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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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Jankiel Kulawiec

The children remember the Jewish holidays, and I even get New Year wishes from my son-in-law at Rosh Hashanah.
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Mico Alvo

On Rosh Hashanah, or on [Yom] Kippur my father would go to the Beit Saoul synagogue, which was a very large synagogue. That was it. He would never go on Saturdays. My father was very fond of tradition. It was a matter of tradition, the fact that he was a Jew and not a Christian like everybody else. He was a bit different from the others. So he kept that, the tradition. But to get into the logic that he shouldn't eat pork meat or that he shouldn't write on Saturday, he wouldn't do that. My father used to say that when you do something you should always trust your conscience, to know whether your consciousness approves of it or not. Not because God would punish you, but whatever your conscience dictated.
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Joseph used to go to the synagogue. Not often, but occasionally. During the religious holidays he would often take me with him. He would say to me, 'You are coming with me.' On Rosh Hashanah, for example, he would take me with him, while my father wouldn't go. Joseph would go to the synagogue a bit more often than my father. Maybe he was a bit more religious, but not really much more.
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We kept the three main religious holidays very systematically when Didi was a child: Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. Didi found it completely natural. I mainly like tradition but I don't like all these silly things. You will not eat this or you will not eat the other. I find these things very silly. They say you shouldn't use the phone on Saturdays. Well, what kind of silly things are these? All these things that rabbis did to empower themselves, I really detest them.
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Rafael Genis

We celebrated all Jewish holidays at home, though for me they looked the same as Sabbath. Of course, each holiday had its traditions and attributes. On Rosh Hashanah there were a lot of deserts on the table and shofars were played. I started fasting on Yom Kippur since an early age. I've been doing that all my life, except for the time on the front.
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Margarita Kamiyenovskaya

According to my father, my grandparents were religious. They went to the synagogue on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. They observed the kashrut and marked holidays at home. They must have tried raising their children to be religious. My father got some sort of religious education in his childhood. He diverged from religion when he was an adult.
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Lily Arouch

We always kept Yom Kippur and even my husband didn't go to work on that day, and for Rosh Hashanah we went with all the family to my parents' house. We never celebrated Christmas or Easter at home, but as the children didn't have to go to school it was almost like a celebration.
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As for Rosh Hashanah I remember the festive table. It might not have been as intense as Passover, but it was a big celebration for the family. We followed most of the traditions. There were the traditional Rosh Hashanah dishes; like the fish of which each one had to have his own as a symbol of his/her self-sufficiency, and the fish-head that symbolizes our path, our forward path.

Then there was the leek, we would make it into leek balls. We heat up the leeks and dry them very well, we add some breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and some egg. Then we make the mix into balls and put them in the frying pan [traditional Sephardic recipe].

There was spinach we would make into pies, and of course there were the dates. I still make the traditional apple sweet of Rosh Hashanah, not only for myself but also for the whole family and friends. The recipe is as follows: About 1.5 k of apples and 1k of sugar and a glass of water. We dissolve the sugar in water and quickly add the apple after we have peeled and grated it. We add some lemon so that the color stays and leave it on the fire until it settles. We leave it to cool and then we add almonds and we put it into jars [traditional Sephardic recipe].

On the night of Rosh Hashanah we say, 'Let the new year be as sweet as honey.' It is traditional to have the apple sweet on that night in order to wish for the year to be as sweet and nice. My grandmother and my mother used to make this sweet for everyone in the family and sent it to them.
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Henrich Kurizkes

We wore uniforms at school: grey suits and light colored shirts. They were made by individual orders. There were no poor children in our college. There were also many Jewish children in college. We never faced any anti- Semitic demonstrations from our Estonian schoolmates. Jewish children were well respected at school. Our tutor always told Jewish children about the forthcoming Jewish holiday and we were allowed to stay away from school on this day.

All of my school friends were Jewish. Of course, some of my friends were Estonian. We used to play football with Estonian boys, our neighbors. However, we never visited them at home. My real close friends were Jewish. I don't know how it happened to be this way. All I can say is that my parents never put any pressure on me in this respect. This was my choice. This was the way it happened to be.

My parents were moderately religious. Of course, all Jewish traditions were well observed in our household. Mama followed kashrut. She only bought meat from a Jewish butcher. She also bought hens at the market to take them to the shochet. The shochet worked near the synagogue. Mama took care of the housework even when she went to work.

