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[Page 326]

Lifeways and Folklore

by Khaym Bilboski, Tel Aviv




Ivye Folk-types and Folklore

In the shtetl they called him Shimen Izboisker, Shimen the village magistrate, or for short, Shimonke. Two weaknesses characterized Shimen: he was stingy to the point of madness and he spoke in a whining tone. Summer and winter he went around in half-torn winter clothes. In the winter he wrapped his face in a big scarf, through which poked out just a red frozen nose and reddened, teary eyes. He never let his stick out of his hand. The stick had a huge nail hammered into the bottom of it, and it could be heard throughout the quiet streets of the town.


Shimen Kovenski May He Rest in Peace

It is told that, like many others, Shimen went to America as a young man, to make his fortune. Shimen did not do as all the others and sew trousers in a shop, but went off “down town” (to the Jewish part of New York) with a wagon of fruit, and made a living from that. Shimen, like many others, could not get accustomed to big, noisy New York. His dream was to make a few dollars and return to the quiet, restful shtetl as a rich man. Shimen saved penny to penny and did not even allow himself to rent a room, a place to lay his head.

After a hard day of work he would go several kilometers to the New York harbor and lay down in one of the great barrels and spend the night there...when the big harbor-rats sniffed out their “guest” and began to lick and gnaw at him, Shimen would wage war with them the whole night, trying to fight them off with his stick...or the stingy Shimen would go a few kilometers further and find another barrel.

One winter midday Shimen was standing by his fruit wagon and saw to his dismay that the women were not buying from him. In a while he broke into a wailing cry: “I want to lie when she is lying; I want to be where she is...” The women around him came to him out of pity and bought his fruit.

“When did this misfortune befall your wife?” asked the women with concern.

“What misfortune, what death. She is lying under the warm covers and I'm standing here freezing like a dog...”

When “jolly ladies” would pester him on the streets, he would openly say, “Dearie, I have no money and I can't spare any troubles.”

Shimen returned to Ivye with his saved-up dollars and bought a small house with a large garden in Novaredke Street, and added a he-goat--everything to create an assured livelihood for himself. His wife and children also felt his stinginess well. It was said in town that he kept them on a starvation diet...but since in Ivye it was the style that a daughter must know a little Russian, Shimen had no alternative but to give his older daughter lessons. The teacher was Khaym Blokh (the smaller). Shimen would stand in the other room before the end of the lesson, look at the wall clock, bang on the floor with his stick and complain in a whining voice, “Five minutes to twelve, bloody money, five minutes to twelve, bloody money...”

After the Germans occupied our region in the First World War, Commandant Hofman nominated Shimonke as mayor. His assignment was to round up people for the “Fanie Kompani” and other work.

Shimonke wanted to show the Commandant that he could keep order, so he gave a command to the Jewish men and women that were going to dig up potatoes in the fields,

“Stand three in a row!” Of course everyone just made fun of him. Shimonke broke into a whining cry, “Jews, have mercy, stand in threes. One, two, three, one, two, three...”

Grabbing people to send to work in the “Fanie Kompani”, he once stuck Alter Levin (Gele's) into the group and told the Commandant, “Herr Kommandant, this Jew is going voluntarily”. Alter Geles' protests that he was not going voluntarily did not help. Shimonke pushed him into the lines of workers, shouting, “Voluntarily, voluntarily”. From then on, people in Ivye used the word “voluntarily” at every opportunity.

Once the Commandant sent him to call up the woman Rebeka from Bernardina Street. Shimen, because of modesty, did not want to repeat Hofman's words, so he told her in a whiny voice,

“Good evening to you, Rebekale, Commandant Hofman sent me to call you. He said that he wanted to tell you a story.”

In the end, because of a denunciation about bribery, Commandant Hofman sent him to serve a year in prison in Germany.

