I remember an instance when because of a most serious illness the patient was not allowed to be transported to the hospital in Gluboki. Some 15-20 Jews volunteered to carry the patient on a bed, a distance of 30 kilometers. Mishmeres Khoylim also oversaw that dangerously ill patients could get to a government hospital in Gluboki.
Separately from the Mishmeres Khoylim the Women's-Committee was active -- a competent group of doers which achieved a lot for the institution.
One could also count the Khevre Gemiles Khasidim among the philanthropic organizations in the shtetl, as they granted interest free loans to the needy merchants, small-time peddlers and craftsmen. Furthermore, the Kevre Kadish took care of deceased Dokshitz Jews, taking care that they were buried according to the Jewish law and brought to the Jewish cemetery.
The older generation used to tell often of the big fires in the shtetl and even the history of Dokshitz is organized according to the first, second and third fires.
The Dokshitz "Pozsharne" was supported by the community and government, but most of the firefighters were Akhinu-B'nei-Yisro'el [lit. "our brethren, the sons of Israel," members of our race/religion]. First of all,this was because many of the younger Jews had nothing to do and they were able to give a lot of time to drills. Furthermore, most of the fires broke out in Jewish homes and, as already mentioned, destroyed many neighboring buildings because of
Some 100 young people belonged to the "Pozsharne"-and outside of their own task, they were also in charge of Jewish celebrations and undertakings. Thus, the Jewish community was proud of and confident in its firefighters on account of their conversion into a slef defense organization, when rowdy soldiers, or just anti-Semitic pogromists, wanted to make merry with the Jewish community. Or simply if the Jews smelled the danger of anti-Jewish excursions, they would ring the fire alarm and our boys, armed with axes, dressed in their brass helmets and Pozsharne uniforms, well drilled and disciplined, taught the ruffians, quickly they would mete it out, and before they could cause harm to the Jews.
Apropos the above-a few words about the Jewish-Christian relations in the shtetl. In the so-called normal times, both peoples lived in good-neighborly relations and seldom did conflicts arise. IN contrast, during times of crisis, the Poles and White Russians were the cause of clashes with Jews more than once. But our self-defense group did not allow the anti-Semites to carouse too much.....
Several kilometers east of the shtetl, was the Swistopole forest that stretched to the Soviet border. Every Sabbath and holiday, that place was transformed into a mass meeting. Young and old came here to relax and enjoy their free time. The air there was delightfully fresh and a cool breeze blew steadily on hot summer days. Whilst the young danced, played, sang in special places or clearings-the older people lay in the shade of the trees, reading a book, a newspaper or having a chat. One could hear the playing of a mandolin or guitar from various directions.
There was also no scarcity of soccer games. The youth, who belonged to different organizations, held their get-togethers, circles/clubs and meetings in the Swistopole forest. The communist disposed youth relegated
People would put up a hammock between two close trees and rock until dozing off. Mothers would take their youngsters there for a walk-and thus, on such an afternoon, the forest was full of joy and fun.
In the shtetl proper, there were several fruit orchards, the property of the local priest, who leased them to Jews. On a Shabbes [Sabbath] after tsholent [a baked dish of meat, potatoes and beans often served on the Sabbath-a slow cooked dish, kept warm from the day before so as to avoid cooking on the Sabbath, which is prohibited] people used to go to these orchards and relax there from a whole week's work and from chasing their subsistence earnings. Also, the good owner, Mikulsky, rented his orchards to Jewish people who would tend the orchards. In addition to that rest, people went there to buy cherries, apples, pears. Lying on the grass people discussed politics, shtetl news, people also carried on romances, decided upon wedding dates and occupied themselves with..... gossip.
Smaller groups of young people also used to go for walks among the flowers, which were on both sides of the Glubok and Dolhinov roads. That area was especially good for young couples in love to walk in, and the trees on the road would have much to tell.....
The Laputa River, the Podamch swing, like the boulevard around the Russian Orthodox church, the little streets, were also never empty of young people strolling.
Until the angel of death came in the likeness of Hitler's murderers and their helpers-and all was annihilated.....
It would be enough, believe me, if I were to begin with my zeyde's [grandfather's] wedding. Why my zeyde's? Because every sensible person understands that wherever was a zeyde-there was certainly a bubbe [grandmother] as well.
I recall my zeyde, may he rest in peace, because he was truly a learned Jew, with a beard and peyes [traditional hair sidelocks] and with a tallis-katon [ritual four corner fringed undergarment] that reached to just above his knees; Additionally, a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], a ba'al tfilah [person who leads prayer services], a moyel [person who performs the ritual circumcisions]. His name was Reb Tzvi-Hirsh, and I myself bear his holy name.
As you now know who my grandfather was, you might imagine what sort of a wedding they had put on for them.
