They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood In Poland Before the Holocaust

Previous Home Next


The Adulterer

Adultery was not much heard of in our town. By and large, people were too busy to adulterate. I know of only a single case. Baynish the Drummer was out of town playing music with one of the two Jewish bands in town. He returned home earlier than expected and found Yankele Zishes, our kheyder teacher, in bed with his wife. Yankele grabbed the first thing he could find, his boots, and took off down the street in his long red underwear. He didn't even have time to put on his boots. Baynish grabbed Yankele's trousers and chased him half way across town until Yankele reached home. It was the cause of merriment for a long time.

Yankele Zishes's school was the third and last kheyder I attended. I drove my teachers crazy. My mother was at her wit's end. Where was she going to send me? The only choice left was Yankele Zishes's old-fashioned private kheyder in his one-room home. There was a long table and benches in the center of the room, a bed on each side of the room, and a stove at one end. We sat around the table. There was one small window next to the door leading to the courtyard. It was dark and stuffy, especially in the summer. You could hear the flies buzzing around. We learned everything by rote. Naturally, for the teacher it was boring to listen to us repeat a passage from the Gemara, a religious commentary. The teacher would place his chin on the table on top of his hands and stretch out his beard on the table. As we droned on, he dozed off. That was very inviting. The one little window did not let in enough light, even on a hot summer day, so there was a big taper, a thick candle, in the middle of the table. One day an enterprising young student had the bright idea to dribble the melted wax on the teacher's beard, gluing it to the table. We suddenly stopped droning and the teacher awoke with a start. He jumped up and left half his beard on the table. To lose so many hairs from one's beard was a big sin. He was so angry he chased us out. We were sent home for the rest of the day. This was an unexpected bonus, a few free hours. I did not go home for fear of being hit with a bit of kindling wood for the misbehavior, so I played until it was time to go home. This sort of prank was nothing original. Kheyder boys have done this for generations.