Dasha Rittenberg née Werdygier, born in 1936
Celebrating Shabbat: How I Remember It
Friday — Preparations for the Sabbath
Our sages teach us that the greatest gift that the Jewish people received from God is Shabbat). I was a child from a Hasidic family, the daughter of a great teacher from Góra Kalwaria. At home, where Shabbat was a great event, we treated this gift with great solemnity, fulfilling all the laws, even the most minute ones, with the greatest precision, even meticulously. In my family home, where I was brought up, preparations for Shabbat began the moment the previous Shabbat ended—that is, after Havdalah. Friday was for us like Erev Yom Kippur. The day was filled with joy and anxiety about whether there would be enough time to complete the preparations before it arrived.
Shabbat is the Hebrew word for the Sabbath.
Góra Kalwaria, known in Yiddish as Ger, was a well-known Hasidic center in Poland.
Havdalah is the ceremony signifying the end of the Sabbath day.
Erev [evening] marks the beginning of a Jewish holiday; Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] is one of the “High Holidays” occurring in autumn.
I had three brothers who came home from school a little earlier on Fridays to prepare for Shabbat, so as not to be late for anything. One of my many chores was to clean my brothers’ shoes. According to them, I was the best shoeshine girl, because I polished their shoes according to their instructions—until they sparkled and I could see myself in their shiny tips as if in a mirror.
The kitchen was, of course, the center of preparations for Shabbat. The cooking and baking were done there, the floor was scrubbed, we washed our hair there, and the hot water was gotten ready. It was an incredible commotion—ironing and cleaning. Grandma soaked her feet so she could put on her Saturday shoes more easily. The atmosphere resembled a festive reception for a bride.
As I remember it, we could eat some of the cakes already on Friday, but I would not dare touch the others, because they were meant for Shabbat. The difference between Shabbat and a regular day was so huge, that from Friday noon on, my entire mentality, my whole way of thinking, would undergo a change.
The table was covered with a snow-white damask tablecloth, and upon it was set a silver platter with silver candlesticks, which must have already served my grandparents for lighting candles.
And slowly, the holiday spirit would settle in. As in most Jewish homes, Shabbat began the moment the candles were lit. Then my beloved father and brothers, dressed in their holiday best, would set out together for the evening prayers. Mama could finally rest after a full week of work and dashing about. And we—the youngest girls in the family—set the table, said our evening prayers, and waited for the king and the princes to come back home.
Thus would begin the day that is the greatest blessing of the Jewish people. The rest—that’s our common tragic history, which, together with its greatness, is gone forever. I am glad that I have this memory. I remember much more, however, not just this—and I hope that I will never, ever forget.