Shimen, who saved up penny after penny, used to lend money at high interest rates. His son-in-law, Avrum, bought Khaym Levin's house, and borrowed a certain sum of money from his father-in-law as a loan at a percentage. Avrum, thinking that as he, as a big “professor” who had taken a burden from his father-in-law's shoulders, was not obligated to repay the loan. Shimen turned the town upside down. He went through the streets and whinily complained, “My son-in-law has pooped on me” (as they used to say in Ivye to a small child who had soiled himself).

It is difficult to ascertain whether Shimen lived through the Second World War and the extermination of the Ivye Jews. In the last years before the war, the whining, stingy Shimen disappeared from the Ivye horizon.


Peyshke Haimotsh May He Rest in Peace

No one remembers his family name, because in town he was called by the nickname “Haimotsh”. His house in Bernardina Street, after “the ludovi”, was a big, unenclosed empty apartment, where instead of broken beds, a table and chairs, there was nothing at all. He worked at many trades, but had few blessings.

He was a roofer for shingled roofs in the whole surrounding area; a painter with God's grace; and was filthy. Before peysakh his big empty house with the huge oven served as a factory for baking matzes. From all their livelihoods the big family with two married daughters had nothing for Shabes. Peyshke, a short little Jew in flapping, painty clothes, never lost his good spirits and was always smiling.

His face and his clothes were spattered year-round with lime and paint, which he did not appear to wash off even for holidays. And of course, Peyshke had no catalog of colors. He asked people to choose their color from his face or clothes. I accidentally encountered him one time in Yuratshishok, where he had gone to paint at the farm of Prince Rutkevitsh. Wanting to show the prince the color that he would use, he, as usual, pulled up the skirt of his long coat, forgetting that his trousers were completely torn...the prince quickly excused himself.


Nokhum-Dovid the Cripple with his “merchandise” on a market-day
Mr. Peysakh “Haimotsh”, a well-known Ivye folk-type


In town one could see him going around with his work tools: a pail of whitewash and a long brush. He continually talked about his successes with the princes and dukes, who had supposedly praised his work.

Peyshke was a familiar guest in Shishke's (Blokh) house. Every Friday the good-hearted housewife of the rich Shishke would honor him with a plate of tsimes. Afterward he would go around praising Shishke's tsimes: “What can I tell you, it was really a tsimes as sweet as saccharine.” In general Peyshke admired Shishke very much. He used to say to people, “Why do people always say Mr. Khaym, Mr. Avrum. Why don't they say Mr. Shishke?”

Although his grandchildren were stricken by fate, he loved them very much and praised them continually. He was especially proud of his elder son-in-law, Yisroel, who was a kindergarten teacher and also a book dealer. In his eyes he was a great Talmud scholar. He even called his younger son-in-law by the title “graff” because of his lovely face...but of course “graff” was only a nickname in the town.

His two grandchildren were a bit backwards, poor things. Rokhl and her brother Khaym “toftele” laughed all the time. Khaym tried to earn a few groshen by carrying water from Mige's Well to wealthy homes. For us children he was an object of amusement and scoffing.

Peyshke worked hard his whole life to provide for his unfortunate family. He lived and died as a proletariat. Working on a shingled roof, he fell and lay dead on the spot.


Mr. Leyzer (Leyzshinke) May He Rest in Peace

A short, compact man with an unnaturally large belly as comes from eating a lot of potatoes, or as a sick person looks. He had a full, red face that was always laughing, and announced nonsense and a kind of backwards wisdom. Although it was said that he was a kindergarten teacher who taught children the alef-beys, his main livelihood was this: every Thursday he went from door to door eating Shabes dinner, and often during the week he went to the tables of good households.

As mentioned, Leyzshinke was really not much of a scholar. But Ivye jokesters such as Daniel Leybman (Dantshik), Meyshe Kalmans and others, convinced him that he was a great holy man and a Talmud scholar, and that he was not more, but not less, than one of the lamed-vovniks. [A lv, representing the number 36, refers to one of the 36 completely righteous who are alive on the earth at a given time, and on whose merit the world continues to exist; their identity is rarely known.] He supposedly did bashfully try to deny it, but in the end allowed himself to be convinced that he was a representative lamed-vovnik. Even more, he began to believe that he was fit to give blessings and that his blessings would be fulfilled. He once even bragged that he had once blessed a Jewish woman that she would give birth to twins, and who then, on leaving his house, found a ten-kopek piece...

