Some weeks after Pesach 1929, I came home from school to
find my parents in the dining room with exciting news. In
the summer vacation, Mutti (`Mother' in German), my brother
Sholom and I were to travel to Kolbuszowa, Poland, to meet
and visit Mutti's mother, the Babdje Chave, and Papa's
mother, the Bobbe Chaya, and all of our family there whom we
had never seen. My youngest brother, Osher Yeshaya, would
stay home, as he was a baby and it was a long trip.
We were already packed and waiting for a taxi when Mutti
reminded herself, "I forgot the special sewing basket."
"Don't take it," said Papa. "You are meant to have a
vacation; besides, there is no electric lighting in
"Please get it, anyway. I'll only do sewing in the daytime."
In our house, nothing was ever wasted. When the elbows on a
sweater were worn out, Mutti took a thick needle and heavy
silky thread and darned it with a patch that had a design.
For my father who was a Levi, it would show a table with a
silver pitcher. For Cousin Yehuda, a red flag with a gold
lion. For Dovid, a harp. For me, a rose in several shades of
Papa quickly ran up the steps, brought the basket and took
us to the train station. As the train to Munich came in,
Papa took Mutti's hand in both of his, and kissed Sholom and
me on our foreheads.
It took most of the day to get to Munich. There we waited
several hours for the train to Rsheshov and traveled all
night and most of the next day. From Rsheshov, we took a
local bus to Kolbuszowa. It was a bus ride impossible to
forget. The bus lurched on the unpaved road and finally
stopped at the bottom of a hill. Everyone had to get off --
no simple matter since there were peasants with cages of
chickens, roosters and geese and a tied up nanny-goat. Some
of the men pushed the bus up the hill and then everyone got
Mutti's brother, my Uncle Dovid, waited for us at the bus
stop in Kolbuszowa. He was over six feet tall with very blue
eyes. His beard had beautiful waves and sparkled like spun
gold. "Uncle Dovid, you look just like Dovid Hamelech!" I
cried out, because this is how I had pictured the king in my
He walked with us to his house, where we washed on homebaked
bread, had soup, and drank mashlinke -- buttermilk.
Then we rested for an hour and walked to the home of the
Babdje Chave. To this day, her greeting to us is engraved
upon my heart and mind. She rose as we came in and,
embracing Mutti, she said in a melodious voice, "I'll tell
you what Yaakov Ovinu said to Yosef when they were reunited:
`I had despaired of ever seeing you again and now I have
lived to see your children' ". Then she kissed us.
A moment later, a young woman came in carrying a honey cake.
She put it on the table and said, "Chava, lieb eich eier
gast," and was gone. Then a boy with a bottle of raisin
wine, a woman with a box of pralines -- and each person
repeated the same phrase. Soon the table was covered as
though it were Purim.
The next morning we went to the "Gute Ort" (`the Good
Place' -- a euphemism for the cemetery) to visit the grave
of my grandfather, Reb Osher Yeshaya. Mutti said Tehillim
and then softly knocked on the stone and spoke tearfully to
her father. This was more than my brother Sholom, aged 4
1/2, could stand. He tugged at Mutti and said, "Mutti,
please don't cry! When Moshiach comes, we will come here and
take Zeidy with us." This was soon the talk of the town.
From there we went home to eat breakfast and then walked for
more than half an hour to visit the Bobbe Chaye. She was the
widow of Reb Sholom Rebhuhn who was said to be a direct
descendant of the Shelo Hakodosh. They owned two fields and
a forest which were worked by hired help while my
grandfather had spent his days learning Torah. It was known
that Bobbe Chaya davened three times a day, said
Tehillim every morning and also the Letter of the
We arrived at her house which was surrounded by a large
garden with cherry trees. Her face shone as she greeted us.
There was a table laden with cake, soda water, apples and
strawberries. "Shalom," she asked, "do you know how to make
a brocha?" She sounded quite unsure. In later years,
I realized that many people in smaller Polish towns did not
have any idea how many strictly Orthodox vibrant communities
existed in Germany. Sholom made a brocha over
everything. "Bobbe," I said, "you know I'm seven. I also
know the brochos. I even learn Chumash."
"A maidel is nischt wichtig -- a girl is not
important," Bobbe answered, and for the rest of that day's
visit, I was patently ignored. I recited the brocha
quietly over everything I ate and was deeply offended. On
the way back to the Babdje, Mutti said, "I understand how
you feel, but believe me, the Bobbe loves you no less than
Sholom. Boys and girls are equally important, but in
different ways. They are not the same, and don't forget that
Sholom is named for her husband. I suggest that when we
visit again, you go over and kiss your Bobbe, who is a
tzadekess." And that's what I did.
At that time, I was unaware of the origin of the family name
of Rebhuhn. During the Middle Ages, there was a blood libel,
one of many, to be sure. A gentile child was missing before
Pesach and a priest claimed to have had a vision which
revealed that the missing child was behind the oven in the
Rappaport house. He came, followed by roused peasants, but
when they looked behind the oven, a covey of
rebhuhner, partridges, flew into their faces. Due to
this miracle, the family changed its name. Through different
passport officials variations of the spelling came about,
yet all are said to be Levites.
That week we visited Mutti's other brother, my Uncle
Meilech, and Tante Malisch. Uncle Meilech kept a store and
had horses and a wagon and a yard full of chickens. He had a
legendary love for horses and the story went that when he
was twelve, he would always disappear from cheder on
market day to roam among the horses. If he saw a thin horse
with no bag of hay over his head, he would take the feedbag
from a well fed horse and transfer it to the nebech.
Once he was caught and taken to jail for the day. Upon
hearing this, Babdje quickly baked a large eierkichel
to derchappen his heart (to cause a change of heart,
akin to removing an ayin hora). Uncle Meilech grew up
to be modest, quiet, beloved and respected by all who knew
When the first World War had broken out, Uncle Dovid, of
military age and a strapping young man, was summoned to
appear before the draft commission. The Babdje took him to
many Rebbes to plead for a blessing that he be declared
untauglich, unfit, but no Rebbe would say so. The
last Rebbe they went to asked him to roll up his shirt
sleeve. He looked at his muscular arm and said, "He will be
a soldier and a good Jew always. When he is drafted, let him
take his tallis and tefillin."
"Rebbe," his mother cried, "what are you saying? How can he
be a soldier and a good Jew?"
At that point, my grandfather, who was still alive then,
tried to buy off the drafting commission. All of the members
voted my uncle `untauglich,' but the military doctor
leaped to his feet and screamed, "If he is unfit, who will
you consider fit?" He called in some officers and my uncle
was drafted on the spot. But he found favor in the eyes of
his superior officer and was allowed time to pray every
morning. Wherever he was stationed, Jews came and brought
him kosher food. He was made a military policeman and was
very kind to his charges.
Friday evening after candle lighting, two men dressed in
bekeshes and streimlach walked into the house.
At first, I didn't recognize them; it was Uncle Dovid and
Uncle Meilech on their way to shul. They kissed their
mother's hands and their melodious voices rang out with
"A gutten Shabbos." As arranged, Sholom and I went
I will never forget the beautiful Lecho Dodi. I
looked up and saw an immense fish painted on the ceiling.
Uncle Dovid later explained that it was not a simple fish.
This was the Levioson, who would be served to the righteous
Jews when Moshiach came!
On Shabbos, Uncle Meilech gave a big Kiddush in our honor.
Our reunion was a celebration of the generations, a time to
renew ties, share memories and enjoy the company of
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