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00:00:00

EC: This is Sunday morning, August 13, 1972. I am Emma Cohen. My interviewee today is Aaron Kriwitsky, who came to the United States in 1921, following World War I, with his wife and five children. He taught previously in our Hebrew school. The boys he prepared for Bar Mitzvah probably number in the hundreds. In addition to this, Mr. Kriwitsky has a few surprises for us.

AK: Shalom.

EC: It is very good to see you this morning. You have a great many things of 00:01:00interest to tell us, so let's begin, as we say, at the beginning. You came to this country, I believe, in 1921. Tell us where you came from and why you came to America. And, by the way, in what year were you born?

AK: We came from a little town in Grobnye Gubernia.

EC: Poland.

AK: I came with my wife and five children. My parents sent tickets for us, right after the first World War.

EC: Your parents were already here?

AK: Yes. My father was here, and my sister, and my brother Philip. who lived in New York. My father lived in Hartford, Connecticut.

00:02:00

EC: That's interesting, that the father came first.

AK: My mother and 12 children came a year later. They lived in Hartford, on Vine St.

EC: What year did your father come to this country?

AK: My father came in 1906. In 1907, my mother and the rest of the children.

EC: And you stayed in Poland until after World War I?

AK: They landed here in 1907.------right away, my mother left for America. She liked I should go too, but I didn't have any ambition to go, because in that 00:03:00place, in Europe, I was an experienced teacher. Many years I taught children. High grade children. I made a nice living.

EC: What kind of a school were you teaching in?

AK: We had four tschers. One was a beginner, one was a second grade, one was a third grade, and mine was a fifth grade. Gemara.

EC: You taught them Gemara? A school for just boys, or boys and girls?

AK: Mostly boys. For girls was another teacher.

EC: But this was a regular school. In what city was it?

AK: It was in ------ in Grobye Gubernia. And I was teaching there seven years, 00:04:00from 1907 to 1914, when the first World War broke out. When the war broke out, everything was destroyed. the Russians, and the Germans------and the city was burning. and we moved to a little village----where' my wife, may she rest in peace, was living.

EC: In other words, the first place where you lived was a city, not a little town?

AK: Yes. Then my parents sent us tickets and we sold everything we had to make 00:05:00the trip, in 1921.

EC: How old were you at that time? In what year were you born?

AK: I was born in 1884.

EC: Then at the time you came to this country you were 37 years old. How did you come to this country? What kind of a ship?

AK: It was a Belgium ship.

EC: How old were your children when you came here? How old is your oldest child?

00:06:00

AK: My oldest is Nettie ----- After her ----- After Benny came -----

EC: What do you have, four girls and two boys? Six children?

AK: Five. One died.

EC: And one child was born here. By the way, when you were in Europe during World War I, were times very difficult?

AK: Oh, very. Everything was destroyed. No business, no nothing. In 00:07:00Lechovich----- the inhabitants escaped------ and they left their buildings and everything --------big farm, and we settled there, and I was there------ and we bought a couple cows------

EC: You were going to be a farmer?

AK: Yes.

EC: But you had not been a farmer before?

AK: No, never. And we planted everything. Potatoes ------

EC: But what happened? It was too hard to make a living?AK: Yes. We didn't suffer from hunger. We had plenty------

EC: So why did you decide to come to America?

00:08:00

AK: Because later, when the war stopped and the Germans -------- and the parents sent us tickets we should come.

EC: By the way, your family was a religious family. Your whole family. Right?

AK: -------- ---- She was about ten years at that time. My son was eight years. ---------- Talmud Torah on Pleasant Street. I was a teacher there.

EC: When you came to the United States, what was your father doing?

00:09:00

AK: My father dealt with burlap sacks. He picked them up from the farmers and and sorted them by grades, first grade, second grade, and he made bales and he shipped them to New York, and they brought a high price. And he bought a big stock. And when the war stopped he was stuck and he got nothing. He couldn't pay 00:10:00back the loan to the bank. The bank gave him more time and he paid the loan back, little by little, and he paid back everybody.

EC: When you came here, where did you live?

