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elvira kohn

I am Jewish and feel Jewish, and I always say that. I'm a member of the community and pay the membership fee. Nowadays I don't go to the community because I'm a bit old, and I walk slowly. I'm not religious because I wasn't brought up that way, and now I'm too old to change my life. Most of my friends have died, but I still have dear people who care about me. And I still have memories that I cherish and that help me in my old days.
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I lived with my mother until her death in 1977. The two of us were very close, and it was difficult for me when she died. I was left alone; I had no relatives, no family of my own. I was also in a dilemma as to how to bury my mother. It was a very difficult decision for me to make.

Many JNA officials and my co-workers came to my mother's funeral. Some gave a speech. I couldn't have a rabbi bury her in front of the party members. And I couldn't have the party members speak in front of a rabbi. The two don't go together. So at last I decided not to have a rabbi at the funeral. It wasn't easy, but there was no other choice. I wasn't allowed to have a Jewish funeral for my mother.

But I did something else. I arranged with the community that for the whole first month after my mother's death, the Kaddish was recited for her every Friday and Saturday. That was something I could do. Even though all the officials knew that I was Jewish, and that my mother was Jewish, I couldn't have both, the Party and the rabbi, at the funeral. And even though I had been retired since 1964, and my mother died in 1977, I was still in the same circle of people, shared the same spirit, and thus wasn't allowed to. That was the spirit of the time.
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There was a Jewish community and a synagogue on Zudioska Street. I think there were about one hundred Jews in Dubrovnik. I didn't take part in the life of the community that much. I always attended the services and celebrations on main holidays but that was about it. It was a Sephardi community.

Dubrovnik was a small town and everyone intermingled; I didn't feel that I needed to be part of the community life. I felt Jewish, declared myself Jewish, had Jewish friends but didn't feel that I had to do more. On Saturdays I worked so I didn't go to the synagogue but sometimes I went to the services Friday night. My mother was more involved in the community life because she had more free time. She was very friendly with other Jewish women and they often visited one another.
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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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nisim navon

Kashrut (dietary law) was strictly observed in our household. There were
separate dishes for milk and meat and these two were never to be mixed. Our
grandmother and our mother made their own goat cheese. Before the onset of
winter, a milkman delivered a large quantity of milk, and we used it to
make a barrel full of cheese which lasted the entire winter. In preparation
for winter, we also made our own wine, collected winter staples such as
onions and garlic, and pickled vegetables. We would buy meat in those
butcher shops which sold meat that Rabbi Zaharija Levi slaughtered and
koshered. There was also a closet for Passover dishes, which was only
opened for the Passover holiday. There was no kosher restaurant in
Pristina, so eating in the local restaurants and cafes before the war was
something we simply did not do.

Shabbat was observed each week in our family. No one worked from sundown on
Friday until sundown on Saturday and we did not use lights. However, if by
some chance we needed to do one of these things, we would go out to the
street and look for a non-Jew to do it for us. Friday the women would
prepare food for the entire Shabbat. The meal usually included fiuzaldikas,
pastel (cake), fidjoni (cooked beans) and pitijas, an airy bread that
served as challa. The members of our family living together gathered each
Friday evening for the Shabbat meal. Our grandmother and the other women in
the house would light candles. Usually this was a bowl of oil with a bunch
of wicks, some of which were lit in memory of dead people. Our grandfather
Jakov would make kiddush (the prayer over the wine). Each Shabbat morning
we went to synagogue and back to the house for lunch. Our mother's father
gathered the children at his house to make havdalah (prayer service marking
the end of Shabbat). We called the spices barmut.

All of the holidays were observed by our family in a similar matter to
Shabbat, all at home. There were few communal celebrations. For Rosh
Hashanah we used to eat apples and honey. For such occasion my uncle Muson
had a roasted head of lamb on the table, and I cannot remember if our
grandfather also had one. The shofar (ram's horn) was blown in shul either
by Rabbi Zaharija Levi or by Jehuda Judic. Before Yom Kippur we would buy a
chicken and our grandfather would perform kaparot in the yard of our house
and then give the chicken to Zaharija Levi who would then give it to the
poor in the community. (Kaparot, literally meaning "atonements," is the act
of swinging a chicken over one's head and asking that its death substitute
for the death of the one making the prayer.) Our family always built a
succah (harvest festival booth) in the yard.

Before Pesach the women would buy wheat and take it to a water mill where
it would be ground into flour. They would gather in our grandmother's yard
and would make both matzot and bojas outside in the garden where she had a
bread oven. The women also ground some of the matzot to make matzo flour.
The Passover Hagaddah was read by all the family members in Hebrew. We
would go around the table taking turns reading. During the reading of the
Hagaddah, one child would sling a satchel with the bojas over his shoulder,
then all the other children would follow him around the table, recreating
the exodus from Egypt.

