Oshmany Home Page
Oshmany Stories Index

A Yiddish World Remembered

TITLE: A Yiddish World Remembered
YEAR: 2002
DIR/PROD: Andrew Goldberg
TIME: 60
SOURCE: Connecticut Public TV
TEXT: Production funding provided by the Koret Foundation, Public Television Viewers and PBS. Producer: Two Cats Productions in association with Connecticut Public Television. Executive producer: Andrew Goldberg. Reminiscing about his childhood in Oshmana, Belarus, Michal Baran describes the delirious odors of the Sabbath dinners he smelled as he walked through his shtetl on Friday nights. "The smell of the gefilte fish," he says, wistfully, as klezmer music can be heard being played softly in the background. "And the kugel and the cholent!" Those smells and sounds are at the heart of Andrew Goldberg's new documentary, "A Yiddish World Remembered." It will serve as an excellent introduction to anyone who wants to get a basic education in Yiddish life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The filmmakers interview dozens of native Yiddish speakers who grew up in Eastern Europe about their past day-to-day lives, as well as scholars of Yiddish and Jewish history. According to Goldberg, the film's director and producer, he and his co-producers, Melissa Nix and Lee Rogers, plowed through hundreds of photographs and films at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (some of which were from the Forward archive housed at YIVO) as well as sources in Eastern Europe. The result is a remarkable depiction of the vanished world of Yiddish life and culture. Aron Grunfeld talks about growing up in cheder, under the exacting guidance of old-time Yiddish schoolmasters, who demanded an exacting rigor and discipline when it came to learning about Judaism. "We didn't have time to play; they didn't let us," said Grunfeld, who was born in Dukla, Poland. "In other words, it was so important... to learn that I went to school until about 2 o'clock and I would go to cheder from there. Then I came home and studied. So it was kind of hard for us to grow and get tall." The yiddishe mama — and all her impossible chores and worries — is also discussed in detail. Anna Brünn Ornstein describes taking care of her household in Szendro, Hungary. "The milk had to be kosher," said Ornstein. "As a little girl... I would take our own kosher soap and make sure that the woman who was about to milk the cow would wash her hands very thoroughly with my soap... Then she had to — in front of me — clean the udder of the cow. And I would be there while she was milking to make sure." Mila Baran, Michal Baran's wife, describes frenzied Sabbath afternoons in Oshmana when women would pick up the pots of cholent that they had asked the baker to cook. "Some people didn't remember what kind of pot it was," Baran said, "and this one used to say: 'This is my pot!' and the other one would say, 'No, this is my pot!'" Samuel Kassow, a history professor at Trinity College in Connecticut, describes the world of Yiddish insults: "May all your teeth fall out — may one remain as a toothache!" "In every city we visited," Goldberg said of his travels in Poland and Ukraine, "we found the oldest people in town." Many remembered the Jews fondly; some even asked after the Jewish survivors who had moved to America. In one incident that wound up on the cutting-room floor, Goldberg interviewed an elderly Pole who spent 15 minutes on camera denouncing Jews. "I didn't tell him I was Jewish," Goldberg said, but the man did nothing to hide his attitudes. He then went two houses down, where a neighbor talked about the Jewish friends he had as a child.