Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Apt "Nobility": Bashe Rayzl with Her Brood, September 1992
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 in.
"I was told that to supplement her meagre income from begging, Bashe Rayzl would take chickens to the shoykhet, the ritual slaughterer, for women who were too busy or lazy to go themselves. Bashe Rayzl and her family were the town crazies. She had a son and a daughter. I don't know whether they pretended to be retarded or they really were below normal intelligence. The daughter had a parakh, a huge scab all over her head, and she was always with the mother. We used to harass the son and he would sing the kadish, a prayer in praise of God that is sung in the morning service as part of the recitation of the eighteen benedictions.
Bashe Rayzl's husband was not crazy. He was a beggar and would travel around panhandling with his son. They wouldn't go begging in Apt because everybody knew them, so they walked from town to town begging. I remember beggars coming to our house. Mother would give them a few pennies. If you didn't have a penny, you would give the beggar a cube of sugar. He would go next door and sell it, after keeping it in his dirty pocket. In the winter, beggars and other itinerants would sleep in the besmedresh, the study house, on a bench near the oven and in the summer in the hegdesh, where the burial society kept their implements. This is how they struggled to make a living.
Bashe Rayzl and her family lived on the upper floor of a building at the bottom of the Jewish Street. Their apartment had windows, but no glass. How they survived the winter, I do not know. Some of the women would say to Bashe Rayzl, 'I will give you ten groshn to take my chicken to the shoykhet.' They could afford to pay someone else to do it. For a small fee, Bashe Rayzl would take the chicken to the shoykhet for them. After the shoykhet killed the chicken, Bashe Rayzl would pluck the feathers right there in the shoykhet's courtyard. That's where everyone who brought their chickens to be killed would clean them. The ten groshn was to cover both the slaughtering and the cleaning of the chicken. One day Bashe Rayzl thought it over. Why bother going to the shoykhet when she could kill the chickens herself with a piece of glass and keep the five cents? She slaughtered the chickens and flicked them in her own home. The feathers flew all over the place.
What I heard was that the feathers gave her away. After a few months, when people figured out where the feathers were coming from, they realized that she was killing and cleaning the chickens herself. They confronted her and she admitted to the dastardly deed. That was the end of her chicken career."