Interviewer: Edward Serotta
I was born in 1947. We had a strong Orthodox community. We'd go on a
picnic, and the shochet and his seven children would come, the rabbi and
his family, too. This was back in 1953. We would have secret brit milahs in
The rabbi was born in Berevovo, a very Orthodox village in Subcarpathian
Ruthenia. He only attended cheder, not a regular school. But even without a
secular education, he was bright and perceptive. After the war, he came
here to Kosice, which then acted as a magnet for Jews of eastern Slovakia
and Subcarpathian Ruthenia, which was given to the Soviet Union.
My family was preparing to leave Czechoslovakia, and we had our papers
signed and even our furniture was shipped off. Everything was packed, and
then my brother came down with diphtheria. The doctor told my parents:
"Your brother's life or Israel, take your choice."
My father was not allowed to emigrate, and he said, "So I'll piss on the
Communists; I'll stay a religious Jew." He tried to emigrate in 1948 and
then again in 1962. My brother, Alexander Grossman, studied for a year in
the rabbinical seminary in Budapest. In 1969, he traveled to London and he
stayed there for a month, then moved to Israel.
My father kept geese and chickens at home so that during the Communist
period, he could always have kosher meat, which he would ritually slaughter
himself. There was usually kosher meat available; it came from a shochet
who would come through here when he was in eastern Hungary. But you
couldn't depend on it, I suppose, so my father made his own preparations,
Back when I was growing up, it was very difficult. We went to school six
days a week then, and my father made a shaygitz carry my books on Saturday.
We had a soup kitchen here in Kosice all during the Communist times, but we
called it a restaurant. Naturally, it was kosher. The Goldberger brothers
ran it. Up to 100 people ate there every day. And when I was young, whoever
needed to pick up dinner cheaply because they didn't have the money, could
Even in the 1950s, we had a strong community. My father was one of the last
of the Hevrah Kadishah. Up to the end, he would get on a bus or a train and
travel to some small town in Slovakia to prepare the dead for burial.
One day my father came back from a Hevrah Kadishah meeting - they met every
Sunday - and he was enraged. The Communists had made them sell the Neolog
synagogue, the great synagogue in the center of town. And they took it for
almost nothing, he said.
He was a baker by trade, and baked challah. Everyone would buy from him.
Every Friday he would be busy at home baking, but he had another bakery
help out and they would prepare around 200 challahs.
We had a great deal of trouble from the Communist government here. In the
1960s, the Jewish community received medicines donated by a Swiss charity,
and the Party made all sorts of problems. But still, for all the holidays,
children my age would attend synagogue and we had community seders as well.
For the holidays, our big synagogue, the old Orthodox one, was always full.
We continued to have services there, even though the crowds got smaller and
smaller, until five years ago.
In 1971, we made plans in secret to visit my brother in Romania. This was
the only Communist country that didn't break its ties to Israel, and as
Czechoslovaks, it was one of the very few countries we could travel to. We
planned to say that we would be meeting a medical specialist for a problem
in the family, and we fixed the location and place. It was done well, we
thought. But the day we returned to Kosice, the police were waiting in
front of our door. They knew when we left, where we went, who we met and
when we would return. They took our passports away; we didn't see them
again for six years.
When I married a non-Jew in 1965, my father sat shiva for me. When he saw
me on the street with my first son, he would cross to the other side and
keep walking. It killed me to see this. How I suffered so much because I
married a non-Jew. To cope with this has been an enormous burden. One day,
after my first son was born, I realized that if I didn't act, I would lose
my father forever. I went to him and knocked on his door. I said, "This is
your grandson." He said, "He will be my grandson when he has a brit milah."
I said, "So make the arrangement."
Well, my father was right: I should have married a Jew. The differences
between my husband and me were great and became even greater.
My mother died in 1990, and my father died in 1994. I'm sure that he
wouldn't have talked to interviewers as he lived his simple, believing life
and he never spoke about it with strangers.
After 1989, many more people started coming to the community. Some came
because they wondered if they could get something out of it, but most came
because they were really interested. At least 10 families left on aliya in
the first few years. Now there are very few interested in leaving.
Our community isn't uniform now, and there seem to be three types of Jews
here. The first group has a strong Jewish background from their families.
They know more than just the basics; they know how to pray. A second group
is coming mainly to explore their past and make a reconnection to Jewish
life. They want to be involved, but not in a religious way. The third group
is comprised of those who have very tenuous roots. They are simply curious
and don't have any background at all.
The biggest problem is that the middle generation doesn't want to observe
religion at all, but still wants to maintain traditions. The question is:
What is enough? Some people say that just admitting being a Jew is quite
enough. It's not.
The elderly cannot understand any of this. When I speak with them, I
realize that they will not soften their views at all. But, to involve the
younger families, they will certainly have to bend. But they won't. So I'm
looking for a compromise. I'd like some sort of Reform Jewish movement to
grow here because if we don't get that, it will all come to an end. You
see, of the young Jews in Kosice today, almost none of them know how to