The stage for the following events was a small city, strongly Polish, situated on the southeast corner of the province Posen, in that time, the middle of the last century, was reknowned as Kempen. It had about 6000 inhabitants, of which 2/3 were Jews. This community was, in relation to the total population, the largest in Prussia, if not in all German-speaking countries. This circumstance was to be as decisive in the development of the Jewish community as its location on the intersection of the Prussian provinces Posen & Silesia on one side and the kingdom of Poland on the other. Congress Poland was called such in the everyday commerce of that time. Many institutions dating from the independent oligarchy of Poland were maintained under Russian dominion. Polish silver coinage, Polish bills, Polish banknotes, were all circulated, alongside large, worn, copper coins. They only disappeared from usage gradually. At the outbreak of the Crimean war this gross confusion of coinage still contributed to a certain lawlessness of business exchanges with the peasantry. As soon as Prussia generated some order in this and other aspects of life, it gradualy died away and was replaced by a more decorous commerce.
Kempen is scarcely a half mile from the Silesian border. The closest village is Bralin, which was a popular destination for excursions. There one could breathe Silesian air and enjoy the cleanliness and industry of the farmyards. If one turned one's steps northeast, into Posen, or especially eastward into Poland, the cultural situation was too depressing to be taken in in a glance. Kempen thus lay between these very distinct boundaries, which could be construed as defining different worlds. "Poland's another world, Silesia yet another one" went the saying, "and we Kempeners have to be able to negotiate them both". In old-Kempen certain westward-oriented tendencies could be detected quite early. But these traits had to be discrete. They couldn't venture out into daylight. But in secret, they twitched here & there in isolated heads, and we'll be dealing with them eventually. At first, it was a culture that was quite unaltered from the way it had been transmitted, and displayed itself to us in all its authenticity.
And what a view that was!
The town was laid out in a typical Slavic plan. The 'ring' formed the city's heart. In contrast to its name, it was a square, and called either the Ring or the Market. Perpendicular streets originated at the corners of the Marketplace, which were named according to the cities to which they pointed, Breslau St, Warsaw St, and so on. Parallel to one of the sides of the market was a street called 'Hintergasse' (Backstreet). The Market, disproportionately large, rimmed by massive houses, made a stately impression. Here were the fanciest stores, their vaults secured by heavy iron doors, here lived the richest members of the community. Individual houses displayed vaulted halls, "arbors" toward the Market side. In the center of the Market were the official buildings: the city court, the Town Hall, behind them, as if glued on, small houses, in which various small wares were sold. The whole, as mentioned before, made a good impression. But only a few steps away from the Market, and one suddenly saw a "different world". A whole row of miserable, half decayed wooden houses with built our 'arbors' (porches?) resting on moldy plaster, extended along one side of Warsaw St. In the dark, dingy, dirty stores situated behind the porches, all sorts of small goods were offered. Also taverns, 'colonial' wares (imports?), small hardware, everything a peasant would need for his farm and household, was heaped up there. It offered to the passerby a picture of such poverty and decay that a contemporary person is hardpressed to imagine, if he can do it at all. In the big fire, which was visited on the city at the ned of the 1840's, these remains of the oldPolish times were completely destroyed. The fire, about whose origins sinister rumors swirled, raged for days, the entire town seemed doomed, when the wind dropped, a downpour ensued, which removed the danger, and let the desperate townspeople gather their courage. In the time of the greatest danger one had sent messengers to the nearest Kreisstadt, Schildberg, and to Silesian Wartenberg. "Kempen's burning. Help. Save us." they read. But on account of the poor roads in the region any help would have been too late, even if they'd had any decent firefighting equipment. Good connections between towns in Posen didn't exist in those days. No thought of trains or telegraph, not even an optical telegraph! (I suppose this means a signal station using mirrors). Each city lived in almost complete isolation by itself. On the road to Wartenberg and to Oels there was a single mail coach each day; to the Silesian capital (Breslau) there was one twice a week. News only travelled slowly & with great difficulty. It was thus no wonder that the news of the big fire only reached the neighboring towns after several days. These are circumstances that are almost impossible to conceptualize from our day and age. And this tragic isolation persisted many, many years after the Great Fire. It took decades of vigorous effort to get Kempen a train connection. So, in spite of the advantageous geographical location, all means of development were cut off for a long time. The city was thus selected to remain what and how it had been. The impression made by this horrific tragedy (we're back to the fire!) remained many years, undiminished in intensity, as did the suspicions of arson against a certain person. That person was treated by his neighbors as if cursed, and one avoided any dealings with him as much as possible. He was a marked man. After the fire, after the great 'Szreife' (sorry: don't know what that is), he was never more called to read the Torah. It never came to any official proceedings. A Chillu ha Shem, an open scandal, a disgrace to the community, had to be avoided at all costs. The next Sabbath after the fire, there was a particularly joyful service in the Synagogue, in which Rabbi Malbim delivered a gripping sermon. Sermons in the modern sense were in those days not a part of the usual service. They were much more an exception. The Rabbi preached at the High Holy Days, on certain Sabbaths, like the one before Easter, the so-called 'great', as well as on the Penitential Sabbath between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, on a learned Talmudic topic. These turned into actual debates, in which the opponents of the Rabbi tried to make him look bad. But as the chosen theme had to be adhered to rigorously, it was difficult to embarrass a well-prepared speaker. Someone who succeeded in deflecting or demolishing the carefully prepared arguments of the preacher got a lot of credit for it. One spoke of the clever one, the 'Charif', admiringly. It also occurred that the actual opponent got some particularly clever person to raise his objections for him. On such Sabbaths the learned men were greatly excited, and all afternoon there would be heated discussions with Pilpulim for dessert. Even people who really didn't understand the fine points were drawn into this, because it was a welcome diversion from the exceedingly drab, careworn lives they led.
As memories of the Great Fire lived on among those who'd experienced it, another event lived on similarly vividly. This time it was a true Chillul ha Shem, a terrible disgrace, that was visited on the community! A Jew was accused of perjury, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for several years. Before being sent off to prison, he was pilloried (literally) in the Market, in front of the court house. This barbaric punishment existed in our old Prussia until the revolution of 1848. The display was ghastly. The criminal, tied to a black-painted post on a raised stand, visible to the entire population, was a pitiful sight. His tears flowed in streams into his disshevelled beard, ceaseless sobs racked his body, as he fainted repeatedly. This terrible psychic punishment lasted from 9 Am to 6 PM, then the unfortunate victim was released from his tortures. The entire congregation gathered in the Synagogue right after 6, for a service of penitence, according to the manner of the service for the 9 Ab, which commemorates the destruction of the 2nd Temple. The curtain on the 'morning' wall of the Synagogue had been removed, the wall was less illuminated than hidden by a single light. The prayers were more whispered than spoken. The uncanny quiet of this usually so noisy congregation was incredibly gripping. The entire congregation was in deep mourning. A third event should be considered here, a Chaliza ceremony that took place in this Synagogue one summer day. The Synagogue was so stuffed with the curious, of all ages, that the proverbial apple could not have fallen to the floor. On this occasion, it became clear that the bizarre event was a sort of folk justice. The complaint of the childless sister-in-law against her denying brother-in-law, the taking off of the shoe, the spitting into it as a sign of disdain - all this worked as a kind of folk trial, as well as a folk play, that, because of its unusual nature served as a topic for many a long winter's night. After these digressions, we take up the thread of our tale again.
