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For My Grandpa, Being a Kohan Was His Joy and Duty

27 Jun
Inside Shul in Kauneonga Lake

My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 30 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

My maternal Grandpa was a Kohan, a descendant of the Priests of Israel.  Even today, Kohanim have roles and duties that are part of their lives.  Grandpa was born in Galicia, an area of Austria/Poland that often changed borders.  He came to the USA in 1920.  And eventually owned his own kosher bakery in New Jersey, as well as a small bungalow colony in the Catskills.  But he always kept the rules of the Kohanim.

Grandpa often served as the Kohan during the Pidyon ha Ben ceremony.  This ceremony is also called the redemption of the first born.  In biblical times the first-born child, if it is a son, of an Israelite family had to be given to the Kohanim.   The family needs to present five silver coins to a representative of the Kohanim.  My grandfather was often asked to serve as this representative.   He would lead the ceremony and take the silver coins, which he kept until the boy was bar mitzvah, when he would return the coins as part of the child’s bar mitzvah gift.

I remember as a child being at a Pidyon ha Ben service.  I was so intrigued by the ceremony.  But I think more by the money.  I asked what Grandpa did with all the silver coins.  My Grandma told me that Grandpa did not use that money.  He saved it in a special place to return to the boy when he was older.

I wonder how they could keep track of that money.  But then my grandparents owned a kosher bakery, and my grandmother saved every silver coin that came into the store.  When she died, we found 900 silver coins, from dimes to silver dollars.  They were divided up so that everyone one of their descendants had some.  I still have mine.

Grandpa rarely went to a cemetery.   In fact, I don’t remember him ever going to a cemetery. He always paid shiva calls, but not the funeral.  Kohanim do not go near the dead. He did not go into a service until my grandmother died.   Kohanim do not go near the dead.  In fact, some Jewish funeral homes are built with two foundations, so that Kohanim can stay in the outer area during a funeral. There but not in the same structure.  I can still see my Grandpa during my Grandma’s funeral, even though it was almost 40 years ago.

Grandpa went to services on Shabbat.  He made so many Kohan aliyot at Shabbat services.  When they moved to the Catskills full time.  He was often the only Kohan at shul.  It became his responsibility to go every week and be the Kohan.  He took this honor seriously.

When he was in his later years, over 80, he would drive partway to shul and then walk the distance that he could walk.  Although he was brought up not driving on Shabbat or working, in the 1980s at his shul in Kauneonga Lake, people drove to services, even parking on the grounds of the shul, Congregation Temple Beth El. But not Grandpa.  He would park by Sylvia’s clothing store, up the hill from the main part of Kauneonga Lake and easier for him to walk.  I once asked him why he didn’t just park at the shul.   His response, “I walk as far as I can, because I can do that for Shabbat.”

On the high holidays he was often the only Kohan at the Kauneonga Lake shul.  On the high holidays he would sit in the men’s section with his tallit wrapped over his head covering his eyes.  When I was little my favorite time was sitting with him in shul with his tallit covering me as well.  He kept his hands over his eyes under the tallit as he davened.  His emotions during the high holidays was overwhelming.  My sister said it was her strongest memory, how upset and emotional he would get them, as Grandpa usually had a great sense of joy.  But then as an adult she realized that the pain of the Shoah came to him then.  He was the only one left of his family.  All perished in Europe, while he was already in the USA.

Sometimes he was the only Kohan at shul to perform the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessings.  Grandpa had a beautiful singing voice.  He often sang to us in Yiddish. During the Priestly Blessings, he sang for everyone and blessing the entire congregation.  At times there were other Kohanim present, especially if the holidays were early in September.  Then Grandpa would be joined by others on the bima.

At some point, another Kohan moved to the Kauneonga Lake area and also went to services.  Grandpa was thrilled.  Sometimes he would not go to services on Shabbat.  He would say, “Let the other guy have a chance.”