A group of jokesters began to egg Leyzshinke on, that he should deliver a sermon at the New Beys-medresh on Shabes night. Announcements in the beys-medresh said that the magid and lamed-vovnik Mr. Leyzer would deliver a sermon. It is enough to say that the whole town went to hear Leyzshinke's sermon.

Leyzer went up to the pulpit, kissed the curtain in the Ark like a regular magid, and began his sermon with a cantillation like a magid: “Whoever has a headache should study Torah, and whoever has a bellyache should apply cold compresses. A dove stands on two feet. The world is as round as a nut. One who breaks the nut finds a kernel. The world is like a wheel, which turns...”

At that moment a group of youths and mockers began to throw things at him, wet handkerchiefs and anything else that came to hand.

Leyzshinke had a difficult time dealing with this defeat, but the jokesters convinced him that it was a revenge from his enemies, and he continued to believe in his deep thoughts and ability to sermonize.

During the Soviet rule, Leyzer was conspicuous with his big belly. Komsomol members who saw him, pointed him out and said, “Look at what a bourgeois looks like.”

It is hard to say whether the foolish and innocent Leyzshinke met the common fate of all the Ivye Jews, or whether he passed away before then.


Mr. Yankev-Leybele May He Rest in Peace

He was a son of a rich family of proprietors (Kagan), of manufacturers and shopkeepers. who was known in the town by the nickname “Labate.”

My father may he rest in peace told me, that while studying in the kheder at the age of 6 years, Yankev-Leybele's father brought him to school leading him by the hand (he was already past bar-mitsve age), and with a clay whistle in his mouth. He was what they call retarded today, his mind did not develop and he remained in a childish sensibility. Town jokesters and children found talking with him an amusing way to spend the time. A short fellow with a foolish, laughing face, he would ramble around the streets of town in a long frock coat with a little cigarette in his mouth. He was devoted to his family without reserve. He would spend a whole day going to the Mige Well and carrying water. He collected hay and straw from peasant carts for his cow. The peasants would drive him away with their whips, but it did not help. He did it anyway, wheedling a handful of hay from the peasants, or if unnoticed even stealing it. Of course, no one could say a bad word about the family, and that served as an excuse to tease him and to draw him into amusing conversations...

In town he was called “Yankev-Leybele Atudrene”. This nickname attached to him because he could not pronounce words properly, and made comical errors. Once he had asked his niece, what was she holding in her hand? She told him that is was a “teude” (a school certificate). He repeated it as a “tudrene”. Joksters used his weakness for smoking, and when he would go to each one, as was his habit, asking for a few puffs or that they leave the butts of their cigarettes (he used to collect butts from the street and roll cigarettes), they would give a condition: “Say a 'tudrene'”. But it was not so easy for him to get an unsmoked cigarette. He had to say it louder and louder, until a circle of town drifters had gathered, who liked to amuse themselves at his expense.


Yankl (the grave-digger) and Khaym-Nisn carry a sack of pages containing the name of G-d to be buried in the cemetery


Yankev-Leybele was always happy and even loved to play jokes on others. He used to pester people of his own type, who were known for their weaknesses. So he tried to make fun of Meysheke the glazier, a stutterer, who added “bote” to every word; of Toftolele; of Khashke the goat and other others stricken by their fate, as he was.

Once he saw that some neighbors of theirs was having a new porch built, and he went straight to them and said, “May you wear your new porch in good health.”

When he was told that his grandmother was near death, and that he should say good-bye to her, he went to the dying woman and said, “Bobe, zay gezunt” [“Grandma, be well”, the usual formula for saying farewell.]

Once he saw a gathering of people near a house. When he realized that a small child had died, he said “Of course such squanderers would keep something like that to themselves...”

