January 24th, 2012
Poverty and richness
The father of the author has been very appreciative of what the Sefer Telz has accomplished for the Jewish survivors of this city.
Only about one aspect has he expressed a slight restriction. He has always felt that little attention has been given to the grip of poverty on the Jewish population of the city, probably because of the deep nostalgy of the redactors and the witnesses for their beloved and lost community.
In his memoirs published in 2004, Moishe Rozenbaumas somehow sadly remembers that at different moments of the family fortunes and misfortunes, they were lucky enough to be able to improve the daily shvartser breit (dark bred) with shmalts (goose fat) or sugar. Then, he adds that more than one family were simply satisfied when they could get the piece of dark bread. He also mentions that families were living in basements with almost no furniture.
The author has often heard her father refer to the difficult living and work conditions that he experienced as an apprentice at differents tailors in Telz – from the most terrible one to the best one. Among his fond memories of his “ bosses”, the fondest relates to their wifes, the balabostes, the real heads of these Jewish households, who always treated him like a child of the family – he was more than once the only employee – meaning that he worked his 12 hours a day and was fed like any other child. More than once he was also secretly in love with one of the daughters of the family (usually, the prettiest). When Shabbes and Suday came, his greatest joy was when he was a guest at friends who were Jewish young peasants and whose parents worked on farms in the surroundings. Not only he loved the nature but, here too, the mothers looked after that he comes back home with a bucket of milk for his mother and brothers, knowing that Moishe’s father was absent.
We should keep in mind this atmosphere of poverty when we admire the high level of education they received and we look at the class photographs or at the identity photos of the certificates and diplomas. Behind their dignified pose and a smiling or sad face, the young girls may not have had a new dress each year, they may have salvage the shoes of an older sister – or wear klumpes (peasant woden shoes), they were not always well-fed when the goast of hunger was not hanging around. And a notable proportion of the students of the gymnasium Yavne dropped out after 6 or 7 years because they had to sustain their family, it was the case of Rosa Portnoi, the author’s mother and the eldest of eight siblings.