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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



Come the holiday of Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, we would make one sike for all the families that shared our courtyard. The sike is a temporary booth that commemorates the temporary dwellings that the Israelites made in the desert when they left Egypt. We built our sike with boards. We only had to construct two sides, because we tucked the sike into a corner of the courtyard between the wooden wall of our vestibule and the masonry wall of our dwelling. The peasants, who referred to the sike as kuczka, brought the pine or fir boughs to market just before the holiday. We would put these boughs on top of the sike so that we could see the sky through the roof of the sike, as is required. My friend Maylekh had a fancy sike with a cover that they could lower when it rained.

We decorated our sike with birds that we made from empty eggshells. We made a hole at each end of the egg and blew out the white and the yolk. We fashioned a bird's head from a little piece of moistened challah; we made the wings by pleating a special kind of paper that was brightly colored and shiny on the underside. As the candles on the table burned, the heat from the flames circulated the air and the birds would turn around. We hung up apples, gourds, and paper chains that we had made from colored paper. we also strung chestnuts and hung long strands of them in the sike. We put a big Star of David and a little piece of carpet on the wall, anything to decorate the sike and make it festive. You had to watch out, because people used to come and steal the decorations. They would take anything of value left inside the sike at night.

During Succoth, which lasts seven days, you're supposed to eat your meals in the sike. Succoth falls in late September or early October; by then, the evenings were getting quite chilly. Our family ate only supper in the sike and only on the first two days of the holiday and on Friday evening. The Orthodox Jews in your courtyard ate in the sike more often. With so many families, we had to eat in shifts. Our kitchen window opened directly into the sike. This was handy; Mother could just open our kitchen window and serve the food directly into the sike. I remember that Moyre Simkhe would yell up to his wife, who was upstairs, to bring the tsimes: "Tobe, Tobe! Farges nisht dus teykhesl!" (Tobe, Tobe! Don't forget the little arse!) The tail of the chicken, which is nice and fat, was his favorite part. She would add it to the tsimes, a sweet stew made of carrots, apples, prunes, and pieces of fat. We would laugh because of the double meaning.


Succoth in the Sike.

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Succoth in the Sike,
April 1993
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 20 in.

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