Kempen was exclusively a trade town. It never had a Yeshiva, in spite of the fact that some of the Rabbis had extensive reputations. Our congregation wasn't short of extremely learned men, who studied eagerly in our Beth ha Midrash, either. Here one could regularly meet Polish or Lithuanian studends, mostly refugees from the persecutions of Czr Nicholas I's regiments. For these unfortunates, Kempen was the closest asylum. The mayor of course knew about them, but he closed an eye, when necesary, both eyes, as soon as such refugees showed up. In fact, there was a rumor that the government of the Jewish community had a standing arrangement with the civil authorities on the matter. At any rate, Polish refugees remained safely in Kempen until new residences could be arranged for them. Occasionally such refugees became permanent residents, got a small job, and became Prussian citizens. The authorities were flexible on the matter, and nobody was hurt in the process. In this way, vibrant connections to Poland were maintained. This was very important for the local economy, of which the import of Polish fleeces was a great part. Kempen was in those days the main meeting place for the Polish wool trade to the west, the first stop on the road to Breslau, whose wool market was at the time one of the most significant on the European mainland. The most affluent Kempeners were wool wholesalers. Among these were the richest of the large Henschel family, and his own family. Their main sphere of trade was at the Warsaw wool market, from which, they, like the Poseners, transferred wool to Breslau, where it was sold to the cloth factories of the Lower Rhine and the Netherlands. This was the golden age of the Kempener wool trade, which came to a sudden end with the introduction of Australian wool. But for the nonce the Kempen heaven was, so to speak, hung with fiddles, and life in the Kehilla was pretty good. There was no thought of Goy-ish competition, as there was scarcely such a thing as a nonJewish business! Even the crafts were almost exclusively in Jewish hands. Tailors, shoemakers, locksmiths, clockmakers, turners-- all Jews. Carpenters, masons, smiths, coopers were not among them. There were good relations between the Polish (catholic) inhabitants and the Jews. The small number of Lutherans, mostly civil servants, maintained a neutral attitude with regard to the Poles and Jews as well. They were looked upon as somewhat alien, and one generally referred to them as "Germans". One spoke and acted carefully when in their presence, due to a lack of familiarity. Yiddish was the main language. The coming generation, however, was eagerly looking to learn proper high German; but on the streets Yiddish was what was spoken, and the so-called Jewish costume was what was worn. This costume-- originally Tartar in origin-- was rigidly adhered to by the aristocracy and the intelligentsia. A tall youth, who'd recently shot up in height, cut no mean figure in his tight, buttoned to the neck "Chalat", with knee breeches, black stockings, half shoes, the fur trimmed satin cap on his head, replaced on the Sabbath with a high fur hat made from mink or sable. But costume and language were both in embattled positions. Their imminent end was indicated by many threatening portents. There was none of the new growth needed for the continued existence of either. On Sabbaths and High Holy Days one could see the situations particularly clearly. Then one saw many old, respected men, among them splendid examples that reminded one of Duerer or Rembrandt portraits, going to the Synagogue or the Beth ha Midrash in their Sabbath coats. That for Succoth hordes of Temple attendees would cross the Market and other nearby streets carrying their palm branches, and myrtle and willow bouquets was quite ordinary. On such occasions the Kempener Synagogue presented a surprisingly imposing spectacle. It was then and is probably still now the most imposing structure in the town: there wasn't much to equal it. In its details it has been so often described, that it would be useless to do so here. It should only be noted that this Kempner Synagogue was executed according to the dimensions given for the Temple of Solomon in the 2nd Book of Kings. At least that's what everyone insisted. I could unfortunately never learn who had designed this harmonically beautiful structure.
The Synagogue wasn't only the place for edification through prayer but also the spiritual arena in which Talmudic feuds were battled out. It also secured here & there a longingly desired artistic, more properly, musical appreciation. The Synagogue changed, to an extent, into a concert hall. At certain times Bohemian musicians, "Klezmorim" (people from Klezmer), appeared, to play, on certain Fridays, just before the serveice. They performed from the Almemor, on their string instruments. Serious "nigunim", melodies that resembled those in the service alternated with more lively ones, and after the fiery rhythm of the well-known Druid March from Bellinis "Norma" "Aulom" ('le monde' is literally and figuratively the same thing) turned, highly gratified, from the just heard pieces to the Lecho Dodi. This brought a greatly wished for change into the tiring boredom of winter time. Such wonderful Fridays were long after talked about in the community. If the Klezmorim were outstandingly good, individuals would invite them for the Sabbath afternoon. Here they could let themselves go a bit more, with Bohemian Polkas, Polish mazurkas or krakowiaks. At the remains of the Sabbath meal, with a glass of Hungarian wine- other sorts were unknown - and with a delicious honey cake, one felt comfortable and joined in more heartily in the "Semiroth" (singing), in praise of the Sabbath's end, than usual. That the Polish soldier's song 'nasz Chlopicki woje' (our Chlopicki fights) smuggled itself in among the Hebrew Semiroth occasionally didn't offend the lively folk. On the contrary, it added to the joviality of the occasion.
Chanukah week belonged to the welcome diversions of the monotonous winter evenings, which seemed to stretch on forever. A general solemn joy spread everywhere. The children enjoyed 'trendeln'. The 'trendel' was a top made of lead or tin, on whose 4 surfaces the letters - - - & - were inscribed (the initial letters of the words ----, a great wonder happened there) (see page 92 for the Hebrew that goes in the blanks). The folkway interpretation of the meaning of the 4 letters referred less ot the heroic time of the Macabees and the miracle of the oil in the reconsecrated Temple than to the physiognomies of the residents of the small town Kieferstadt: "townsfolk have big noses". Whether the targets of this joke actually had larger than average noses remains outside our ken. Enough, on Chanukah evenings, the joke made its rounds. Kempen, as a community, was properly illuminated, and on the last night of Chanukah the little city glowed in the light of the fully-lit menorahs, just like on the Kaiser's birthday. The Chanukah Sabbath was celebrated with particular joy. Rabbi Malbim preached a sermon, in which more or less biting references to the "Misnagdim", the opposition, next door in the Beth ha Midrash, were not lacking. Then Judas Maccabeus and his heroic troops turned, in the speaker's mouth, into the Rabbi and his congregation, and the highly strung Rosh beth din, the very sharp Talmudist Reb Simcha Rehfisch, became the grim leader of the Roman troops. Malbim's eyes sprayed fire and flame at this joking malice, which he tried to ground through properly interpreted Bible verses or diversions into Haggadah. These malices did not pass over the heads of the congregation, and even before the end of the Mussaph Prayer, those in the Beth ha Midrash were informed of the days' news. In the afternoon, at the time of the 3rd Sabbath meal, the entire community was full of Malbim's jokes at the expense of the greatly honored Rabbi Simcha. But it wasn't only limited to these after-dinner conversations in the dusk. If it had gone too hard with the "Rav" with these "similes" on Chanukah Sabbath, there would be serious differences of opinion in "Kohel's Stub". So sufficient conversational material for a long time was generated. Which was the entire purpose of the exercise. These Kempner Jews had a deeply ingrained inclination to all sorts of disrespectful jokes. General layabouts as they were, their trade was limited primarily to a few regular, at Pentecost (a holiday very important in Germany) and in the fall, large established deals in raw materials, so that they didn't know what to do with the long intervals in between. So they grasped at any opportunity for diversion which presented itself. So they were, in spite of their rigid Orthodoxy, unconscious Voltaireans. So perhaps the path - or should one say leap- of development of the Kempner Samuel Holdheim, whose name is never said without an accompanying Hebrew curse, to be explained by this pyschological characteristic of his home town.