AK: When we came here, it was very hard to get rooms, because it was after the the war. But my father was very ambitious, and he found out that one room on Pequot Street------You know where Pequot Street was? Downtown?

EC: Yes. Near Windsor Street.

AK: Near the railroad.

EC: Not too far from the river.

AK: -------- between the two buildings there. And he found out that on the 00:11:00fourth floor---------- I think he paid $28.00.

EC: How many rooms did you have?

AK: Four or five rooms. On the fourth floor.

EC: A nice walk-up.

AK: -------- ---- happy to get them, too. My wife still lived in New York with ------------ children, and a couple children lived with my father. When we took the rooms, I wrote a letter she should come, and we bought furniture and we settled on the fourth floor ------

EC: Then your family was united.

AK: Later on, my father went to the Talmud Torah and he said, "I have a son who was teaching in Europe----" and the principal called me--------I forgot his 00:12:00name----and he talked to me and------- I didn't know English and -------- I was teaching Hebrew and the Bible----

EC: You taught Hebrew as a language, or you taught them to read?

AK: I had two grades. One grade beginners to start Hebrew, and one grade to learn Chomish. The Five Books of Moses. And I was four years there.

EC: And that was on Pleasant Street?

AK: A big building. One Talmud Torah in the whole city.

EC: How many children went there?

AK: About 200 children. They engaged about four or five teachers. It was a big building.

00:13:00

EC: What did you think about the system of Jewish education in Hartford at that time?

AK: A lot of parents didn't send their children to the school. A year or two before Bar Mitzvahs they hired teachers to come to their houses. There were about five or six teachers in Hartford. For Bar Mitzvahs. That was their education. But some children came to the Hebrew school.

EC: Did you also do private teaching?

AK: I was half in the Talmud Torah and half was private. I made a lot of money 00:14:00at that time. $35 they gave me a week in the Talmud Torah. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

EC: But this was after school. What time did you start?

AK: Right away, after they finished school.

EC: Until what time?

AK: Until eight o'clock. From four to eight.

EC: Eight o'clock? The same children?

AK: No, not the same children. They came at four o'clock and -------- about an hour and a half.

EC: How many days a week did they come?

AK: Five days. Not like here, two days or three days. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Not Friday, not Saturday. And each class took about an hour and a half or more.

EC: How many years did they go to school?

00:15:00

AK: Some of them went more, if they started early, they went more. Usually they learned until after Bar Mitzvah.

EC: When did they start? How old were they?

AK: Eight year, nine years. Mostly they learned for three or four years.

EC: Boys and girls?

AK: Bar Mitzvah was only boys. No girls. There was no Bat Mitzvahs.

00:16:00

EC: How long did you teach there?

AK: Twelve years.

EC: And then what did you do?

AK: In 1922 I was teaching in a Talmud Torah on Bellevue Street. At that time Bellevue Street was the highest street in the Jewish community. There was a little shul. B'Nai Jacob ------

EC: The House of Jacob.

AK: ____ the Kaplans. The builders. They built the shul, they ran the shul. And I was a teacher there four years. After that I was a teacher in the Talmud Torah 00:17:00on Pleasant Street. After Pleasant Street they began to move out and there were less children and they had to reduce the number of teachers. Later I bought a house and I paid $2,000 cash. My own money.

EC: On what street?

AK: Garden Street. Corner Garden and Mather.

EC: That was really uptown.

AK: At that time it was not built up. -------- $35 I made in -------- and $35 I made from private lessons. I made $70.00.

00:18:00

EC: That was a lot of money then.

AK: And my wife was very economical. She cooked herself, and she baked herself and everything. She didn't spend too much money. I think about $20, $25 was plenty for us.

EC: Did your children work?

AK: No, they couldn't work. They were too young. But my wife bought remnants and she sewed dresses, and ----------

EC: Then you taught at the school on Bellevue Street.

AK: Bellevue Street first, then Pleasant Street, and the third one ---------- they built a building on Nelson Street, a Talmud Torah. Barbour and Nelson. It 00:19:00was a big Jewish neighborhood at that time, and they built a Talmud Torah there and they engaged me for a teacher there in 1928, and I was a teacher there for thirty years. I was the teacher and the principal and the manager and the secretary-------- all the business --------

EC: How many teachers did you have there?

