For the fabrengen, the women brought cakes left over from their Shabbos meals and some of the men brought bottles of shlivovitz –plum brandy– to say “L’Chaim“. Soon after they arrived, the women went into the kitchen to have some tea and to catch up on the week’s events: Annamalka might be getting engaged to Mordecai, Rivkah’s sister in Cracow had a baby boy and the bris would be on Tuesday. News traveled fast. There were always merchants and peddlers, booksellers and musicians who went from town to town selling wares and bringing news from place to place.
While the men were having a fabrengen, and the women were drinking tea, the teenagers were baby-sitting the small children in the little houses and cottages of the shtetl. It was Elul. In just a few weeks it would be Rosh Hashana — everyone was happy. It was nearly midnight before they all wandered home to sleep and dream on their soft featherbeds.
At 5:00 AM on Sunday morning Rabbi Shmuel was already awake. He got dressed quietly so as not to awaken Rifka and the baby. He packed the clean clothes that sweet Rifka had placed on his dresser in a small valise. He said his morning prayers, took his prayer book and his tefillinand his tallis and put them in a velvet pouch. Then he went to the kitchen and wrapped up some fruit and bread and hard cheese in a sack. Outside he could hear the clopping of horse hoofs and then he heard Nellie the mare neighing. His brother-in-law, Pinchas was here with his horse and wagon, right on time. In a few minutes they would go and pick up his father Reb Shlomo and then go to the study house to get the new Torah. The three men would be on their way to Amschelberg, to the shul in the village in Bohemia that had commissioned the Torah.
Nellie woke baby Leah who started laughing the minute she heard her Uncle Pinchas’s horse neighing in the courtyard. Pinchas was her mother’s younger brother. He was seventeen years old. She loved her Uncle Pinchas and she loved his horse and loved to ride in the wagon. Uncle Pinchas would sometimes give Leah a ride after he had delivered all the milk and cheese and butter to his customers in the village. But not today. Today there was no time for a ride. Rabbi Shmuel picked up the baby and brought her to Rifka who was still in bed and he kissed them both, goodbye. He would be gone for nearly three weeks and be home in plenty of time before their new baby was due.
The three men, Rabbi Shmuel, his father Reb Shlomo, and Rifka’s brother Pinchas, needed to get started. They needed to travel 70 km that day if they wanted to get to the next village before nightfall. All along the way they would stay with cousins or in-laws or friends who lived in the various Jewish settlements that dotted the countryside between northwestern Poland and Northern Bohemia. It was much safer to stay with friends or relatives then to have to spend the night in an inn or a hotel, unless of course, the inn was owned by Jews. Jews were not always welcome in some of the inns in small cities and towns.
On hot summer nights, some of the young thugs in the small towns would drink too much beer and get rowdy and boisterous. They had also heard that a few weeks earlier, there had been some trouble in one of the villages. Some of the village men had had too much beer to drink and came through the Jewish neighborhood on horses and broke into some stores and beat up some young Yeshivastudents who were walking home late at night. They also had heard of pogroms in other places in Ukraine where homes had been broken into and many Jews including women had been hurt. Shmuel and Pinchas and Shlomo felt safe travelling together, but they also knew they had to be cautious and not take any chances. It was important to keep to their travel plan so that they would get to the next village where they had friends to stay with. It would be fun to see old friends and to catch up on family news. Rabbi Shmuel would have lots of stories to tell Rifka when he got home. They wanted to be in Amschelberg by Friday so that the congregation would have the new Torah for Shabbos.
Everything was loaded and they were on their way. They passed farms and orchards and Rabbi Shmuel reminded himself to pick up a bushel of apples and a bucket of honey from the farmers to bring home with him so that Rifka would have them for Rosh Hashana. He also would stop off and order a new dress for Rifka from his Tanta Manya, his aunt who was a dressmaker in Prague. Her seamstresses could have it completed by the time they came through on their way home and Rifka would have a new dress to wear after the baby was born. Rabbi Shmuel felt happy and he began to hum a little melody keeping time with the clop of Nellie’s hooves. Di-dum, di-dum, di, ditty, di-dum, di-dum, di dum, di dum. He knew it would be a good and a sweet New Year.
Copyright © 1998 Suzanne Sadowsky