web analytics
October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The Termination Of Shtetl Life


Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch

Dear Readers: For over eight years, we have been getting together every month to share a column – Yours Truly on the production end and you (I’m sure, just as truly) on the consumption end. I deeply appreciate the productive feedback you always share, and if you will indulge me (this is a B I G one), I wish to engage in a bold pedagogic experiment that I believe can enlighten and embolden.

Over a year ago, I suggested that our knowledge of the Holocaust was limited because of our familiarity with only a few, well-known stories from that period. The overwhelming majority do not have an inkling regarding the lesser-known individuals – millions of them – who comprise the total picture. Hence, over the course of a year we learned about a few children and their experiences from the time they were engulfed by the Holocaust.

Yet another idea that occurred to me is to learn about the life of one boy from a small, but prominent, Polish village. Such an in-depth exposure will provide us with a vista to what life was like back in the shtetl, and how it was eliminated by the Holocaust. I urge you to bear with me as we begin the saga today in honor of Yom Hashoah – and shall continue for a year’s time.

Our protagonist is 11-year-old Salek Orenstein, born and raised in the Polish town of Opatow and better known to the Jewish world as “Apt.” Many have heard of this tiny town (that took only 10 minutes to transverse) because of her proudest son, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel – better known as the Oheiv Yisrael, the disciple of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk.

The fulcrum of Apt’s economy was the “market” that was conducted every Wednesday. On this day, people would come from the countryside to sell their wares, including ducks, cows and all sorts of livestock and agricultural products. At this opportunity, they would also purchase whatever they needed, such as salt, sugar etc.

Most people in the shtetl were involved in small-scale trading. They worked as tailors, shoemakers, storeowners and the like. Salek’s father was a timber and wheat merchant – in business with three of his cousins.

Salek only saw his father on Shabbos, since during the week the head of the family was away on business that began early in the morning. The day was devoted to traveling to the countryside to meet with Polish landlords on their estates. It was there that he made his purchases of wheat and timber. Before the war he also did a fair amount of trade with Germany.

Salek’s mother was a housewife who was assisted by a non-Jewish woman named Zosia. Zosia did the washing and other household chores. Even though she spoke an excellent Yiddish (she was brought up in the Orenstein home) she was never relied upon to assist with the cooking.

Salek was entrusted with taking the chickens to the shochet. After slaughtering and the extraction of blood, the schochet placed the chickens back into the basket in such a way that by the time Salek returned home, there was no longer any visible trace of blood.

The boy’s other weekly chores included bringing the cholent to the baker on Friday afternoon. The Orenstein’s pot had a special blue and red ribbon tied around it for the purpose of identification. This way, when Salek collected the steaming cholent on Shabbos morning, he was able to recognize the Orenstein pot immediately and not bring home somebody else’s food!

Like virtually every other dwelling in Apt, the Orenstein home did not have running water. Some residents had a pump, but usually the water for daily needs was stored in a big barrel in the kitchen.

Jewish water carriers – men and women alike – would refill this barrel once or twice a day. The water carriers would take advantage of their services by asking Mrs. Orenstein to serve them a little hot water (with a dash of tea) if they saw the kettle standing on the stove. “Gib mir a bissale heiss wasser,” they would beg.

Zisskind (the man’s first name) was one of Apt’s water carriers, and Salek would provide him with a cup of hot water – but it came with a price. “Zisskind!” the little boy would demand, “Tehillim perek heh, pasuk lamed-alef? Pesachim, perek Chamishi, der dritten Mishnah!” No matter what he was asked, this humble water carrier knew the answer without a moment’s hesitation. He knew the entire Bible and Talmud by heart!

One day, Zisskind somberly informed Salek, “Your water barrel is lined with dirt.”

As there was no filtration system, the water from the well was polluted with fine deposits that gradually settled at the bottom. Zisskind refused to fill the barrel until it had been thoroughly cleaned. Alas, this talmid chacham’s agenda was not merely the purity of the water

“If you give me a gleizalle tei, I will take the barrel downstairs, wash it out, and you will have nice, pure water.”

Salek must have been seven or eight years old at the time, but wise enough to realize that clean water was advantageous over dirty water, and the two of them made a deal.

When Zisskind saw the little boy huffing and puffing to ignite the flame for the hot water, he suggested that a bit of paraffin be added. In his eagerness Zisskind spilled the paraffin, resulting in a singed beard. But he got his drink, and Salek never mentioned the episode to his mother.

Cooking in the shtetl was very arduous. Every time the stove needed to be lit, it was necessary to climb into the loft and haul down timber and coal. Then began the hard part, as it was a Herculean task to light the stove. The wood was often too moist for kindling, so paper and other flammable materials were added to move things along. And all the while, a crew would simultaneously puff their lungs out so that the spark would catch.

That’s why hot water was such a big deal, and Zisskind had to bargain so much. When he would depart with his empty pails, his lips were aflame, reciting Tehillim or folios of Talmud. No matter where he went and no matter what time of day, he was always engaged in his devotions. Despite an obviously rough life constricted by abject poverty, Zisskind would always boom, “Baruch Hashem!” when asked how he was doing.

Next month, please G-d, Shabbos in the shtetl.

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Termination Of Shtetl Life”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Do you know where your vegetables grow?
Not So Kosher Shemittah L’Mehadrin
Latest Judaism Stories
Greenbaum-102414

Noach was the lonely man of faith living in a depraved world, full of wickedness.

Parsha-Perspectives-logo

Avraham became a great man during the 175 years of his life, while his predecessors became increasingly wicked, despite staggering knowledge, during their lifetimes of hundreds of years.

Rapps-Rabbi-Joshua-logo

Shem realized that he owed his existence to his father who brought him into the world.

Daf-Yomi-logo

Law-Abiding Citizen
‘That Which Is Crooked Cannot Be Made Straight…’
(Yevamos 22a-b)

The flood was not sent to destroy, but to restore the positive potential of the world.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

Why is there is no mention of dinosaurs, and other prehistoric animals, in the Torah?

Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible.

Surprisingly, my husband and one son arrived home over half-an-hour earlier than usual. I excitedly shared my perfect-timing story, but my better half one upped me easily.

Noach felt a tug, and then heard a rip. His jacket had been caught on the nail, and the beautiful suit had a tear.

Boundaries must be set in every home. Parents and children are not pals. They are not equals.

Noah and his wife could not fathom living together as husband and wife and continuing the human race

The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit

Our intentions are critical in raising children because they mimic everything we parents do & think

A humble person who achieves a position of prominence will utilize the standing to benefit others.

More Articles from Rabbi Hanoch Teller
Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch-NEW

A humble person who achieves a position of prominence will utilize the standing to benefit others.

Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch-NEW

“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet

Nothing is more effective to diminish envy than gratitude.

The enormity of Hiram’s accomplishments crazed him and deluded him into self-deification.

Thinking about how much we can do in comparison to what we have done serves as a corrective against pride and arrogance.

Separating fun from happiness can liberate, regarding (a) time, (b) money and (c) jealousy.

People expectantly go through their lives awaiting the event that will make them happy.

If you expect more, you will be less grateful; if you expect less, you will be more grateful.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/chodesh-tov/the-termination-of-shtetl-life/2007/04/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: