Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Rememberings" - a book review (in parts)




On the advice of a good friend I broke the bank and paid the $5.51 including shipping to buy this book from Amazon. The friend had told that it was good but I NEVER expected it to be a can't-put-down book. And books like that can be difficult and complicating when the kids need to be put to bed, or the time for Maariv comes around... What can I say? there's something about reading first-hand experiences from years past that makes it irresistible, despite the fact that my ancestors may not have been from those parts. Reading about customs and laws that you recognize and practice, especially when there are these very boorish mistakes, makes it especially delightful. She knows about Tikkun Leil Shavuos but thinks there are only three Aroves in the Hoshaynes. She also thinks that on Hoshanoh Rabboh the men read Mishneh.... The editors/translators (from the original German) sometimes catch the mistakes (like the Hoshanoh Rabboh Mishneh mistake) and sometimes miss it (like the 3 Aroves in the Hoshanes mistake.) I haven't gotten very far in the book, but there's lots to talk about even a quarter of the way through.

Pessel (Pauline later) Epstein was born and raised in Brisk in the earlier half of the 19th Century. She was a close relation to the Torah Temimah, and the Chossid Reb Eizel (Epstein) Homlier was also in her family tree. Her father was a very wealthy man, I'd say even by today's standards, a man who's home was frequented by aristocracy constantly, yet who lead a very Torah'dige life despite that. He even was a mechaber seforim! According to Pessel he would rise at 4am, learn Gemoroh until 7, go to shul, come back after 10, conduct business for a few hours, and then was back to the Gemoro again. Her mother, despite living like a queen with the finest clothes, servants and maids galore was a frumme Yiddene to the extreme, no different than the simple folk of her day, even with all the contacts in the aristocracy they had, all the money and comforts not withstanding. She worked very hard, leading the kitchen staff, but doing her share, watching everything going on in the house like a hawk. Her (Pessel's) sisters married the best YESHIVEH bochurim and the young men continued to learn while getting kest from their shver. But when the mother suspected them of being influenced by HASKOLOH she took action and berated them, despite it not doing much good.



The memoirs were written when she was at the end of her life, having lead a very "enlightened life." Yet she writes so respectfully and so longingly, as if she was doing Tshuveh for not behaving like she was raised. And it's not for the riches that she longs, but rather for the practice, the laws, the preparation, the joy and the awe. She misses the cleaning and scrubbing for Pesach, the Brokhes Erev Yom Kippur and the Kalte Kapores she ate on YK as a child; the Tashlich and the sedorim, the drunk men on Simkhas TEYREH, and even her mother reading Kinnes for them on Tisha B'Av, when she cried over the Churban Beis Hamikdosh like it was just happening, and for the Tsores the Jews have endured over the centuries. What I found amusing/strange was the fact that she went to Kheyder, with her older sister, and had a melamed, Reb Layzer, teach her from morning till night. Only during Tishrei and Nissan did she have off. It seems like it was normal practice in those areas; she makes no mention of her and her sister being the only girls, which would leave me to believe that there were others too.

All in all she makes a very good case that Jews could be G-d fearing and be wealthy at the same time, despite the fact that she had three children convert r"l to Christianity just to be able to "fit in" to Russian society, where a Jew couldn't get a job. I realize that sounds weird, but hear me out. Pessel speaks at length about the LILIENTHAL reforms of the 1840s, when he traveled across the Russian Empire inspecting the learning conditions. She also speaks of the sweeping haskoloh winds that engulfed her family, despite the fact that they were wealthy and didn't "need" haskoloh and knowledge to get out of the scum and filth of the ghetto like most of the others. What I guess I'm saying is that people with money and connections could be tzu Gutt un tzu leit because they have the means to be with "LEIT." Often times it's the Orimman that has no choice - eyb m'ken azei zoggen - but to leave. Take that for what it's worth, it could my avocado lunch talking... You could do worse than buy this book, is what I'm saying. You'll laugh and you'll cry with real people who had real issues, many of which we can identify with, albeit more advanced ones.

Go get it. Tell them the Tzig sent you...

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

The best story in the book is the one about the zogerke in the veibers shul on yomim noroim.

What was also notable was that the frumme in lita at the time were not noheig to walk together with their wives.

evanstonjew said...

Shulamit Magnus, a professor at Oberlin College has studied the life and works of Pauline Epstein Weingroff. Some of her articles are available on the internet.

On the Oberlin web site it says: "Volume One of her critical edition the memoirs of Pauline Wengeroff (1833-1916) [Memoiren einer Grossmutter: Memoirs of a Grandmother: Scenes from the Cultural History of the Jews of Russia in the Nineteenth Century], is in press with Stanford University Press and will be published in 2009; her critical edition of Wengeroff’s second volume is in process, to be published in 2010...Magnus is also working on a book of essays about Wengeroff's memoirs and their significance for the understanding of Jewish modernity..."

dovy said...

how comes there is nothing in the book about lubavitch? according to tzig, hatred of chabad was always the main focus of life in the Lita.

Lutziner einikel said...

Dovy, just wait, Tzig has yet to get to the Lubavitch connection in the book. It will be interesting to see what he makes of it.

Anonymous said...

When writing Hashem's name in any form,even in jargon, and even on the internet, one is to write it as so: G-tt, G-d etc.
(I checked this a LYL(ubavitcher) R

nsker said...

Actually she mentions her husband having been to Tzemach Tzedek, it seemed to her that he returned disappointed and his observance further deteriorated.

There has also been an excellent Russian translation out for some years.

Anonymous said...

she was born and raised in bobruisk,from where she then moved to minsk.

anshl said...

http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wengeroff-pauline

The first reference to and citation of Wengeroff in English may be Louis Greenberg. The Jews in Russia, the Struggle for Emancipation, vol. 1: 62. New York: 1976. Other scholars, such as Shaul Ginsburg. Historishe verk, vol. 2: 82–90. New York: 1937 and Sinai Leichter. “Zichronoteha shel savta minskait Paulina Wengeroff.” In Minsk, Ir va-Em, edited by Shlomo Even-Shoshan, 200–201, vol. 1. Tel Aviv: 1975, were clearly aware of her. Wengeroff’s work first appeared in English in Lucy Dawidowicz’s translation of several discontinuous excerpts from Volume 2 in The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe. New York: 1976, 160–168. An abridged translation by Henny Wenkart, edited by Bernard Cooperman, with various alterations to the original, appeared under the title Rememberings. College Park, Maryland: 2000. An unabridged critical edition is forthcoming by Shulamit Magnus, University of California Press.

nsker said...

No, she grew up in Brest, where her father became a contractor for the building of the Brest Fortress. The fortress project displaced the entire Jewish quarter and they were forced to move together with the cemetery.

In one of the most emotionally charged passages she describes moving the graves. She could not know, of course, the scale of the tragedy that eventually befell that fortress.

Anonymous said...

What Yekkes are doing today(Chol Hamoed) for fun:

Standing in front of 770, stopping Lubabvitchers and asking,

"Did you put on tefillin today?"

Moadim L'Simcha!

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

I know that you - Hershel Tzig - feel that only what Chabad does is correwct. But the Minhag in Western Europe (Germany west of the Elbe, Bavaria, Holland, France etc) the original Minhag was to use 3 Aroves not 5. This is brought down in the Maharil (not the Chabad one,the early 15th century one upon whom the Minhagei ashkenaz are based). In Washington Heights one still can find a few people who only use 3 Arovos.

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

Thanks for sharing that, Bekishe.
So they did it like the Yekkers in Brisk?

Josh said...

I guess our esteemed blogger is off in Sioux Falls at the Rubashkin trial and thus unable to update us.

'Bobs r funny (and silly) said...

Btw Hirshel a good way to deflect attention from 'Bobs screwing up in the Rubashkin saga is to attack Heshy Friedman.Though he had zero to do with the Rubashkin screw up and simply bought Agri up from bankruptcy court .Still why not blame someone else for the 'Bob screw up?You guys do it all the time.
Maybe come up with some dirt about him that he is actually a closet "snag"?C'mon you are good at basheygetzing people.Nu,efsher??

'Bobs r funny (and soo silly) said...

I see you posted my comment, but chose to leave the first one out.Whatever.
Anyway, about the Rubashkin trial:
I wish him well.Really.
It's a pity he fell in with guys who have no seichel to help a yid out with a real eitza.His supporters and family should have gone down to the Minkatcher immediately after the nonsense and Federal raid broke out and heard what a kliger yid with lots of real experience and a keen legal mind had to say.Instead they listened to 'Bob goons and foolish bloggers.
Just wondering why he had to come into court with a big pic of the rebbe.Makes 'Bobs look so kool-aided,which they are

'Bobs r funny said...

Been a while since we discussed the business of the rebbe as Nosi Hador ,as Moshiach,as actually alive and how anybody with even a quarter of a brain can even look at 'Bobs and take them seriously.
'Bobs have hijacked yiddishkait with their nonsense and regular decent Orthodox Jews have to take the flack of these goons

JJ said...

On page 135 she writes her father send a letter to a relative Reb Isaac Epstein this is Reb Yitzchok Issac Epstein of Homil (1857), best known as Reb Aizel Homiler ZY"A.
A chosid of the Alte Rebbe, Mittele Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek.

Thanks for mentioning this book it really give an insight of the Haskoloh [enlightenment] movement and how it effected Jewish life in the region & why the Rebbes fought so hard against them.

schneur said...

Yasher kayach gadol !!. I read the book about 5 years ago. Its extremely important in the study of the social and cultural life of Russian Jewry.Here we move out of the besdin shtub to the kitchen and I feel more comfortable with the alte veiber and their masorah. Tzig you did a great job on this one. Please note she also writes that vegies were carefully checked for infestation !

Lutziner said...

Yes, I noticed those vegies too. So much for the claim this is a new chumra. (though my wife made the point that their vegetables were probably a lot more infested than ours)

Schneur, while on the subject of shtetel memoirs, what do you make of Yechezkel Kotik's book?