Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Kislev 5765 - December 8, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Days of Yore in Jerusalem
by Esther Weil

A personal story

Part II

There was mutual help with the food. The entire neighborhood participated in preparing food for the seudas mitzva of a neighbor who married off a child. Because there weren't any refrigerators, the preparations were begun the day before the wedding. Everyone took upon herself to cook or bake something for the meal.

My wedding was in the Babad Hotel opposite the Machane Yehuda police station and the messader kiddushin was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Hagaon R' Tzvi Pesach Frank zt'l. Two days before, they took a cook to prepare the chickens, and the neighbors and extended family all came to help. A `chicken' then was a chick weighing two or three hundred grams. They raised a few chicks like that in the courtyard and we got a few others which we cooked for the wedding. We made meat loaves from them with a lot of bread and eggs. As a side dish, we made ourselves noodles and soup nuts, much bigger than they have today, and we also pickled cucumbers. For dessert, we cooked the fruit of the season and it was a festive meal.

For the meal, only the immediate family was invited. The rest of the guests came after the chuppa and were treated to homemade lekach [what we call in America eier kichlach, large, light-rounded sugar-sprinkled cookies] which were stored in pillowcases so that they didn't dry out, and a cup of syrup-flavored shaven ice chips called barad (hail).

We were one of the lucky people who had our own small tin stove. When my sister got married, we baked sponge cakes in honor of her wedding. We baked all of the cakes ourselves. We beat the egg whites up with two forks and they stood up so stiff within minutes that when we turned the bowl upside- down, the whites did not fall. Cakes were baked in a wonder pot and they came out very high. We stayed up all night, frosting the cakes with lovely cream and decorated them with scalded almond halves that we laid in flower shapes, adding colored candies for decoration. To add variety, we added parsely leaves. We prepared the creamy icing from margarine, cocoa and coffee and alternated between dark and white cakes. All this we made the night before the wedding because there was no refrigeration. We also baked strudels in the same oven as the bread.

Sometimes, I would bake sponge cakes for my grandmother, who lived in Shaarei Chessed. I made them from four eggs that rose so high that they even lifted up the cover of the wonder baker. And do you know the secret of the success of our cakes and of everything we cooked? We cooked with love, pleasure and satisfaction. We put our whole soul in the preparation.

The food at the wedding was served by the family. The boys served the men and the girls served the women. We took a photogapher who took black and white pictures and there was tremendous joy felt by everyone. The entire atmosphere, the whole occasion, was enveloped in holiness and the joy of mitzva.

How did you spend your free time?

As you know, all the old neighborhoods were built around wide couryards that were spread between the houses that crowded them on all sides, like compounds. By the way, in the neighborhood of Botei Broide where we lived when I was young, the apartments consisted of one and a half rooms. The little girls would go out to the common courtyard and play with the Israeli counterpart of jacks, but instead of ten jacks, they used five smooth stones which they gathered from neighboring fields. You threw one up in the air and had to catch it while scooping up the other four, with variations to the rules, of course. They tried to find stones that were as smooth and uniform as possible.

Girls also jumped rope. They used the rope used to hang laundry in the courtyard so that on laundry day, they couldn't play with it. Little girls also collected `goldies,' the tinselly wrappers that came on chocolates or other packaged condiments which people could rarely afford.

During apricot season, which was short, children collected the pits and used them like marbles. This was mainly a boys' game. They shot them into holes made in cardboard shoeboxes or tried to hit others on the floor. Girls and boys would play "Odd or Even?" where you had to guess if they had an odd or even number of pits in their hand. Winner took all. Some collected for the sake of collection. Children knew how to make whistles from them by rubbing them in the sand until there was a small hole in the side.

Girls loved to tell Torah stories, enact them, and sing quietly. A ball was a real treasure. At one point, I had to leave my home for a certain period and as a consolation gift, when I returned they bought me a tennis ball. It was the only ball in the neighborhood and it transformed me into the queen of the courtyard. We had dolls, but nothing like the store- bought kind. We would take an old sock, stuff it, tie it in three places and sew some buttons on the `face.' We put these in shoeboxes and covered our dollies with remnants of cloth and loved them dearly.

A Stipend of 100 Lirot

From what did we live? My husband was a ben Torah from the day of our wedding to this very day. He studied in Etz Chaim and was allotted one hundred lirot per month. On Rosh Chodesh he brought home his `salary,' took off a tenth and gave me the rest, invariably saying, "This has to last you until next Rosh Chodesh. Do with it what you understand is best."