The last joyfully greeted diversion in winter life was the Purim celebration. One passed the preceding fast comfortably, because it was short. All households were full of activity. Butter cake, Bobes, Plum cakes were prepared en masse, all sorts of fowl butchered. The centerpiece of the celebration, the 'Striezel', the Purim Challa, was prepared with especial care. The housewife's pride was satisfied, as soon as the braided Challa, gleaming brown and liberally covered with poppyseed, having turned out well, graced the table. Delicious 'Kraeppchen' broth, piquantly prepared roast, an oversweet, overrich fruit cake called 'Fladen', these were the customary Purim dishes; one drank Hungarian wine in moderation with them, and in the most cheerful voice the table prayers were sung. According to old custom, young & old fave each orther all sorts of sweets. The officials of the community and the poor were much considered. Naturally these gifts were the cause of strong objections, as soon as they didn't conform to the likings of the recipients or the economic status of the giver. There was no trace of diplomatic reticence in expression. One indulged in a truly golden lack of consideration. This in no means impaired the general Purim jollity. Larger festive arrangements, as were customary in the larger south German communities, were unknown in Kempen at this time. They were family celebrations. Even the socalled Purim plays (games?) were unknown. Only the children dressed up and went in their harmless costumes to relatives and friends. Half grown youths trucked around town in genuine mummery, knocked on doors, and called 'today is Purim, tomorrow it's over, give us a Groschen & throw us out' (heut ist Purim, morgen ist's aus, gebt uns e Groeschel un' werft uns raus) in light voices into the well-lit rooms, took their copper coins, and hied themselves hence. It also occurred that young grown men dressed up and did satirical impressions of their relatives and best friends. So one would appear in the tiny streets as the Schildberger Rabbi (Rawchen is a diminutive) another as the Korzenitz Maggid, a third as 'Schandar' (gendarme). Only very rarely did one see a girl dressed up. This singular shyness in Jewish girls of this time was also one a strong identifying characteristic of Shylock's Jessica. If a girl from a good family dressed up and appeared among friends, this 'new thing from Breslau' became the topic of heated discussions in the 'Kille' (kehilla?), and was eventually judged as inappropriate conduct for a Jewish child. If the old people weren't, in the last analysis, right?
Right after Purim the preparations for Passover began. The entire kehilla was thrown into motion. In every house no hand was idle. Everything, right down to the darkest corner, had to be cleaned. Windows and doors were opened wide, to let the musty air out of the house, and the mild spring air in. For masons, plasterers, and carpenters, the peak earnings season was at hand. The walls were often replastered and whitewashed, and the wooden floors scrubbed and planed. Then one had to go about obtaining the wheat flour required for making Mazzoh. The wheat dealers, the millers, were overrun with orders. The closer to Passover, the livelier the commerce. By now the last week before the holiday had arrived. The community oven, normally used as 'Shalent' oven, was prepared, most carefully, for baking mazzoh. Not a small job. Under the strictest supervision of experienced officials of the community the amounts of flour were weighed, mixed with water, which had previously been pumped by respected members of the community and brought to the bakery, and portioned out to the Polish peasant women, who went to work with their wiry arms, and with their strong hands, formed the dough lumps into the required round, thin, slices as quickly as possible. The last touch was applied by a community official, who, with a toothed wheel mounted on an iron handle, ran crosswise over the slice, which was now put into the oven by the specially designated Jewish baker. Mazzoh baking was not easy work. It required dexterity, experience, attention to detail, to get the soft piece of dough to the oven safely, and to get the extremely brittle product out of the oven. The boards that had been used to place the dough in the oven were painstakingly cleaned of every trace of raw dough with glass slivers. When the mazzoh for general use had all been prepared, it was time to prepare a luxury baked good, egg mazzoh. For the true ritual meals, that is for the Seder, egg mazzoh could not be used. Because the unleavened, prepared only with water, dough was supposed to symbolize the overhastily executed move from Mizraim.
But there were still other completely different preparations necessary for Passover. One especially had to prepare soup, or at least get together the necessary ingredients. There were red beets, welcome helpers in the very limited selection of ingredients allowed by the ritual. 8 to 10 days before the the Holiday the red roots were put into their water marinade at a certain temperature and left to their fate. The water in the meantime extracted the soluble components from the beets. The light red liquid had a sweet insipid taste, which the proper ingredients could help along. This beet soup, the Polish Barszcz, Yiddish Borscht, has actually achieved a sort of fame in international cuisine.In the Passover meals between the Holy Days, borscht, removed(?) by Mazzoh-Reibichs, beaten up with egg yolks and supported by mashed potatoes, formed the main course. A few slices of juicy roasted breast of beef contributed not a little to an overall feeling of wellbeing. If such a meal had turned out particularly well, the self-satisfied housewife clicked her tongue at each mouthful and said "alle juedische Kinder gesagt" of it. ("Told to every Jewish child"). This wish wasn't felt to be damaged in the slightest if in the meantime a neighboring Polish farmer (who owned his land, as opposed to a tenant farmer-the words are different in German) happened to be at a friend's, a Kempner merchand, and shared in such a Jewish-Polsh Borscht and a glass of 'weglerskie wino' (Hungarian wine). Such a luxury was only available to the better off on recurring basis. The poorer ones helped themselves out with raisin wine, for the preparation of which, raisins were soaked in water a few weeks before Passover. Next to the gloriously aromatic Hungarian wine and its abovementioned ersatz was a thrid drink, namely mead. Although both wines could be used at the Seder, meth didn't share this honor. The prescribed 4 glasses drunk at each Seder evening could only be prepared from grapes. Mead is, of course, a product of bees.
For the 8 days of Passover so many provisions had been acquired, that no member of the community had to endure want. If, in individual cases, something ran out, the others pitched in with some. This was not the ordinary sort of charity, however. The needy person didn't have to apply for this. It was, instead, understood that he would be offered what was needed. At the Seder, which was the time to think of "our liberation", each Jew was supposed to feel free of all care for nourishment. The community officials and private teachers got double their usual monthly salary for Nissan and Tishri. The Rabbi, the members of the Beth Din, the Cantor, were sent an honorarium le choved jomtov - for the holidays by the affluent members of the community. The oldest unmarried son of the house was usually entrusted to deliver this. This was a sort of honor, which the youths carried out with pride. There was no Jewish household in Kempen, in which there weren't the traditional fish and meat dished, the pickled(?) eggs, the sweetened fruit bowl, the Charoseth, for Seder. It was now finally the 14th of Nissan, the preparations had been done successfully. In the Jewish households, after all the weeks of work, comfort and a festive spirit. While Kempen had been brightly illuminated for Channukah, all the street-facing windows remained completely shutterecd for Passover. No passerby was supposed to be able to look inside. No envy was supposed to be aroused. It was something like an undercurrent from long ago times that had slunk into the present. The blood libel, the "bilbul" had cost the Jews self-confidence and created anxiety. The memory of the horrific persecutions had not yet completely vanished for the Jewish soul. It still trembled among the older people and did not allow for full expression of the joy at being freed from the Egyptian yoke. At any rate, the entire course of the Seder evening, with its manifold partly rational, partly naively sentimental relations, with its various symbols, its allusions to a fortunate future for Israel, made a strong impression on the impressionable youth. Such a Seder, in which the patriarch, in his white Kittel, a white cap trimmed with silver thread on his head, like a genuine tribal chief, executing his office as transmitter of the Haggadah, had in truth that which one is justified in calling Style. According to mood and understanding for the events related in the Haggadah and the associated commentaries, the Seder evening stretched into the night. One family in Kempen was known for stretching it almost to the time for morning prayer.
