A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
Growing Up Under Russian Rule 1815 - 1914 Part 6
CARING FOR THE SICK
Sometimes the sick traveled by train or a horse-drawn carriage to Königsberg, a German town in East Prussia about 40 kilometers away, known for its outstanding physicians. The custom of seeking a Jewish physician in Germany resulted from the fact that beginning in 1871, thousands of German Jews had graduated from the country‘s medical schools, then under the German Chancellor Bismarck. (By 1900, sixteen percent of all physicians in Germany were Jewish although Jews comprised only one percent of the population. Some German Jewish doctors attained fame for their research during this period.) There was only one medical doctor and a feldsher [folk doctor] to care for the Jews who were sick. There were no nurses, and if there had been, few residents could have afforded to pay for their services. Some boys and girls in their teens, working in pairs, organized themselves in linyes hatsedek [lines of charity] and performed night-nursing duties. They went to the homes of the sick and watched over them, relieving worn-out family members and helping with household chores. The folk doctor utilized spells, amulets, herbs, and other supposed remedies to ward off sickness, as well as cupping, the application of a suction cup to flesh to remove body toxins. For severe swelling, heated bankes [cupping glasses] were applied to the body of an ailing person to draw blood to the body surface. When a finger was cut, a spider web was applied to stop bleeding. Smoke emanating from a burning piece of gauze was used to disinfect a wound. When one felt struck by an eynore [evil eye], it was recommended to see someone who possessed the power to talk the evil away. When a person was dangerously ill, family and friends gathered around the patient‘s bed and performed opshrayen a teytn [screaming and yelling] at the patient-the louder the better. For severe sneezing, the feldsher pulled the left ear and spat three times. For sand in the eye, the lid was pulled down to stimulate tearing. To ward off an illness, the Hebrew word adoshem [word for G-d] was written around the neck of a sick person. It also was advisable to visit a gutn yid [a good Jew] for a magical cure from a suffering illness. Two generations later, when I had a wart on my finger, my - father told me to put urine on the wart to make it disappear people prescribed bobes refues [grandmother‘s remedies], such as old wives‘ tales. One such remedy to prevent colds was placing a piece of garlic in a bag and hanging it around the neck. Worm kraut was a candy medicine given to youngsters at the beginning of each month as protection against intestinal worms and rock candy was given for coughs or colds. To drive away an evil eye from a child who suddenly became sick, it was advised to talk against the evil eye. When looking at a beautiful infant, it was advisable to spit and say ―What an ugly baby. The culture interpreted and analyzed beyze khaloymes [bad dreams]. When a person had a disturbing dream, he gathered three friends and repeated these Hebrew words: ―Kholem toyve hazise.‖ [―May your dreams be good.‖] His listeners answered, ―Kholem toyve hazise.” [“Your dreams are good.] This was repeated three times to relieve the mind. People bought medicine at a chemical store with its highly polished floors and rows of shining porcelain medicine jars. The medicine was packed in a box or a bottle with attached slips that stated the contents of the prescription with the doctor‘s and patient‘s names. There was a shelter for wanderers and visiting scholars.
Life was highly valued among the Jews. It was essential to live life to the fullest, as well as humanely and ethically to form a binding relationship with G-d. According to Jewish law it is forbidden even to move the arm of a dying man, as it might shorten precious moments of his life. The scriptures tell us, ―He who takes his own life, has no part in the world to come.‖ When a well-respected Jewish man community committed suicide, the town was shocked and saddened. He was a Jewish man blessed with a wife and many attractive sons and daughters who attended the gimnazyes, and he had a well-paying job as a tailor sewing uniforms for Russian officers. ―A malady hit this family. As the children reached adulthood, they became sick and died from tuberculosis or other diseases. The father was also infected with this disease. The family kept a cow because people believed that fresh cow‘s milk is a good remedy. The father, an expert tailor, sewed uniforms for Russian officers, and there was no shortage of money in this family, but the continual tragedies weighed heavy on them. One morning when the wife returned from milking their cow, she found her husband bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted cut, which he made with a sharp razor. He died shortly afterward.
His funeral was attended not only by Jews but many Russian officials, including high-ranking officers, who cried at the untimely death of their master craftsman. Straight after the death, a yahrzeit [commemoration of death] candle was lit in the mourner's house for the ascent of the soul of the departed. If possible the funeral was soon as possible. Until the funeral, the mourner was exempted from prayers and blessings, so he can honor the dead and take care of the funeral arrangements. At the funeral, the mourner tore an outer garment, and continued wearing it throughout the shivah [Judaism's week-long period of grief and mourning for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse]. The men‘s and women‘s volunteer members of Chevrah Kadisha [burial society], arranged for funerals. They prepared the bodies for burial, chanted the prayers for the dead, and collected money in tin cups at the time of the funeral. The ring of the cups and the chant ―charity will save one from death accompanied the funeral procession. The poor and pious were buried promptly without remuneration by the family. Once the family returned from the funeral, the mourners were not allowed to do many things for the seven days. The shivah candle flickered during the seven days following the funeral was a period of mourning after the death. There were many rules concerning the shivah, which created a great interruption to one's normal routine to honor the dead and to help the mourner deal with his or her loss. The week of sitting shivah, the family was confined to their home and friends came for condolences.