It was this statement that brought this story to my mind last weekend..  My husband is a Levi.  He goes to minyan every Wednesday, but to Shabat services about once a month. He almost always gets Levi.  Our congregation only has three Levis who come weekly.  They, like my grandfather, are happy when another guy comes. This week the Gabbi came and said, “Do you want Levi?” “Sure,” was my husband’s response.  “Good because the others say they don’t want it today, you should take it.”  During this short conversation, in my mind’s eye, I could see my Grandpa’s smiling and laughing.

Grandpa took his role as a Kohan with joy and fulfilled his duty.  I know he would be happy seeing my husband fulfilling his duty as well.

 

 

 

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008437/jewish/Birkat-Kohanim-Melody.htm

 

My Great Uncle Discovered In A Wonderful Photo

14 Jun

Once again, I browsed through my grandmother’s mystery photo album trying to identify more of the many photos from Europe.  This time I had success.

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I noticed a familiar face among a photo of six men playing cards and smoking.  All were young, well dressed, and looked posed to me.  But seated on the left side, I noticed someone who looked like my great uncle Isaac.  When I studied in Israel during 1974-75, I spent much time at my great uncle and great aunts’ home in Kiryat Haim, near Haifa.  I also brought my grandmother to Israel in 1976, when she saw her brother in the first time in over 40 years.  (See blog below.)

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The back of the photo had a stamp from Boleslawiec, and I knew that was my grandmother’s home town.  So it would make sense that Uncle Isaac would be in a photo taken there.  And also, a short message was written in Yiddish, right over the spot where Uncle Issac was sitting on the front side of the photo.  I thought I could make out the name Izhak.

Thank you to Esther, another member of The Tracing the Tribe Facebook group.   She translated the back for me. “This is brother, Itzek.”  Itzek was what my grandmother called her brother.  I was right.  I correctly identified another photo.   Or at least one person in the photo!

I wish I knew the identities of the other young men. I am thinking they were friends, or perhaps cousins.  He had a brother, but I would assume, David would have been identified in the photo also.

By the time this photo was taken, my grandmother was living in the United States.  She left Poland in 1922, when she was 16, the oldest of the children.  I would assume this photo was taken sometime in late 1920s early 1930s, before the world changed.

Each time I identify another of these photos, I feel a moment of pure joy.  I have written a number of blogs about these photos.  Several of them are listed below.

 

PS. Uncle Issac is the one who made a jacket for my Mom,  which I wrote about here: https://zicharonot.com/2019/05/20/this-jacket-is-a-survivor/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/12/06/identifying-a-photo-is-hanukkah-miracle/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/15/boleslawiec-pottery-pieces-create-a-feeling-of-despondency/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/10/01/the-rosh-hashannah-card-has-a-story/

 

My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May
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The black notebook.

I have a book.  It is small.  About eight inches by nine inches.  It has a black cover.  Inside are 33 lined pages, so total of 66 pages that can be written on.

It seems to be a diary.  Most of the pages, about 40, have entries that are dated in 1921.  So my book is almost 100 years old.  Two of the names I recognize.  My grandmother and her first cousin, Abraham, who perished in the Shoah.  The other names I am not sure about.  But these entries, even though they have different names, seem to be written by the same person.  My grandmother perhaps?  Or are they really two separate handwriting.  Now that I look at this page below, it seems as if two different people wrote. But many of the pages have the same writing and not changes like this one.

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Entries from March 1921 with my grandmother Tala Szenk and her cousin Abram Prentki’s names.

Some of the entries look like they could be poems.   Did they write these poems, or did they just copy them from some book?  It does show how my grandmother was educated in Poland.  Her father was a teacher. Grandma could read, write and speak in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.  After she came to America, she went to night school to learn English.

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See Lipka, her relatives she stayed with when she arrived in America.

In the middle of the book are names and addresses in English.  Names of people living in New York and New Jersey.  Hidden, I think, in the middle of the book.  Her escape plan?   My grandmother came to the United States when she was 16 in 1922.  I see the last name of the aunt and uncle who allowed her to live with them in the United States.  They must have sponsored her as well.  The name is Lipka.

