Monthly Archives: March 2010


by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

Chumatz is all the things we can live without:
the puff
the fluff
the excess stuff,
the icing on the cake and, in most cases,
the cake itself,
the overboard
the elaborate
the non-essential,
the too-too
the frou-frou
the Bloomingdale’s when Sears would do
the Range Rover when a Subaru would get you there, too,
the centerpiece which, in fact,
prevents you from seeing across the table,
the lazy that takes its time rising
because it knows no one’s going anywhere

so even as we congratulate ourselves for getting along without chumatz
for eight days
like a Yom Kippur fast,
let’s thank Someone for our luck
that we have the chumatz to do without
that we can choose
to pare down for a week
trusting, knowing with certainty
that chumatz will be there to return to
that we don’t have to do without
that we have yeast, and sugar, and water, and time.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania.  At the moment she is teaching journaling and creative-writing classes to people with cancer, and she’s working on a project that she hopes will be published as The Breast Cancer Journaling Workbook.

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Life in America

by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
interviewed by Bruce Black

When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell  stories about his childhood in Zharnov and how he made his way to America. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this final segment, he describes his arrival in America and his courtship with the woman who became his wife.

BB: How did you get to New York if you didn’t know any English?

HL: I didn’t know nothing. Just this word I knew: “Ticket, New York.” Then I didn’t know which train to take and I looked for Jewish faces and I said to a couple, “New York? New York?” And they said, “Yeah, New York.” And I went on the train and I took an English magazine and I’m reading because it was American inspectors, too. They could take me off from there again and send me back to Canada.

And I was reading and all of a sudden the train, in a certain place, stopped, and we had to change to another train. I had to run again and find out if the train goes to New York. And then I went up to the other train and didn’t say a thing, and I read the English paper, the English magazine, and then, when I come here to Grand Central, I went out and I looked if they don’t run after me.

And then I went up on a streetcar. I paid five cents and I said to the man, “Hundred Street, a Hundred Street.” I was sitting there in front and he was going, going, going, going. And then, when it was a Hundred Street, he said, “Here, go out here.” I went out to a Hundred Street and I walked over and there was my brother, Izzy, living. I was in America.

BB: So you lived with Izzy and his family?

HL: I was by my brother Izzy. I was living there a little while by him as a boarder, and then I didn’t want to go to be a bread baker. I wanted to be a cake baker. So, my brother Meir sent me in a place and I got ten dollars a week to learn how to be a cake baker. I went in there til I worked myself up to twenty-five dollars, and I worked myself up to forty dollars, and I was already that time about three years in this country, and then I got acquainted. I lived downstairs where my brother used to live, and there was a girl, Becky. And I lived there as a boarder for a little while and right away she fell in love with me. When I came home from work, she started to make me tea and talk and this and that, and then I said, “Have you got some nice pictures from friends?” She showed me this beautiful picture, and I said, “Oh, I would like to see this girl.” She said, “Oh, she’ll be here Sunday.” I said, “All right, I’ll be here Sunday with my friend.” But when we came to see them, they walked away.

BB: Why?

HL: They walked away. You know, those times, you used to have a Victrola in the house, and I said I’ll come back home with my friend and we’re gonna dance. But they walked away to Central Park. I didn’t run after them.

But then I used to belong to a place where all the lansleit came together every week, every two weeks, and we used to have somebody to have a speech and then they had some little music and we used to dance a little bit. We used to enjoy ourselves. So, a bunch of landsleit.

So I said to Becky, “Come, you want to go to dance at the place?”

She said, “All right.”

I said, “Take along your friend, too.”

And she took her along.

And she was a very beautiful girl.

Then, after the dance, I took her home. She lived in Second Avenue. Then I took Becky back home to a Hundred Street and that’s all.

Then, one time when I came down from my brother to go to sleep, it was about 9 or 10 o’clock, I came down and Fanny, this girl, came out from her friend’s house, from Becky. I said to her, “Fanny, can I take you to the bus, to the– what it used to be–an elevator.”