We managed. We didn't throw anything out. We didn't splurge. We recycled everything. An article of clothing that got ruined wasn't thrown out. We cut the fabric up and made something else smaller, or turned it into a kitchen towel or handkerchief. I know how to make delicacies from leftover pieces of challa or bread. We didn't throw food out if it was not yet spoiled. Once every two days, the garbage man came and collected our trashcans which were hardly full. Today, even the big green dumpsters are not enough for all the garbage and waste thrown out.

We bought food for pennies. Twenty eggs cost a shilling, but even those were sometimes very scarce. Mother trained us to be satisfied with little. She would say, "I have plenty of food — oil and salt and a small tomato and sometimes a little scallion. Who needs more than that?" She drilled the trait of sufficiency into us with the oft repeated credo, "Whatever I have is good for me. Whatever I don't have, I don't need!"

I raised my children on half a leben apiece and would tell them, "In life, it's good to look at the half that's full and not at the half that's empty." When we were already a big family, my husband would buy one small bottle of malt beer (a pint) for Shabbos. He shook it up well so that it filled with foam, and would then pour each child a glassful; it looked full, though half of it was air. Ask my children: they'll tell you that they had a wonderful childhood and lacked for nothing.

I raised all my nine children in two rooms. Years later, we went to live in a more spacious apartment of two and a half rooms, but all the furniture moved with us to the new apartment. All of my furniture is still from my wedding and it's still beautiful and very serviceable. We didn't change a bolt. Once they made good quality furniture and I made sure to take care of it.

My father z'l was a ben Torah, like his father before him, and Boruch Hashem, we have a continuation. My father studied in the Harry Fishel Institute together with Maran Hagaon R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztzkv'l and Hagaon R' Yisroel Yaakov Fisher zt'l. My father-in-law had a kollel called Midrash MiZion where they studied the laws of Eretz Yisroel.

In order to get an idea of the dedication to Torah and the real paucity of years gone by, I'll tell you about my grandfather zt'l who was the brother of Hagaon R' Tzvi Pesach Frank zt'l. My grandfather and his brother emigrated from Kovno by themselves as young boys before the First World War. Their parents remained abroad. My grandfather was fourteen and R' Tzvi Pessach was sixteen. They had no family here, so they slept on a bench in shul and ate `days' at the homes of different families.

When war broke out, there wasn't enough food. The baalei batim could no longer host outsiders and the two young brothers suffered from starvation. After two weeks of subsisting on water and a little bread they had found in the trash, my grandfather said to his brother, "Look what Torah does, I feel like I've gotten fat." The amazed brother looked at him and said, "You think you're fat? You're swollen from hunger!"

As a young man, Grandfather learned with a study partner. Two girls from the same neighborhood and courtyard would serve them hot glasses of tea to ward off the Jerusalem scarcity and cold. When he came of age, the young man was asked if he would be interested in meeting one of the girls who had been bringing them tea — for matrimonial purposes. Since my grandmother was the older, she was chosen of the two. On a certain day, she was told that she was allowed to look at the boy whom she had been serving each each day because he was going to be her intended chosson. My grandfather was told the same thing.

When she left the room that day, she was asked her opinion about the young man. She said that he was a bit short, since she happened to be tall. They told her, "It's true that he's short in stature but he's great in Torah." She accepted what they said. Immediately afterwards, he was asked how he felt about his `intended.' "Oh, I forgot to look!" he replied, having been so engrossed in his study. This did not stop them from getting engaged the following day and going on to establish a fine Jewish family of which I am the second generation.

Boruch Hashem, we personified the saying that "From paupers will come forth Torah." We make do with what we have and are happy with our lot. My sons learn in kollel and their wives are mothers and housewives, raising outstanding families. How? We don't ask how or why. The verse, "Why should the nations say..." can be interpreted as follows: The nations ask `Why?' We don't ask any questions, we just serve Hashem with pure faith and trust. Every day we see overt miracles that proves that Hashem looks after bnei Torah and sustains them. Boruch Hashem, we are all adequately dressed and we have what to eat. Clothing is passed down among the children and from them, to the grandchildren. I mend whatever needs mending.

It has never occurred to us to take a vacation in a hotel or guesthouse. At the very most, we exchange apartments. When the children were small, I switched apartments with my sister who lives in Bnei Brak. I didn't even take along clothing, since our children are of similar ages. We used the clothing and diapers there and washed everything, of course, as they did with our things.

Life in our neighborhood was very cohesive. We felt like one big family. We had a sense of responsibility towards one another, and always helped out when it was needed. The courtyard was shared, including the outdoor toilets. We participated in each other's simchas and lent a hand or commiserated with our neighbor's troubles and sorrows.

There was never a question of what to do with the children when a mother gave birth or was sick. The neighbors always pitched in. We shared everything we had and even what we didn't.

Fortunate are we for children who haven't brought shame upon our old age!


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