In the days between the festivals, the stores remained open, but one couldn't actually sense any business being carried on. Also not on the usual market day. In compensation, social life was all the livelier. There were all sorts of 'easter' delicacies. One entertained onesself, even in families where this wasn't usual, by playing cards, and here and there with chess. (Called 'Schoch' - normally 'Schach'). The actual "chol ha-moed" events were the engagements. One can easily imagine what great conversational material these were. One did not consider onesself bound by any of Europe's decadent overpoliteness. In fact, one dug in with a will, one scrabbled through every dark corner, and the most secret stuff came out. The wedding was usually celebrated on the 23rd day between Pessach and Succoth (Pentecost). On this day, the 'lag-beomer' (see Hebrew letters on page 100), could weddings only be held in the 7 week period between the 2 festivals. Such an old-Kempen wedding was a celebration for the entire community. The marriage occurred in the early afternoon hours, this was in consideration of the couple, who were supposed to fast this entire day until the ceremony. The marriage ceremony occurred in the open. The 'wedding sky', the Chupa, was set up behind the Shul, and the poles were held by young relatives of the couple. In ceremonious parade, led by musicians, the bride and groom were accompanied separately from each of their homes, through the city, to behind the Shul. The wedding guests carried brightly colored wax candles, the children often as well. Such a wedding procession was very picturesque. The groom in his white Kittel under the overcoat walked seriously, with lowered eyes, between his father & father-in-law, or other near relatives to the wedding site, while the bride and her attendants carried out the ceremony of the covering with the veil in the antechamber of the Shul. The heavily veiled bride was now led before her groom, accompanied by the sounds of the "Chupa March", none other than Bellini's march of the Druids from "Norma", who awaited his chosen or assigned under the Chupa. As in the course of time all sorts of new things became apparent in Kempen, the Mendelsohn Wedding March from "Midsummer Night's Dream" was also supposed to have been heard in Kempen. But I only know of this considerable alteration from hearsay. I myself can only recall the Belline March as the exclusive Chupa March. When the marriage contract, the Ketubah, had been read in Aramaic by by Rabbi, the obligatory ritual fulfilled, the ring placed by the groom on the bride's finer, the customary songs sung by the Cantor, a glass broken, then the bride & groom were wished well accompanied by tears everywhere. All religious obligations having been satisfied, everyone now retired to the the table in the festival hall. First they were served coffee, excellent cakes, a particularly good one was called "Portuguese", and Schnaps. As everyone had prepared for the feast by not eating, great inroads were made on the goodies. Until the meal began officially, the guests conversed freely, mostly on the bride & her female relatives. Here also tongues were allowed free reign. Kempen wasn't short of its share of Krimhildes and Brunhildes, and, once aroused, they could tongue lash each other with the best of the immortal Niebelung queens. Although they only did it in Yiddish, and it didn't have the sort of lasting consequences it did among the Niebelungs, because when everyone sat down to eat, all animosity was laid aside. When the longed for mealtime had arrived, the "marshalek" called the guests to table with all sorts of jokes. The young couple came first, but not arm-in-arm. The followed the next of kin, then the Rabbi & Cantor, who always came to the wedding dinner for people respected by the congregation, then the remaining guests. Disagreements over ranking and places were just as common here as in more elevated circumstances. But they were settled much more directly in old Kempen than in Berlin: "As Reb Herzele nicht will sitzen an dem Platz neben seiner Ischoh (Frau) brauch er garnischt zu sitzen". (If Reb Herzele don' wanna sit nex' to 'is old lady, he don' have to sit at all). There was no escaping this sort of logic. Even this waves eventually died down, and the Cantor could finally pray grace over the wedding Challa, a true masterwork of Jewish baker's art, opening the meal. The blinding white bakery was sliced and distributed among the guests. The quality of this hor d'oevre had a lot to do with the overall judgement of the female element over the dinner. Entertainment was supplied by the "marshalek"'s jokes, which he insisted on having heard directly from the Korzenitzer or Dubnover Maggid, the two preachers agreed on as having the sharpest tongues of the day. If he repeated stuff that was too old, the guests heckled him. Which only contributed to the entertainment. As soon as the "marshalek" announced the time for calling out the presents, the noise of conversation ceased. This time allowed the marshalek his greatest triumphs. His subtle variations of intonation judged the gifts and their givers, and led to general hilarity, which sometimes went to dangerous heights. Everyone got his "chelek" (share), even before Fladen, as one used to say. This famous Kempener Fladen, an overrich and oversweet fruit dessert, crowned the wedding meal. Each guest had, by virtue of his presence, dibs on a large chunk (chelek) to take home. Here also there was no shortage of bickering over the portions. Point of honor played a large role here. It also occurred that the gift was rejected as unworthy of one. As you can see, these weddings didn't lack for exciting moments, which sometimes threatened to assume a dangerous character. The upswelling waves died down rapidly, as soon as the Cantor encouraged the "Olom" to "Benschen". This musical dessert was accompanied by general, unbounded joy. The ordering at table gradually dissolved. The Klezmorim played their string instruments, a festive but measured air sounded, as the dance of honor, a sort of Polonaise, rang out. Round dances among adults were still disdained in those days. The mazurkas, polkas, krakowiaks, were left to the children & adolescents. The wedding dance by no means marked the end of the wedding festivities. The after celebrations lasted for several days. On the 'lendemain' there was a big reception at the new couple's, at which the generous leftovers from the wedding meal were served. The parents of the newly weds invided all the relatives, who'd gathered from far away, namely from 'The Kingdom', meaning Poland, and friends from the community to feasts, and before one knew it, the wedding was over & it was the Sabbath again, when the 'Shulfuehren' (taking to the Shul) of the newly weds formally closed the festivities. The young bal-ha-bayith, the groom, was called to the Torah, to the Maphtir. This formed a sort of moral running of the gauntlet. One listened very carefully at the reading of the selected section from the Prophets. The intonation of individual words, the overall style of reading, allowed one to judge pretty accurately to what extent the groom understood the generally very difficult text he'd been assigned. Sometimes someone in the congregation could be heard to hiss "heisst er Amhorez!" meaning "he's an ignoramus". In this way the wedding and its satellite celebrations provided rich material for a week's entertainment and much future gossip.
Not just weddings, but every family event elicited active participafrom the entire congregation. Such an old Jewish community was like a big family. A common, internal bond encircled it, held it together, in spite of internal frictions, as often accompany such close relationships. Birth and death weren't only individual events. They had social components. They summoned into action the charitable organizations, the "Chevra". Women were especially involved, through their natural inclinations and religiously sanctioned roles. Attending the young mother, the "Kimpetur", who doesn't recognize in this guise the oldfashioned midwife?the care of newborns was entrusted, in addition to the midwife, to the voluntary attention of experienced women. One strengthened the new mother with strong soups, with all sorts of refreshment. Want of nourishment was removed from every new mother and newborn child. Keeping unholy forces at bay from the cradle and birthing room were various Cabbalistic slips of paper and symbols of spells at the heads of the new mother and over the door to the room. She was satisfied of every need, and an air of pious joy and serenity surrounded the room. If the newborn child was a boy, then before the bris there were the small jyous of the "Sucher" with its good wishes for mother and child, which were symbolized by offering sweets, Sucher cookies, and, curiously, through hard pickled peas. On the 8th day, after the circumcision, the festive meal, the "Szude" was celebrated. Not a carousal, but a celebratory meal, in which one didn't forget the donor of the feast among the delicacies of Jewish cuisine. Because before the beginning of the meal, and at its end, God was praised in a very loud voice, as was only proper. We Jews have a hereditary right to call to God with as loud a voice as our inner voice determines! If God's grace was so great as to have the firstborn be a boy, then on the thirtieth day after his birth, the 'pidyon haben', the symbolic redeeming of the first born was held, and here also the religious ceremony was capped with a meal.