It is all written in Polish.  But I can understand the names, because I recognize them.  And the name of my grandmother and her cousin jump out at me.  Especially since I have written about this cousin and not knowing who he was at first.  And then here he is embedded with her in this book.

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Who wrote these pages?

After the journal entries, if that is what they are, comes some blank pages, and then six pages written in a different handwriting.  It looks like a poem.  But I am not sure.  I am not sure what any of it is.

The last four pages are in Yiddish. Those I have had translated.  We think it is a story, perhaps not true, perhaps yes.   About a girl who meets non-Jewish man and how it ends in sadness.  The beginning reminds of the story of Tveye and his daughter Chava.  But this story does not end happily.  Did she read a book and decided to write that story?  I don’t know. I don’t know if she is writing about someone she knew or making up a story.   Perhaps the other entries would give me information. Perhaps.

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Why did she save this receipt as well?

Inside the book is a receipt for registered mail sent on November 16, 1922.  Did she send something back to her father and her siblings after she arrived in America?  I wish I knew.

My grandmother passed away 38 years ago.  I wish I had seen this book when she was alive so I could ask her what all this is!  We found it long after she died and my parents died.  It was hidden in the bottom of a box in the attic of their Catskills home.  Not thrown away, but saved for me to one day find.

This book is a mystery to me.  I need someone who reads Polish and can translate this book for me.  I love a mystery, but even more, I love the solution to a mystery!

 

Two blogs about Abraham Prentki:

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

My ‘Feh’ Mood Seems Overwhelming

24 Jan

There are certain Yiddish words that just fit.  When you say them, you know that everyone understands exactly what you feel and why you feel that way.  And lately one words keeps coming to my mind all the time: Feh!

Feh:  I am so disgusted.  I have reached the age where I look at life in a different way.  I get so disgusted with unreasonable behavior.  With those more concerned about their own glory than the people they are supposed to serve. People so caught up in their political side that they are forgetting that people are now suffering without pay.  That our economy is hurting, our people are hurting.  Feh on them all. Actually, our political world is beyond feh!  I would say it was all “verkakte,” screwed up!   I have been calling my two senators several times a week.  Does it help? Who knows! But I feel better for trying.

I am disgusted with baseless hatred.  And with people who spew hatred. I am disgusted with the increased acts of ‘anti’ behavior: anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, anti- immigrant, anti-anyone who is different than you. Feh on all the haters out there. I honestly never thought I would see an America so filled with hatred. But here we are! FEH!  I could just ‘schrai,’ scream,  in aggravation. And I do.

But my feh mood is more than just on the atmosphere of the political structure, it is also on the atmosphere of the world!  Reading or watching or listening to the news has brought about many feh moments the last few months.  I am at the point where I do not want to hear any more. But then I realize I have to listen. Despite my disgust and my temptation to yell, “Feh,” at my television, I keep on watching. But to be honest, this mishegoss is making me meshugah!

Then there is the atmosphere of the weather. Feh on the weather!  Climate change is killing me.  The summers are too darn hot!  And this winter has been a polar bear of ice, snow, sleet, graupel, freezing rain and more.  I am done. FEH! I do not want to kvetch, but who needs this weather? Not me.

Feh on the dirty snow piled on the roads and my driveway. Feh on the mud and muck coming into my home. Feh on the downed trees and limbs felled by 10 inches of wet nasty snow.  Just FEH.

I am so tired of schlepping!  I am tired of putting on layers of clothing and my boots.  I am tired of schlepping a scarf and gloves and hat with me wherever I go, and then running back when I forget something or if fell as I was walking into a building.  I am tired of schlepping my coat around when I go shopping at the grocery store.  If I take it off it takes up too much of my cart; if I leave it on, I get too hot.  Feh on my schlepping and my winter clothes!

I remember my grandmother saying feh on little things, like a mud-covered child, a dirty diaper, a messy face.  My fehs have reached epic proportions this year.  I am in super feh mode.  There has to be a word to express my extreme disgust.