In those olden days such a wedding was held in the big synagogue - calmly, leisurely, with respect, with klezmer musicians, with a rebbi [rabbi] and with a badkhn [traditional entertainer at a Jewish wedding who delivered humorous and sentimental rehearsed and impromptu rhymes and poems], a sexton, a waiter and a cook. And everything was filled out with all of the trimmings: a kinyen [traditional act required to validate the marriage contract, required before the witnesses sign the ketubah] with a welcoming reception, a badekn [veiling of the bride prior to the wedding ceremony], the traditional seating of the bride on a chair, congratulations, with a chuppah [wedding canopy], lifting the married couple in chairs, with havdoleh [traditional ceremony performed at the close of the Sabbath to distinguish between the holy Sabbath and the profane weekdays] and candles, with someone to arrange the wedding nuptials and the sheyva broches [7 traditional blessings with meals after the wedding], with "harey-as" [lit. "you are," the beginning words spoken by the groom in the wedding ceremony] just where it is supposed to be, a wedding meal with the khosn's kitke ["the groom's" twisted bread loaf] and delicious fish and meat, with rice, kasha and soup, with kimelekh [caraway seeded rolls] and compote and in addition, a nice l'chayim [toast "to life!" with drink] with a kiddush [blessing over wine] and brachos [blessings - i.e., over food and after meals], with good wishes and most importantly - wedding presents!....
The badkhn stood, immediately wiped his lips, curled his mustache, combed his yellow sparse little beard with his fingers, unbuttoned his long coat, glanced over his belly with
And with many blessings, that the couple may live in wealth and honor to the age of 120 years, shall know no sorrows, poverty of danger, all jointly present as a gift a brand new copper samovar!!! And the oylem [crowd/audience] is asked not to sit like a goylem [dummy], lift their noses, fill their glasses, and let there be joy among the Jews, make a l'chayim, have a bite and be merry!.... [Translation note: Above passages by badkhn all in rhyme in the original Yiddish].
As is the case with Jews, not all well wishes are fulfilled, not all blessings become actualized, because the "creator-or-the- world" doles out his "merchandise" without guarantees. The young couple, that is my grandfather, Reb Tzvi-Hersh, and my Bube [grandmother], Soreh-Rivkeh, despite all of the spirited wishes, actually did not begin a very happy rich life. All five of my grandfather's vocations barely brought in even the dearth of earnings they did bring.
Why? First of all, a scholar: Well, when one studies Torah, does one get paid for it? It actually goes right in the bank of the court in the heavens in an account for the world to come. Secondly, a religious teacher. Well? One must have students. And if one does have several, do their parents pay enough fees to sufficiently support a family?
And now, a moyel [ritual performer of circumcisions]. What does one do if, just to be aggravating, only girls are born?....
So, a leader of the prayer services is actually just a thing of evil inclination or desire, a kind of "hobby." One's heart wants to pour itself out before the pulpit, yet that is also far from income.
What remains is a ritual slaughterer. This is actually a good profession among Jews, which gives honor and glory - but no money. Because not only the slaughterer lives off the neck of the animal, but also the rabbi and the gabbai, and the dayen and the shames, and the kosher-meat-tax-collector and simply good and pious Jews, and something is taken off the top for a mikveh, and for a bath and for an almshouse or hospital and for a chamber of ablution [for washing dead bodies before burial], etc.
In the event that it is the neck of something random, just any old ox - fine: perhaps he can make do. But in the even that it is a calf, a skinny sheep, or a truly old he-goat, than clearly - no "goatly" enthusiasm. Nevertheless, there is also no sin. A world of Jews live like this. So, it has been said of my grandparents too.
The samovar, with its bulging wealthy man's look, with its big beautiful carved spout, actually began to fulfil its duty quite intensively. What a samovar is to a Jewish home, I need not say, because without tea in the morning and evenings, furthermore after holidays and the Sabbath (if one has a non-Jewish maid she can set it up for a piece of Challah). Shortly after the wedding it must be set up with hot water for washing diapers and swaddling cloths, bathing children, filling flasks and compresses, clean away bedbugs, blanching poppy seeds, washing laundry and for warm water for baking bread. And many other things related to childbirth, women in childbirth, bathtubs, hygiene, purity of the family and purity of the dead, heaven preserve us, and so forth, and so forth....
Thus, they tended dearly to their samovar for many years, in bad and good times, with joy and sorrow, with happy occasions, with sad occasions, with births and raising children, they even made a wedding. And because one of them was my mother, who was the youngest daughter in the house, set aside for my father in the dowry along with five hundred golden rubles and wedding clothes, the samovar. And if the above- described history came to me as they say, by oral law - the further happenings with the samovar were closely connected to me. My father, born a village-Jew, knowing the "psychology" of animals well ("if one punches in the teeth, one gets it in the bones"),
invested his dowry in a woollery, that is to say, putting oxen on "brahe" [malt grains]. When they get fat, they are driven to Dvinsk and one can earn a couple of nice rubles.
