Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Bris" for a boy, "Brisitse" for a girl

In 2009, AHEYM interviewed a small group of people in Tul'chyn, Ukraine: Pesia Kolodienko, Nisen Kolodienko, Aleksandr Kolodienko, Yenta Tolkovitz, and Khaye Katsman. In this clip, the three women of the group discuss different customs associated with the birth of a child -- the bris (brit milah) for a boy, and the brisitse (bris, with a feminine suffix) for a girl. 

Khaye talks about her son's bris, at which a Rabbi performed the circumcision and refreshments were served. Then Pesia describes a brisitse, where children were given special spice-cakes. In the midst of this discussion, Yenta mentions a krishme-leyenen, a term that literally means "reading the Kriyat-Sh'ma", a prayer that must be recited every evening before bed. Traditionally, krishme-leyenen referred to the custom of boys coming to the parents' house in the days leading up to the bris to recite this prayer as a means of keeping the baby safe. Over time, however, the term came to symbolize any number of customs associated with the bris; in this case, it seems that Yenta uses the term to refer to the "rocking the cradle" custom, which Pesia then describes.

In "rocking the cradle", which Pesia associates with the brisitse ceremony, the baby is temporarily removed from the cradle, and a cat is put in its place. The cradle is then filled with candy and other sweets, and as the cradle is rocked, the sweets fall out, and the invited children must catch them. This custom is also intended to bring good luck to the baby.

--Asya Vaisman

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Two Remedies for the Whooping Cough

Etia Shvartzbroit was born in Mohyliv Podilskyi in 1928. She comes from a religious family -- her grandfather was a Rabbi, and her parents kept a kosher household. Her family was quite wealthy -- they kept two servants and donated generously to the poor. Her mother, however, had trouble having children. When Etia was finally born after 13 years of trying, her mother wanted to make sure that she would grow up healthy.

Lutsk, 2003

Etia was, unfortunately, a sickly child -- she had whooping cough and was not responding to treatment. When the cough returned after a treatment with a doctor in Odessa, her parents turned to folk remedies. First, her father attempted to ward off the illness by "giving it away" to various streams in the town. When that did not help, her mother "sold" the child to a widow with many children who was so poor that bad luck (and thus, sickness) would stay away from her.

--Asya Vaisman

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Soviet Yiddish Schools

Efim (Chaim) Rubin (born 1922) was interviewed in Uman in 2002, along with his cousin, Matvei (Motl) Rubin (born 1928). Both men grew up in Buki, Ukraine. In this clip, Efim recalls his education: he went to a Soviet Yiddish-language school for four years and completed his education (10 grades in all) at a Ukrainian school. The Yiddish schools were meant to be "national in form and socialist in content", utilizing the Yiddish language to promote sovietization and anti-religious propaganda.

Efim mentions that despite his advanced age, he still remembers how to read and write in Yiddish the way he was taught in the school. Although it is difficult to see in this segment, Efim spells two Yiddish words, "shobes" [Sabbath] and "khover" [friend] using Soviet orthography. Traditionally, words of Hebrew origin are spelled in Yiddish the same way they are in Hebrew, thus ‏שבת and חבֿר. In Soviet orthography, however, which deemphasized the Hebrew element in accordance with anti-religious policies, words of Hebrew origin were "naturalized", or spelled phonetically, as seen here with Efim's שאָבעס and כאָװער.

--Asya Vaisman