I honestly do not want to become verbissen, totally bitter, by all that is happening in the world at this time.  But my feh mood seems to be over whelming some days!

 

 

Oy, An Egg Kichel! Delicious!

9 Jan

Amazing how the taste of a freshly baked egg kichel can bring back so many joyful memories!

It started with a Facebook post by a friend.  She posted something from My JewishLearning.com, entitled “Kichels Recipe: Jewish Bow Tie Cookies.    (See link below, it includes the recipe.)

A few of my friends started commenting on the post about how much they loved these cookies, including me.  I commented: “My grandpa made these in his bakery and continued making them for us.  I loved them.  I would glad to be a tester for you!”

Next thing I knew I had committed to meeting a different friend and making them.  What a delight! She had posted that her Bubbie made these treats.  And she wanted to make them again.  I was all in!  (I do feel a bit of guilt that we did not have the person who posted the article with us!)

You do not bake egg kichel, you fry them.  You do not need much, just flour, salt, vinegar, eggs, oil and powdered sugar.    Mixing bowls, a mixer and a frying pan, along with lots of paper towels are required.  I promise you an hour or so of fun, and then a delicious reward.

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One of our early batches.  A bit too thick!

We learned something from our foray into making them.  The dough does have to be paper thin!  It is best to have all the dough rolled out and cut into strips before heating up the oil.  And really, you must make sure the oil is hot, hot, hot before you start putting the dough strips into the frying pan.

My friend was in charge of mixing, then rolling out the dough, and making the paper-thin morsels for us to fry.  The learning experience commence with our first frying. The strips were too thick.  So for the next batch, she started cutting the strips and rolling them out again. SUCCESS!

The excitement once we did it correctly was encompassing.  Each rectangle of dough would almost instantly turn white, bubble up and float to the top of the oil.  In a few moments one side would be golden brown, and I would flip them over.  Watch them a few moments more and then out into the towel to soak up extra oil.  Then I sifted the powdered sugar over them.

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I combined some batches.  But here they are letting the oil soak out!

We had to try one from each batch to taste the difference.  The thinner the dough, the hotter the oil, the crispier the fried kichel, the better it tasted.  We had six batches, so we had to try six. YES!  We really did!

I am so happy my friend not only said that we need to make them one afternoon, she set a date! It was not only the fun of tasting and frying, it brought back the memories of cooking with our grandparents.  We cannot bring them back, but we can in our minds relive happy moments like this!

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 Mine are on the right!

Even after tasting, we had so much left over.  We divided them up relatively evenly.  I suggested she keep extra as she has a grandson living close by to help in the eating.  But I was happy to bring a plate home for my husband and me.

My husband doesn’t have the same memories.  He never tasted egg kichel.  A Shanda!  Can you imagine never eating them?  I cannot.  But then he did not have anyone to bake traditional cookies and treats when he was growing up.  Both of his grandmother’s died very young.

For me, however, each snap of a kichel in my mouth along with the melting of the powder sugar gives me joy.  Oy!  Egg Kichel!  It is so delicious

 

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/kichels-recipe-jewish-bow-tie-cookies/?utm_content=buffer717d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=thenosher&utm_campaign=buffer

 

Discovering Karola’s Kielce Pogrom Testimony

12 Aug

In February 2017 I published a blog about discovering my grandmother’s cousin was in Kielce, Poland, during the Pogrom in July 1946. (See blog link below.) Since then I have been continuing my research on the lost remnants of my grandparent’s families.  Along the way, I have discovered more about Karola.

First off, I now know her entire name, which brings me more understanding. Korala’s mother and my great grandmother were sisters.  My grandmother was her first cousin.

Our families did keep in touch.  My father often went to Paris on business, occasionally my Mom would accompanied him and would visit a cousin who lived there.  That cousin was Karola.  She had changed her name from the Polish sounding to a more French name, and of course I recognized the last name.

