Friday, May 23, 2014

SHAVUOT: Spring Holidays in Eastern Europe

"Moses on Mount Sinai". Painting by Jean-Leon Jerome, 1895-1900.

Shavuot is the commemoration of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, and the acceptance of the Law by the Jewish people. It occurrs  seven weeks after Passover, counting from the second day.
Shavuot is also one of the three ancient Jewish pilgrimage holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when Jews in Israel were required to travel to Jerusalem and to offerings to the Temple.  The offerings brought on were the first fruits of the land, which in ancient Israel was barley, which was ready to harvest in the spring.

"Shavuot" Painting by Moritz David Oppenheim 1880.

Since Shavuot has a strong agricultural base, The Jews of Eastern Europe decorated their homes and the Synagogue with garlands, flowers and greenery. The greenery was a reminder of the grass that the Jews stood on when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. The holiday was celebrated in the Synagogue and in the home. Since the Jews were promised a “Land of milk and honey” by God, dairy products are served on Shavuot.  Orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe observed Shavuot for two days.  On the first day, only dairy foods were eaten, which included many dishes made with cheese. Cheese filled kreplach, (dumplings) made in triangle shapes were served on the first night of Shavuot.

Triangle shaped Kreplach for Shavuot
A dinner which included meat was served on the second day.  Two loaves of challah were baked, one long one with a braided dough ladder on the top, and one round.

A "Seven Heavens" Challah for Shavuot

Ladder Challah for Shavuot

In Eastern Europe, young children between the ages of three and five, began their study of the Torah during Shavuot.  They were given honey, cake and candy so they would associate Torah study with sweetness and joy.

Paper cut  for  Shavuot showing the Ten Commandments and the Torah by Stephen Funk

Another interesting custom that developed around Shavuot was the making of paper cuts called Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) or roiselekh (little roses).  These were elaborate designs made from paper cut in intricate designs.  This custom was practiced primarily in Ukraine and Lithuania: in Galicia and Bukovina in Ukraine, and in neighboring areas of Poland and Russia.  The designs were floral, or traditional Jewish motifs.

Modern Paper Cut by Israeli artist Yehudit Shadur

Shavuot begins on June 3, 2014.

     Jewish Life: Shavuot in the Community.  The Jewish Federation of North America. Shavuot in the Community.
     Jewish Life: Shavuot at Home. The Jewish Federation of North American, Shavuot at Home.
     Ross, Lesli Koppleman. Shavuot Decorations., The Jewish Federation of North America.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Greetings! from the 1940's.

No email? No Twitter, no Facebook?  Communicating  with people outside your own community wasn't as easy in the 1940's as it is today.  Of course, there was the telephone, but long distance was very expensive and people used it only for very important calls.  Western Union Telegrams were fast, but also expensive--and the arrival of a telegram usually meant some serious news was being delivered.  What people used was the US mail and the letter and its "little brother" the picture postcard. It only cost a penny to send a postcard and 3 cents to mail a letter.  It was a reliable and fairly quick way to get news to you family and friends who lived far away. 

Put the postcard into an envelope, and you had a short letter and a nice picture too.The pictures appear to be originally black and and white, with color applied later in the printing process.
This is The Chicago Temple, a church on the top of a skyscraper.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and the United States Constitution was written and signed in 1787. 

The Rand Tower in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Trojan, mascot of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

San Juan Capistrano Mission in California

A letter from California--with a Christmas Seal from the March of Dimes on the envelope.
Golden Gate Park and Lombard Street in San Francisco

A birthday telegram delivered to my grandmother  by Western Union.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Five Helen Rychlys--A Genealogy Surprise

When I first began to ask my grandmother, Pauline Rychly Haydak about her family, I was surprised to find that both of her grandmothers were named Barbara (Varvara).

As I started to construct a family tree for her family, the Rychlys, I realized that two great-grandmothers having the same name wasn’t that special—I discovered that there were FIVE women in the Rychly family by the name of Helen and all closely related!  To simplify this, I am going to show how each woman was related to my grandmother.

I will start with Helen Rychly, my grandmother’s younger sister.  She was the first Helen, although her name was originally spelled Olena.  She was born in Bila, Ternopil’, Galicia, in 1906.  She came to the United States in 1922, and settled in Minneapolis.   Her first husband was Stephen Koshuba, who was the brother of my grandmother’s first husband, John Koshuba.  Her second marriage was to Anthony Tkachyk.  After her second marriage, she moved to Montana, raised a family, and lived there until her death in 1996.

Helen Rychly, my grandmother's sister at her wedding to Stephen Koshuba in 1924.

The second Helen married my great uncle, Onofrey Rychly, she was my grandmother’s sister-in-law.  She was born to John and Rosalia Tkachyk in 1908 in Franklin, Manitoba, Canada. (Her brother Anthony is mentioned in the paragraph above). Helen came to the United States with her family in 1910, and settled in Sheridan, Montana. They later moved to Scobey, Montana, where they had a farm. Helen worked in Scobey after she finished school, and moved Minneapolis about 1930-31. She met and married Onofrey around 1932; they had three children. The family lived in Minneapolis for many years, moving to Columbia Heights, MN, around 1956.  Helen lived there until her death in July 2005.  She was an artist and painted portraits of several family members, as well as a skilled seamstress and pysanka painter.

