Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Women's Prayers in Bar, Ukraine

Klara (Khayke) Vaynman was born in Vinnitsa in 1939, but her family moved to Lvov when she was only a few months old. She spent World War II in evacuation with her mother in the Ural mountains. After the war, she moved to Bar, Ukraine. In this video, Klara talks about her mother, who was a learned and religious woman from Lubenets, northern Ukraine.

Whereas in previous clips we have heard about men gathering to pray together and women's personal prayers in Yiddish, here we have an interesting story about women gathering to pray together under one woman's leadership. Note that all of these prayer meetings take place after World War II, during a period in which prayer was very taboo and dangerous, but the idea of gathering together as Jews in the aftermath of the war was an important means of asserting community.

--Asya Vaisman

Thursday, September 22, 2011

You'll Never Cough Again! - Folk Remedies

We return this week to Bella Chirkova from Vinnitsa, who speaks this time about folk remedies. When asked if she knows how to ward off the evil eye, she begins by saying that she can tell what's wrong with a person by using an egg. (See also this post about using eggs in folk remedies.) She then gives an example of one way a person can be healed without conventional medicine -- Bella suggests drinking your own urine to cure a cough.

The suggested treatment is but one example of what is known as "babske refues" -- or old wives' medicine. As Lisa Epstein notes in the YIVO encyclopedia, "The approach of the East European Jewish population to health care made no distinction between what would now be considered “scientific” medicine and “folk” medicine.... Among Jews, a rich oral tradition of folk remedies for physical, as well as emotional, ills existed." The cures could be found in various recipe books, but by the time Bella was learning them, they were primarily transmitted orally, from one woman to another.

--Asya Vaisman

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blessing the Sabbath Candles

Bella Chirkova from Vinnitsa describes the process of lighting the Sabbath candles and talks about the personal prayers she usually says while lighting the candles.

Bella was born in 1912 in Krasni, in the Vinnitsa region. Her father was a rabbi and her grandfather was a cantor. In the clip, you can see the clear distinction Bella makes between men's and women's religious roles -- she initially is hesitant to tell the interviewers how she blesses the candles, because she insists that only women can perform this function (and the interviewers are male). 

When the interviewers ask Bella what blessing she says over the candles, rather than reciting the traditional formula, she explains that she asks G-d for what she needs, engaging in a very personal style of prayer. She speaks in Yiddish, asking for G-d's help, for her children's health, and so on. See also this post for a similar way that Avrom Gelman's mother prayed over the Sabbath candles in Kamenets-Podolsk.

--Asya Vaisman