God is also a father, the fifth year came quickly. Then came 1914, and then the seventeenth year - and Fonya's [nickname for a Russian] "nap" was over.... For the oxen one received a few sacks of dumskeh and Kerensky's banknotes, which one could use instead of white paper. Therefore, one began dealing with lead and fire, a spattering of coal - one hardly returned with his soul from Mordkhe Velvl the furrier's basement, where everyone kept their goods and found the room empty and desolate. The "heroic" Polish legionnaires quickly got it into their heads to rob a Jewish home, rather than steal a piece of coal from a Red-Army soldier.
And since, in the time of war, such a samovar is a hindrance - it was actually thrown away. Later, it was found on a side street, a little dented. What is one to do at such a time? There is not meat, there is no dairy to be obtained, the result is - a pareve glass of tea....oh, for tea, doesn't one need sugar? Who says so, is saccharin so bad? So, that very tea with saccharin was my first nourishment. And from then on, I remained bound to the samovar in heart and soul. Who could write all of what we went through together? I will only recall a few curiosities:
When everyone in the house was taken ill with typhus, we needed rubber flasks for laying ice on the forehead. The flasks could be borrowed against collateral at the linat-hatzedek [hospice for the poor]. If one could have just seen me walking over there with the samovar. A second time, when my brother was laid up ill, I brought the samovar for collateral again. Seeing that I was sweaty and tired out, the administrator of the organization, Reb Yoel, the short one, called out to me:
"Do you know what, Sonny, why do you carry the samovar each time? Just bring the spout as collateral. Without the spout, one can not pour in any water. You will certainly remember anyway and return the instruments you have borrowed."
Truly a wise man.
From then on, the samovar stood in the house for months without the spout, because we always needed medical instruments. If not a flask, then an enema, ten or so bloodletting cups, an enema syringe or other necessities, because no illness, may the Lord be blessed, ever went missing in a Jewish home. As one got better from the pox -
When my little sister became ill with diphtheria, Monya, the barber-surgeon didn't leave the house. He ordered that we make steam. The samovar lived again - although my sister was not saved by it, it nonetheless became important, dear. It was like a symbol that reminded one of past good days, when it cooked and satisfied, shpritzed and sparkled, grandfathers and uncles sat around with big black, yellow and gray beards, argued with enthusiasm about "the bull that gored the cow," or "two grasping one prayer shawl," etc. Sweating over the boiling hot glasses of tea, throwing off their hats, they would sit in yarmulkes with a tallis koton, placing their hands behind their necks, squinting, combing their beards, a little dance to a Hassidic melody - or even a Purim feast, or a Simchas Torah dinner. One didn't need a radio in those days, or a television, or a piano. Jews had other music. The poverty whistled, the stomach played, one's head drummed - where will I be for Shabbes?! Once Shabbes was already made, after a good tsholent with a kugel, after a bit of zmiros [singing] - the samovar would crawl out onto the table again, around which sat relatives, neighbors, close family. What could be nicer than reviving such guests with a glass of tea, and then with jam (during the week, jam wasn't used, except when a groom would come with his bride, or a man would return from America with a nice couple of dollars in his pocket, or a son would be released from conscripted army service because of an eye, a wounded ear and so on, or a Jew survived a robbery, larceny, avoiding some kind of unhappy occurrence, saying goymel [the blessing said by Jews after escaping great danger])?
But also in the long evenings of the cold winter nights when it was snowy outside, the blizzard clapping on the shutters, howling in the chimneys, the ice cracks, the windows are frosted - the house is heated, it is warm and the samovar boils on the table. Wives, women neighbors, who used to like to listen with pleasure as my older sister, Sarah, of blessed memory, read aloud parts of a book. She used to read chapters of Russian or Yiddish classics. And imagine, how the women just sat, drinking a glass of tea, listening to a story like "Tuvye der Milkhiker," ["Tevye the Dairyman"] when he turns to come back from his happy trip, after he drove that lost girl from
"Here, sweetheart, eat a little something, because sitting for so long, you must certainly be near faint...."
This and similar curiosities aroused hearty laughter - and gray life got a little bit of charm.
There was always water in the well, one only had to take the pails and drop them about 700-800 meters. In order for it to fill to the top, an old hatchet or pick axe or any old iron shovel or weight was attached to the bucket and then you would let down and then steadily lift the bucket so the water wouldn't spill out. When this was done, both buckets were lifted onto a board, hung over the right shoulder and - hayda!
