Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alexander Ehrmann - May 13, 1983

Religious Life

Was your family considered particularly religious?

Yes, we were considered religious. My father wore a beard. My mother wore a sheitel. Uh, so did my sister when she got married, my older sister. Uh, we were considered uh, religious uh, our community, the Jewish community, was rather on the religious side. There were very few who were uh, non-religious. There were maybe three, four, families who were uh, not practicing religion and even those families uh, sort of did it in, on their own in privacy because uh, they did not keep their stores open uh, out of respect. Even uh, uh, some wealthy people--there was a banker in town, a Jewish banker, one of the Jewish bankers, there were at one time three Jewish bankers in town uh, whose wife was uh, very liberal uh, non-religious person. She walked out of town, out of city limits, and got on her uh, horse and--horse drawn carriage to go to her uh, farm and when she came back she got off the uh, the carriage outside of town and walked in. She would not drive through, through town on the Sabbath. Uh, so, there was a lot of respect for the religion in our town.

Tell me something about your more vivid memories about um, your family life. What, for example, would a, would Friday night dinner be like?

Uh, Friday night dinner, of course uh, we went to synagogue for services uh, Friday evening services, we came home uh, we started the dinner with singing Shalom Aleichem. There was Kiddush, conducted by my father and the whole family participated. Uh, the boys were given their own cups of wine uh, to uh, follow our father in Kiddush. After Kiddush we washed our hands uh, according to the ritual and we said uh, the Hamotzi. Uh, again, the boys were given separate small challas uh, two challas uh, just like our father, to follow in the same uh, ceremony. And after the uh, bread was uh, sliced and eaten, we followed with the dinner, with a uh, festive dinner. Typically, there was uh, an appetizer served, soup uh, as a rule chicken soup or meat broth, and uh, main dish, meat with whatever vegetables, and then there was dessert. Uh, throughout the uh, dinner there was a lot of ceremonial singing. The uh, Psalms and uh, Friday night uh, traditional uh, Jewish songs. And it was concluded with Birkat ha-mazon, the after meal grace, which uh, just as soon as uh, two of the boys were the Bar Mitzvah age, we did it in, in a formal, in a formal way as it is required with three adult people at the, at the meal. And after the, after dinner, there was usually family sat and talked, whatever uh, daily actualities uh, family related matters uh, later on in an hour, an hour and a half after dinner, my father would want to sit down and either uh, relate to us uh, from the Bible, from the Talmud uh, uh, from his father uh, his father was an author of uh, several books. Uh, he would talk to us uh, about uh, Torah related items. Every Friday night something was--unless, there was something going on in the synagogue, in the winter nights uh, then we all went to the synagogue to listen to a visiting rabbi or whatever. Otherwise, in the, in the uh, within the family circle, there was some kind of Torah related activity. Uh, either Friday night or, or Saturday during the day, it was a custom to go over the entire weekly portion of the Torah and uh, we were uh, asked by our father to do it twice--there is a certain requirement uh, that you, you have to read the Torah, every sentence twice, and then the third time, the, the Aramaic part of it, the Aramaic translation of the Torah uh, with the notes, singing it the way it's read from the Torah during the services in uh, on Saturday morning. So, we did that either Friday night or Saturday during the day, or part of it Friday night and the uh, concluding part of it during the day on Saturday. Uh, then we went to sleep and uh, Saturday morning it started again uh, we went to the synagogue um, returning to Friday night, we were regularly practicing going to the mikveh, before the Sabbath.

This is the ritual bath?

The Sabbath. That's the ritual bath. Uh, all males were required to go to the ritual bath before the Sabbath entered. Uh, the uh, cheder uh, let out early on Fridays. In the winter, there was no cheder Friday afternoon, so we were given enough time for that. The stores closed as a rule, I think it was ten minutes before candle lighting time, so that everybody had a chance or storekeepers really went during the afternoon and they went back to the store. Uh, all males went to the uh, uh, ritual bath. Uh, some went even Saturday morning. I, myself uh, went a few times, I remember, after I was Bar Mitzvah uh, I accompanied my father or I just went on my own out of my own uh, incentive. Um, services in the morning Saturday were around nine o'clock, they started about nine o'clock, and they uh, lasted usually 'til about noon, eleven-thirty. It was something we looked forward to. It was nice uh, it was nice to be together with the congregation, with friends, with neighbors, with people we knew. It was one form of getting together in a relaxed uh, atmosphere. And, of course, there was the inevitable politicking. Uh, in recess, in uh, during the reading of the Torah uh, we as children looked forward to it. It was something that--pleasant that I look back at always with uh, pleasant uh, taste.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn