What did your parents do?
My father was a shochet - he was an ordained person who was considered a holy man in his community for slaughtering Kosher animals in a proper way - which meant - there is a whole law about how you treat animals. It's a weird law - but I mean it's a good law - that animals be treated compassionately. When you slaughter an animal it has to be as fast as possible, usually cutting the animal across the carotid artery and that's it. Then he had to open the animal and examine all of its organs. If there was one spot of the organ - of any organ - that seemed pathological, the whole animal could not be eaten. So that was one of the things.
He also was a cantor and he was a Talmudist. He gave talks about every Saturday. He would talk at the community center. He would be invited to people's houses. There were lecture groups and he would talk to them. In the capacity of a shochet as I first mentioned, he had a job in two major hotels. One in the Austrian Alps where he would go for about four months every year during the summer and he did all of these things as I mentioned. And then in the winter he worked for another Jewish Kosher hotel in Italy, in San Remo. So for eight months a year he was out of the community and when we were small, very often my mother and the children would go with him. That's about it.
Did your mom just work around the house?
I should tell you - I think I mentioned - that the whole family came from Poland and they were actually illegal immigrants. My father didn't want to go into the Polish armed services so he smuggled his way into Austria and settled in Baden because he knew of some people who lived there. That's typically the way people get around in the world.
Do you know when that was?
Do you have any memories of seeing your father doing his job?
Were you close to your parents when you were little? Did your dad ever sing to you?
Oh yes, we were a very religious family. Friday nights were the most glorious nights to remember forever because that was the night that the best food was prepared. Everyone would dress in their best clothes. My father sang and taught us how to sing and we just loved to sing. We would have all of these different dishes to eat and between each dish we would sing maybe two, three songs. Of course they were Hebrew songs and had to do with, "Oh how beautiful the Earth is, blessing God, and blessing all the wonders He had created, and how grateful we were to be alive." And songs of that nature.
He was a very charismatic person. His eyes were blue and they blazed with happiness and excitement. And that creates a sort of fever in the whole family and everyone. It was an exciting night. And Saturday - the next day - we would go to synagogue in the morning, get all dressed up, and come home and have lunch. The lunch was usually the leftovers from the night before, but still tasting delicious. And having another party with singing. A meal would last two hours.
Were your Friday night celebrations just your family or did you have other families?
Do you remember any of the songs that were sung at the Shabbat table?
Oh sure, but don't make me sing! Yeah, I do. Actually, you know if you have wonderful memories from childhood, you tend to take it with you into your future adult life, and I did. I brought my sons up in this house with very rich celebrations on Friday nights and holidays. Actually they do this with their little children. It's a very nice focus for a family.
Who would do all the prays on Friday nights? Were you designated?
Did he always appear very happy on Friday nights?
Oh my God! I mean he would go to a ritual bath before the Friday night began. As I said before, everybody put on their best clothes. We could hardly wait for him to come home because the first thing that he would do is have the children line up - the oldest one in front - and he would bless every child. That was a great memory because I remember his nice, big warm hands on top of my head. He would say this blessing, which made me feel so safe and protected. It's a very nice feeling. First of all it's hands on and your whole head is covered with these protective warm hands. I'll remember that forever.
How many languages did he speak?
He actually learned some German. He knew Polish and he knew Yiddish, and he learned some German. My mother never learned German - she only spoke Yiddish. We spoke German because we went to school and played with the neighborhood kids. With children language is a very easy thing. You quickly learn.
What was a typical dinner like with your family?
Well, the food was certainly not very interesting like it is here. Maybe it had to do with the fact that my parents were very religious, again, and really there wasn't very much money in the family. So there wasn't much of a variety with the food. Every single day of the week, you could expect a certain dish to be served. The best food was served usually for the Sabbath, Friday night and Saturday. If my mom could save anything from those two meals, it would show up in some other configuration during the week.
They were not interesting meals, hamburgers. They're not like hamburgers here, which can be very interesting, where they're barbequed and all that. There they were called, "kokletan," and they were meat patties that were fried in a skillet and served with mashed potatoes typically. You know, when you're a child, that's what the world is all about, you don't think about, "I wish I had a barbeque," you don't even know about that, and we didn't read books about that. I wasn't brought up with little secular books. The only thing I learned was religion. If stories were told, they were stories from the Bible, nothing secular. Of course, when I went to school, there I had secular studied, but as I said, I don't remember.
What do you remember of some of these bible stories or books that were being read in your house?
Actually, there was another thing, my mother used to love - and more of that happened when we came to the United States. She came from Poland and typically if you come from Poland from a very religious background, you receive no education, because it wasn't meant for women and girls. The only thing that was available was that you learnt how to write Yiddish and not Hebrew. You learned enough to read certain books that were available for women only. They were very simple little stories, usually about housekeeping and the care of children. They didn't say "do obedience to husbands," but it was all that it was women's place really to take care of her family and nothing else. The stories had to do with that primarily.
Back when I was a little child, my mother would read from those little books. So she was already beginning to kind of train us as a little girl. Sometimes, my father would make up stories. He was a very imaginative man, but mainly he stuck to the seriousness of life, which had to do with following The Law, Halacha, The Law. So he would tell Bible stories, but sometimes we would act them out a little a bit, you know, talking about the parting of The Red Sea. He understood to make a story dramatic so that it would appeal to a child. Did that answer the question?
In your last interview, you went into great detail about your Friday nights. I was wondering if you had any other ceremonies or traditions as a little girl?
In terms of other traditions, no big fuss was made of birthdays. Again, it's like useless showering of attention, what for? It leads to swelling of the head. The holidays were the main source of celebrations. The holidays were big "to-dos," we all looked forward to the holidays, just like we looked forward to Friday nights. It was full of good food and everybody got dressed nicely and for Passover, we all expected new shoes and new clothes. That sticks very strongly in my memory of getting paten leather red shoes or black shoes. I thought that was just the most remarkable thing in the world.
When we would go to the Kurpark, sometimes we would stop at a candy store that would be a treat. But, mainly it seems to me that my total memory is of being extremely happy as a child. So you don't really need a TV, or all these things that our children have now and our grandchildren. I think if you are giving safety and love, that's probably the most important thing, and space to roam around where a child can express herself, in my case.