AK: I had one teacher ------ and a beginner teacher, but mostly I was teaching myself. I had about 90 children. I had to change sessions. We started half-past three------ to six----. Thirty years later, when the Jewish people started to 00:20:00move out, about 1960, there were not too many children and they gave up the Talmud Torah to a congregation. They called it Beth Israel -------- and they took over the shul and the Talmud Torah was destroyed--------there were no children.

EC: Did you retire at that time?

AK: In 1960 I retired.

EC: Let me go back a little now. What was the community in Hartford like when 00:21:00you first came in 1921. What did you think about the Jewish community in Hartford?

AK: I did not know too many people, but mostly they were very religious, orthodox. There was a big shul on Market Street -------- there was another shul, the Rumainishe shul ---------- Rabbi AvRutick-------- Agudas Achim -------Ados Israel---------- and there was a third shul on Winthrop Street.

EC: Was that the Zionist shul?

AK: Yes.

EC: Which shul did you go t0?

00:22:00

AK: On Winthrop Street. There was a ---------- My father was going there --------

EC: So you went there too?

AK: Yes. Later on we moved to Garden Street. They built a big shul on Garden St-

EC: The Garden Street Synagogue.

AK: We sold that shul and we started to build here, and we didn't have too much money until Morris Sheketoff, who was a builder, and he finished building the shul.

EC: Was Rabbi Rosenberg the rabbi there?

AK: No. First was Rabbi Hurwitz.

EC: I didn't know. What was his first name?

00:23:00

AK: Isaac. Rabbi Hoffenberg was at Bais Israel.

EC: Then he came to Garden Street?

AK: Yes. Rabbi Hurwitz was the rabbi in Garden Street and then he was in AvRutick's shul, Agudas Achim. He took care of two shuls. They paid him $12 a week.

EC: Rabbis didn't get paid very much. You did a little better as a teacher. After Rabbi Hurwitz and Rabbi Hoffenberg who else was the rabbi at Garden Street?

AK: They engaged Rabbi Rosenberg. From Springfield. He was very educated. Not 00:24:00only in Jewish, but in everything----philosophy----he was a very great man.

EC: Didn't his son take over after Rabbi Rosenberg died?

AK: After he died -------- They had a special meeting -------- His son was teaching in college and he was a rabbi and a lawyer and he decided to take the position of rabbi ------ he took over.

EC: You knew him?

AK: Oh, sure.

00:25:00

EC: He finally went to Israel and he became a member of the Knesset. He died about a year and a half ago.

AK: He was in Israel, and he became a great man there. He was a member of the Cabinet.

EC: To go back now, you were talking about what the community was like, what the city of Hartford was like in the twenties, when you first came. Did you think it was a friendly city?

AK: I didn't have too much time to socialize because I was too busy. Shabbas in 00:26:00shul, Yontiv in shul. I was a Chazzen.

EC: In what shul were you a chazzen?

AK: In Rabbi Lindenthal's shul. I was there ten or twelve years. I was there High Holidays and the rest of the holidays, and they liked my davenen--------

EC: Did you think the rest of the Jewish community was very religious?

AK: The Jewish community was not religious. Now is a little better than before. 00:27:00Now they started to teach the children------they didn't teach them before. And now they show the way how to live. Some children come and tell their parents, "Today is Friday. You have to "licht bentschen", and some other things the rabbi told them, and a lot of parents are doing that.

EC: That's interesting, that the children are beginning to show the way.

AK: Religion depends on the children. If you neglect the children, everything is lost. You should give them a Jewish education to show what is allowed and what is not. In that way, we can continue our faith.

EC: Do you feel that the amount of time we are giving now to Jewish education is 00:28:00beginning to be a little bit better?

AK: Yes. Now we have a Yeshiva. Before we had nothing.

EC: Tell me about the beginnings of the Yeshiva.

AK: There was a young man by the name Eisenberg. He was a Young Israel member from New York. He got married in Hartford. He found out that small children were 00:29:00not getting a good education in Talmud Torah. He decided a new school should be built to be named young children Yeshiva. He found a home on Vine Street and rented it. The first year he got seven children. The next year he got more and more and -------- religious education began.