If the congregation actively participated in joyous events, then in opposite circumstances, its solidarity was all the greater. In case of illness, members of the "holy brotherhood", the Chevra kadish, appeared at the sickbed and performed every duty that could be conceived of. This readiness for sacrifice on the behalf of others appeared most strongly when a member of the community died. The wake, preparation of the body, arrangements for burial, all these sad duties were undertaken by the Chevra. The body was accompanied by members of the congregation to the rather far off cemetery, the "house of eternity" beth olom, in the course of which the pallbearers changed off at specified intervals. Because so many wanted to perform this Commandment, this Mitzvah. Women did not accompany the procession. At the cemetery the rituals were scrupulously observed, the ancient prayers spoken. There were no eulogies. If the community was mourning someone especially learned, pious, or accomplished, there would be a service in the Synagogue or Beth ha Midrash, in which a Hesped, eulogy, would be held in his honor, in which his whole character was described. Such hespeds were not exclusively delivered by the Rabbi. Whichever of the friends of the deceased felt called to do this, who had the ability and respect to be able to stand before the congregation, and had obtained the permission of the Parnas, could stand before the Aron ha Kodesh, the Holy Ark, and speak the eulogy for the deceased. The use, or rather misuse, of modern times to have the Rabbi speak as soon as the services are over, was then unknown in Kempen, as in all other traditional communities. One need not mention specifically that, during the week of mourning in the home of the deceased the family said the required prayers morning and evening, that some of the visitors read sections of Mishnah, that the bodily needs of the mourners were supplied during the Shiva by relatives and friends. That was a duty, that everyone understood. As much tenderness as these activities inspired, as much anger was unleashed as soon as a known evil doer was buried. Such a one was the Mussor, the braggart, the denouncer. Such people were avoided in everyday life, never called to read the Torah, belonged to no Chevra. He was, to use a contemporary phrase, boycotted. The burial of a person so despised by the community- his symbol was a 'Horndrechsler' (horn turner?) - I still recall vividly from my early youth. The gruesome impression has remained indelibly in my memory. It was an act of Lynch-justice against a dead man. The accompanying "Schandar" was totally impotent against the jeering crowd. He gave the resulting mischief full reign. The deceased Horndrechsler was a bachelor. As an immigrant he had no relatives in the community, so that there was no consideration of a week of mourning. The satisfaction over this twist of fate was expressed by a lack of restraint that wanted nothing. The pen refuses to describe what all befell at this burial.
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During the summer months between Passover and the Yomim noroim, the days of fear, which the the Berliner Schulmann, well-known in Jewish circles for his witty, droll ideas, called the "Autumn Parade of His Godly Majesty", was a quiet time in old Kempen. A busy idleness reigned, even religion took a vacation. The Shavuot celebration simply wasn't considered very seriously. One began the Festival of the Gift of the Law on Mt. Sinai with open cheerfulness. Even the normally strictly maintained dietary laws were, peculiarly, relaxes a bit on both days of Shavuot. One could already enjoy coffee with milk and a slice of Bobes *4* hours after after a meal, when one normally waited 6! A few weeks later were the days of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the 2nd Temple. The 17 Tammuz and the 9 Ab, beginning and end of the "Three Weeks" were rigorous fast days. The general atmosphere was serious, and became, at the end, one of genuine mourning, as at the death of a close relative. As at a Shiva, one refrained from eating meat. Every business activity came to a halt. An the 9th day, the "Tish'oh b'Av", the community dressed in mourning. Even on the street, one did not speak out loud. In bent posture, the normally too-talkative citizens of Kempen slunk wordlessly to the Synagogue, which had been stripped of all decoration, or to the Beth ha Midrash, to listen to the shattering Lamentations of Jeremiah and the sorrowful poems of the unequalled Spanish poets with deep conviction. At the individual songs of mourning, the Kinoth, in which the death agonies of blood witnesses are described in excruciating detail, the Synagogue literally trembled from the shrieks of agony for the fall of Zion and the Temple. No eye remained dry, as soon as the gripping sad Melisme "Eli Zion veoreho" (Woe for Zion & her Places) or "Zion halo tishali" (Don't ask, Zion) sounded from the lips of the Cantor. However, both of these songs weren't sung by the official Chason, but by respected members of the congregation, who rendered the meaning of this magnificent poetry with true understanding and deep feeling. Such a "Tish'oh be'Av" service had to have a shattering effect on everyone involved. And even after many decades, in which these lines were written, the sad memory of such a Tish'oh b'Av service has left strong echoes in the soul. From the Synagogue one went ot the cemetery, to silently contemplate the graves of departed loved ones. "Ein Schauer fast mich, Traene folgt auf Traenen" (A tremor grips me, tear follows tears). These poetical words become truth in the fall.-- After such deep psychic stress, an equally unmistakeable relaxation set in. The following weeks of high summer crept by in an exhausting monotony, until the month Elul indicated that the serious days were coming up. One slowly prepared onesself for the upcoming Rosh Hashannah and the Day of Atonement. In the last week of Elul, the days of Selichoth, the Shulklapper executed his office and pounded on the house doors in the early hours before dawn, to warn anyone who might still be sleeping that it was time to get up & go to Selichoth. It also happened that the Shulklapper would tell one of a nighttime raid on the chicken coop. Wicked tongues said that these poultry raids weren't always handled 'honestly' & that the Shulklapper had all too good a reason too look downcast & repentent at Selichoth.
Both days of the New Year were nearly completely taken up with services "Big Shul" or the Beth ha Midrash. In the morning, the morning prayer started 6 AM, and extended to lunch time & beyond. The normal morning prayer, Shacharith, was chanted by a musical, respected member of the community. The the "Mussaf", the extra prayer, was done by the Chasan, the Cantor hired by the community -- he was also called the Sheliach Zibur. If the ShacharithChasan came up to the rigorous standards of his co-religionists, which he could readily tell from the "Yisharkoach" called to him at the end of his strenous performance, the expectations for the Chasan at Muss-af were that much higher. For the celebration of the day, he was joined by 4 singers, "Meshorrerim", usually from Poland or Lithuania, to support him at certain points. Two "Singer", youths, and the same number of "Bass" formed this choir. A musical accompaniment for these voices naturally never came into consideration. Man sang in praise of God and in His honor, and never considered the rules of composition. Kempen was probably alone among the larger Jewish communities in Germany in its adherence to this, shall we say, natural style of service. On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh ha-shanah one walked in hordes to the pond for tashlich, to enact the rational/symbolic ritual, that the sins of the previous year might sink under the water. The atmosphere of the two days was festive but restrained and serious. One avoided frivolous conversations. That would damage the dignity of Rosh ha shanah. The time until the Day of Atonement, the interveneing 10 days of repentance, already permeated the atmosphere of Yomim noroim. Many fasted until noon. One hurried to the service of penitence a long time before sun up. The closer to Yom ha Kippurim, the more fervent the prayers for forgiveness. The anxious soul of some people relieved itself of trouble in loud sobbing. It was hard for adolescents to keep the proper mood through all of this. The day of preparation for the celebration of atonement with its Kaporah blows brought them a welcome change of atmosphere. As soon as the children were handed the scape-chicken, which had been slaughtered as an offering for sin, their faces involuntarily brightened. The animal was swung around the head three times, which already excited the childish imagination, bringing a foretaste of the marinaded chicken, which could be eaten the next day in the company of a few people, as long as they were younger than 13. This made the day all the more solemn for the adults. It was important to show that one was truly repentant. According to the deepest interpretations of the Talmud, the day of Atonement exists for atoning for sins against God and His Law. The trespasses of people against each other can only be atoned for by sincere mutual reconciliation and true regret. Some hardened hearts were softened and some feuds were buried on such Erev Yom Kippur. In the afternoon, in the presence of 3 aquaintances, who represented, in some sense, a court, one acknowledged one's sins and received on one's bent back 49 blows. Purified in this way, freed of the pangs of conscience, one sat down, in a mood of joyous spiritual excitement, to the closing meal. It consisted of a tasty chicken soup with a slice of Koletsch. The Koletsch, a sweet round wheat bread, was supposed to remind one of the circling wheel of death. The word is of Polish origin. Kolo is wheel. In an elevated, festively serious mood, reconciled to one's brothers, one entered the spectacularly lit Synagogue. White was the dominant color. The Holy Ark on the Praying Wall was decorated with a white curtain on which Hebrew sayings were embroidered. The married men of the community were clothed in white garments, their heads covered with white, silver trimmed caps. The prayer shawls, blue-black striped on the sides, completed the Yom Kippur costume. The scene in the crowded 'big Shul', which could only be entered on this day in bare feet, was commensurate in this noble simplicity with the meaning of the day. The service, in spite of its apparent disorder, which was quite apparent at the recitation of certain of the prayers, was nonetheless quite striking, as each worshipper prayed according to his own inner voice. As soon as the Cantor entered, it suddenly became totally quiet. Occasionally the Shammes had to silence a few people with a a "Sha". One shouldn't have been surprised at this, the culmination of 24 hours of an uninterrupted sequence of prayers, songs of praise, acknowledgement of sin, Torah readings. But on the whole, the inner devotion still came through in these old Jewish, unregulated services - in spite of everything. When the shofar announced the end of the day of fasting, the final prayers were quickly concluded. Human nature demanded its due. At home, one sat down at table to dig in. The steaming coffee and the aromatice butter cakes tasted heavenly. Between this late breakfast that the evening meal, the head of the house and his eldest son went into the yard, to drive a peg for the construction of the bower into the ground, in order to carry out one of God's commandments right after one's atonement. One buttoned a festive beginning onto a festive end. The general conversation on this evening of Yom Kippur was a man known for his cynicism and love of eating, who demanded that his wife serve him with all the meals he'd missed that day. Since he was second in none of Sir John Falstaff's qualties, he could afford to do this without fearing any complaints.
