Post Holocaust Memories
by Anna Rephun Fruchter
Jersey City, New Jersey, a bleak factory town. We moved
there in 1938 because that's where the parnossa was.
Hardly anyone would have chosen to live in this city for any
other reason. For six days a week, countless smoke-stacks
emitted black smoke, effectively hiding the blue sky. Most
of the residents were Polish and Italian immigrants. The
city abounded in bars and liquor stores.
Jews were a small faction of the population. And of this
small fraction, an infinitesimal number were Shabbos-
observant or gave their children a Jewish education. At that
time, less than 5% of all Jewish children nationwide in
America received a religious education. This in a free
country where the Bill of Rights grants each person, citizen
or not, the freedom to adhere to the tenets of his religion!
In dark, medieval Europe, during the Crusades, and in Spain
during the Inquisition, everywhere in the world, Jews
sacrificed their lives, often literally, to transmit to
their children their unique Torah heritage, love of learning
and the observance of our eternal laws.
When we first moved here, there was only a kosher bakery but
no kosher butcher or fish store. In order to buy what was
needed for Shabbos, every Thursday afternoon Mutti and I
would travel to the East Side. First we took the Greenville
bus to the Hudson Tubes, which took us to New York, then two
more trains to the East Side, and then the walk to Delancey
Street, all in all, a two hour trip.
Our very first trip is still etched in my memory. We entered
a busy fish store. A very large fish, still alive, lay on a
board; one third of it was gone and slices were being hacked
from it. At every cut, the fish thrashed and trembled.
"Evver min hachai!" I shouted, tears spurting from my
eyes. I ran out of the store and Mutti followed. Seeing my
anguish, she said softly, "It's only a fish, not an animal.
The distinguished elderly man who is the owner of the store
says that you are permitted to cut up the fish before it is
completely dead. This is not evver min hachai, Anni.
Do you wish to be his Rebbe?"
I realized that I had to go back and apologize, difficult as
it was. But it was weeks before I could eat fish or enter
that store again!
It was easy for my brothers to learn Yiddish in the yeshiva,
for me, somewhat hard. I started by reading the Morning
Journal. I discovered Yiddish literature by Sholom Aleichem
and Mendel Mocher Sforim, which would be frowned upon today,
of course, but I enjoyed the reading experience. I enrolled
in high school and after finishing it, I got a job in the
accounting department of the B. Manishewitz Company. But
this time, I was familiar with all the office machines from
the job I had had after school hours in a furniture store. I
realized that with so many applicants for the position, it
was not my expertise but the fact that Papa worked there and
spoke for me, that landed me the position. All in all, it
was a great chessed from Heaven, since there were
very few places that were closed on Shabbos and Yom Tov and
still paid decent salaries. Besides, the Manischewitzes
supported yeshivos and many charitable institutions and
helped many individuals. They also employed many deaf-mutes
at machines they could handle. Throughout my life, I was
never able to buy any matzos that were not Manishewitz,
remembering their many kindnesses to so many people. Within
the year, I was promoted to head bookkeeper with a salary