She said, “All right.”

I took her to the elevator, and I said, “Fanny, can you give me a date?”

She didn’t seem too eager.

I said, “It doesn’t have to be this week, it could be next week.”

She gave me a date for another week. And we made an appointment that we should meet at a certain place there. I came there and I walked up and down and down and up and up and down about a half hour, but I didn’t think, I never thought she was going to leave me out. And I stood there. And then all of a sudden, after a half hour, she came nice and dressed up.

I said, “Where were you? What’s the matter?”

“Oh,” she said, “my family was there and I told them that I want to see a boy. ‘What kind of boy? Ah, you’re not long in this country, what do you have to see a greenhorn?’”

She said but she didn’t care, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She came. She came, and I went with her for a visit.

We went around, you know, we went for a soda, we went there. In those years, I don’t remember how much it was, five cents or ten cents a soda, and I took her for a soda, and I took her for a little ride, and I made an appointment for the next time. All right.

Next time I made an appointment and we went to Coney Island. For five cents we went with the subway to Coney Island. There for a few cents I bought her a frankfurter. I don’t remember how much it was, ten cents or something.

BB: Nathan’s?

HL: Yeah, Nathan’s. And we ate this and sat around. She didn’t bathe, and I didn’t bathe. She didn’t want to bathe. And then a few of my friends were there in Coney Island and they were bathing. And after they were finished bathing, they all got dressed and they took a taxi to go back home. They said I should go into the taxi with Fanny. So I wanted to go in, but Fanny didn’t want to go in. It was there four boys in the taxi. She didn’t want to go in. So she said that she wants to go home with the subway. So I said all right we’ll go home with the subway.

And I made a date to see her again and again and again. And I worked myself up. I got a job already on 23rd Street in a pastry shop and I started to save up already a few dollars, and I used to go out with her. I used to take her for a ride. I used to go to a restaurant. It used to be fifty cents a dinner, you know? We used to go in for a dinner or something. Everything was nice, everything was good.

And then, after a few months walking around with her, I bought her a little fox, and I gave her this, a present. And we kept on going for a little while, and then I said to her, “Fanny, let’s get married. I got already five hundred dollars saved up. Let’s get married.”

And she said, “All right, I got two thousand dollars in the post office. We’ll put it together and we’re going to get married.”

I said, “Okay.”

So we made a date to go to the rabbi that was on 12th Street, and she lived on 8th Street. I dressed myself up in a nice blue suit and she dressed up beautiful, and we walked to the rabbi, and the rabbi had there about ten people.

BB: Friends of yours?

HL: A few friends, a few from the family, another few. He just made ten people to make the brachas and everything. Fanny’s mother made a dinner. About fifteen or twenty people were there for the dinner. My brother Meir was there for the dinner, too. His wife wasn’t there but he was there.

BB: How old were you?

HL: I was twenty-two years old. And she was the same, maybe a year younger. I was just three years in this country when I married Fanny. She was I think the same age, twenty-two. And we got married and we went for a honeymoon.

BB: Where did you go?

HL: A little town in New Jersey. With the bus, we went there. When we came there, the electric lights were out, and we had to be there in that place with candlelight overnight. The next day I had to go back, I had to go to work again. That was the honeymoon–one night.

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Ticket to New York

by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
Interviewed by Bruce Black

When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell  stories about his childhood in Zharnov and how he made his way to America. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this segment, he describes how he made his way from Europe to America.

BB: So you came to the Jewish section of Berlin?

HL: I came there with another two boys, and the people came over and said, “What’s the matter with you?” And I told them the story that I ran away and I wanted to go back to Vienna.

And they said, “All right, we’ll buy you the ticket. You’ll go to Czechoslovakia and from there you’ll go to Vienna.”

And I said, “A ticket? That’s very nice.”

But when we came to Czechoslovakia, the inspectors looked up and asked, “Where’s your passport?”

I said, “I have no passport. I just got a worker’s book that shows I worked in Vienna.”

They said, “That’s not a passport.”