The few days between the Day of Atonement and the Festival of Booths passed in assiduous activity. In this short time several hundred Sukkoth had to be constructed. All hands were called on. Lively activity occupied the entire community. Carpenters, Schreiner, painters, had more then enough to do. When the bower had been constructed and covered with pine branches so that the moon and stars could shine through, as the rule demanded, it had to be decorated inside. A pretty Misrach decorated the eastward facing wall. Small mirrors were attached to the proper places. Here & there hung pictures of famous Rabbis, most often the Rabbi Akiba Eger from Posen or Rabbi Elijah from Vilna. From the ceiling hang a beautifully worked brass candelabrum, furthermore hollowed out pumpkins, in which David's arms had been carved, and that could be illuminated from inside. When the holiday table had been covered with blindingly white linen, according to the family economy, with silver silverware and silver candlesticks (I hope the next thing you need translated is shorter: I'm losing my English! I knew #$^%@ well what a 'Leuchter' is, but I had to look up the English for it) then the interior of the booth looked very festive and impressive. As soon as the head of the house, after the special service was over, entered the brightly illuminated booth, handin-hand with his oldest son, greeted happily on account of the nice job they'd done by his wife and the other children with a loud "gut yomtov", the modest consecrated room was permeated by the vapors of serene old-Jewish family happiness, and a feeling of hearty contentment overcame young and old, and a feeling of gratitude wafted toward Heaven, for the grace of allowing "us" to experience this time. Besides the care for properly equipping the Booth, every head of household had another, nearly as important. The Festival of Booths is namely also a Harvest Festival. The harvest time has ended in Palestine. Everything has been gathered in, and the Almighty is owed public thanks for his inexhaustible mercy. The fruits of the Holy Land are symbolized in the palm branch, the Lulov, in the fruit of the lemon tree, the esrog, in the myrtle branch, the Hadassa, in the willow branches, the Arava. Myrtle and willow are native products. The Esrog and Lulov had to be imported from far away to the southeast. The Levant, especially Corfu, were the preferred sources, and whoever had any amount of selfrespect reached deep into his pockets in order to get a respectable and flawless Serog. Such an Esrog could cost several "Reichsthaler". For that day, that was not a trivial expense. People sought to top each other in this regard. Kempen had "Mevinim", connoiseurs of Esrogim, who had absolutely no idea of the actual geographical location of Corfu, but understood the beauty and ritual completeness of a proper Corfu Esrog the way a violin virtuoso appreciates a Stradivarius or Amati. Such an Esrog was carefully packed in cottopn, or carried to the Synagogue in a silver vessel or a box, where it was unwrapped during the song of praise, the Hallel. The circuit around the Amemor, in which hundreds of worshippers participated, made an impressive scene. The Feast of Booths occurs at the end of the ritual year -- to use the expression -- and the last day of the Festival is also dedicated to the joy at having finished the annual cycle of readings from the Torah. This day of rejoicing in the Law, "Simchat thorah", was greeted with great cheers both inside and outside the Synagogue. In spite of a prohibition, celebratory shots were fired on the the street. In the community room gingerbread and sweet wine or liquers were passed around. "Lekach" and "Bransen" (brandy, but homebrew, I think). The Esrog travelled, after it had executed its duty, to the kitchen, where it was transformed into a great treat by the experienced hand of the housewife, that was saved for special winter celebrations or special company. In loud cheer, in high spirits raised to extroversion, the ritual year ended, and the next Fereshith-Sabbath the cycle started again in all festive seriousness.
