Saturday, August 14, 2010

Old guys at shul

My grandfather, who we called zayde, used to go to shul on Saturdays and hang out with other old guys.  At times I would go with him, and his old guy pals would pat me on the head, ask me how old I was and what grade I was in, and sometimes give me hard candy, which was always awful.  Once one of them offered me a pinch of snuff, so I could see what it was like.  It was unspeakable.  Why in the world do/did people use snuff?

The synagogue was at the top of a steep flight of stairs.  I don't know how anyone climbed them, let alone older people.  People were different in those days.  They were built differently.   The ability to climb stairs has apparently been bred out of the human race nowadays.  Of course those old people were a lot younger than I am nowadays, but they seemed ancient to me.

The shul was old guy headquarters.  They would sit and daven, then get up and greet their friends, sometimes go out and stand on the steps to chat and exchange greetings.  During services, many of them would daven, but others would talk or just generally wander around.  The place was their club, coffeehouse, and bar combined.  The women, few of whom came except on high holidays or other important occasions,  would sit upstairs.  I was only up there once or twice, preferring to hang out with the other kids, either downstairs or some other place where we had no business being.

The children, mostly boys, would dart out the doors chasing each other or would go in the back yard and throw spitballs at each other.  Sometimes they would pull my pigtails and run away.

Services were interminable.  Eons would pass as they droned on.  My eyes glazed over until I was roused from my stupor at the singing of Ayn Keloheynu, which marked the termination of the proceedings.

There was a social hall of sorts buried in the bowels of the place, and after services the congregation would gather for a snack: pickled herring, gefilte fish, cake or cookies.  The old men would have a shot of what they called broynfen (whiskey), straight, and a few nibbles.

The shul is long gone.  It was sold to a black church maybe 40 years ago, when all the Jews moved to nicer neighborhoods.   Bubbe and zayde's house, which was within walking distance, belongs to my brother and me.  We haven't been there in years.  One of mother's client/friends lives there and pays us a nominal sum.  The neighborhood is totally different nowadays.


airforcewife said...

You know I love your family stories.

One of the things that I think makes your memory writing so absorbing is the way you use the Yiddish in context. You use them liberally, but in such a way that a reader not familiar with the terms has no problem understanding what you are describing.

The way you write reminds me of the style in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but nowhere near as harsh a subject.

I would buy the book about your family.

miriam said...

i will have to work on that book. Right now it's a mighty short one.