During the week of Passover, we would eat inhaminadus, bemulos de massa,
cuftes, sivuikas, pitas from matzo (with spinach, meat, leeks, etc), meat
patties with leeks or spinach, sweet matzo pitas, etc. I can still smell
those roasted onions stuffed with ground matzo and meat and hamin, cooked
wheat and meat, that we ate for Passover.

For Purim, the community would have a small masquerade party for the
children in the Jewish community building. After shul on Purim day, the
children would return home in their costumes and hang small white cloth
bags around their necks. They would then go to visit their relatives and
each one would add a few dinars to the little bag around the child's neck.
At the end of the day they would count up the money to see who had
collected the most. Baklava was frequently eaten on Purim, and presents
were given to the poor people in the community.

There was a small metal box in the house where coins were put before the
Sabbath, holidays, and other times during the year. Once a year a Jew from
outside Pristina (maybe from abroad) would come to open this charity box
and take the money, which was being collected for Israel.
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Mico Alvo

We didn't have any religious objects in the house, and we didn't say any prayers. Only on religious holidays we would go to the synagogue. My mother never went to the synagogue. She would fast, but she wouldn't go to the synagogue. She bought kosher meat, but we didn't have separate plates etc. They were brought up in the French manner, which suggested that religion is a matter of conscience; they had very good principles.
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Rafael Genis

My elder brother was a member of Betar [3] and enrolled me there. I didn't attend the meetings of Betar, where the methods of foundation of the Jewish state were discussed. Our Grandpa made brown shirts for me and my brother. I became a member of Maccabi [4], we often arranged all kinds of sports game and contests. We still celebrated Jewish holidays and Sabbath at home and we did it not to hurt our parents. On holidays I went to the synagogue with my father though I didn't believe in God at that time.
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My aunts remained religious till the end of their days. They didn't do anything on Sabbath, celebrated Jewish holidays, went to the synagogue on holidays, observed the kashrut, fasted on Yom Kippur and donated to charity in a local synagogue. Ella died in 1998 in the USA. Golda happened to see Israel. She went there with her son's family and died in the Promised Land in 2002.
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Magdalena Berger

Our family was less religious than Father's parents but we were certainly
not a typical Neolog Jewish family in Sombor: we were considerably more
observant than most of the other non-Orthodox Jews in Sombor at the time.
We kept kosher and bought all of the meat from the kosher butcher. I
believe that my father maintained these traditions more out of respect for
his parents than out of ideology.

My family observed the Shabbat. Father's store was closed on Saturday and
although my brother and I went to school on Saturdays, we were not allowed
to write or do other things that violated the Sabbath. On Friday, Mother
lit candles and we had a Shabbat dinner. Dinner usually consisted of a
goose, goose liver, charvas, kiska, fried eggs and onions. For the second
Shabbat meal we ate cholent and cold zucchini. The Shabbat leftovers were
then eaten the rest of the week. We rarely had beef, mostly only poultry,
and we made challah at home. I recall my father saying havdalah at the end
of each Sabbath, using a flat, braided, brightly colored candle.

All Jewish holidays were observed in our house. Before Rosh Hashanah we
would buy a chicken and perform kaporot at home and then take the dead
chicken to the butcher. On Succoth my family had a small succah on our
terrace. Not many other people had one but each year my father put one up
and decorated it. He would cut up strips of colored paper and hang paper
chains around the succah. We would eat in the succah during this week. We
had the family Seder at our house, which my father led. The Haggadah was
read in Hebrew and I believe that we had copies with a translation in
Hungarian. As the youngest child, I was always responsible for reading the
Ma Nishtana (the four questions about the meaning of Pesach). We celebrated
Purim but I cannot remember where the Purim Ball was held or exactly what
the service in the synagogue was like. On Hanukah we lit a menorah
(candlabra) and the children played dreidel (spinning top), gambling for
walnuts. I don't remember getting presents but I know that it was common
for most Jewish families to light Hanukah candles.
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avram sadikario

And also since Hashomer Hatzair was a Jewish atheistic organization they were against it. I was religious until I was 13-14. I always went to the temple and tikkun, prayers early in the morning. I was very religious. And all at once I became an atheist. I was very insolent and I said there was no G-d, and such foolish things. I openly said this. My father got mad. I made him mad. I am sorry for this. And when I was a little older I didn't [talk like that with him]. I wasn't opposed to the fact that he was a believer. I didn't have other conversations with my father about ideology. He didn't have an ideology to talk about.

Hakhsharah was for those who were preparing to go to Israel. Before one went to Israel, one prepared oneself for agricultural work in hakhsharah. I didn't go. I was too little. [The participants] were from all over Yugoslavia and it was in different places. Every year there was a camp, moshav, in Slovenia. Slovenia is a very nice country for camping. It was like a summer camp. It lasted a month. Jews from all over Yugoslavia came there. Only from Yugoslavia, not from other countries. Every year we went, without parents, by train. We went for ten years for two or three weeks each time.
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I had my bar mitzvah when I was 13 and I read the whole parasha [weekly Torah portion]. My bar mitzvah teacher came to my house and taught me to read my portion. We practiced for more than a month. I knew the whole parasha by heart. It was a big honor in the temple and outside. They made cakes and other things. I got some presents and money.
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La mortaza was the special clothing that was made before a person died [kitel in the Ashkenazi tradition]. Everyone had their own mortaza, women and men. Women sewed them. It wasn't any great clothing, just something to wrap a person in when he dies. We sang special prayers and there was a special book of them just for the dead. Only men went to the cemetery. A woman was never permitted to go to the cemetery. Women cried and sang special prayers at home.

