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elvira kohn

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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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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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

My grandmother was completely illiterate but had a practical mind. She had a great impact as the head of the family. In Jewish families the women were really the mater familias. They would run the place. Rachel knew a few Turkish words and Ladino [1]. That was it. She later learned Greek because she had maids that were Greek. And she picked it up from her maids. Rachel started having a maid when she got too many children.
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We never tried to convert Didi. We thought that it wasn't correct. She went to church-events at school. Since we knew that she was Christian Orthodox, we knew that she would go. We didn't want to do things in an unacceptable way. She never expressed the wish to be more religious, to read or say a prayer before she went to bed. We never thought that it would happen, because we weren't religious with regards to Judaism either.

Didi knew when it was a Jewish holiday. For example, at Passover, the family would come and we would have dinner together and she participated, too, but nothing more than that. It was more of a social event rather than a religious one. We still keep gathering at Passover and Socrates and his children come, too, and we read through the Exodus. Socrates has been living with Didi for many years now. He has two children, a boy and a girl. They all live together but he and Didi are not married.

Didi would ask us about our lives. Sometimes we would have conversations like that. We told her about the concentration camps from a very young age. We had conversations about it when she was in Lyceum. Later when she had come back from Switzerland, where she studied, we didn't have a lot of spare time. Lately, she has been thinking of converting to Judaism. After all these events took place and the Holocaust issue became a movie subject and popular talk, we talked a lot about it. She is a member of the Council of the Association Greece-Israel and everybody there loves her very much. She is very active.
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Rafael Genis

Petras served in the Soviet Army and worked in construction. Even though he has a Lithuanian name, he identifies himself as a Jew, respects Jewish history and traditions and celebrates Jewish holidays. Mostly, it is my wife Constantia who influenced him. She is Catholic, but she is not religious and she doesn't go to church. Nevertheless, she treats Jews with deep respect. She learnt how to cook Jewish dishes. For 20 years, whenever I had some free time, I told her and my son about Jewry, Jewish traditions and holidays. So Petras and Constantia are also interested in them. Now we always celebrate Jewish holidays together, though I'm not a religious person and don't go to the synagogue - by the way, there is no synagogue in our town - I just respect Jewish traditions and history and observe the holidays as a tribute to commemorate my kin.
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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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I went there for four years and then got transferred to the town Lithuanian lyceum. Both Lithuanians and Jews went there and we were very friendly. I don't remember a single case when I'd be hurt by someone. There were Lithuanians among my friends, who came over to our place. They were good to me. I was one of the top students at the lyceum and was often praised. The monthly tuition fee was ten litas. The full course was eight years and I wanted to finish it, but after my second year Mother said that it was enough paying for me as it was the time for me to start working and bring in some wages for the family. We were well-off and the family could afford my tuition, but nobody wanted to argue with Mom.
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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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Then seder started. Father reclined on the pillows at the head of the table and carried out the seder. Mother was sitting by him and Grandfather Nakhman beside him. The youngest child asked the questions - first it was me, and then it was Abram. I still remember those four questions. Some of the kids found the afikoman and got a present for that. Then Father put a goblet with wine, opened the door and called Elijah, the prophet, in different ways. I didn't believe in his existence, but I liked the process of the holiday. Even now I don't know who drank the glass of wine which was meant for the prophet Elijah. I think Father did it.
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I loved Pesach most of all, the preparation in particular. Almost right after Purim the housekeeper started cleaning, turning the house upside down. We took the carpets, bed linen and mats outside and shook them out. We put beautiful curtains on the windows, festive tablecloth, polished the furniture and the floors. A large hamper with matzah was brought from the synagogue. Kosher Pascal dishes were taken from the loft. These were nice gilded, silver and porcelain dishes, which were used only for Pesach. The other utensils - pots and pans - were koshered in our yard. We got the presents on the eve of the holiday. My parents were practical people, and gave us the things that we really needed - new boots and clothes.
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On Purim Mother baked triangular pies with poppy seeds called hamantashen. Usually she made 30 of those and all of us knew that we would get three each. We didn't take shelakhmones, as we had a very large family. Mother could barely manage cooking for us, not to mention the presents.
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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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I remember Sukkot. Father made a tabernacle in the yard and covered it with pine branches. My brothers and I picked up chestnuts and tied them in pairs. Father made figures in the shape of a star etc. We had meals in the sukkah during this holiday.
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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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