EC: At that Talmud Torah what was the problem? That you didn't have time to teach the children?

A: The children at the Talmud Torah were starting to learn at eight or nine years. Too late. Too old. The main thing was to teach for Bar Mitzvahs and it 00:30:00takes two years to get them ready and after Bar Mitzvah they stop. And Rabbi Eisenberg found out this was not good. You have to start children at six or seven years old.

SIDE ONE TAPE STOPS HERE

SIDE TWO BEGINS

AK: ---------- ---- My wife belonged to Pioneer Women for 30 years. She made arrangements for parties to raise money. In our house every month they got together to play bingo and make about fifteen or twenty dollars to go for the ------------

EC: You yourself, did you belong to the Zionist organization?

00:31:00

AK: Sometimes I went.

EC: You did tell me that you knew Abraham Goldstein. You also had something to tell us about him.

AK: Abraham Goldstein was a brilliant man. He was a good speaker and a good organizer. Hartford people recognized his good qualities. He was the leader of the shul on Bellevue Street. He was a teacher there. He was an insurance agent. He made a nice living. He took part in many societies and institutions ----------

EC: He was a very active Zionist. And you also said that he published a paper. 00:32:00When was it published?

AK: The paper started when the war started in 1940, to 1945. Five years. What sort of a paper was it? The name?

AK: THE TZEIT. THE TIMES.

EC: And it was written in Yiddish?

AK: Yes. He was the editor and wrote the editorials. My son was writing for him.

EC: You have been writing for very many years. And you said the he published one 00:33:00of your poems. Tell me a little bit about your own writing. When did you start to write?

AK: Little by little when I had time. I was interested in poetry. Even in Europe. when I came here I started to write poems. They were liked very much. And every year I put a poem when I sent New Year cards. All the rabbis have my 00:34:00poems and praised me for my writing. I have letters from them and I have a letter from Rabbi Howard Singer and from Rabbi Lindenthal.

EC: Now read one of your poems.

AK: This poem was for Purim. Purim is celebrated in remembrance when the Jews 00:35:00were saved from Haman. He was like Hitler.

EC: Read it for us in Yiddish and then translate it very quickly in English.

AK:

MEGILLAT ESTER B'CHARUZIM

Gehairsht hut ah kenig in ah lond Vos hut nisht gevust fun kein charpeh oon shond Geven iz bai im ain Zach der iker Trinkt fil vine oon shtendik zein shikur.

Der kenig hut gehaisen Achshveros Foon yiden kein mol nisht gemacht kein pirush In zein lond hoben gelebt yiden Un shtendik ruig oon ganz tzufriden.

Dem meloch hut zich farglust zein kenigin veizen Far zeineh leit foon di hoicheh kreizen Ir prochtoon shainkeit tzu zen Tzu kumen ontbloizt vi nor zi ken.

Vahshti hamalkah hut nisht gevolt oisfellen Dem kenig Achashveros's shendlechien vilen Er hut zi defar foon zich fartriben Oon Esteren oif ir ort oisgegliben.

00:36:00

Mordechai hut ir ah brochah gegebin Zi zol zein glicklach ir gantz leben Der kenig zol ir libeh tzaigen Ir kovod bai im zol hoich shtaigen.

Ester iz geven hechts tzufriden Zi hut im farshprochen zein goot tzu yiden S'zol zich ahfilu foderin ir leben Vet zi grait zein far ir fulk upgeben.

Haman harasheh hut nisht gekont tzukukin Vos der yid Mordecai vel zich far im nisht bookin 00:37:00Er hut gegart foon veg uproimen Im, mit ahleh yidin tzuzamen.

A"donee kenig?"-hut Haman gezogt: S'iz doh ah fulk getzait oon geshprait Zai vilen nisht oisfilen deineh vafelinM'darf mit zai mochen ah suf ahshnelen.

Der kenig hutnochgegebin Haman's vilin Oon der loibenish gegebin zein vuntcsh derfilin Farnichtin di yidin tze-rahbiren zair goots M'tore zich nisht keginshtelin nisht geben zai kein shutz.