So they kept me there, again arrested in Czechoslovakia. If I wouldn’t have the book, the inspectors said they’d send me back to Poland. But I had the book showing that I had worked in Vienna, so they sent me back to Berlin.

They sent me back to Berlin with a soldier on the train. Back to Berlin.

BB: And when you got back to Berlin?

HL: I came back to Berlin and went again to the Jewish section, and they said, “All right, we’re going to buy you a ticket to go the other way through Dresden.”

They bought a ticket to go to Dresden. We went to Dresden. We went down, me and another boy, we had a few pieces bread, and we came there.

And we met a boy there, and I said, “You should smuggle us over to Vienna.”

And he said, “All right, I’ll go in and ask my father.”

If his father went along, he would smuggle us over to Vienna. Not to Vienna, but to the border. And that’s what happened, you know? He smuggled us over  the border, and then I took a train and went back to Vienna. And I was in Vienna.

That was the terrible time I had when I went to visit Zharnov.

BB: Where was your brother, Manny, during all of this?

HL: He was in Vienna. He didn’t go. I was the only one who went crazy.

BB: Did he know the trouble you were in?

HL: He didn’t know, but he found out when I came back to Vienna.

BB: Once you were back in Vienna, what did you do?

HL: A little while later we ran away to Paris.

BB: You and Manny? You didn’t need special papers to get to Paris?

HL: We couldn’t get passports. So, I bought a passport in a Polish consul. And that was my trouble. I bought a passport.

And the fellow says, “What should I write in?”

And I heard in America they needed engineers. So I told him, “Write in that I’m an engineer.” And Manny wrote in that he was a tailor. If I would write in that I am a baker, I would be safe. But I wrote in an engineer.

And I had the passport, you know. And in Paris we were about three months there. We kept on going to the consul and going again, and we had to wait, and every time he told us we needed something from America to prove that we got there somebody in the country.

We got letters from Izzy and everybody but the consul didn’t recognize it. So we were about three months in Paris and we spent a lot of money there. And then I decided, “Well, if we can’t go to America, we’re going to go to Canada.” So I got somebody, you know, and he made me out to go to Canada. I gave him some money, you know, and he made me up to go to Canada.

BB: So you went straight from Paris to Canada?

HL: We decided that we got a brother in England that we’re going to go to England to visit him and from England we’re going to go to Canada.

We came to England and he was very nice to us. He was a tailor, too, and Manny worked for him a little bit and me, I wanted to go there to work in a bakery, but I couldn’t do nothing.

Anyhow, we were there about two weeks and decided that we should go to Canada. We bought tickets, you know, to go to Canada. When we came to Canada, they let Manny out, they let my brother out, but me? They arrested me.

BB: Arrested you? Why?

HL: Because I wrote that I’m an engineer. They said, “What kind of engineer are you?” So they kept me back, and I was there, not just me, it was about fifty boys they kept back. We were in a prison, a house, and Manny wrote letters to Meir, to my brother Meir in New York.

He told him if they sent me back to Poland, they’d kill me.

So Meir was a very good person. He decided to come to Canada and take me out from there. He came to Canada, you know, he took me to the consul, and he said, “He’s in the bakery business and he’s all right.”

He said that he was going to take me into the bakery, but the Americans wouldn’t give me the okay to go there. Just because I said I was an engineer. They thought I was a liar, a Communist or something. They wouldn’t give me an entry visa.

So Meir paid for a lawyer to take me out. He paid $500 for the food while I was there, and he paid a lawyer $200 to take me out. And then I had to pay some money, you know, to a fellow to smuggle me over to America.

And that’s what it was. I went on the train and I went to a farmer about 4 o’clock in the morning and he put in a horse and wagon and he took me over.

I thought he was going to throw me down somewhere in the woods. It was winter, you know? But he took me over and he showed me the station, Over there, he said, you have to buy a ticket to New York.

That’s all I knew. Meir spent about $1,000, you know, my brother Meir. He spent about $1,000 to take me out of Canada.