My father didn't follow the requirement to do no work on the Sabbath. Saturday was another working day for him. However, we followed all the rules on Jewish holidays. Mama kept special dishes for Pesach. They were only used once a year, on Pesach. Also, when these special dishes were not enough, our everyday utensils were koshered in a rather complicated way, so that they could be used on Pesach as well. I remember that they had to be soaked in water for at least a week. [Editor's note: only certain dishes and utensils can be koshered, and this is done in different ways, depending on the material. However, there is no tradition of soaking dishes for a week in order to kosher them]

There was a sweet shop in our street. It was owned by Genovker. There was a cookie shop, which was thoroughly cleaned before Pesach to be used for making matzah. My father's acquaintance Yitzhak supervised the process of matzah making. I remember him showing me how a thoroughly rolled piece of dough was put in an electric stove, and the baked matzah came out the other end. Then this matzah was sold at the synagogue and my parents always bought a lot to have sufficient matzah for the holiday. There was no bread at home at this period, and we only ate matzah.

There was a tradition to have two seder evenings on Pesach: one on the first and another one on the second day of the holiday. We always visited my mother's older brother Marcus on these seder nights. He had a big apartment. My mother's brothers all got together with their wives and children. We sat at a big table and Marcus conducted the seder according to all the rules.

My parents fasted on Yom Kippur. The children could have food, but adults strictly followed the rules. [Editor's note: children under the age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys are not required to fast.] My father was a heavy smoker, but on Yom Kippur he didn't even approach his cigarettes for a whole day and night.

My parents had their seats at the synagogue. My father bought nice seats for himself and mama. My father didn't know Hebrew. He had a thick prayer book in Yiddish and German. On Yom Kippur, my friends and I went to the synagogue with our fathers. I was standing beside my father on the ground floor while mama and the other women were on the upper tier.

Later we, the kids, left the synagogue and headed to somebody's home. The households were wealthy and there were cooks in the families, and we were always greeted by a cook: 'Hey, kids, come on over! You must be starving!' and they treated us to all kinds of delicious food. We also celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Chanukkah and Purim following all Jewish traditions.

As for the holidays organized by the Jewish community in Tallinn, I only remember Simchat Torah. The community arranged a celebration at the synagogue. The children wore carnival costumes and had little torches. We danced and sang and ran. There were also some treats and it was a lot of fun. There were also concerts and performances at the Jewish school on Jewish holidays. Of course, we attended them. All Jewish children knew each other. Tallinn wasn't that big: there were 120,000 residents in the town before the war and about 5,000 were Jews.

I was a member of the Jewish organization for young people, Hashomer Hatzair: 'The Young Watchman.' We had meetings every week. We were told about the history of the Jewish people, and we also had quizzes, tests and various games. We always had a good time there. Besides, from 1937, every Saturday night, all Jewish children who didn't go to the Jewish school, visited Doctor Aba Gomer [14], the Rabbi of Tallinn, and he taught us Jewish history and traditions. Aba Gomer was a Doctor of Philosophy, a very intelligent and interesting man. I enjoyed those Saturday nights with Doctor Gomer much. He spoke to us for an hour and then the rebbetzin, his wife, treated us to tea and cakes.

I was to turn 13 in 1937. Don Shatz, my father's good friend and a very religious man, who went to the synagogue twice a day, started preparing me for my bar mitzvah. I had classes with him at his home every day. I learned a piece from the Torah, but I had to chant it when I had no voice or ear for singing. So I was allowed to recite it. I would say, I had a bar mitzvah and a concert that day. Misha Alexandrovich, a wonderful singer and cantor, conducted the service at the synagogue. He had studied singing in Austria and the cantor of Riga paid for his studies. In the evening we had a celebration for my bar mitzvah. Our apartment was small so we got together at my uncle Iosif's home. He lived in a big apartment near the central park in Tallinn.
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My father's parents were not Orthodox Jews, but they observed all Jewish traditions in the family. In those times it was impossible to imagine a Jewish family that didn't celebrate the Sabbath or Jewish holidays and didn't raise their children as Jews. My grandfather and grandmother went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
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Nachman Elencwajg

A friend of mine actually sang on that choir. After the concert, they went, and the celebrations continued. The custom survived until 1938, because in 1939 on Rosh Hashanah it was already war.
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Our relations with the Poles were okay. It was customary for the town mayor and his secretary to come to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah; I remember they looked very dignified, in tailcoats and top hats. They sat at the places of honor and listened to the cantor and the choir.
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For the high holidays my mother dressed black and went to the synagogue. She did so for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Normally she didn't go to the synagogue. Nor did she wear a headscarf or a wig. There was one photo of her in a wig at home, but that was for the wedding, or shortly thereafter. I never saw her in a wig.

I remember we observed the high holidays. My mother fasted for Yom Kippur.
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