One time, going from the afternoon prayers at the study house (he could read from the sider but, as was his style, with half of the words incorrect), he saw a lot of people near his family's house and he was quite shocked. He later told about it himself, in his language: “Maybe my father had died, maybe the cow had died, heaven forbid.” [In Yiddish there are several verbs for “die”, some for people and one only for animals. He has switched the verbs, and used the wrong one for his father.] He found out that his brother Zalmen had come to visit from America. He ran into the house crying, “Zalmen, Zalmen, how are you? Give me a cigarette.”

We children loved him. We used to amuse ourselves with him and he would share his “wisdom” in his half-worded mixed-up speech, always at the promise of a few puffs or of the end of a cigarette. A good-spirited type, his equilibrium was upset only if one sullied the honor of his family. Then he could become dangerous and aggressive.

All those who were [later] in the ghetto, cannot remember seeing him. When did Yankl-Leybele Atudrene disappear from the Ivye street? It is hard to say.


Hirshl the Bereziner

He came from the settlement of Berezin. A merry Jew with a black beard, frozen-red cheeks and a pair of cunning eyes, whose every thought turned around getting tasty foods.

In his youth he had, like many other Jews, gone to America. But since Hirshl and work were two contrasting entities, he had no desire to sew trousers in a shop, or to drag the heavy pressing iron over the clothes, as was being done in those days in America. In America too, Hirshl's “specialty” of begging from door to door was not in style, and he was transported on a cattle boat back to Ivye, where he returned to his old trade of begging from door to door. He used to brag that he had inherited the trade from his father and his grandfather.

Hirshl was not even lost in the tsar's army. Being an illiterate, he did not comprehend which foot was the left and which the right. On time during military maneuvers, the officer ordered him to tie a piece of straw to the right foot, and a piece of hay to the left. But Hirshl would get confused and mix up his feet. Even blows did not help. He played the role of a simpleton. He reacted to all the screaming and hitting with laughter. Until the officer gave up on trying to make him a soldier for Nikolas and screamed at him, “Go to the kitchen, you fool”. Hirshl had been waiting for that order as one waits for meshiekh. For four years he peeled potatoes and washed pots in the kitchen, but meanwhile he could satisfy his wolfish appetite and snatch up better food.

He was a climber and knew how to make a “career”. Whenever there was a celebration in town, a wedding, a circumcision, a bar mitsve, or any kind of feast, he was among the first in-laws. He tossed down his throat or into his deep pockets everything that came near his hands. He had a monopoly on cleaning up the leftovers from the tables at a celebration. He was an assistant shames, who called the people to shul erev shabes, who knocked on shutters at dawn to wake people to recite psalms and pardons, and he would accompany the bride and groom, going from the khupe with full pails of water, and he never let pass an opportunity to earn an easy groshen and a good meal.

On purim he would smear his face with soot, don a crown of colored paper, tie on a wooden saber, and put a mask on his face. Accompanying a group of children, he would sing at every house:

“Good purim, good purim, my dear Jews,
party, party and be happy.
Today is purim, tomorrow it's over,
give me a groshen and then drive me out.”

Ivye Jews liked to invite him for the shabes meal. He could tell comical stories and was a happy pauper. He talked the entire year about the annual dinner of the Burial Society. His entire pleasure was talking about food. He would lick his lips when talking about the fat kishke, gefilte fish and fried livers that he had stuffed himself with at some celebration or dinner at a wealthy household. In regard to food, he had no concept of enough and was always hungry.

He died from overeating at a shabes dinner at one of the rich houses in town. No one knew where he had put his money, which he had so zealously saved up his whole life.

[Page 341]

Ivye -- A Shtetl With Nicknames

by A. Alef, Tel Aviv

In the rich, colorful folklore of Ivye, nicknames have taken a special place. There were few who did not have the merit of receiving a nickname. The nickname became a second name that replaced the family name and occasionally the first name too. Few in town knew, for example, who Meyshe bar Naftali Goldshmid was, but everyone knew Meyshe the Fallen. Who knew who Yisroel bar Yosef-Yitskhak Girshovitsh was, as everyone knew him by the name Yisroel Pasrednik.

