span of six years, hating it like the Goyish Cross that stands before your eyes every day, and you must bear it. And so you must torture yourself for six years until you become a Bar Mitzvah.


A Bar Mitzvah Boy

Now you are a functional Jew, with the entire yoke of doing good deeds as handed down through the ages. In those days, being a Jew was much more difficult than today.

Today, if you want to become a Bar Mitzvah, it is enough for the Bar Mitzvah boy to make a visit to the synagogue once or twice, allow himself to be called to the Torah, say the blessings of the Haftorah with the tune he has learned through suffering and that has sadly cost his parents not a small amount of money. In the true Bar Mitzvah, it is not worthwhile to outlay so much money to say the Haftorah one time and to learn how to use the phylacteries. However, for today's Bar Mitzvah boy it is really worth it – a little work and lots of gain.

In these times, the parents make a great celebration in his honor – it is called a party. They invite many, many people. You are given a nice present from each guest. You simply become rich with money and gifts. Yes, you must also have something to say at the party – a speech, the speech you have been taught to say by heart – but all of this is well worthwhile for you. Sadly, though, it has cost them the real equivalent of a dowry or a wedding. Many parents are put into debt but this is the pattern of what parents do as of today. This is all today.

But in those other times, it was quite different. First of all, the Bar Mitzvah boy suffered long months, learning all kinds of laws of the Talmud, using the phylacteries (teffilin), the laws of prayer, laws of blessings, rituals of cleanliness (immersion in the mikvah for the purifications of the body, and other little laws without end), not to forget half of the Shulchan Aruch (laws governing the life of an Orthodox Jew). The tefillin procedure had a face of its own like real, true teffilin – large as a large apple, enough room for four sets of teffilin. The Shin was boldly seen. The leather bands were wide, strong, and black, and inscribed upon them by a genuinely religious writer (written according to the laws of writing prayers), not like today – teffilin are fabricated and small as nuts.

The day of the Bar Mitzvah, the father would awaken you at daybreak and lead you to the mikvah for dipping into the waters of it (the father had previously requested the mikvah be properly cleansed). Then he takes you to the House of Study, and you walk with the velvety tefillin case under your arm. You are honored with liquor and honey cake, not more. And they put you into a corner and request that you say the necessary prayers without any mistakes. You roll up the sleeve of your left arm, say the prayer while putting on the tefillin. You kiss them here and there and prove that they are in the right place – against the heart and against the forehead – entwine the fringe on your finger, and you stand and daven with the minyan, word by word. One must not make any mistakes. You stand like a bent fool and can't move. If it is Monday or Thursday, they call you to daven also on Saturday. The father blesses you after you are called up to the Torah with a blessing of your new status (probably “blessed that I have done my duty, now you are on your own.”) From now he sheds responsibility for your sins, from today you also carry the entire yoke of being Jewish like all grown Jews. Getting up at daylight for a minyan, fasting for whatever written reasons, must not do any sinning, not carry anything on Shabbat, not go outside the limits, not do childish things. You are already a complete Jew! If not, they will torment you in the next world. For you alone, the Bar Mitzvah boy, life has become a little more difficult. Not a single gift do you receive, only a heavy yoke is put upon you, a yoke of 613 mitzvot – a yoke taken away from your father and it hardly cost him anything. Yet you have gained a little something from this experience – a little “cuvid” (respect). You can fill in for a minyan, if needed, and you already can read at Purim the Magillah for the women, and can even possibly earn a couple groshen. Together with this, you, in the meantime, become a Gemorah bucher, given more respect. Until now you had only a smattering of portions of the Gemorah. Yes, now you are given a bigger portion to recite, almost a whole page of Gemorah, and with it a piece of additional prayer. No more less important readings. Whether you understand or not, nobody says anything. And you must know all this because after his Saturday meal, the Rabbi comes to your house to listen to you daven. You no longer are learning from the “yiddele teacher” but by Fivel, the real learned teacher. If this doesn't satisfy Fivel the Melamid, he gives you over to someone else to teach you more about additional prayers, rules of trope, or intricacies of slaughter. He has aspirations to make a rav out of you, or at least a tutor.

[Page 178]

When Strelisk Burned

Meir Shtiker (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

(About a year before the First World War, almost all of old Strelisk, the Galician town several miles from Lemberg, was destroyed in a fire. Many Jews from Boiberke, a couple of miles away, set out to save whom and what they could. Among those Jewish heroes was my grandfather Noach Paget.)

