Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eating tsimmes and raising geese...

Berta Vaisburd was born in 1931 in Mohyliv-Podil's'kyi. Her father was a factory worker, and her mother was a homemaker. This interview clip (collected in 2005) begins with a description of the various foods Berta's mother used to cook for Shabes (the Sabbath) before the war. Berta mentions various types of tsimmes -- a kind of stew, often made with carrots or legumes and eaten on special occasions such as Shabes, which in Berta's family was always prepared sweet, with sugar. 

When discussing tsimes nahit -- chickpea tsimmes -- Berta brings up the fact that her family raised geese -- both to sell for profit and to eat at home. Goose fat was an important ingredient in many dishes, such as tsimes nahit. In Berta's family, they would sell (or use) the goose fat separately, and then they would stuff the goose body with corn meal kneaded into dough and sell that separately. Because her mother did not have an outside job, raising, stuffing, and selling the geese was an added source of income for the family.

--Asya Vaisman

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mourning customs in Bershad

Brukhe Feldman recalls an interesting custom associated with mourning the dead. Brukhe was born in 1938 in Bershad, Ukraine. She discusses the ritual of shive (shivah), a period of seven days in which a mourner is prohibited from washing, wearing shoes, studying Torah, or having marital relations. The mourner typically sits on the floor or on low stools during this time. Brukhe remembers that in her community, shivah was observed for eight days, which was relatively common in Eastern Europe, rather than the more universal seven days (shivah means seven in Hebrew).

In this clip, recorded in Bershad in 2008, Brukhe discusses a custom associated with the shoes of the person who has passed away. Any shoes that the deceased had worn are burned, while new shoes that were in his or her possession may be given away. Brukhe remembers hearing that the reason for burning the shoes is to avoid "stepping" on the corpse by stepping into his or her shoes.

--Asya Vaisman

Friday, February 3, 2012

Vus hob ikh gedarft fin der heym avekfurn? - Why did I need to leave home?

Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father was a cap-maker and his mother a housewife. There was a synagogue in the Vaisblai home, because the father, a pious man, was crippled during a pogrom and thus could not leave the house to attend services elsewhere. In his childhood, Vaisblai studied both with a religious teacher and at a Soviet Yiddish school. Vaisblai spent the war running from town to town and eventually ended up working at a kolkhoz (collective farm), posing as a non-Jew. After the war, he returned briefly to his hometown but then had to wander once again in search of work.

AHEYM interviewed Vaisblai in Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, in 2009. He sang a number of songs for the interviewers, some of which he learned before the war from his father, and others that he learned after the war from demobilized Jewish soldiers. In this clip, he sings a song about poverty that he learned from a tailor who lived with his family. Vaisblai relates how the tailor used to drink cologne instead of whiskey; this was a fairly common practice in the Soviet Union -- when conventional alcoholic beverages where not available or could not be afforded, some people would drink anything with alcoholic content, including cologne.

A version of this song was also collected by ethnomusicologist Ruth Rubin and can be found in the volume Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive, edited by Eleanor Mlotek and Mark Slobin (Wayne State University Press, 2007), pp. 145-146. Vaisblai's version is quite a bit shorter, and while the lyrics differ slightly, the meaning is the same:

I get up at six o'clock,
My head hurts.
I'm about to pass out,
I want a glass of tea.

Oh woe, woe is to my years.
Why did I have to leave home?

I say to the landlady,
"Make me some dumplings, please."
She fumbles around,
So that her eyes almost pop out.

Oh woe, woe is to my years
Why did I have to leave home?

The landlady says,
"Eat and be satisfied!"
In her heart, she thinks
That I eat like a soldier.

Oh woe, woe is to my years
Why did I have to leave home?
איך שטײ אױף זעקס אַ זײגער,
דער קאָפּ טוט מיר װײ,
דאָס האַרץ אין מיר חלשט מיר,
איך װיל אַ גלעזל טײ.

אױ געװאַלד, געשרײ, אױ װײ צו מײַנע יאָרן.
נאָר װאָס האָב איך געדאַרפֿט פֿון דער הײם אַװעקפֿאָרן?

איך זאָג דער בעל־הביתטע,
„זאָלסט מיר קאָכן טײגלעך,“
זי דרײט זיך, זי דרײט זיך,
סע גײט שיִעור נישט אױס די אײגעלעך.

אױ געװאַלד, געשרײ, אױ װײ צו מײַנע יאָרן.
נאָר װאָס האָב איך געדאַרפֿט פֿון דער הײם אַװעקפֿאָרן?

עס זאָגט די בעל־הביתטע,
„עס, און זײַ זאַט!“
אין האַרצן זי טראַכט זיך,
אַז איך עס װי אַ סאָלדאַט.

אױ געװאַלד, געשרײ, אױ װײ צו מײַנע יאָרן.
נאָר װאָס האָב איך געדאַרפֿט פֿון דער הײם אַװעקפֿאָרן?

Versions of the song have also been collected by Y. L. Cahan in Yidishe folkslider mit melodyes (1957), and by Moyshe Beregovski and Itsik Fefer in Yidishe folkslider (1938).

--Asya Vaisman