When I came to the station, I said, “Ticket to New York.” And they gave me a ticket.

Next: Finding romance in New York…

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Turmoil in Vienna

by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
interviewed by Bruce Black

When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell  stories about his childhood in Zharnov, a small village near Lodz and not far from Warsaw, and how he made his way to America. He was a baker, with bright blue eyes above a thick nose, a warm smile, and broad, strong shoulders, and he spoke with the thick Eastern European Yiddish accent of his youth. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this segment, he shares scenes from his life in Vienna.

BB: You were involved with the Black Market while you were in Vienna?

HL: I don’t want to say anything about it.

BB: Why not?

HL: I don’t want to talk about it, that’s all.  But I made a lot of money, and I used to go dancing, and I had a nice girl and I had a very good time. I used to go to operas and I used to go to shows. I had a very good time in Vienna.

And I figured a little later, I was already about 18 years old, I was already about four years in Vienna, and I knew everything and I spoke beautiful German and I wrote beautiful German and everything was nice. And I figured I’m going to buy myself a little business there and get married and stay there in Vienna.

And then when Hitler started to talk, Hitler, he was in Austria, you know? Hitler, he started to talk about Jews and all that stuff and right away there was a lot of trouble in Vienna, you know? The government was a socialist government, and there was a Communist Party and they marched to the Parliament, and I marched, too.

BB: You were a Communist?

HL: I marched with the Communist party. I marched. And when we came there, they threw fire, you know, the things that fire, they threw on the Parliament. As soon as the marchers did that, the soldiers came out with machine guns and they started to shoot and everybody ran. And I ran, too. But somebody pushed me up to a tree and I was hurt.

I went to the doctor the next day and I told him. He said, “What the hell? Why did you march? Who told you to march?”

I said, “Nu, I marched.”

And that was the end of my time in Vienna when I had money in my pocket.

BB: So what’d you do?

HL: I figured that I would go back to Zharnov. I used to have in Zharnov my uncle and a nice girl that I left there, a girlfriend. And I wanted to see them. And I went back to Poland.

When I came back home, I was over 17 years old, so they wanted to take me for a soldier. They wanted to take me for a soldier. But I didn’t want to go to be a soldier for the Pollacks.

When I went home, the soldiers on the train, when they saw a Jew with a beard, they grabbed his beard and they did all kinds of trouble to the Jewish people. So I should go to be a soldier to fight with them? I didn’t want to.

I said to my uncle, “I want to run, to go back to Vienna.”

So I went back, I tried to smuggle myself over to Germany, and it wasn’t easy. When I came to Breslau, I was sitting on the train by a German officer, and I told him I wanted to go to Vienna. And he said, “You better hide yourself. The Polish detective is going to be here. They’ll take you off.”

So I hid myself in the toilet and I didn’t let anybody in. And I was laying there in the toilet. I was laying for a long time there and I was so tired already from laying there that I came out and I said “Can I go out already?”

And the German officer said, “No, not yet.”

And I had to go back again until I came to Berlin and the Polish inspector couldn’t take me off no more.

So I came to Berlin and I went over to the police and asked, “Where’s the Jewish street?” And he told me which street car to take to go to the Jewish section.

Next: From Berlin to New York

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War Breaks Out

by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
(interviewed by Bruce Black)

When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell  stories about his childhood in Zharnov, a small village near Lodz and not far from Warsaw, and how he made his way to America. He was a baker, with bright blue eyes above a thick nose, a warm smile, and broad, strong shoulders, and he spoke with the thick Eastern European Yiddish accent of his youth. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this segment he describes his life in Zharnov when  war between the Austrians and the Russians breaks out.

BB: So, you were saying the war broke out…

HL: Yes, then the war broke out. The Russians were in Zharnov. Then the Austrians chased them out and grabbed all the boys, fourteen-year-old boys, to chop stones. And then they took us and sent us away to make trenches.

We were there by a farmer, two boys laying on the floor or three of us covered up in our coats, and at 5 am we used to go to the place where the sergeant counted us, and then we ate something, and then we had to go to dig the trenches.

One time my boots fell apart. I walked about two miles without the boots in the snow. When I came there to the place, I warmed my leg under my jacket, and the sergeant hit me with a whip, the Austrian sergeant. He hit me with a whip. I had to stay with both feet in the snow.

And some fellow that spoke German came over and said, “What did you hit him for? He hasn’t got boots.” And he sent me in the place to peel potatoes until they were going to fix my boots.

They fixed my boots, and I came out, but instead of going to them I ran away. I couldn’t go on a train because I didn’t have any documents. So, I ran. When I came to a farm or somewhere, I went inside to the farmer and I crossed myself and I spoke Polish.

They didn’t know whether I am Jewish or not, and I begged for a piece of bread or something, and that’s what they used to give me: a piece of bread or potato or something. And I would sit around there, and then I’d run again.

I ran, I don’t know, maybe forty or fifty miles. I kept on running until I came to Kunsk. There was my sister. Not from my father’s first wife, but a sister, and she was no good. She was a terrible woman. When I came there on a Friday morning, she gave me something to eat and said, “When do you go home?” She wouldn’t let me stay over Saturday in her place. “When do you go back to Zharnov?”

So I had to run from her place to Zharnov. It was maybe another ten miles. When I came back to Zharnov, I went to my uncle. He was a very good man. He kept me there, you know, and I was by him a few days, until a soldier asked “Who wants to go to Vienna?” And I registered to go to Vienna, and another few boys registered to go to Vienna, too.

So, we came to Vienna. We were put in a barracks where the soldiers lived and they gave us something to eat, all right, and then they came in the next day or two and asked, “Who wants to go to Czechoslovakia?”

At that time Czechoslovakia used to belong to Austria, and I picked up my hand right away to go to work in a leather factory. And another boy picked up his hand. And they sent us away to Czechoslovakia. The city was, I think, Brinn.

And they took away all our documents, and then they gave me an apron and boots and a piece of iron to take out the leather from the lime and bring it to the machine to fix up. The machine cleaned this up to make leather out of it.

But lots of times I couldn’t hit the leather, you know, with the hook. I couldn’t hit it. It would slide out. So I used to grab it with my hand to pull it over to the machine and my fingers got burned up from the lime. And I thought, “This is not for me neither.”

So, I ran again. They wouldn’t give me my documents back. So I ran away to a train, and I hid myself under the bench, and I knew that the train goes back to Vienna, and I went back to Vienna.

When I came to Vienna, everything was rationed. You couldn’t get anything without a ration card. I didn’t have any money to go into places to eat. So I said, “All right, whatever’s going to be is going to be.” And I went back to the barracks.

I came to the barracks and the officer said in German, “What are you doing here?”

And I said, “I burned my fingers up. I couldn’t work there, so I ran away.”

And he called me all kinds of names in German, “Verfluchte Yuden! Verfluchte Yude! I’m going to send you back to Poland!” Oh, he hollered murder.

But I had one nephew there who worked in a very big factory. He found out that I am there, and he made a job for me in the factory. So the German let me out. He gave me another document and he let me out to go to work in the factory.

I went to the factory. It was a very big factory, about 20,000 people there, and they put me in, and I had to put electric lights in, you know? Electric lights.

I used to work in that place and we used to get one meal a day, just a little meal. One time everybody was kicking, and I said to a friend, “What are you kicking for?” And he said, “We’re eating horse meat.” So I had enough already. I didn’t eat it.

And then I lived in a place, you know, I used to pay there, I don’t know, two krone or five krone, to rent a room. And I used to live there as a boarder, and I brought over Manny, and he was a boarder there, too.

After work we used to go in a people’s kitchen to get something to eat, like a bowl of soup or something. And then we used to go home with nothing more than a piece of bread in my pocket. I used to have such a terrible life.

But I was with Manny, and he made a few dollars, and we used to share, and soon I was making a little money on the Black Market…

Next: From Vienna to Berlin…

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