Tag: Pale of Settlement

Mosaic: A Chronicle of Five Generations

On an autumn day in 1890, Daniel Baldinger, a 35-year-old married Orthodox man living in Krakow, reached a monumental decision: he would divorce his wife of ten years, Reizel, because she had not borne him any children. Daniel was soon remarried to a much-younger wife, Lieba, who eventually grew to love him and worried that…

Lives Remembered: Photographs of a Small Town in Poland

The collected photographs of Zalman Kaplan, who ran a studio in the town of Szczuczyn, Poland between 1898 and 1939, might never have been considered remarkable or been made the focus of a traveling museum exhibit, had it not been for the almost complete destruction of Szczuczyn’s Jewish community of 3,000 souls during the Nazi…

Two guidebooks from Ruth Ellen Gruber

After several years stationed in Europe as a freelance political journalist, American writer Ruth Ellen Gruber was startled to discover that a magnificent old synagogue had been restored in the Hungarian town of Szeged. “I never had any inkling that such a synagogue could exist outside of a major city,” she recalled. Shortly afterwards, she…

What’s in a name?

Back in the Toronto of 1913, when my future grandfather Isaac Naftolin announced his intention to marry my future grandmother Esther Arnoff, his parents Meir-Feivel and Etta Naftolin were said to have opposed the match on the grounds that the name Esther was too much like Etta and that such a coincidence would surely bring…

Obit: Yiddish writer Yehuda Elberg (1912-2003)

Six years after his two brilliant novels, Ship Of The Hunted and The Empire of Kalman the Cripple, rolled off the presses in English for the first time, Yiddish author Yehuda Elberg has died in his sleep in Montreal at the age of 91. A Holocaust survivor who helped set up a network of safe…

Mary Antin’s The Promised Land

Mary Antin, born in the Lithuanian (now Belarussian) town of Polotsk in 1881, recorded her memoirs of the Old Country and of coming to America in The Promised Land, a book first published in 1911. The Promised Land is a valuable first-person account of the myriad concerns and experiences surrounding the journey from the squalid…

From a Ruined Garden: a marvelous distillation of memory

Where might you expect to hear a tale of an enchanted Passover seder where all participants fall asleep at the table before even the first glass of wine is consumed? Or of a blind cantor who, during a brief visit to town, sings so sweetly in synagogue that the whole community is mesmerized for weeks?…

‘The Dickens of the Jewish world’

As if paying respects to a beloved head of state, a vast crowd exceeding 100,000 in number lined the route of the funeral procession for Sholom Aleichem when he died at age 57 in New York City in May 1916, just over 80 years ago. Among Yiddish writers, Sholem Aleichem ranked among the three most…

Journey to a 19th-century shtetl

Back about a century and a half ago, the town of Kamenets was a typical Russian-Polish shtetl consisting “of 250 old houses, black and small with shingled roofs,” and with some 450 Jews listed in the Revizski Skazki, the official government registry. However, most of the town’s Jews did not appear in the registry. Fearful…

Journeys of David Toback

It is sometimes said that heredity is destiny — a phrase with some apparent truth in The Journeys of David Toback, an old (Yiddish) diary edited (in English) by Carole Malkin and published by Schocken Books. For David Toback, who became bar-mitvahed in a dirt-poor Ukrainian village in 1888, the pair of tefillin that his…