Zareby Koscliene


by Mendl Kristal


I left Zaromb 30 years ago, but the ensuing years did not pale my memories of my native shtetl.  In fact, just the reverse, the time and distance have made my recollections even clearer and sharper.

In Zaromb, our mothers rocked us to sleep with the lullabies "Rozshinkes un Mandlen" (Raisins and Almonds) and "Toyre Iz Di Beste Skhoyrell (Torah is the best goods).  As children, we used to play near the big synagogue, a handsome red brick building with a B-story tower, great wide doors and long, wide windows.  Those windows -- what a mixture of various colors: green, yellow, red and blue around stars of David, also made of glass.  Those windows made the synagogue exceptionally beautiful on the outside.

The interior was a treasure of art.  So much fantasy, so much beauty, such originality as most I have ever seen.  The ark which held the Torah was exquisitely carved.  It was 3 stories high, like an elongated triangle with fantastic animals and birds among the branches and flowers.
It was the dream of a genius Jewish woodcarver who sometime, somehow wandered into our region of Poland.  The ten commandments were beautifully mounted and the colored stones in the crown above shimmered and sparkled.  The two lions seemed to stare at each person, filling hearts with courage.  The huge hanging chandeliers shone from above.  The bima was in the middle of the synagogue encircled with iron gratings and steps to go up on both sides.  The women's part of the synagogue was on the western side.  Sometimes the young women leaned over and threw nuts to a prospective bridegroom.
On Thursdays, Jews began preparing for the Sabbath.  Pesakh, the fisherman, would shout, "Fish, fish, fish for Shabbes!"  He shouted with a melody.  Yosl Bolender also sang out his wares.  Yeshaya Zelig had heated the bath in the "Mikva” (ritual bath).  Rayzl, the "shameste" (Rabbi's assistant) for the women put away the long pointer, which she used all week while teaching the girls, and began fulfilling her obligations to the women at the "mikva.”  People in charge of the baths changed frequently.  After Yeshaya came Hershel, then his son, Yosl Bendet, and later others, but Rayzh, the shameste, always remained at her job; nobody could chase her out.

When the holy Sabbath arrives, everyone and everything becomes imbued with the special Sabbath feeling.  The everyday clothes have been discarded; boots have been polished; everyone is scrubbed and clean and dressed in Sabbath finery.  Everything looks renewed, even people's souls seem to change.  The woes of the week are put aside as the sabbath sings in everyone's bones with the happy nigun of "Lekha Dudi.”

What was even more interesting was how the Jews of Zaromb ended the Sabbath and received the coming week.  Right after "davening minkha” (saying the evening prayers), the "Mishagdin" (non-Khassidim) went home for their festive main Sabbath meal.  The Khassidim went to have their meal together at their "shtiblekh" (prayer houses) where they shared the food and sang with great enthusiasm until the first star appeared in the sky.  Then they "davened mariv" and finished up with "Havdolah" (last rite of the Sabbath) before heading home.

On a Sabbath even when a new moon was greeted, all Jews went out into the streets.  That was when the Misnagdim, the Gerer Khassidim, the Alexanderer, Amshinover, and Kotzkes Khassidim all were like one large family.  They carried candles and in the light of the new moon, they all recited the same prayer.  Then they called out "Sholem Aleikhem" to one another, which received the answer "Aleikhem Sholem".  These greetings could be heard through all of Zaromb.

My first melamed was a woman who was called Ayge the melamdim.  She taught only girls -- I was the only boy in
the women's kheder.  I was teased horribly and felt ashamed in front of the other boys who studied in the regular kheders.

But there was nothing I could do.  Ayge charged less than the other teachers and my parents could not afford the higher tuition.

But, the second year, I protested; I said I would not go there any more! "Enough! I was not a girl!" I went
to Avrom Shloyme, the melamed, on my own and presented myself as a student.  Actually, my father was pleased because he had studied with this same teacher when he was a boy.  I stayed with Avrom Shloyma for a few terms, but I was not happy there because although he taught us the prayers, he did not teach us to read and write as other melamdim did.

One summer, we rented a small plot of land from Itke the glazier. ' There was plenty of rain that summer, almost every day, but during daytime only.  The cucumbers grew big and beautiful as did all the other vegetables we planted.

For our youths, moonlight had a very different meaning.  In such a night, the cucumbers grew and grew.  My father was, after all, Leyble, the gardener, and it was from the moon that my father made his living.  Although Zaromb consisted only of a market place and a few small streets, our shtetl was full of life, of holiday spirit.  In our mourning for the martyrs, we also mourn for the joys of that old life which will never return.

