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elvira kohn

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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baby pisetskaya

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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Rafael Genis

On Chanukkah Mother baked potato latkes, we played with a spinning top and of course were agog to get Chanukkah gelt. We had a very beautiful silver chanukkiah on the window sill. Every night Mother lit a candle, adding another one with each day.
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Krystyna Budnicka

I recall Chanukkah: candle holders stood on the windowsill. I don't remember any gifts, [though] I know that today children get gifts.
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Eva Ryzhevskaya

He lived in a house in front of our house. There was no synagogue in Pismennoye, so Abram prayed and read the Torah at home. Sabbath was always observed in his house. On Friday night Abram's wife lit candles. She didn't do anything after she had finished praying. Abram spent Sabbath at home. He put on his tallit and read religious books. I came to them to put on the light in the evening, light the stove and help about the house. Abram always invited us to come to their house on Sabbath and on Jewish holidays. Our family got together in his house. On Chanukkah Abram gave us petty money [Chanukkah gelt] and we were agog to get presents from him.
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Isroel Lempertas

We did not mark Jewish holidays. Grandfather Faivush came over to us and carried out Paschal seder. Grandfather reclined at the head of the table clad in festive apparel and kippah. A piece of matzah -afikoman' was hidden under his pillow. I was to look for it. Usually Duvid was the one who asked grandfather traditional four questions about the origin of the holidays. [Editor's note: It is always the youngest son that is supposed to ask the questions, so according to the tradition it should have been Isroel.] I also remembered Chanukkah. Potato fritters were usually cooked in our house. The children usually played with a whipping top. Grandfather Faivush gave us Chanukkah money. I do not recall celebration of other holidays. When grandfather Faivush died, we stopped marking even those holidays. It was not because we were lazy. It was because of my father's atheistic principles. Because of that neither I nor my brother? Duvid went through bar mitzvah.
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Anna Ivankovitser

My mother's parents were very religious. My grandfather and grandmother went to synagogue at least once a week, and they prayed at each meal, in the morning and before going to bed. There was a big choral and two or three smaller synagogues in Polonoye. My grandmother always went out wearing a wig. She wore it at home, too. She had long, beautiful silk and velvet gowns. She also wore a golden Magen David around her neck. My grandfather wore a black jacket and a hat. At home he wore a yarmulka on his head. He had a small beard. They always celebrated the Sabbath at home. My grandmother lit candles and cooked a festive dinner. My grandfather read a prayer. I don't remember them singing. My grandmother strictly followed the laws of kashrut. They celebrated all the Jewish holidays. At Pesach they bought matzah, made stuffed fish, chicken, goose cracklings and stuffed chicken necks. They baked strudels with jam, nuts and raisins, sponge cake from matzah flour and special Pesach cookies. All the adults and children over 11 fasted on Yom Kippur. There was Chanukkah gelt at Chanukkah and concerts of klezmer musicians at Purim. They celebrated some other holidays, too, but I don't remember which ones. They spoke Yiddish in the family, and they knew Russian and Ukrainian very well.
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anna schwartzman

On Pesach and Yom Kippur he went to the synagogue, but he refused to fast on Yom Kippur. On Chanukkah I always gave my daughter money.
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arkadiy redko

Before Pesach my mother baked matzah in the Russian stove. We, children, enjoyed preparations for holidays. We hardly ever had enough food on weekdays, but my mother tried to make as much food as possible for holidays. She saved money to have chicken, gefilte fish, and make strudels from matzah with jam, raisins and nuts for holidays. There was a general clean up of the house before Pesach. Bread crumbs were removed and fancy crockery was brought down from the attic. I don't remember any details about the celebration of Pesach in our home, or whether my father conducted the seder: it was so many years ago... I remember that we also celebrated other Jewish holidays: Chanukkah, Sukkoth, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but no details. I was seven to eight years old then, and now I am 80.
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Daniel Bertram

At home we lit candles in candlesticks. And at Chanukkah my father always lit candles for 8 days, I mean every day, every evening, one candle more. And he said the brochot, or the Chanukkah blessing. There are three blessings: three on the first evening, but only two on the next evenings.
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feiga tregerene

I liked preparations for Jewish holidays most of all. We staged amateur performances, which were sketches from the Jewish life, for each holiday. Purimspiel was the merriest performance on Purim. Once I even played the role of Queen Ester, the savior of the Jewish people. Our mothers and older sisters made costumes for holidays in our favorite teacher's apartment, which almost became a sewing shop. Our teacher enjoyed preparations to holidays as well. We also gave performances on Simchat Torah and Chanukkah. I enjoyed going to school, and my school years were happy and flew by quickly.
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On Sukkot my father made a sukkah in the yard, using pine tree branches. Inside the tent he placed a portable table to have meals there on these days. On Simchat Torah we ran to the synagogue to watch the festival. When we grew older, we could also participate. I remember numerous lights on Chanukkah, the winter holiday, when Jewish residents lit chanukkiyah candles that could be seen through the windows. Mama lit another candle every day. When I was a little girl, my father used to make me a spinning top, and I played with it with other Jewish children. All eight days of Chanukkah we ate potato pancakes [latkes], cakes and pies made from the dough on vegetable oil. We also had little pies filled with jam. I learned the history of Jewish holidays and rituals, when I went to the Jewish school. Before school I didn't quite realize what they were about.
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Alla Kolton

Democratization and perestroika [10] have influenced me as much as other people: it became much easier in this country to obtain Jewish literature and discuss Jewish problems. It became possible to celebrate Jewish holidays. Leonid and Eugenia went to the synagogue to dance on holidays, and I was there too. It was an interesting experience for me. It was in the synagogue on Chanukkah. I just watched, because we hadn't see anything like that before. At home we never observed Sabbath. I would not object if my grandchildren celebrated Sabbath. But Pesach, for example, I do celebrate. My friends come along, but we don't have any special ceremonies. But I would like it if somebody invited me to a religious celebration. However, I am not a frequent visitor of the synagogue.
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