* * *
What was the infrastructure of the Kempen community like, then? Let's take a brief glance at the educational system, if one can be permitted to use the term. A few teachers, emigrants from the "province", that is, Posen, held "Cheder", here children learned the rudiments of Hebrew. Then children were sent to Cheder as soon as their 4th year was completed. The "dardeke- melammed", (elementary school teacher), supported by a "Belfer" (Behelfer= helper) pounded into them the aleph-bet, then "Iwre", reading words. The poor beings sat, for hours at a time, on a low, coarsely planed bench, in front of a table that had been crudely cobbled together and repeated the letters in a chorus until they'd memorized them. Then the appearance of the letters was studied in a primer, and finally actual reading began. At the same time, a few short morning and evening prayers, as well as some bless- ings for mealtimes, were funneled into children's brains. This apparently rough mode of instruction did have the result that in a relatively short time the children were indoctrinated with a fair amount of Hebrew. In a few months they could tackle some of the main pieces in the Siddur (prayer book), and translate them into rather questionable German. After one year, "Chumesh" reading began. Without any previous grammatical information, the Cheder student was introduced to the Hebrew Bible. It's noteworthy that at the time, a Christian boy participated in the Cheder. His father, a very devout carpenter, had gotten the idea that this son was going to be a Pro- testant minister. To this end, the boy was supposed to learn the Holy Lan- guage as thoroughly as the Jewish children. So the Christian boy actually did attend Cheder. We never learned if the father's wish was actually attained. For his pains, the teacher got a monthly stipend for each child, 5 "Behm" (Pehm=a Polish coin). Then he also got "kibbud yomtov" as a cus- tomary gift at each of the 3 major Holy Days, and for the winter, an allow- ance for wood and lighting. Occasionally a few households made him gifts of produce. There were signs that the Cheder's days were numbered. The Prussian educational authorities were increasingly pressuring the community to hire trained educators. At first the Posener authorities had no luck in Kempen. Because they remained deaf to all warnings from above, but they tried to appease them by hiring an ersatz-teacher who must have made a more than alien impression on the district educational administration. Finally their patience ran out. The authorities put their feet down, sent a teacher who'd been trained and certified at a Jewish seminary, named Sklarz, to Kempen, and forced the recalcitrant community to hire him. Before this the Cheder had had some dangerous competition to contend with. A English mis- sionary society had chosen Kempen as its field of activity and had decided to found a Jewish school in which children would be educated for free. Un- der the leadership of an excellent and amiable teacher named Hartig, this school enjoyed success for several years. The teacher was clever enough to see that Kempen was fallow ground for the work of the missionary society. So her preferred to give private lessons in his extensive leisure time, in piano playing. So a ray of Western European culture pushed its way into the up to now rigidly traditional Jewish community life. Which raised many grave doubts. Signs that the hammer of history was about to come down on Kempen in a sharp blow multiplied. The Kempener community had grown steadily, partly through natural growth, partly through emigration from Congress Poland, but also from the more distant Brody, even from central German Achsersleben. At the end of the 1840's, and more strongly in the 1850's a noticeable exo- dus of young men began. First it was the "boys" from the "Gass" (Gasse= street) who decided they couldn't stand the slow pace of life any more. The wide world exercised an irresistable attraction on them. Then, there was only one country that interested them; that was England. The irresistable siren call of emancipation had pressed even to the "Hintergass" in Kempen, and it was well-known that civil rights were guaranteed by law there. There everyone was free to get ahead by his own efforts, without being in any way hindered by obstructive authorities. "England" had become a term of praise for many of Kempen's youth. With their meager belongings, with a small amount of money, armed with unshakeable confidence in God & themselves, they courageously undertook the long sea journey to a strange land that promised them a better future. Without the slightest inkling of the language & cus- toms, they appeared on English soil, and began peddling at random. No "gendarme with droll bearded face" demanded a peddler's license. The poor youth of Kempen were delighted at having left behind Prussian repression & at being able to breathe the free air of England. Most of these emigrants succeeded in making at least a modest living "over there". The "peddler time" was behind them. In Commercial Road, in Whitechapel, in Petticoat Lane, they could rent a shop. There they were true to their homeland in their customs, and lifestyle, and with touching devotion thought of their needy families back home. Pretty soon money was being sent to parents, siblings, friends. After a few years, one of these "Englishmen" returned for a visit. This woke up the whole "kille". At the first Sabbath the mizvoth-prices at the call to the Torah climbed to phantastic heights as one competed to be the one to be the 'englishman' with the 'alijamechabbed'. (I'm not sure I understand this clause...) It was customary in such circum- stances, when the mizvoth-prices were so high, that only the third of the excess was actually paid to the community treasury. A few of these Kempeners attained respected positions in London. Only one of them came back to Kempen as a prosperous man and ended his days happily there. The immigrants founded a Kempner Society in London, which was later followed, as the stream of emi- grants changed course for the USA, by similar ones in New York, St. Louis, and Chicago. In this way the connection to the old home was kept alive and fresh. The Kempen community slowly shrank, but its living standard went up, thanks to the funds sent back from England and the US.
Although these changes were gradual, so that it took years before their effects were discernible, there were internal political changes in the '40's, namely in the stormy year 1848, that were clearly and immediately noticed. Two men, who are worthy of remembrance, appeared in the Kille at that time, Fischel (Philipp) Wertheim and Heimann (Chaim Wolff) Toklas. In that we take notice of these men here, we have to go back several years prior to 1848. It was around 1840, or maybe a bit earlier, that something unique happened in Kempen. Nothing like it had happened before, nor would it again. Both men, sons of respected families, had been married young, at age 17 or 18. Wertheim even against his will. But resistance was useless. Toklas, a stately, manly person, was active in his father's business. Wertheim, on the other hand, had already attracted notice while very young because of his capacity to learn, his cleverness. At age 13 he was already learned in rabbinical scholarship, and one expected with certainty that he would be a great light in Israel. But the drive for secular learning had gripped both men with irresistible force. And Wertheim had the unbearable weight of a loveless marriage. So they both decided to leave home and family and go somewhere to prepare for German Hochschule. Toklas went to Breslau to do business for his father, and took his bosom friend with him. That wouldn't have attracted any attention. In the Silesian capital they dropped their traditional dress and sought to assimilate with all speed. The first week they were gone, no one took any notice. As the second passed with no news, and anxious inquiries among friends in Breslau elicted no news, Kempners became alarmed. Debora Nuche's (that means Nuche's daughter Debora, to dis- tinguish her from other Deboras), Toklas' mother, correctly guessed the nature of the situation right off. Fischel planned it, & Chaim Wolff went along with it. Kempen couldn't hold her. She set straight off for Breslau, but the runaways had a 14-day head start, and had taken every care to cover their tracks. But Debora Nuche's, a heroine in her own way, like the one she was named for, didn't lose courage, but travelled the length and breadth of Germany until she found them - in Strassburg! They had to acquiesce to being dragged home. Wertheim agreed to come only under the condition that he'd get a divorce as soon as he got home. That happened, too. Philipp Wertheim then, in the mid-'50's, rose from his modest position as "Rechts- aktuar" (don't even ask me about the gradations in the profession in Prussia!) in Kempen to the important post of a leading secretary of the Jewish commun- ity in Berlin; he exercised this important office for several decades with great success. Toklas and his wife enjoyed great mental and physical vigor into ripe old age. He was an open Slavophile his entire life, and no Polish "Szlachta" (gentry) passed through Kempen without stopping at Pan Toklas.
To these two belonged a third, very different in temprament and character, Mortiz Wieruszowski, the son of the mildmannered, universally honored parnas David Wieruszowski. The son had sat at the feet of the famou Posener Rabbi Akiba Eger, not to become a rabbi himself, but to get a thorough grounding in the Talmud. In this was the Kempner reform Triumvirate was formed, and the work could begin. First, a new "Shul" with a modernised service was to be founded. Toklas arranged a large room for the purpose. They found about 20 members of the community to follow the call of the "Renewers". They hired a Cantor, and outfitted him according to the model of the "new Synagogue" in Breslau with a black crocheted Talar, a satin 'barret', and a prayer coat in stole form. That was the visible part of the modernization. For the rest, one satisfied onesself with doing away with the second Yekum purkon and the repetition of the 18 prayers. The rest of the community viewed this with suspicious apathy. Malbim, the everready polemicist, didn't even think it worthwhile mentioning the enterprise from the pulpit. It wouldn't have 'kiyyum' - permanence; that was his unshake- able conviction. In this he wasn't deceived. After a short time, the whole disappeared completely. At nearly the same time, there was another renewal effort, from nearly the exact opposite pole. It dealt witht he founding of a Chassidic 'Stuebel'. Malbim saw nothing humorous in this. He was an outspoken opponent of Chassidism. He thundered against the enterprise from the pulpit against this mischief. In particular, he mobilized the women, so that this attempt to split the community passed ineffectually, and the old order remained unchanged.
At the same time, the political events of the year of the revolution held the community lively suspense. While before the revolution the town's entire demand for news could be supplied by one copy of the "Schlesische Zeitung", that was passed along from person to person, now the "Neue OderZeitung", also from the Silesian capital, found a wider readership, espe- cially as soon as it became known that a former Kempener, Dr. Bernhard Friedmann, later Rabbi in Nakel and Mannheim, was the author of the sharpest leading articles of this democratic newspaper. The town and Jewish com- munity split into opposing factions, that argued mightily. The Orthodox - and they were in the majority- were openly opposed to any revolutionary goals. But they weren't the only ones to go public with their views. The small number of liberals was all the more vocal. Fischel Wertheim opened a lending library, in which forbidden fruit was available. This was the main headquarters of the politicians. They played the sides off each other. From here the agitations for the elections to the various representative bodies originated. Here was also an example of the minutes of the meetings fo the Frankfurter National Assembly, that were eagerly devoured. At the Market one heard revolutionary songs in German & in Polish. One heard a German Marseillaise & 'Jeszcze Polska nie zginela' (Poland is not yet lost). Also a cheeky song about the Prince of Prussia, sung to a repulsive polka tune, could be heard. The months of the revolution, which passed so bloodily in the rest of Posen, were quiet & peaceful in Kempen & the rest of Kreis (like a county) Schildberg. Poles & Jews, especially the latter, had organized a good news network, that was supposed to spread news around, that Kempen and the surroundings were crawling with Silesian guard regiments of artillery and cavalry. This kept the feared scythemen, the 'Kosienurzi' at a safe distance. In truth, there wasn't a single soldier on the spot. But the well-executed trick did the job and kept the area safe. There was one other lasting accomplishment of the revolution, for women. The old custom, that married women must cover their heads, loosened gradually. One began to see women wearing 'Shaytels' (wigs) instead, and a few isolated younger women actually allowed their own hair to be seen. Even Malbim's outstanding persuasive powers had no effect on these modernizations.
