Snuff, square yarmulkes and bar mitzvah memories

Comments Off on Snuff, square yarmulkes and bar mitzvah memories

Washington Jewish Week

February 9, 2006

To prepare me for my bar mitzvah back in the 1930s, I had a good teacher — my father, Moshe Aharon Rosen. In addition to being a shochet and mohel, my father established a cheder in one room of our home, teaching forthcoming bar mitzvah boys how to read Hebrew and preparing them for their haftarah.

Tuition was $1 a week.

We lived at 713 4th St., S.W., in D.C., the former residence of Rabbi Moshe Yoelson, whose son was the famous movie actor Al Jolson.

Empire chicken and turkey products were not yet on market shelves. Housewives had to purchase live chickens and take them to the schochet of their choice — or have the chickens delivered (no charge).

I remember delivering chickens to Rabbi Joshua Klavan’s residence on F Street S.W. to schecten and fliken, to slaughter and pluck. The charge was 15 cents. Going rate for a bris was $10.

My dad was a very active member of Talmud Torah, served as recording secretary, read the Torah every Saturday, blew the shofar on the High Holidays and davened Mincha every Yom Kippur.

I don’t remember the subject of my bar mitzvah speech, but definitely recall that I did not have to dodge any candies. In the 1930s, candy, if available, was only eaten, never thrown.

All the b’nai mitzvah wore a plain square yarmulke, now out of style, rather than the present imprinted kippah. I’m still researching who changed the style, when and why.

The custom at our shul, Talmud Torah, was that immediately following his haftarah portion, the “new man” would walk back to the rear of the synagogue, through the lobby and upstairs to the women’s section, locate and kiss his mother, and then return to the men’s section.

The standard bar mitzvah kiddush menu featured herring and onions, kichel, wine, liquor and usually tomato sardines.

During my youth, I can’t recall attending any gala bar mitzvah celebrations like today’s events featuring a gourmet meal, fancy deserts with dancing, candlelight services, games, balloons, table setting, etc.

Rabbi Klavan, whose son, Hillel, is rabbi emeritus of Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, officiated at my service. His sermons were delivered in Yiddish and when he walked past a seated congregant, that person would show respect by rising from his bench.

There were two items always on the bima table that have vanished today. The first was a container of snuff (pulverized tobacco inhaled through the nostrils), called smek tabak in Yiddish. Perhaps snuff was popular because obviously no one could light a cigarette on the Sabbath.

The second bima item no longer seen was a leathery-type paddle resting on a leathery base. On the first day of each new month, and on special festival, the shamas (sexton) would strike the base with the paddle announcing, for example, a prayer that might be said only during certain times of the year.

Larry Rosen


No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Comments RSS Feed