The nicknames were characteristic of all small towns in Poland. The fact that the town was blessed with them, itself shows the reasons for this remarkable psychological-communal occurrence. In a shtetl, where people know each other very well, where others know all your flaws and merits, where others know what you do and what you plan to do, where others know more about you than you know yourself, the nickname game becomes clear.

In comparison with the other, surrounding townlets, Ivye was particularly rich in nicknames. It was said in the other towns, that Khone Butlas once came to the town jokster, Ruben Vismanski, with a complaint: It seems that there was a new son-in-law in town who did not yet have a nickname. Vismanski soothed him, saying, “I haven't yet had time to get to it. But for now call him 'Smorkh', and later I will assign him an appropriate nickname.” In Ivye there was no lack of people with a deep sense of humor, of joksters, of those who spent time and searched for ways to unload their wit.

Interestingly, those who carried the nicknames tended to be good-humored about it, not seeing them as insults and would often crack jokes about it at their expense. Wanting to externalize the life-ways of the Ivye Jews and their rich folklore, we cannot skip over the chapter on nicknames. I am sure that no one of us will feel offended if he finds nicknames from his family in the following collection of nicknames. This is also a way of eternalizing the holy memory of the martyrs.

Naturally, in giving a nickname the first aspect in mind is the physical appearance of the person. If a person is a cripple, the nickname will reinforce it. If someone is overgrown or very short, he will not get by without a nickname.

Occupations allow a wide area for nicknames, especially when the artisan is a bungler in his trade. But if we put the nicknames into categories, there will be a large place for nicknames carried over from the world of animals and birds.

Many nicknames are connected to certain occurrences, historical events. If you are remarkable for a characteristic or habit, that may also be used for a fitting nickname. It is enough to pop out with a silly word, for that unpredicted word to be turned into a nickname.

In recent times, even “modern” nicknames came about, a carry-over from the political world.

Nicknames could be given to fathers and sons and so they would be in plurals: the Turk, the Turks; the Knave, the Knaves, and so on. The accompanying collection of Ivye nicknames will be the best illustration.


Ivye Nicknames

The Nickname of the shtetl, “Whipping Switches”

[These make sense mostly in the original languages, which are Yiddish, Belorussian and Russian.]

[Page 343]

Ivye Witticisms, Anecdotes and Idioms

by Avrum-Tsvi Mekel

Ivyers had the reputation of being clever Jews. Among them were jokesters, Talmud scholars, and ordinary Jews, men and women. Ivye witticisms, sayings, word-plays, sharp sayings and pointed anecdotes were popular in the whole region.
I present here a collection of popular sayings with the name of the one who said it. This is just a minute part of the rich Ivye folklore. The majority cannot be printed due to their ambiguous contents, mixed with obscenities and dirty words. Many have been forgotten of course, in the lapse of time.

“The living believe that there is a separate community of the dead...”

(Rabbi Meyshe Shatskes)

“Go home, Mr. Fayve, you have won the case.”

(R” Meyshe Shatskes)

Fayve Natskevitsker once came to a din teyre [rabbinical court] at R” Shatskes', with a butcher. The hot-blooded Fayve came in, and instead of stating his complaint, grabbed a chair and threw it at the head of the plaintiff. R” Shatskes immediately said, “Go home, Mr. Fayve, you have won the case.”

“Borshtsh is an inexpensive dish, but it needs bread...”

(Meyshe Fiselevski)

“I have a cow. As far as giving milk goes, she is a goat, but if there would be a plague on cattle, she would die like a cow.”

(Rivke Khaves- -Fiselevski)

“My cow is no longer a person...”

(Khanele Goldshmid)

“Altogether, it's just fine.”

(Mushe-Reyzl Zavls-Amasovitsh)

This was how she would answer when people inquired about her situation. Her house was among rich neighbors: Yosef-Khaym Kabak, Khaym-Arn Kaganovitsh, Khike Yankls and others.