We're hurrying toward the conclusion of our tale. The storm of revolution ebbed. The old Prussian order returned. Of the fates of Kempen's two rabble rousers, namely Wertheim and Toklas, the necessary has already been said. But a bit more needs to be said of Moritz Wieruszowski. The stale air of the kehilla had long become unbearable to him. He longed for opportunities more equal to his intellectual acuteness. And so he decided to leave Kempen with his numerous but still very young family. It wasn't an easy decision to leave his aged, honored father! But where to go? To cross the Memel, or even the Atlantic, as many Kempeners had been doing, was out of the question for him. He chose as his future location of endeavor, Goerlitz, - place in which, up to the revolution, not one Jew had held full civil rights. The choice of this particular place indicated an especially keen moral daring, and a self-confidence to match. Wieruszowski opened a not small store selling manufactured goods in the beginning of the '50's. With what suspicion the native merchants regarded the immigrant from Pollack country isn't hard to imagine. He didn't let it bother him. He wanted to be his own man. It didn't take long for the Goerlitzers to noice that this immigran Jew was had an outstanding character. He quickly gained trust and respect. His common sense, his readiness to act, and most of all his integrity were recognized on all sides. Soon the immigrant, the Jew, had been elected to the city council. His truly Jewish sensibilities couldn't bear the situation, that the few Jewish families were living with no community relationships. With his wise decisiveness he moved forwards and sketched, with a sure hand, the outlines for founing a Jewish community. Using Kempen as a model, but altered for the very different time and place, Jewish community life began in Goerlitz, and, in an amazingly short time, became one of the most significant communities in Silesia. The tender plant grew, under Moritz Wieruszowski's careful constant nurturing, to a stately tree. Because of his colonial success, - because that's what it was in the true sense of the word- this courageous competent man deserves his conspicuous place in our cultural sketch.
While the Kempner colonies were rising steadily in the world, the old mother city was declining at an equal rate. Not only did the numbers decrease, the internal energy was declining more & more. The old and respected families emigrated to Breslau and Berlin, where, later, very many of them worked themselves up to affluence and outstanding civic positions. In the mother community it became quieter and quieter. The humid air of the '50's, which weighed on Prussian spirits, was also apparent in Kempen. It got its share of the Regiment Manteuffel-Raumer-Westphalia. And in the guise of the certified Jewish school teacher. He belonged to the party, then in favor with the authorities, loyal to the King, the later despised "Treubund". Its members formed a sort of Order, who got their commands fromt he Landrat, and then sent regular reports. One of the main tasks of these "Treubuendler" was to move inconspicuously in society and inform on as many political discussions as possible. This brave one put many people in uncomfortable positions. But his disgraceful work eventually saw daylight. The informer (Mussor) was unveiled in a specific act -- and it was all over for him. For a time he thought he could brazen it out, supported by his school position. But not even rhinoceros hide could stick it out over the long term. Kempen got too hot for the miscreant, and he struck his tent. He hadn't spun any silk with his informing. The matter blew over quickly, and the community fell back into its half doze. Then suddenly a political electrical storm broke out and involved everyone to their utmost. The Crimean War threatened. The general interest in this earthshaking event took special coloring in Kempen and the neighboring Jewish communities. For our good Kempner Jews it wasn't primarily a matter of the battle between the Western powers and half-Asiatic Russia, nor the Balkan question over the Danube duchies, access to the sea, not even a question of Sevastopol, but more a matter of the "grossen Rosche" (Rosche =Russe=Russian) in Petersburg, of Czar Nikolas. Nikolas would have been dead ages ago if pure hatred could kill. The name of this "Ocher Yisroel", this persecuter of Israel, was never named without an accompanying classic curse. Nikolas was considered the embodiment of Evil, and the worst that could be attributed to him didn't seem bad enough. The news from the front were devoured greedily. In the mean time, postal connection with Breslau had been markedly improved. Every evening the Oelser post brought the morning newspapers from Breslau. One hurried to the coachstand, to take the lukewarm news home. The route led past the house of one of the wildest Nikolas haters, who spied out the children. He met us boys with the latest newspaper, and we had to read the most important news out loud. If they were favorable, we got gingerbread as payment; if the opposite, we were dismissed in a manner that had no atom of politeness. Then Nikolas fell mortally ill after his troops lost the battle at Inkerman, and died of it in a few days. The news of his death arrived in Kempen on Purim. Our fanatic was absolutely beside himself. He cheered, cried, hopped around the Market as if possessed, yelled at the top of his lungs "der grosse Rosche, der Oicher Yisroel ist gepeigert" (the big Russian, the persecuter of Israel is dead, where gepeigert is a dialect word for dead). He invited all his friends and enemies home, old & young, passed around gingerbread and drinks, so that the Purim stock was quickly annihilated. From then on the Crimean war held no interest for this Berserker. God's judgement had falled on the Rosche causa finita. This also ends the sketch for us.
But after many many years we rode this same way. We were there to visit the graves of dear departed ones. The old Polish city at first looked quite unchanged. The Synagogue held, as always, center stage; but next to the old wood structure of the Catholic church stood a new brick church. On the Market one saw Polish store signs. A Polish population had built up over the years. The Kempner Jews became loyal supporters of Germany. The proPolish enthusiasm of 1848 had long ago evaporated. If it had come to a plebiscite in Kempen, the local Jews would not have wavered in their loyalty to Germany. They knew from their own experience, what they'd have had to put up with under the wings of the white eagle.
And once again after many more years, I came, to read Chidher, this
same way. Just before the town, I noticed a billboard saying "Municipal
pool of Kempen. Donated by X. X." So by now the efforts of
the public health enthusiasts had pressed forward this far. That
was a positive omen. But the actual scene seemed unchanged, at least at
first sight. On closer inspection the changes made one thoughtful.
At one time, the store signs around the Market had exclusively Jewish names,
now there were a lot of Polish ones. The ratio of Jews to Christians
had changed markedly. The Jewish population had slowly declined from
4000 to 2000. But the Kempner Jewish community was still a significant
one. Only at the unfortunate conclusion of the First World War, with
the transfer of Posen to Poland, was the collapse effected.
Poland's intolerance made the further stay of Kempen's settled Jews
impossible. Whoever could possibly manage it, left his home town,
which had become unreal. A pitiful heap, about 35 families, that's
all that remains of the proportionally largest Jewish community on German
soil. That it still exists at all is only due to the willingness
to sacrifice of Landsmannschaften in Berlin, in Breslau, and the generosity
of individual Kempners who emigrated to Central America decades before,
and achieved respect and affluence there. One hopes that at least
the Synagogue is maintained in good repair, that the old cemetery will
continue to be cared for. Our cultural painting ends in nostalgia:
Old-Kempen as a German Jewish city belongs to the past, vanished forever.