web analytics
August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


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.

Current Top Story
Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, formerly from New York.
One-Third of Americans in Israel Live in Judea and Samaria
Latest Judaism Stories
Rabbi Avi Weiss

The love between Gd & Israel is deeper than marriage; beyond the infinite love of parent for child

Q-A-Klass-logo

Question: When a stranger approaches a congregant in shul asking for tzedakah, should the congregant verify that the person’s need is genuine? Furthermore, what constitutes tzedakah? Is a donation to a synagogue, yeshiva, or hospital considered tzedakah?

Zvi Kirschner
(Via E-Mail)

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

Since giving the machatzis hashekel will not change his financial situation, he is obligated to do so even though it is more than a fifth of his income.

Grunfeld-Raphael-logo

Today, few people fast during the Days of Selichot, but the custom is to rise early to recite Selichot.

Each month is associated with a particular tribe. The month of Elul is matched up with Gad. What makes Gad unique?

Sanctions and indictment of the Jew, holding him to a higher standard, is as common and misplaced as ever.

To allow for free will, there are times when Hashem will allow a person the “opportunity to be the messenger.”

“There is a mitzvah to pay the worker on that day,” answered Mr. Lerner.

Be happy. Be grateful. God knows what he is doing. It is all happening for a reason.

We get so busy living our lives, handling our day-to-day little crises that we forget to go that one step deeper and appreciate our lives.

The promise for long life only comes from 2 commandments; What’s the connection between them?

Mighty Amalek deliberately attacked enemy’s weakest members, despicable even by ancient standards

If we parents fail to honor responsibilities then society’s children will pay the price for our sins

Consider how our Heavenly Father feels when He sees His children adopting all other parents but Him

You may wonder, how can we be excited and joyful at a time when His Judgment, not Fatherly Love, reigns supreme?

More Articles from Rabbi Hanoch Teller
Rabbi Hanoch Teller

The Yale 5 were treated liked pariahs by their fellow Jewish students; their beliefs rejected

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Since the students knew the housing rules in advance they should not have picked Yale hoping for an exception in their instance.

Yale argued living on campus meant living in the “real world,” with its complexities and challenges

I felt terror posing questions to Rav Elyashiv doing so only twice in the 9 years I was in his shiur

In a cab with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach & Rav Elayshiv discussing if/when to say tefillas haderech

Rav Elyashiv favored books about gedolim with 2 caveats: accuracy; and no distasteful elements

Humility often confused with low self-esteem, truly means that a person realizes his true worth

If we are certain that God is on our side, we can easily become arrogant and even cruel

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: