Synopsis: We find Pa and Ma raising their brood in
Toronto, but still very much in spirit in die alte
heim. The boys have shaven heads and long payos, the girls
have long braids and homemade dresses with long sleeves and
high collars. Ma is still hoping to someday actually return
to Poland, since this is what she promised the Bobover
Babies were born, the children grew older. Though notices
arrived to register the boys in the local public school, they
were ignored. "Why put our children into goyishe
schools when, any day now, we'll be going back home?" Ma
asked. But one year passed and then another, and there were
still border clashes in Poland.
One day, a truant officer came to the house. He explained to
Ma that as education in Canada was compulsory, both she and
Pa could be put in jail for keeping their children at
Ma pointed to all the boxes still unpacked, to all the
bundles stacked in corners, and using bits of the language
that they refused to learn or allow their children to speak,
she somehow got the truant officer to understand that it
really didn't pay for them to make a fuss when, in any event,
they wouldn't remain in Canada much longer.
It never entered Pa or Ma's minds that they might stay and
make Canada their permanent home, because every day it become
clearer to them both that the New World was not the place for
either them or their children; and you didn't have to be a
rabbi or a prophet to see why.
The streets were an irresistible magnet. Youngsters
gravitated to its glitter and shine. Though fathers went to
shul on Shabbos, their children refused to come along.
Saturday was the day that boys could earn money doing odd
jobs or taking on a newspaper route, to later spend in
amusement parks or the movies.
Once the Shabbos had lost its holiness for them, it didn't
take long for them to discard the rest of the
Immigrant parents learned to look the other way and resigned
themselves to the inevitable. Those who grieved when their
children went astray, sought solace in the shul.
Another year passed and then another. The border clashes in
Russia-Poland continued. Pa and Ma still couldn't go
Another truant officer came; this time with a court order to
bring the boys to school by force. But by then, there was
little resistance. In fact, by then, Ma must have been pretty
happy to see them go. The boys were more than she could
handle; always sliding down the bannisters, somersaulting
down the steps, running around all over the streets.
They were always busy. No sooner did they lost interest in
one activity than they thought up another, usually more
dangerous, one: climbing the fruit trees to pick the peaches
that they sold on the corner of D'Arcy and Spidina streets,
three for a nickel, building a wagon on which they
ricochetted down steep hills. Even when they played innocent
games like batting a ball, heads got split open.
The neighbors would stand by their windows every morning,
watching as Ma, with a glass of milk and a roll in her hand,
would run after Shimon. "Lumich up, lumich up!" he
would cry when she caught him. "Leave me alone. I'll be late
"Lukshin, lukshin," she would wail after catching
Meyer and holding him long enough to inspect the tears in the
trousers that hadn't been there before. "Whatever they wear,
they make into lukshin [noodles]," she'd moan. But as
impossible as the boys were, when in the hot summer months
Chanale rented a bungalow in the country for her own family,
she never failed to take her nephews along.
Itche was the only one who gave Ma any peace. At bedtime,
while the others flew around like tornados, he would very
systematically fold up all the clothing he intended to wear
the next day. After stacking everything in a neat pile, he'd
put his shoes on the top and shove the whole neat pile under
his bed with a force that sent everything toppling over.
Besides the house and the cooking and sewing all the family's
clothing, even socks that she bribed them to wear, Ma
continued to sew linings into fur coats, even after Chanale
came. [She had been working to save up for her niece's ticket
to Toronto.] Now it was to have an extra dollar to give the
`collectors' for the many Jewish projects going up in
But as hard as life was for Ma, nothing was harder than the
boys. She was so helpless and frustrated when it came to
them; all she could do was scratch at her face and plead with
them not to fight.
Things had to really be bad before Ma complained to Pa, and
when she did, he'd grab hold of whoever he could catch and
give him a few good punches. Meyer, being the smallest, was
usually the one that Pa caught, but after always getting
punched in the same place on his side, he tied a piece of tin
under his shirt that protected him like a coat of armor. The
next time Pa caught him, he could honestly say that hitting
Meyer had "hurt me more than it had the child."
"Ma just couldn't keep up with the boys," Pa mused with pity,
reminiscing to me, his daughter-in-law, decades later as a
resident of the Vizhnitz Old Age Home in Bnei Brak.
"Could you?" I laughed.
Pa was pensive a long time. "It was a different world then,"
he said, full of wonder. "Fathers were so busy struggling to
earn a living that they didn't know what was going on at
home. After work, I stayed in shul, studying, praying,
creating a bit of die alte heim in the exile that I
"The women understood it as well as the men. It never
occurred to Ma to ask me to help. She knew that if I had a
spare minute, it belonged to my soul."
[To be continued...]