In any case, it was when I found the village where my great grandmother was born, that I found also the Viroshov Yitzkor Book published in 1970.   In it, written in Yiddish, was Karola’s testimony about the Kielce Pogrom.   I must thank my friend, Blumah W., the local Chabbad rebbetzin, who spent several hours with me as she translated this moving memory.

I think with what is going on in Poland today, with the country’s wanting to deny their people’s involvement in the Nazi’s intent to destroy and annihilate the Jewish population.  Karola’s story and memory is even more important because it tells the truth of what really happened in the years pre, during and after the war.

The Kielce Pogrom By Karola Manes F. as translated by Blumah W.

 “A lot has already been told about the ferocious anti-Semitism of how the majority of Polish treated their Jewish neighbors during all the years of the Polish existence. It is still fresh in memory.  The anti- Jewish politics in pre-war Poland using power against the Jewish workers and merchants, and the hooligans acting against the Jewish young students. 

        Also, during the time of the War, being under the German occupation, the Poles did not forget their anti-Semitic tradition.  They were very much supportive of the Nazi program and worked with the Nazis for the annihilation of the Jewish nation.  (“G-d forbid,” added by Blumah.)

          When the war finished, the Jewish remnants were hidden in different places. A few Jewish people who were saved began to look in their birth places for their relatives; their flesh and blood.   Also, then there came upon these survivors, unruly/wild Polish bandits, bands of Poles, who murdered these few left over Jews.

           The culmination point of this ferocious Polish behavior was the tragic well-known Kielce Pogrom, which was accomplish over these few ‘leftovers’ in the summer of the year 1946.

            Being be that I was in that time in Kielce where I lived through this tragic chapter, then I will tell what happened during this incident.

            After the war, in Kielce there was the concentration of a larger group of Jews.  The portion of them came from hidden places and from the forests, where they were involved with the armed partisans combat.  Larger groups from back from Russia, where they found themselves during the time of the war.  In order to deal with stream of survivors, a Jewish committee was formed that found themselves on Planty Street. 

           The Polish people right away, in the first days, immediately began to agitate and incite against the Jews.  “TOO many of you remained!”  They said with extreme hate.

           The first provocation was when someone threw the dead body of a Christian woman into the Jewish compound.  It was accompanied with an incitement that they said the Jews murdered this woman.

           Only at night, Russian soldiers came dressed in Polish uniforms and made order. They arrested a number of Polish hooligans.   The next morning, on the way to the funeral, the Jewish people accompanying the dead, were guarded by the Russian soldiers in order to avoid any further incidents by the wild and unruly Polish population

            May these words act as a monument for the holy martyrs of the Kielce Pogrom; May G-d avenge their blood. “

In the last paragraphs, Karola does not talk about how people were murdered or what truly happened on the day of the pogrom.  Instead she talks about the fact that it was Russian soldiers who stopped the pogrom by dispersing the Polish hooligans.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed.  I wanted to know from her mouth/her pen what truly happened. What she as a survivor saw.  But then, I realized, it was too much.  She had survived a ghetto, a concentration camp and now a pogrom, who am I to want more from her?

https://zicharonot.com/2017/02/27/what-happened-to-karola/

 

The Sorrow of Shalom Hollanders

7 Jun

In my blog “Murdered in Belzec” I wrote about Shalom Hollander, the relative who put in the information about my great grandparents and great uncle on the Yad VeShem datebase.  I had met him in 1976. when I was 20 years old in Israel, when took my Grandmother to Israel to see her brother (See blog link below).

After I found those three names, I decided I needed to see if Shalom entered other names on the Yad VeShem website, since I could only find one of my grandfather’s siblings.  I did an advance search using only Shalom’s name as the one who put in the testimonies.  About 45 names showed up.  After going through all of them, I realized that he had duplicated some names.  Mainly his own children.  So in reality there were probably 40 names of people that were somehow related to me, of these 18 were children.

And although I was looking for my grandfather’s siblings and their children, finding these three families and their children touched my heart.  They were also my family.

