David Giora: Shabbat dinner and soda bottles

Usually a Jew blesses the wine on Friday night. I did not know that. I only knew that you drink four cups at Seder, or that the cantor in the Great Synagogue was doing it. Father, of course, would bless the Challahs and I as a big boy would follow.

Friday Night meal was customary as in most Jewish homes. Fish filled with the special Polish taste, sweet and peppered. You dipped the Challah in the hot, liquid stock and licked your fingers.

The second course was almost always “Noodle and Babalac” (noodles and beans) in a clear soup. And finally the meat dish has arrived. Always (or at least usually) it was beef, which was much cheaper than chicken. Do not think we hurried through the meal. This is to know that the Zmirut Shabbat was an inseparable part of the meal. We sang a lot at home. What do I mean, “Sang”? All the prayers and chants that were heard in the synagogue were also heard in our home. Was it was the real choir? Certainly not, but not a cacophony either.

Our father loved to sing, and we (my brother Rafael and I) were the soloists. My sister Frieda was still a baby and even our mother’s voice, which excelled in singing, was not heard. Because – what did she have to do with synagogue on Friday night?

That’s the way we are at home. And what is going on in other homes? Was there a melancholy there? God forbid. Even in the poorest of houses, Friday night was the height of the world and the most important part were the songs.

During the hot summer days, with the windows wide open, you heard the sounds coming from the various houses, with one melody swallowed up in the other. From many houses you heard the “Shalom Aleichem” prayer even before the Kiddush of Shabbat was recited. There was a lot of singing before silence has fallen. Such a Shabbat could be celebrated only there, because everything that was renewed and added to this modern character cannot substitute a traditional Sabbath, as was customary there, in the countries of the Diaspora.

When we came home from the synagogue, I had an important role before the festive Shabbat meal began.

What did this role mean? You’ll know soon.

We had a shop in our city, not a simple shop, but selling sweets. In Yiddish (and Polish) it was called Tzokirnih (Cokierinia). The special thing about this store was that they sold soda water from containers (or rather large siphons), but mainly – the soda was made on the spot. In the backroom of the store were big tanks which created the soda, not only for their own consumption, but also for other shops, and people on the street that wanted a glass of cold soda, and those who could afford it – with sweet raspberry juice.

It was a rule for Father that on Friday night he did not eat without drinking (he meant it personally). I, as a big boy (probably not sent before I was about ten years old), my job was to go at night to bring a bottle of soda with raspberry juice.

The shop I’m talking about was run by two married brothers. For some reason, these brothers were called in Yiddish “di Bocarim” (boys). This is to know, “fellow” in the Diaspora – was a nickname for someone single and lonely. Why was this nickname attached to them, I will not know to this day. But the main thing was that Dad also cooperated in breaking the Sabbath. “di Bocarim” certainly did not observe the Sabbath.The fact that their shop was open on Friday night (and Saturday) says it all.

This does not mean that the store was roundly wide open, as our acquaintance’s Kaddish shop. The opposite is correct. Everything was closed, and no light came out. When you walked through the yard and the back door opened, everything was as lively as in the middle of the week. The shop was full of people who drank the soda and ate sweets. I, of course, asked for what I wanted, and yet the saliva was dripping from my mouth when I saw the abundance of chocolate and candies lying in the glass jars on the shelves and the sales counter.

On the way home I did not rush at all, because I loved to look into the bottle and see the bubbles rising. In order to stimulate the bubbling even more, I would shake the bottle, and so it happened to me once, that the cork popped out and I was trembling with fear until I found it.

Of course I was home late, and the Soda no longer had the same taste, as it should have. I had to make up a story about the large crowd in the shop, and how I had to wait until they saw me over the counter. I’ve been trying to do no more such tricks.

Since I told you about the “di Bocarim” and their work on Saturday, I may tell a tragic story that happened to one of them. One Saturday, the city was noisy. And what happened? A disaster has happened. One of the boys returned his soul to his Maker. What do I mean by “returned his soul”? He had died a strange death: he had literally exploded, as the soda siphon had exploded, while he had been filling it. I do not believe the city’s ultra-Orthodox circles were delighted with this event, but they certainly were not sorry. Of course they saw it as an act of God. I remember seeing, with many others, the exhumation of the corpse, from which the blood flowed, on two boards, the sight was disgusting and shocking.

The next time I was sent to fetch soda, I was already afraid. It always seemed to me that I was seeing the smiling face of one of the “di Bocarim”. The terrifying sight followed me a long time. The peak of fear was when I entered the dark courtyard and the stairwell. So I began to shout with all my strength “Mamsi”.

When our door on the second floor opened, and the light came out, my heart was relieved.

Hebrew version Written by David Giora.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.