“Bless G', I eat, I eat.”

(Berl Shepkes)

This is a paraphrase of a part of the liturgy, “Barukh D' yom yom” (Thank you G', day by day).

“He's going voluntarily, voluntarily...”

(Shimen Kovenski- -Shimonke)

Shimen was a policeman during the German occupation in the First World War. His assignment was to assemble workers for the “Fanie Kompanie”, that worked near the front lines. One time he energetically pushed Alter Geles in among the workers, despite the other's protests, and told the commandant, “Sir Kommandant, this Jew is going voluntarily”.

“I am greater than 'Bata', and am 'Labata'.”

(Ruven Vismanski)

Vismanski had a shoe business. At that time in Poland, shoes from the Czechoslovakian manufacturer “Bata” were very popular. The nickname of his wife's family was “Labata”.

“If I could know on Sunday what my Henye would say on Monday, I would be the cleverest person in the world.”

(Dantsig Leybman)

His wife, Henye, would say after any event, “See, I told you so...”

“Four plus four is eight, and five plus three is also eight. But four plus four is truly eight, and five plus three is artificially eight.”

(Dovid Goldberg)

“Oy, what an antisemite that Oriadnik is. He's going to drink at Khaym-Simkhe's...”

(Itshe Beres- -Baksht)

Both of them owned taverns.

If you want to bathe, go to the bath.”

(Peysakh the butcher)

Peysakh (Peyshke) once heard Yisroel-Simkhe Shliozberg, in explaining to some young people about the loss of the First Temple, say that the tragedy of the Jewish people is that it has no earth [bodn) under its feet.

Peysakh, who did not know the meaning of the [German] word bodn, went to Yisroel-Simkhe and said, “Son, if you want to bathe, go to the bath [bod].”

“Marriage is like castor oil, you have to take it all at once.”

(Meyshe Fiselevski)

“Gershke, either go study Targum or go pasture the mare...”

So his father used to say to him on Shabes after tshulent.

“You can take my entire belly as a tax. However much it cost me, I may have. However much it is worth, you may have.”

(Ruven Vismanski)

This was his standing joke with the Polish tax-collector from the “Uzshond Skarbovi.”

“My grandmother did not have any anxieties, she bought a little cantor, she already had enough troubles.”

A young wife said this, after she had married a Jew who was a student and he was taken into the household [supported for a time while he studied].

“I give you a guarantee for five years, with you in bed and the shoes under the bed.”

(Ruven Vismanski)

This was the guarantee that Vismanski used to give the peasant women who bought shoes from him.

“He already has a hat...”

(Leyzer Shmukler)

Shmuel-Leyzer Shmukler (the Fantasy) had a hat store. As it happened, he used to charge a zloty for a cap, and a peasant would lay down five groshn. Shmuel-Leyzer would pull the hat down over the peasant's eyes and say to the Jews standing around, See, he already has a hat...

“Whoever does not believe that there is a dibuk here, is a big heretic. Whoever believes in a dibuk is a big fool.”

(Rov Zev Perlman)

In the decade of the thirties an Ivye youth became ill, and it was said that there was a dibuk in him. Rov Perlman did not believe in dibuks and opposed the ceremony for driving out a dibuk with prayers and shofer blowing.

“You are precious.”

At one of the Shabes-night gatherings, peddlers were sitting in Rov Yankev-Meyshe Blokh's (Shishkes) house. Everyone was talking about the great loss with the death of the gaon of Brisk. Suddenly one of the peddlers started shouting, “You are precious, you are precious.” In Ivye it was said about someone who was overly sentimental, “For him they are precious.”

“I also know “grammar”, give me ____.”

(Peysakh the Butcher)

Peysakh (Peyshke) the Butcher used to say school tuition for his daughter by giving meat to the teacher. According to his accounts it worked out that he had given Novoprutski more meat on credit than his wife had accounted for.