Well, setting up the samovar was not any great trouble: you take off the lid, pour in the water, cover it and begin looking for coals. Coals, what about them? A big deal! All week, one heats a bath, almost every year there was a fire in the shtetl, the whole month of Nissan [month in the Jewish calendar] matzah was baked in the hearth. When the wood was dry, there was clearly no question that there was coal left. And in the event that the wood is wet and it becomes ash before it burns fully? Also not a danger! One takes the axe, one chops small wood chips, which can successfully supplant the coal. Oh, it smokes a little, one must stand by a bit, regularly blowing and stirring underneath. So what? How long does it take? An hour and a half. However, when it hissed and white streams of fresh steam began to wind - it was actually a pleasure.
The pleasure was passed to me just after I became bar mitzvah age, because my older
I was quickly aided. Grabsky became the finance minister in the Polish government. You may ask: what connection does Grabsky have to our samovar? You will soon hear that he does, and how, because if until him Jews paid "taxes" (duties) for businesses, trade, stores, undertakings, and so forth, Grabsky got to business, as if to say from the "socio-psychological" perspective: it isn't right, that only Jews of means should support Poland's governmental budget, rather the taxes should be divided so that all Jews, without exception, should feel that they have worth. Because, if not, they might, heaven forbid, be insulted, gather themselves and move to Israel. Such a tragedy for Poland must be avoided at any cost. Because imagine, how would Poland look without Jews? What would the protesters do? Where would they put picketers if there were no Jewish stores? Who could the students assault? Whom would Madame Pristorova be able to publicly denounce? What would the lords do without their advisors?
Thanks to Grabsky there were streams of endless different taxes, with reminders, punishments, interest and all the trimmings. Clearly, no revenue came to Jews from all of this, and without income in the first place, begging your pardon, people had nothing to pay with. When people didn't pay, the government authority appeared frequently, and after his demands, dunning, coercion and abuse -- they would produce a fresh note for a couple of zlotes [Polish money] for the "polite" visit.
Thanks to such a "campaign," we were finally free of the samovar.
At first I was actually happy internally, because I would be spared the chores of the samovar. I can also not say that we suffered from its absence. Its functions were immediately filled by a simple clay pot that my mother would shove deep into the oven without tire. The tea actually tasted a bit like clay. But, nonetheless, who are we really, Rothschild's nephews or Brodsky's grandchildren?
It was hard to look at my father. It really made him sick. He would glance over at the place where the samovar used to stand and let out a heavy sigh. He almost stopped drinking tea entirely. Why did the samovar have to leave him in this way? I won't posit a psychological analysis post facto. He lost much more in his life and, blessed by God, survived.
Once, when I left work, after receiving my wages at the sawmill, while walking through the market I wanted to buy a little something for Passover. I looked in all corners. Suddenly I saw a circle of people standing around a wagon belonging to the Polish cooperative ("Rolnick"). I drew nearer and saw, among a whole pack of Jewish trinkets, like brass pestles, candlesticks, copper pans, ladles and more -- sitting, like a king at an auction, our samovar. Poor thing, greened, dejected, lonely. To my amazement, its price was so low it was laughable. Clearly, it hadn't traveled an easy road. One could see this from the dented sides and its dirtiness. It was sadly missing a foot, had broken a wooden arm. Nevertheless -- such a samovar, which was once listed for some tremendous sum, like 3 - or 20 zlotes -- was now selling for only 4 zlotes ...
What is the wonder? Jews, after all, never bought at auction. It was a kind of habit of theirs. Well, and the gentiles? Would they trade their potato blinis with hot lard for a glass of tea? If they're drinking, they can have samohonke! And for that one does not need a samovar.
In short, I paid the four Polish zlotes with trembling hands and went home happy.
It would be unnecessary to describe the warm reception we got at home. In a couple of hours or so, it was already cleaned up, koshered, shining -- once again, taking its seat of honor. Once again, it was satisfied and humming, my father once again, poured glass after glass from the samovar for his close circle of good friends as a symbol of freedom and salvation.
Once more we took to our zigzagging, virtuous and difficult life. This is where I'll end my story. Not because everything ended, there is no more to tell about the samovar. With every year that it aged, came important events. But every history must have an end. And the end is, unfortunately, as difficult and tragic one.
When I returned to my shtetl after the Nazi hell, I stood in shock on a mountain of earth, which had once been my home, I heard a voice from our Christian neighbor across the street. He invited me to come into his house.
Just as I crossed the threshold my eyes ere blinded -- from under the picture of the holy Madonna -- -- our samovar, the copper samovar. The Christian, seeing that I was stunned-still, began to stammer as if to answer:
"That is your samovar you see? When your sister was in the ghetto with her two little children, after the Germans shot her husband, I took some milk to her a couple of times. She then gave me the samovar, and said, 'Take it as a memento. We will never need it again.'" And he added, "If you want it, take it!"
"No, dear neighbor," I thanked him politely. "The samovar has already played its role for us. May it have better luck with you ..."
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