As told to Rayzel Reich by her grandfather Efraim Reich
It’s warm in the kitchen. The big stove sends out waves of heat, filling the small room.
Zeida sits next to me, at the head of the small aluminum table. Tufts of his old streimel move back and forth as he sways gently. It’s warm next to Zeida, too.
The sounds and scents of the kitchen are cozy, familiar, but loud in the silence.
Crackling from the wood in the big brick stove. Bubbling from the pots that sit on top.
Strange happenings this week have tainted the air with fear. But there is chicken in the pot. Father is not here to shecht. We all ran away a week ago, but the grown men have been advised to stay away from town. The shechthois is closed, an uneasy nod to that fear. But Zeida was in the backyard all day yesterday, slaughtering chickens for women who streamed in.
Chicken in the soup, as there should be, on Yom Tov. The yeasty smell of Mother’s challos. Tangy raisin wine wafting from the glass decanter. Faint chatter from the dining room, where Mother and the girls sit on the elegant grey couch.
The faint creak as Zeida shifts next to me.
The light fixture on the ceiling casts a steady yellow glow. Tick tick; the clock is always there, ticking the minutes past.
Zeida sways, the ends of his old gartel tickling my leg. He clears his throat and begins.
“Achois kitaneh…” I look down into my machzor and whisper the words with him. The small Jewish Nation…arranges her prayers, and calls out praises… G-d, please, heal her afflictions, please… “Tichleh,” Zeida sings softly, “tichleh shana ukluloisehuh… The year ends, and may her curses end with her…”
It tickles my mind, pulling me with a salty tang to other words, other times, other places.
I’m sitting in the big beis medrash of the chassidishe shul, sliding slightly on the polished wooden seat. A buzz fills the air, the buzz that hovers in a storm when lightning’s strike is near.
The big room is packed with people, those who always come and those who almost never come. So many people, moving, swaying, sitting, standing.
Here is Tatte next to me, swaying as he murmurs words of Gemara. Zeida is on his other side, his grey beard moving as he whispers the words. Here is Shmiel, right next to me. All the air, alight with life, with-with- that pull of something great, something awesome, happening right here, or in the heavens, filling the air.
A murmuring begins, then swells, as all begin to say the words in the machzor. I look down and join them. Achois kitaneh… the small Jewish nation… sending up her prayers… heal her, Aibishter… may the year and her curses end!
“Tavoi…” the voice gently flows, “shana uvirchoiseha…” I stare, the words not yet finding meaning in my mind.
I am here, at home, in the kitchen. My father and brother are far off in some village, afraid to come home. The big, beautiful beis medrash stands empty. There is a curfew and we do not think it wise to disobey. Blankets hang over the windows in the dining room; we do not feel comfortable exposed to those outside now. War came to Dembitz last week and no one knows what will be.
This is a strange Rosh Hashanah. It does not have a good feeling.
The words touch; find their meaning inside me. Tavoi… may the New Year come… and with it, her blessings.
Blessings? I feel a shot of fear. These Germans are different. We had thought the Poles could keep the peace. Poles can hit you and spit at you. But at least you know what you’re dealing with. We have dealt with it for a thousand years.