By Mayer Kirshenblatt
I was born in a small Polish city in 1916. Our neighbor Khiel the Brunette (der shvartser Khiel, in Yiddish) was a cobbler. Although he was a redhead and all his children were redheads, everyone called him Khiel the Brunette. To confuse matters further, people in town nicknamed another Khiel, who had dark hair, Khiel the Redhead (der geyler Khiel in Yiddish). Khiel the Brunette and his entire family lived and worked in two rooms.
Khiel the Brunette had seven daughters. Every Jew wants to have a son so that there will be someone to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, for him after his demise. However, every time a male child was born, something happened and the child died. The Angel of Death arrived and made off with the baby.
Scene II (far left panel)
In desperation Khiel the Brunette travelled to another town to seek the advice of an important Rabbi. He implored the Rabbi: "Am I to die without a male heir? Who will say the Kaddish, the prayer for the deceased, after my demise? I have seven daughters. Can I afford another one? Where will I find dowries and grooms for them all?" The Rabbi thought for a while, and came up with a solution. He said, "Go home. When your wife gets pregnant and it's a baby boy, do exactly what I tell you."
The next time a baby boy was born, Yekhiel the Brunette followed the Rabbi's instructions exactly. First, the Rabbi had given Yekhiel an amulet and told him to make the boy wear it all the time. The amulet would ward off evil spirits. Secondly, the child must always be dressed in white. Jews always bury their dead in white burial shrouds. The white clothes would fool the Angel of Death, the malakh hamoves, into thinking the boy was already dead, so he would not take him. This time the boy survived.
Scene IV (far right panel)
When I left Opatow in 1934, the boy was eight years old. I was told that even as a teenager, the boy still wore the white pyjamas. He was dressed in white in 1942 when the Nazis expelled the Jews from Apt. The boy in white pyjamas perished with all the others.
Mayer Kirshenblatt was born in Opatow (Apt in Yiddish), Poland, in 1916. He immigrated to Canada in 1934 and has lived in Toronto ever since. When he was seventy-four years old, he began painting everything he could remember about growing up in his hometown. He recently completed a book, based on his paintings and his stories, in collaboration with his daughter. The White Pyjamas is his first toy theatre and he is very proud to be included in this exhibition. He would like to thank Jennifer Romaine for inspiring him to make a toy theatre and helping him create it. He is also grateful to Stephen Kaplin for helping him to make some things stand up and other things move.
Steve Kaplin Mayer Kirshenblatt