Ven Ester hut derhairt di bitereh gezarah Iz ir ah pachad vafalen ah moireh Shnell tzu kenig oomgebetin gegangin 00:38:00Rachmonos oif yidin foon im farlongin.

[Transliteration by Edith Gittleman, Daughter of Poet, Aaron Kriwitsky. Hartford, Conn.]

There was a king who was a very foolish man. He was only interested in enjoying himself and drinking. The government was ruled by somebody else, he didn't care.

He wanted to show off his wife, Vashti and asked her to come out naked and she refused. He drove her away and took in Esther, niece of Mordechai. Mordech blessed her and told her to have respect for the king and influence him to be good to the Jewish people.

Haman demanded every body should bow down to him. Mordechai refused. It was a religious thing, not to bow to anyone. Haman was very angry and went to the king and demanded he should get rid of all the Jews. Esther intervened and begged the king to have pity on the Jews.

At that time, nobody was allowed to approach the king and she came to the king without permission.

00:39:00

EC: Mr. Kriwitsky, it is a beautiful poem, However, I would like to turn to another thing. You have always been a very religious person and you and your wife have been devoted to the Jewish religion. I understand you have written a poem on going to shul. I would like you to read a little of it.

AK:

FOON Y ARID (AFTER THE COMMOTION)

Gait Reb Ahron izt tzu Maariv Ruhig longtzom trit bei trit S'iz nishtoh shoin vos tzu hailen Nisht kein chiluk yoh tzu nisht.

Upgezorgt shoinahleh zorgen Altz ge-lozen shoin tzu Gut Er vet firen vi es darf zein Hiten darf men zein gebut.

Lahng fargongen shoin di yoren Foon fil hahven oon geyogt, Nit ah zin ah rainem ah kloren Shver ge-arbet oon zich geplogt.

00:40:00

Lahng fargongen shoin di yoren Ven dos leben hut gesheint s'iz ahvek der yunger nechten Oon gelozt dem ahlten heint.

Filter laydekeit in hartzen Git im traist di ahlteh shul Foon ah Minchah oon ah Maariv Vert tzurik in hartzen full.

Gait Reb Aron izt foon Maariv Ruhig longtzom trit bei trit Upgegeben hut er zein chuv tzu Gut Oon derfrisht iz zain gemut.

[Transliteration by Edith Gittleman, Daughter of Poet, Aaron Kriwitsky. Hartford, Conn.]

Rabbi Ahron went to shul. His mind was clear, all his troubles were forgotten. God would take care of everything.

The old days are gone and long forgotten.

His mind was clear.

He left the Maarive service with a light heart.

EC: A very beautiful poem. I think it gives us an idea of your feeling about 00:41:00religion. That it is a very comforting thing to have.

AK: I was raised in a very religious family. My father was a religious man, and my mother, and my grandfather -------

EC: Now, a very wonderful thing happened to you this year. I can see it in your face. Tell us about your first trip to Israel. How did you happen to go?

00:42:00

AK: I always wanted to see with my own eyes all the things I read about in the Hebrew books and in the Bible, but I couldn't go alone because my wife was sick for four years, and I had to take care of her-----and then, after she died---- 00:43:00My wish was to print my book. I thought if I went to New York to print it, it would cost me more, and in Israel it would cost less, but I found out it would cost me plenty.----------

EC: So you went to Israel to have your book printed. And where are you having it printed? What is the name of the company?

AK: -------- ---- in Tel Aviv. They had a printing shop --------- I have his 00:44:00name and address --------- he was the only one ------- and he sent me the whole thing to look over--------- and I found a lot of mistakes, so I corrected them and sent it back -------

EC: Did you go to Israel by yourself?

AK: With my son. I couldn't go by myself.

EC: How old are you?

AK: I will be 89 in March.

EC: May you live to be 120, and healthy. What did you see in the land of Israel?