Among the many names were his wife and his five children.  With this information I found out how he was closely related to me.  His wife, Cerla or Tzira Feuer, was my great grandfather’s niece and so my grandfather’s first cousin.  She was 38 when she was murdered.  (I knew two of her brothers who survived the Shoah, one settled in Montana of all places and one in England. Another brother also survived.)

Shalom’s children were:  Elish (Ptakhia), 11 years old when murdered in Auschwitz; Etla, seven years old when murdered at Auschwitz; Mordechai, five years old when murdered at Auschwitz; Gital Tila, four years old when murdered at Auschwitz; Ita, two years old when murdered in Auschwitz.  They all were murdered in August 1943.

Before they were murdered at the camp, they lived in the Tarnow Ghetto.  What a horrible short life they lived.

In the earlier blog I wrote that I thought he had no family in Israel.  I now know why.  All of these deaths.

But it doesn’t stop there.

His sister also perished: Chaja/Serka/Khala Holander Viner/Wiener also died.  I like how he gave all the names she used.  She died in Belzec.  Also dying was her husband: Pinchas Viner/Wiener. He died in a different camp, Plaszow Camp, which was first a slave labor camp. Then a death camp.

It doesn’t stop there because his parents Mordechai and Tova also perished in the Shoah.  They died on September 3, 1943, in Beredechow, Ropczyce, Krakow.  I wonder what happened that day?  Why were they both murdered then?  I tried seeing if such a date was important in some way, but could not find anything.  But I guess it was important because Mordechai and Tova were murdered that day.

His father was related to my great grandmother, an Amsterdam. But Shalom chose to use his mother’s maiden name. Or perhaps his parents never had a civil marriage as what happened to many Jewish couples in Galicia, so he had his mother’s name.

I am looking back at my 20 year old self in horror.  I remember spending several hours with Shalom and my grandmother.  We had a meal or drink together in a restaurant.  We walked around for a while as my Grandma talked to him.  I remember being a bit annoyed because I had to take Grandma by bus to a place I really did not know so well to meet him. I think it was in Haifa.  I knew Tel Aviv much better.
I still remember what he looked like.  He was relatively tall for an ‘old man.’ Probably in his mid-70s.  He had the look of my grandfather, but not as much as another relative I had met.

They spoke in Yiddish.  I tuned it out.  I was so exhausted from all the Holocaust memories I had been listening to during that four-week trip.   Can a person have delayed Jewish guilt?  Can those memories really cause so much sorrow to me now?

They do.   I went back to Israel a year later and spent over three months. But I did not go to see him again.  Other survivors who I knew, I did see. But not Shalom.

I cannot imagine what losing all those people he loved did to him.  I cannot imagine what sorrow he carried with him.   I knew another of my grandfather’s relatives who survived. I wondered if they knew each other.  Now I know that they did.  Although Ziesel and Shalom were both related to my grandfather from different sides of his family, they married into his close family by married sisters, his two first cousins.

I do remember a bit of that visit with Shalom.  I remember Grandma telling me that this visit would be different, that I would be meeting one of Grandpa’s relatives, not one of hers. And that she did not know him very well.  I remember the overwhelming sense of pain that came from him while they spoke.  My grandmother spoke to him in a way I had never heard before.  With him she was so gentle.  Almost whispering to him as they conversed.  Easing the words out of him.

I remember Grandma and me being exhausted after this visit.  I remember Grandma went to bed as soon as we returned to the hotel.  It really was too much to comprehend.  Too much sorrow.  So maybe I just let myself forget.

Now, as an adult,  I realize that I must remember Shalom and his wife Tzira; his children Elish, Etla, Mordechai, Gital and Ita; his sister Chaja and her husband, Pinchas; his parents Mordechai and Tova.  May their names be a blessing, may I use this blog to keep their memories alive.  Baruch Dayan haEmet.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/05/murdered-in-belzec/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/05/01/zysel-ziesel-feuer-survivor/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mielec