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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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Jankiel Kulawiec

I don't really remember my own bar mitzvah; I think it was in the synagogue first, and then a celebration at home.
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All the bar mitzvahs were held there too, and circumcision of the babies [brit milah].
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Mico Alvo

She wouldn't have understood anything anyways, as she was illiterate and couldn't read the subtitles. She would go to a wedding, to a bar mitzvah, things like that. She was closer to tradition and religion than her husband. She would start shouting, for example, if Grandfather would go out and eat. Or, if he didn't want to keep the fast, she would tell him off. They did have religious books in the house, but on the other hand, I don't remember ever seeing her in the synagogue.

She was a gentle person. Gentle, but tough. She would rule the house. Even though she was illiterate, she would keep all the bills. Grandfather would bring the money, he would give all of it to her, and she would give him back pocket money. He didn't check up on her at all. She wouldn't allow it.
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And there were a lot of dinners. For two or three days, we would have guests and dinners. These dinners held after a bar mitzvah weren't anything special, anything different. They used to give you sugar plums like they do today at baptisms. My parents were pleased, especially my father.

His friends would come around and his customers. Christians would also come to ceremonies like this. Not many of course, but they would come, at least about ten of them. The ceremonies were completely open, and friends and customers would come to the synagogue, because they would be invited. 'On this day we will celebrate the coming of age - the adulthood -..." You see, they didn't call it a son's bar mitzvah.
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The religious ceremonies were the bar mitzvahs and the weddings. The girls didn't have a bat mitzvah as they do today. I remember my bar mitzvah. I was thirteen years old. As soon as you are thirteen you can have your bar mitzvah. Some do it later. I remember I had a teacher from the time when I turned eleven and he would come to our house for two or thee hours a week. He first taught me the Hebrew alphabet and later what I had to read. For every single week out of the 52 weeks of the year, there is a part in the Old Testament that you read. I can still read Hebrew, but I cannot understand it.

I never learned Ladino or the Rashi alphabet [47]. Some others learned it. My father knew how to read in Rashi. I wasn't interested in learning it. No one in the family told me to do so. So why should I have done it? It was already out of date. It wasn't even Hebrew. Rashi was being read here in Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, where the Sephardic Jews were. The language quickly disappeared, but in the book those that went to the synagogue had to read many parts that were in Rashi, so they read them in Spanish.

I had my bar mitzvah in the Beit Saoul synagogue. The ceremony was like this: you go to the synagogue and read. You read and then you give a small speech. You say: From now on I am an adult Jew. I can participate in the ceremonies and I can be one of the ten men that are needed for a minyan.

You would read, and all the time someone would get up and sit next to you. He would pretend to check whether you were reading correctly and when he would go down, he would give his donation, to honor the family. There would be friends and relatives getting up. First it would be the grandfather, then the father and after them all the rest.

They were donating money to the institutes. The Jewish Community had many different institutes. Usually they would firstly donate money to the synagogue and the rabbi and after that to other organizations of the Community.

The bar mitzvah ceremony took place early in the morning, at the time that the daily ceremony starts. It usually starts just after sunrise, let's say at about 8 o'clock. The bar mitzvah would start around 9. Its duration varied. If there were many people that wanted to get up on the stand, it would last longer.

When there weren't so many that wanted to get up and read, then the rabbi would read faster. But usually after your speech, the rabbi gives a speech and tells you that you should now be a decent human being, as you are now an adult, you should follow your religion, the rules etc. At around 11 or 11.30 the ceremony was over. In my case, it lasted about that long.

Then we went home where we had a meal that the closest relatives attended. And later people would come and visit, with many presents. I remember everyone that came had a present. I then got my first bicycle as a present from my father. I also remember a nice school bag that my uncle Joseph brought me. They used to bring quills. And they also used to bring sweets. They would send flowers to the synagogue or to our home. One of the best presents that I got was the big Meccano. I got the biggest one, number 7. It started from number 1 and it went up to number 7. The number 7 really was a full course of mechanical engineering and it interested me very much.
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Rafael Genis

Apart from the holidays, I remember numerous bar mitzvahs: first my brothers', then mine. The shammash taught us how to read prayers and put tefillin on the right way. We were supposed to read the prayer ceremoniously at the synagogue on the bar mitzvah day. There was a celebration at home afterwards: as usual there was a lot of food, meat dishes, a whole bunch of cookies and deserts. Usually, only members of our family and my aunts were present at the feast.
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Alexandra Ribush

Although my father was a very educated man, knew Yiddish and Hebrew, and had his bar mitzvah as a child, he didn't pray or celebrate Jewish holidays as an adult during the Soviet times. He became an atheist and a communist.
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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 mother's family was religious like all Jewish families. They observed Jewish traditions, celebrated the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Of course, all of my mother's brothers had had a bar mitzvah. On holidays my grandmother, grandfather and their children went to the synagogue. They spoke Yiddish and all the members of the family were fluent in German and Russian.
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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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jerzy pikielny

Alek, his son, was a year older than me and had had a bar mitzvah. I didn't have one, because in October it was already war. I guess if I'd been supposed to have one I would've had to be prepared for it earlier, and there'd been none of that. I did have Jewish religion classes at school though, because they were compulsory.
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mario modiano

What I remember vividly from my bar mitzvah is the hard time I had trying to learn enough Hebrew to be able to read the text. I had a teacher who came home and taught me how to parrot the text from the Torah that I was supposed to read at the service in the synagogue. I very much regret that I never really learned Hebrew. After the service at the synagogue there was a reception at home, and the whole family as well as many of my father's colleagues and employees came to celebrate with us. I also remember that on that occasion my maternal uncles gave me a bicycle as a gift, and that I fell in love with it. I just would never part with the bicycle so much so that the neighbors claimed I even went to the toilet with the bicycle.
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Miklos Braun

My father was not a very religious man but he showed us everything and observed everything. So Pesach was kept. There was Seder night, for example, which, my father conducted. We read the Haggadah and I asked the ma nishtanah, the Four Questions, and I looked for the afikomen (a matzo hidden for the children to find). I don’t remember having a set of dishes used only at Pesach; the house wasn’t kosher anyway. We didn’t go to the temple on Fridays. I don’t know whether my father went, but I went with the school. My religion teacher was the famous Hungarian rabbi Scheiber and I had my bar mitzva in the Nagyfuvaros Street Synagogue. (editor’s note: Sandor Scheiber is best known for having remained in Hungary after the Holocaust, where he convinced the Communist authorities to allow him to continue running a shrunken, but still active, conservative rabbinical seminary. He died in the mid-1980s).

My father was of the opinion that he would show and teach everything to his children, and allow them to decide for themselves. Well, none of us decided in favor of religion. I have special views on this because I believe one can pray anywhere, not only in the synagogue. I don’t visit the cemetery either because one can remember anybody anywhere.
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