AK: I saw a lot of things. I marked them down in a book. In Tel Aviv I saw------ 00:45:00so much buildings, and so much synagogues--------and I was in Jerusalem------the Wailing Wall--------people praying there. Men, women, children. And by the gate was a Jewish soldier, and a goy---they asked for my passport. Two rabbis came 00:46:00over. They gave me shalom aleichem and asked how far did you come. I said "United States" and they said "Ah, United States." They liked the people of the United States---they need the money. And he put his hands on me to bless me and I said I would appreciate a blessing for Rabbi Lindenthal and for my sick brother-in--law------and I gave them each a dollar and they were so happy. After, I went to the Wall and people came to my son and said "You have to put on 00:47:00Tefillin" and my son said he could daven by himself -------

EC: So you put on the tallis and the tefillin and you prayed at the Wall?

AK: ---------- and after there was a kiddush ------

EC: What was the most exciting thing you saw in Israel?

AK: Exciting thing ------ there was so much ---- I was in one place, they call 00:48:00it Yad Vashem. In that place was the rememberance for the six million-- And there were pictures------

EC: What did you think of the young Israeli persons?

AK: The young persons------ they come to Israel and they are very excited. They make a nice living, and business is very-------- and they don't even care if a war is going on. Nobody notices if a war is going on. That's how busy they are. 00:49:00-------- The streets are paved with big stones. Not like here. There are a lot of little stores ----------

EC: You wrote a poem about visiting Rachel's grave. Will you read us a couple of 00:50:00verses? I like the first two verses. would you read them?

AK:

BAI ROCHEL'S KEVER (BY RACHEL'S GRAVE)

Feeling in my body -- holiness and respect.

I feel it now in all the limbs of my body.

I stand now by the holy mother Rachel's grave

In the deepness of my heart I say a prayer.

After the six days of holy war

00:51:00

Let it come, the seventh day of rest

In our land shall be happy and brave

EC: Now I think you wrote a poem about your visit to Israel. Could you read us a couple of verses and tell us what it is?

AK:

IN LOND FOON DI AVOT (IN THE LAND OF OUR FOREFATHERS)

Yisroal, vi shaine iz dein getselt Vu deineh kinder kumen foon di gantser velt Kinder oon shtif-kinder foon der velt 00:52:00Kumen tsu-der-momen in irgetselt.

Ah shtibeleh, ah shichun, grois uder klaine Foon kahnkrit, tsi foon shtaine Dos lond, dos lond izyoonderlech shaine Vi grois der shichunder dos shtibeleh klaine.

Yiddisheh kinderlach foon der zun farbroint Oigelach mit kindersheh fraid bahkroint Oonter Yi sroeldigar zoon laifen, tahnzen, Hecht's tzufrideneh-baimlach flontzin.

Yiroel, vi shaine iz dein getzelt Vu di zun -shein zelten farfelt Oon der korer, raineh himel Mit shtendiger bloikeit bahelt.

Deineh grineh berg, grineh tahlen Nishtoh der shreiber Nishtoh der kinstler Dos tzu bahshreiben udder upmolen.

Shlenlen zich vegen ful Yungt baimer bai zaiten Fort ainer in on automobile Ah tzvaiter oif on aizel tut raiten.

Dos iz Y'isroel lond Dos oisgebenkteh lond Oib Ch'vell dir. Yirushalayim, fargehsen Fargesen zol veren mein rechteh hond. [Transliteration by Edith Gittleman, Daughter of Poet, Aaron Kriwitsky. Hartford, Conn.]

Israel how good are thy tents---- your children are coming from all over the world to visit you----- how goodly are your tents----big and small

Children are sun-burned----and they are happy and dance and they plant trees. 00:53:00The sun shines everywhere---- There is no kind of writer who can describe the beauty of this land. Land which we hoped for.

00:54:00

If I forget thee, O Israel, let my right hand--------

EC: That is very beautiful, and I think it tells us how you felt about Israel. I 00:55:00hope that we will be able to see the book soon in print.

AK: I will give you the book for a present.

EC: You will? Good, because I would like it very much. I think your poems are lovely. Hartford Jewry will be honored in having a writer in our midst. I want to thank you very much.

It will be interesting to know that Mr. Kriwitsky learned to read and write English in Europe. He learned by using a dictionary. He could speak a little bit, but the learning itself was done through the use of a dictionary, in Europe.

00:56:00

This is Emma Cohen, recording for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford.

This is Sunday, August 13, 1972. Thank you.