Every summer, officers and ordinary soldiers came to Zaromb from the army camp in nearby Gonsherova.  The Jews of Zaromb were happy because they could earn money selling things to the officers and their wives.  My father spoke Russian with them when they came to our garden to buy our vegetables and they always paid what my father asked.  My father liked to speak Russian, especially when he had an opportunity to tell stories about the time he served as a soldier in the Caucasus region.  After that summer, my parents were happier because they were able to pay off their debts and even had some money left for the winter.

That is when I made use of the opportunity to tell my parents, "I want you to send me to Avrom Khaykl, the melamed.”
"Why to him?" my parents asked.
"Because he teaches how to read and write," I answered.

Richer children went to this rebbe, such as the sons of Zavl the seltzer-maker, the baker's sons, the butcher's sons and others.  My parents agreed and now my friends were balabatishe” (more well-to-do) children and I learned to read and write as well as Kumesh (the Old Testament), Rashi (biblical interpretations) and a little Gemorrah.

An official from Ostrove once came to announce that an inspector from Lomze was coming to see if all the Kheders were located in places which met the standards to be schools.  Each melamed was terribly worried - what if the inspector did not approve his Khader - he would lose his source of income.  So all the melamdim met together and decided that, first of all, the rooms where the children were taught must be kept clean and white and, to-our amazement, he never fell off.

I remember when Nathan Zalmen, the tailor, and Eliohu Dryarsh left for America.  They walked from house to house to say good-bye and everyone wished them a good journey and that they should arrive safely in America.

Once Velvel Malakh came from America and the entire shtetl went to greet him and brought him into Zaromb with great pomp.  He was a distant relative of mine.
Shimshon the melamed and his wife Riva the midwife were our neighbors and Riva was my mother's closest friend.

She was always ready to help us with a loan.  She was beloved by the whole neighborhood, even by the Christians who considered her "lucky".  They claimed that as soon as she walked into the home of a woman who was in labor, the baby would be born right away.  The Christians from the nearby villages brought her all sorts of presents.  They would come with their wagons to fetch her and when they brought her back they loaded on corn, peas, chickens and other gifts for her.

She would not take any money from the poor Jewish women when she helped them give birth. In fact, she often brought them some of the gifts she had received from the peasants.

There was one girl, Sheva, with whom I was friendly.  She was very short but very bright.   She played only with dolls. one of her older sisters was a dressmaker and Sheva would take the little cloth remnants and make all sorts of dolls.  I used to help her.  I think that these dolls we made and dressed had an influence on me much later, when I was already in America.  Maybe it was Shevals dolls which led me to learn to become a designer of women's clothing.

Shevals father was a melamed and she would listen while her father taught the boys. That is how she knew Khumesh so well. When the boys were being tested by her father, she often prompted them. This would make her father angry and he would yell at her and send her out of the Kheder room

Khulke the ropemaker, was also a melamed.  He did not make rope anymore but the name remained.  He was the only one in Zaromb who subscribed to the Hebrew newspaper "Hatzfira” and to the Yiddish "Fraynd".  He would bring these newspapers to the marketplace and stand near Laybke the tub maker's house.  Soon a crowd gathered around him and he would read the news form the world.  He would explain everything to anyone who asked and he would give his own opinion about every event.  Everyone liked him.  He did not have any children of his own, which troubled him greatly.

When the hot summer days arrived, we would go swimming in the river.  Every summer someone drowned, no matter how attentive people were and even though we swam at only a few spots along the river.  There were some very deep points in the river where only the best swimmers ventured.  The others stayed close to shore or watched from the riverbank.

There were peasant villages on the other side of the river and the "shkotzin" (young Christian boys) would arrive suddenly and pelt us with rocks as we swan.  We had to defend ourselves and-would throw rocks back at them.  As soon as we saw them coming, we would jump out of the water and grab our pants so that in case we had to make a run for safety, we would not have to run without our pants.

We used to love to pick berries.  If a peasant caught us, he would pull off our pants.  In tears we would plead for him not to shame us and to give us back our pants.  Eventually, he would.

I remember when Gozsh the butcher's son-in-law drowned.  He was still quite young and a fine scholar who got room and board from his father-in-law, The entire shtetl mourned him and the rabbi at the synagogue preached that no one should go swimming.