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       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays


Paint What You Remember
Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays in Opatów, Poland
as told by Mayer Kirshenblatt



The bedroom doubled as a formal living and dining room. We would eat in this room on the Sabbath and holidays. I was dismissed early from khayder on Friday. Mother did not go to the store on Friday so she could stay home and prepare for the Sabbath. There were beautiful smells in the house, particularly in the cool weather, when Mother baked at home. She would make her own challah, butter cake, and mandlbroyt (almond bread, a cookie baked twice, like biscotti). When she roasted a chicken, she was generous with garlic and onions. While my father was still in Apt [now Opatów-ed.], two brothers from a poor family would eat the Sabbath midday meal with us. Their mother was widowed, so they were considered yesoymim, orphans. They would have been about twelve and fourteen years old.

In warm weather, I would take Mother's challahs and cakes to the baker's oven, because it was too hot to bake at home. Friday afternoon, by about three o'clock, the baker would be finished for the day and the oven would still be hot. that's when I would pick up the challahs and cakes for the Friday night meal and bring the food to be cooked for the Saturday meals: coffee and milk for breakfast, and soup and tshulnt for the midday dinner.

The tshulnt was a stew of beans, potatoes, and meat. The baker would put the dairy dishes on the left side of the oven and the meat dishes on the right side. Everything cooked slowly overnight in the baker's oven, which retained the heat from Friday's baking. You are not allowed to light a fire on the Sabbath, but cooking food in the radiant heat of the oven was allowed. I was delegated to bring this food to the baker on Friday and pick it up on Saturday.



Picking up Saturday's Tshulnt from the Baker.

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Picking up Saturday's Tshulnt from the Baker
July 1996
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 40 in.

Preparation for the Sabbath was a big production, what with the baking, cooking, and cleaning. Mother got up very early Friday morning. After she was done with the cooking and baking, she bathed us in a big wooden laundry tub in the kitchen. The last thing she did was to scrub the floor. Both the floor and the kitchen furniture were made of unpainted pine. Mother poured a bucket of water on the floor, got down on her knees, and scrubbed the bare wood with a brush and a scouring powder called bielidlo. It was a combination of bleach and abrasive. She would mop up the water with a rag. From constant scrubbing, the floor and furniture became a beautiful ivory color. You could see the grain in the burnished wood because the scrubbing wore away the softer part of the grain and exposed the pattern. We had to remove our muddy shoes when we came into the house.

Mother then set the table for the Friday night meal with the best linen. The Sabbath begins Friday evening, precisely at sunset. Many people did not have clocks or watches and could not tell when it was time to light the Sabbath candles. A shilklaper, or knocker, went from house to house. He would rap on the shutters and cry out, "Women, women! It's time to light the candles and go to the synagogue." Through the window, in my painting, you can see the table set for the Sabbath.


Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Shulklaper, c. 1995
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 40 in.

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