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elvira kohn

They didn't follow the kashrut, but they fasted on Yom Kippur and celebrated Rosh Hashanah.
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During the communist times, I was in the JNA, I was a member of the Party. I worked and socialized with others who were in the Party; that was my life, that was my world. Today people say terrible things about communism, but it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe in certain aspects it was better than it is today; only, we aren't allowed to say that, it just doesn't sound right.

Immediately after the war, I went to the Jewish community on Palmoticeva Street to become a member. Through the community I re-established relations with my aunt Adela in Brazil and my cousin Zlata in Israel. I've never been to Brazil, but to Israel I went several times.

The first time I went in 1950 to visit Zlata. It wasn't easy to get permission to leave the country because I was among the high-ranking officers in the Party. At last, after many attempts and rejections, I spoke with one officer-general who helped me get a permission to go to Israel. I left from Rijeka on a boat, and arrived in Haifa. It was an amazing trip because there I met with Zlata and her family and I also saw many people who had been interned on Rab with me. But, I never developed any deep feelings for Israel. I was also invited to Zlata's son's bar mitzvah and I went.

Then there was her son's wedding, and I went again, and I think I visited Israel another couple of times. Had I not been in the JNA and the Party, I would have considered to move to Israel. But I was in the army, and I was very much connected to it, and I couldn't help myself. In addition, my mother wasn't so young any more, and it was a risk to go because I didn't know what kind of job I could get there. The Party never criticized me for going to Israel. Everyone always respected me because I always openly admitted that I was Jewish and never hid my origins.

Both my mother and I became members of the Jewish community. I attended celebrations for holidays, if I was in Zagreb. Because I traveled a lot, I couldn't become more active in the community. The fact that I was in the army and went to the community at the same time had no consequences. I never directly told anyone in the army that I went to the Jewish community; that was my personal and private business. If I was in Zagreb for Chanukkah or Purim, I went to the celebrations.

I took my mother to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and waited outside. I didn't enter because I didn't want the wrath of the Gods, so to speak. There were services for holidays that my mother always attended, and I know that there were people who went, and the people who conducted the services, but I'm not in the position to say much more about it. When I went, I mostly went to the afternoon meetings and tea parties, or to the meetings organized by the women's department.
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In our house in Vinkovci where I lived with my grandparents, my brother and my mother, the family respected Jewish customs and traditions. We weren't very religious, but there were certain elements of the Jewish religion and traditions that we respected. There was no pork in the house; that was strictly forbidden. We never had pork.

Otherwise, the meat we ate wasn't kosher; at least I don't think it was slaughtered according to the strict kashrut rules. My grandmother and mother cooked on Friday for Saturday so we didn't cook on Saturday. They prepared challah for Friday night and for Saturday. We lit candles Friday night and had a festive meal, usually fish, chicken soup and chicken. We had red wine.

On Saturday, we always ate cholent, which was prepared the day before. Most of the food was kept in the well in the backyard because otherwise it would have gone bad. We had a young servant girl named Ivka from Brcko who didn't live with us, but occasionally came to help my mother and my grandmother. She wasn't Jewish so she mostly helped us on Fridays and Saturdays. For example, on Saturday she went to the well where the cholent was kept, brought it in and heated it up for us for lunch.

We also lit candles on Chanukkah. For Pesach, we ate matzot, and I remember that my grandmother made delicious matzot cake. We had a seder dinner. Of course, we celebrated all the holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, and we always had a nice lunch or dinner. We fasted on Yom Kippur. It was more of a tradition than strict religion in my family. Like it is said: the customs have kept Judaism, and not the prayers.
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There was a Jewish community in Vinkovci and in general there was a rich and lively Jewish life. We celebrated Chanukkah and Purim together and had parties on holidays. Those took place in the cultural center in Vinkovci, not in the community building.

I assume that there wasn't enough space in the community building for such celebrations because a lot of people came to celebrate. The Jews were the ones who organized and participated in the celebrations, of course. We gave performances on Chanukkah and Purim. It was customary to dress up and put on masks for Purim. We danced, sang Jewish songs and socialized with other Jews, our friends, and always had a good time.

Within the Jewish community there was also a Jewish Youth Club and I was a member. We used to meet in the community building and talked, learned some Hebrew and some Jewish history, exchanged knowledge and ideas, or just spent time together. Sometimes we had visits from the youth of the Jewish Community Vukovar or from other Jewish communities, or we went to visit them.

Then we interacted with our fellow Jews and spoke about Jewish life in other places. That was always interesting and I enjoyed meeting with Jews from other places. We had many lectures and discussions on ideas about creating a Jewish state. I suppose that we were Zionist-oriented and nurtured the Zionist ideology. There were no summer camps, not that I remember, but we organized inter-town visits and exchange.
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My grandfather wanted us to speak German in the house since that was his mother tongue. My grandmother spoke Croatian with us and he was displeased when we spoke Croatian and didn't speak German. However, we mostly spoke Croatian in the house. For Jewish expressions we used the Yiddish pronunciation; for example, we said Shabos [Sabbath] barhes [challah], matzos [matzah].
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baby pisetskaya

My grandmother Riva died in 1953. She had a Jewish funeral and was buried in the Jewish cemetery. Since neither my father nor Uncle Izia could pray there was a man invited to recite the Kaddish and my mother sat shivah.
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My mother and I cooked delicious food. We often had guests and life was fun. We helped and supported each other. When our relatives' children were getting married we went to their wedding parties.
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We were a big and nice family. My grandfather, grandmother, aunt Ida and aunt Chaya lived in the same building and we saw each other frequently. Besides, all our relatives who lived in Odessa came to celebrate Soviet and Jewish holidays and birthdays with us.
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I remember, that when I was pregnant my mother forced me to fast at Yom Kippur: my parents continued to observe some Jewish traditions.
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They had a big house that could easily accommodate all members of our big family: my mother's brother Foma, his wife Genia and daughter Asia, Aunt Rachil, her husband David and their children, Boris and Ania, and us. At Pesach my mother baked matzah, cooked gefilte fish and chicken broth and made keyzele [matzah pudding], and brought it all to Luba. We spent the seder, led by Luba's husband Michael, all together.
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We observed the main Jewish holidays in the family of my mother's sister Luba, whose husband was the director of a brewery.
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My grandmother made ground horseradish and cooked geese for the seder. I also remember that at the beginning of the seder at Pesach my grandfather put the afikoman under a pillow and I had to find it. I was too small then to remember more details about it. At Chanukkah my grandfather made little bags into which he put golden coins and hung those bags around our necks.
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At Sabbath my mother baked challah. My grandparents had special crockery for Pesach.
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