At the rabbinical court, Peysakh maintained in his whiny voice, “What do you mean, Novoprutski, that no one but you knows any “grammar”. I also know some grammar, give me _____.”

“Dobele, Dobele, who crapped in your head?”

Dobele was an orphan who was adopted by a childless couple. Once, traveling along the road, Dobele spelled out for Itshke (the Decree) the new rule of law that he had taught in the professional union: “Soon we will divide up Yosef Khaym's and Goldberg's possessions among ourselves.” Itshke was boiling mad with Dobele's silliness and shouted, “Dobele, Dobele, who crapped in your head?”

“He would die a worse death.”

The old Ivye folk doctor met a peasant who had brought his sick father to see him just a few days before. The peasant came up with complaints, if only he had not had to pay for treatment. His father was near death anyway.

The doctor complained, “If I hadn't healed him, he would die a worse death.”

“You should be afraid of three things: Of a chicken that crows, of a peasant who speaks Yiddish, and of a politician with a head on his shoulders.”

(Avrum-Dovid Kosovski)

“Is there a sick person here?” “No.” “And when will there be?” “When it happens, we'll let you know.”

The Ivye folk-doctor Motilok used to drive around to the settlements with a passport and a sausage. He went from town to town, tapping on the windows of the peasant houses and asking after the sick. The above dialog took place between him and a peasant.

“Hey, who's throwing splinters around?”

(Fayve Natskevitser)

The old Fayve Natskevitser was renowned in Ivye for his fortitude. He used to roar while praying Shabes evening at the Cold Shul. He would answer a rural Jew who lived in a settlement some 3 kilometers from the town,with a quote from psalms.

One time he went into an unfinished building, and a beam fell down on him. He rolled his eyes upward and asked the question quoted above.

“Did she sweat? Well, thank God.”

The old folk-doctor in Ivye was very much accepted by the peasants. He would chat with the sick person about his way of life, his weaknesses, and later repeat it, and the peasant would wonder how he knew all that.

Once a peasant brought in his sick, dying wife. He wrote a prescription, intended to make her sweat. Some time later the doctor encountered the peasant and asked, So how is your wife? “She died”, the peasant said in a weepy voice. “Did she sweat before she died?” the doctor asked. “Yes, she sweated”, the peasant assured him. “Well, if so, thank God”, said the doctor, satisfied.

“Why don't you ask, how is it? My soul is on notice, what do you think?”

(Khaym-Simkhe Yokov)

Erev yonkiper before kolnidre a big fire broke out at Khaym-Simkhe's. Leaving the study house people came up to him and asked, “How are you Khaym-Simkhe?” But he answered, as his style was, with a question: “Why don't you ask, how is it? My soul is on notice, what do you think?”

Khaym-Simkhe played the role of a very pious Jew and used to puff himself up with his rabbinical ancestors.

“By what name should we call you to the Torah?” “Mr. Khaym-Simkhe ____ shishi.”

One time Khaym-Simkhe went out to observe Shabes in Lipnishok. Before the Torah reading the shames went to him and asked, “By what name shall we call you to the Torah?”

Khaym-Simkhe, who wanted to be given the honored aliye, shishi [sixth], answered, “Mr. Khaym-Simkhe son of the rabbi, shishi.”

“A revenge on the bedbugs.”

(Itsik Paltiel)

Everyone stood around and looked in wonderment at Itshe Paltiel, who laughed while watching his house burn.

“I see a revenge on the bedbugs”, he said and sang a happy tune...

“If any one of us dies, I will go to Erets Yisroel.”

(Zelik Merlinski)

Zelik and his wife promised each other, that if one of them should heaven forbid die before the other, the remaining one would go to Erets Yisroel. But he said in such a way that it seemed as though it should turn out, that he would go to E'Y.

“Why are you crying about the Temple, it's the property that's worth the money...”

(Mayer-Itshe Leybman)

How? Who? What? Where?...