After a funeral we sat at home seven days, lasijeti, which means to sit for seven days [shivah]. For seven days we didn't sit on chairs rather on the floor. We didn't do anything. Our relatives brought us food. I was about 17 when my grandfather died. For seven days the mourners were served. I don't remember that I sat these seven days when my grandfather died.
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For Tisha be-Av we sat on the floor. We went to the temple and then, when we went home, we didn't eat anything the whole day. We didn't sit on chairs, only on the floor. We had some special prayers for this holiday.

Every Friday female beggars would come and we gave them bread. Since my mother had baked bread she gave them some of it. There were only a few beggars and they were all women. In general, even though people were very poor they didn't beg. They got money, help from the Jewish community and what they could earn working.

We went to the temple on Sabbath evening. It didn't last long and then we went home. Saturday we ate fizon di Shabbat, Jewish beans. Father would recite the Kiddush.

On Sabbath one couldn't light the fire, so we had a gypsy woman come and light the furnace, and everything that we needed lit, but especially the furnace because in the winter we needed to have it on. They lit them and we paid them.
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There was no special rabbi for each synagogue; instead there was one rabbi for the whole city. Each synagogue had two or three hakhamim. There was one rabbi for all of Bitola. The first rabbi I remember was Rabbi Djaen. He was a great man. He was a rabbi but he knew a lot of things. He was very tall and handsome. He wore a robe; he also wore modern dress to formal events. He wrote six or seven dramas in Ladino that were performed throughout Yugoslavia, including Sarajevo. [Editor's note: In 1922 he published three plays, 'Jiftah,' 'Deborah' and 'The Daughters of the Sun.' All of his plays were based on biblical themes or about Jewish life. He gave 10 percent of the proceeds of the plays to Keren Kayemet Leisrael. Source: Zeni Lebl] His plays were performed for Purim and Passover, but I don't know what they were about. He organized the building of the Jewish cemetery in Bitola. He collected money in South America for the Jews of Bitola. He gave it to the community and they distributed it to the poor Jews of Bitola. He was religious or at least he looked like he was.

We children were very sad when he left Bitola. When he walked down the street he used to give the children four or five roasted chickpeas from his pockets. When Rabbi Djaen walked down the street his shammash, the servant of the community, that is the temple, would follow 20-30 steps behind. When he saw someone playing marbles he would say, 'Shammash, quickly go over there, so that they don't play anymore, they should go and study.' Rabbi Djaen was very authoritative; we all loved him. He was the chief rabbi in Romania after Bitola. When the Jews of Romania were deported he was caught. But the Italians or Spaniards managed to save him. And afterwards he went to South America. My wife, Dzamila, wrote an article about Djaen, but it wasn't published because someone else wrote one too.

After Rabbi Djaen came Moric Romano's father [Rabbi Avram Romano] [6]. He was the opposite of Djaen in all respects. He was very quiet, modest. He didn't yell at people while he was walking down the street. People were not scared of him. Romano was very well-educated and he wasn't religious. He pretended to teach us religious lessons. He did not teach us one thing about religion during these lessons. He never mentioned G-d. When the principal would come to our religion class and ask, 'what are you teaching,' he would say, 'Look, prayers and he would sing some song. Not a prayer.' He came to our last class and said, 'I never mentioned G-d or religion during these classes. Religion is a private thing. It is for you to decide.' He never said it, but he was not a believer. He gave lectures and sermons, but he avoided giving them a religious character. Rabbi Romano's son, Moric Romano, is still alive in Skopje.

It was almost the same shammash for the whole time that Djaen was there. When Djaen left, Romano also had a shammash, but he didn't walk down the streets with him and make a scene. Romano didn't [walk down the streets like that]. He was modest. The shammash's job was to take care of the synagogue. He took care of the things in the synagogue during Sabbath. He made sure all was well in the temple. Then people didn't go to the synagogue only on Saturdays; they went in the mornings and evenings too. The temple was always alive. I don't remember the shammash's name, but I can see his face.
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gabor paneth

I married a Gentile girl. We never had any children. So I could never teach anybody the Judaism I learnt from my father. Every Friday my father went to the synagogue to daven (pray). He sang beautifully, he had such a beautiful voice that it is a pity that he didn't become a chazan (cantor). Inside, he was always Orthodox, but in practice, he behaved as a Neolog. He was the kind of Jew who had a constant personal relationship with the Creator, although in 1944 he had a serious quarrel with Him. Later, as he was getting old, he came to terms with Him again and their earlier close relationship was restored....
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