Helen Tkachyk Rychly, my grandmother's sister-in-law at her wedding in 1932.

The next Helen, the daughter of Stanley and Maria Rychley, was born in 1920 in Minneapolis.  She was my grandmother’s first cousin. Helen’s father, Stanley Rychley, was my grandmother's uncle.  Helen was known for her beautiful singing voice and  great memory.  She never married, and lived in the same house for over 70 years.  She died in July, 2000.

Helen Rychley, my grandmother's first cousin, (top center), 1937.  Ukrainian Day, Detroit Lakes MN

The fourth Helen Rychly was born in Canada in March 1930, the daughter of John and Teckla Rychly. She was my grandmother’s niece. John was one of my grandmother’s two brothers. He was born in Bila; he and his family immigrated to Canada in the 1920’s. The family moved to Anoka MN, in the late 1930’s.  Helen married Erling (Ed) Grotberg and was survived by five children, 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren when she died in December 2010.  
I do not have any pictures of Helen Rychly Grotberg.

The last Helen Rychly is the person that I know the least about. She was my grandmother’s sister-in-law.   She was born Helen Hrymiak in Bila Ternopil’ and married Stephen Rychly.  Stephen was one of my grandmother’s brothers. Both brothers, Stephen and John Rychly, stayed in Bila, farming the family property after the rest of the family immigrated to the United States.  Stephen and Helen married around 1923 had two daughters, Kerava born in 1924, and Miroslava, born in 1927.  Stephen was sent to Siberia during World War 2 and died there.  Helen and her daughters continued to live in Ternopil’ and both girls raised families there.  Again, no pictures of  Helen Hrymiak Rychly.

You never know what you will find when you start a family tree.  Looking through long lists of names is tedious, running into dead ends is common, and big finds are rare.  But everyone in a while, a surprise comes along and makes all the hunting worthwhile!

Friday, May 2, 2014

May Day, Five Ways

May Pole and May Day Festivities, Bryn Mawr College 1910

May Day in the 1950's

I remember making May Baskets in elementary school out of construction paper.  I think the purpose of these baskets was for flowers--mostly dandelions or violets, which we were supposed to hang on the door knob on May Day.   No May Pole, or much of anything else.

May Day at Connecticut College

May Day had a little more more importance in college.  A May Pole was set up on the big green overlooking Long Island Sound, and students danced around it in the early morning.  Afterwards, strawberries and cream were served for breakfast in the dining halls.  I never saw the May Pole--much too early in the morning for me, but I remember the very small and sour strawberries that were available in May in the 1960's.  I checked my college yearbooks, no May Pole pictures, so I had to substitute the picture above from another woman's college May Day festivity.  Today at Connecticut College, the May Day celebration continues, with the May Pole (still no pictures available) and the Westerly, RI, Morris Dancers, who have been dancing in May for the past 42 years on campus.

Westerly, RI, Morris Dancers, Performing on Tempel Green, Connecticut College, 2013.

May Day in History

Celebrating May Day has ancient  roots, it was a part of the Roman festival called Flora, which celebrated flowers, spring and fertility.  Beltane, a Celtic festival, celebrated the beginning of summer.  In Germany, a festival honoring St Walpurga, who helped bring Christianity to the German people was celebrated on the first of May.  The Maypole and Morris dancing originated in Medieval England when people would go into the woods and bring out greens and flowers, which was referred to as "going a-maying". Some of these customs were brought to the United States by immigrants, but for the most part, they have faded away over the years.

Engraving showing May Day customs in England in the late 1700's.

May 1: Labor Day/The International Worker's Day

May Day, the labor holiday, started in the United States, during the early days of the Labor Movement.  Labor groups such as the Knights of Labor began to ask for an eight hour work day in  the 1880s.

All over America, On May 1, 1886, 300,00 workers walked off their jobs.  In Chicago, the center of the eighth hour day movement, 40,000 workers went on strike.  The numbers of strikers grew in the next few days, but no violence developed.  On May 3, 1886, violence broke out between the police and the workers at the McCormick Reaper Works,  when a bomb was thrown at a line of police. Many people were injured and 7-8 people  people were killed including a policeman. Seven more policemen died of their injuries in the next few days.  Eight anarchists were arrested and convicted of murder, one committed suicide and four were hanged on November 11, 1887.  There was never proof that any of the people arrested and convicted had anything to do with the bombing, other than being anarchists and supporters of improving working conditions for laborers. Illinois Governor Altgeld pardoned the last three anarchists in November 1877, and was strongly criticized for his decision.  In commemoration of what became known as the Haymarket Massacre, May 1 was established at International Workers' Day. It is celebrated all over the world, but not in the  United States.

May Day in Istanbul, Turkey

British labor poster listing the goals of the Labor Movement.

MAYDAY! the International Distress Call.

The third use of May Day is a distress call used by sailors and pilots, to indicate that a like threatening emergency is in progress.  The term is always given three times in a row: MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, so it is never mistaken for  a word in conversation.


Link to my blog post about Labor Day in China, May 2013