Peska Friedman (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

I was born in the town of Siedlce, Poland. Most of the people in Siedlce were shomrei Shabbos and very poor.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

My parents married and settled in Parzcewo. After World War I, in 1919, my parents returned to Poland and settled in Siedlce, where I was born. The first nine years of my life in Siedlce were the most sparkling days of my life.

My father, Harav Nosson Dovid Rabinowicz, was a renowned Rebbe in prewar Poland. He was the son of Harav Yitzchok Yaakov Rabinowicz, the Biala Rebbe and author of the Divrei Binah. When the Biala Rebbe passed away, he left a will in which he urged his children to set aside any jealousies and to remain strong in their love for one another. My father’s love for Am Yisrael radiated to every one of the many visitors he received in our home.

My father’s children were his first priority, whether there were guests in the house or not. Through his love we learned of the love of Hashem. His behavior was full of compassionate instruction of the ways of a Jew, whether he was playing with us, speaking to guests,or sitting alone and learning in his study. His unassuming gestures and gentle nods flowed with sterling dignity of the Torah. All through the day, we learned from him.

My father died at the age of 62. He had not been feeling well and knew that his end was near. My paternal grandmother lived in Warsaw and my father had consistently sent her letters. He did not want her to have any aggravation so before his death he prepared three months’ worth of postcards with instructions for my sister Devorah to mail one each week.

My mother, Yitta (Spira) Horowitz, was the daughter of Harav Moshe Leib Spira, the Sassover–Stryzower Rebbe. My mother provided the sharp edge to my father’s pacific manner. He was the voice of tolerance and humor; she the wielder of practicality and discipline. My mother was an extremely resourceful and meticulous woman. She taught us everything: to sew, to cook and to embroider.

My mother had a very pure sense of Yiddishkeit and the technical ability to make sure that halachah was observed to the finest detail in our house. The best example I can think of is the Shabbos oven she built for us.

In those days there were no ovens whose temperature could be finely regulated. On Erev Shabbos, because there was an eruv around our neighborhood, all the people sent their cholent pots to the local baker, who kept them warm overnight in his large oven. After shul on Shabbos morning, dozens of children could be seen carrying the cholent home in cast-iron pots. My father, however, did not send our cholent to the public oven, for he wanted to maintain a strict standard of kashrus and preferred not to mix our food with that of others. My mother had to figure out another way to keep our food warm, so she did what she had to do.

We speak freely nowadays of chessed and of “open houses,” but my mother’s was open in the truest sense of the word.  One of her greatest gifts to me, in fact, was the presentation of hospitality as a given, as a prescribed staple of daily life. She made it so natural a part of our household routine that I was later able to carry on that practice in my own home.

What kind of education did you receive?

My father did not send any of my four brothers to cheder, insisting on supervising their education personally. Each day the boys learned in my father’s beis medrash, which was upstairs from our apartment. In addition, he searched across the country to find suitable talmidei chachamim to learn with them privately. Every teacher was hand-picked.

My sisters and I did not attend the local Polish public school. Most of my friends attended school and some even went on Shabbos, sitting in class without writing, since the law about school attendance was strictly enforced. Because of his status, my father received dispensation from the city authorities and was permitted to educate his children at home.

My older sisters Chavcia and Devorah were eager to learn, but I cannot say the same for myself. In addition to our regular studies we took sewing lessons on a new Singer sewing machine and when Chavcia got engaged my father brought in a young woman to teach us how to dance.

 To be continued…


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.