(Ruven Vismanski)

When a girl turns 18 and a match is arranged for her, she asks: “How is he? Handsome or ugly?” By twenty-something, she asks, “Who is he? Who is his family, and his breeding?” At thirty years she asks, “What is he? What is his employment and can he support a wife?” At thirty-five she asks, “Where is he?”

“The thief will come soon.”

(Leyb Kagan--Leybke Meyshke's)

He had two grown daughters who had been waiting a long time to hear the wedding musicians. The thief named the bridegroom who would come to rob him of the dowry.

“He has nothing”

(Dantsig Leybman)

He was traveling with his son, Ara-Velvel, who was a candidate for the Poborove commission. In the evening his family was waiting for them at the small-gauge train station. “Well,” they asked, “what does he have?” (meaning an illness). “He has nothing”, Dantsig answered cold-bloodedly. The family was dismayed. This meant that he was suitable for the military. “He has nothing”, they comforted Dantsig. “He has no lungs, no heart, no might nor main.”

“How can I get to Broad Street?”

(Ruven Vismanski)

Vismanski met an Ivye man on Zavalne Street in Vilne and asked him how to get to Broad Street. “It's simple, through Rudnitski Street”, said the other wondering at such a strange question. “You're a smart guy”, said Vismanski, and explained, “I cannot go through Rudnitski”. (It was a street full of shoe-makers, where he owed money.)

“The devil will know him...”

(Nokhum Salokhes)

Old Nakhum Salokhes was snatched up for a cantonist as a child, and served 25 long years in the tsar's army. There they taught him the names of the tsar and his family every day.

When he came home to Ivye the town wags asked him, “Nakhum, tell us, what's the name of the Russian king?” Furious, Nokhum would answer, “The devil will know him. How should I know?”

In Ivye they used to say of someone with a thick head, “He has Nokhum's memory.”

“I will always take from Lipnishok.”

(Khaym-Simkhe Yokov)

Khaym-Simkhe was very happy with is Lipnishok wife. He used to say at every opportunity, “I will always take from Lipnishok.”

“Oh feet, feet, you don't want to go, someone will have to carry you.”

(Itsik Paltiel)

In his old age his feet became weak, and he used to intimidate them.

“Thank you, I am already tead.”

(Meyshe Fiselevski)

He used to say, when someone offered his a glass of tea. “Tead” meant that he had already drunk tea.

“I go to the bath two times a year, whether I need it or not.”

(Shmuel Itshe's)

He was not careful with cleanliness. He used to laugh at his wife, who washed every Friday in a bowl of water and would not do otherwise. He used to go to the bath erev peysakh and erev rosh-hashone...

“I set a lie free in the open and by night I didn't recognize it.”

Each person added a little.


“Where I'm not going to hit you, I bite you.”

(Yisroel Pasrednik)

Moshe Fiselevski enjoyed it when Yisroel Pasrednik would “broom” him in the bod [like a sauna] on the top (hottest) tier. Moshe would ask pleasantly, “Tell me, Moshe, how do you know to hit right in there where it itches [bites]?” And Yisroel would answer, “Moshe, it's simple, where I'm not going to hit you, I bite you.”

“He feels as though he's at home.”

(Ruven Vismanski)

Once when he was served a glass of tea, he put a spoonful of sugar into the glass and put a piece of sugar in his mouth. Seeing that everyone was puzzled he explained: You told me to feel at home, and at home this is how I drink, too. My wife cannot bear it that I drink such sweet tea. So I put a piece of sugar in my mouth. But, when she turns aside, I grab three spoonsful of ground sugar and pour them in the glass. I feel quite at home with you, as in my own home.

“How can I be an in-law with you, when you have Mayer-Itshe for a brother?”

(Mayer Itshe Leybman)

His sister, Hitsl Matkes, wanted her daughter Reytse to marry his son, Shimen. The sly Mayer-Itshe, on whose heart the match did not rest well, used to say this, making a joke at his own expense.

“It seems to me that others are laughing. I open the door and it is worse than at my house...”

(Mushe-Reyzl Zavls--Amasovitsh)


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