Put on your coat, Zeyde.
Drink your aquavit.
Eat an egg kichel,
And take your tallis. Horses and sleighs await
On the dazzling snow.
Don your fur hat
And get going-Strelisk burns!

The flames are spreading
Closer to the bridge–
I beg you, come safely
Back to Boiberke.

It was a Wednesday,
Seven in the morning
When the horses and sleighs
Took off.

The hours crept, crept,
Into Thursday.
My grandmother yelled and murmured:
When will he return?

She yelled well into Friday
When suddenly, unexpectedly,
He returned,
An hour before candle-lighting.

His sidecurls singed,
His jacket burned–
Grandmother Chaya Sarah
Could barely recognize him.

He jumped out of the sled
And quickly ran to her
While calling out,
“I brought with me

A half-dozen who've been burnt out,
Just for over Shabbos.
But if that doesn't please you,
I'll take them to the shul.”

My grandmother was silent,
But only for a moment,
And a tear, like a diamond,
Wandered down her cheek.

She opened wide the door
And with a voice full of joy
She went up to the guests:
“My house is here for you.”

They left the sleigh
And walked in snow,
Half naked and unshod
In windblown piles of snow.

She gave to them some clothing–
Jackets, stockings, shoes,
While odors of that Shabbos meal
Spread out from the kitchen.

I feel in all my bones
The reality of that Shabbos,
Although more than fifty years
Have passed since then.

The Thirteen-Year-Old Boy

Meir Shtiker (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

(Running from Shvarts-Timeh [which was the Yiddish name of Bila Tserkva, the site of massacre of Jews in 1941])

The same darkness during the day, during the night,
The pull, the veil, the whole thought
Is laced with horror–
Guarded by demons, evil,
With crosses and hooks.

(Over all, where the throne is:
Fat priests, nuns,
And the young face that took the bonbons.)

I run–and the trees run:
A tall nun, a fat priest,
And crosses in a wild mixture
From clouds of incense and from darkness.

The light in my lantern
Was extinguished before
The stars appeared
Over the roof of the cheder.

I heard the stars resound
In my thirteen-year-old ears.
I climbed onto their wagon
And fled to Yakov in Haran.

[Page 179]

My Shtetele Boiberke

Translated by Myra Rothenberg and Melvin Schmier

(Thoughts about my old home, while having an extended talk
and with my parents, Joseph Krieger and Bella Pantzer).

Lublin, Warsaw, Lodz, Lemburg, and even smaller, less well known shtetls, are remembered by thousands of Jews. Because even in the tiny places, where there was found only a very small Jewish community, there lay buried, thousands of our memories. Our souls are bound together very strongly by ties which cannot be broken.

But my poor shtetele, which alligns itself only in name with Shalom Aleichem's “Boiberik”, now possesses only one single family, ours in Montreal.  And that family is now so “Canadian”, no one can share any memories with them.  Even though we want, during the week of the yartzeit of their demize, to lose ourselves there in a rendezvous with them and warm ourselves from the in the shining sun of their immortal souls.

Like giant bright figures, they stand straight in a row in my fantasy, in my dreams they are the ones who risked all. The hardened water -carrier, Samuel Kometz, Shmerl the porter with the thick rope around his hips, Shmuel Nakhum's Chaya Pearl. Mkhla the glazier, Uncle David's Leyzer, the singing young journeymen. Reizele Aushteyn, the charm of the place, dancing little orphans, all it's toughness, its hungry souls, even in the good times they took everything with love and never complained.

To our young people in the shtetl who suddenly heard sounds of progressive modernism from far away places. And had the hunger still to educate themselves.

Even though we didn't own a school of higher education or a high school, many of the people reached high and noble goals.

 Soon after the Balflour Declaration, our muddy streets came alive with clatter of Hebrew subjects and strolling young boys and girls.  The youth threw themselves into studies of Dr. Herzl's Jewish state. From the thick woods behind the cemetery, voices rang with songs of freedom on the fallen monuments, our voices almost awakening the dead. .  We sat there and studied (from the Book of Lamentations) and sang from the Song of Songs and interpreted chapters from “The Jewish State”.  Everything, everything we devoured.

 Daughters and sons of the very old, all at once they awoke to progress, endured the obstacles of poverty and with rags on their hands, and with strength and vigor on their lips they made it to Israel and were it's first pioneers and guardians:


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Bobrka,Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Carol Monosson Edan

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 18 Feb 2024 by JH