I came across this postcard, published in Czernowitz around 1900, only a few days ago, just at the right time, as we shall see. The white-bearded rabbi’s picture would not be unusual in the contemporary postcard edition of Czernowitz which, under the title of “Bukowinaer Types”, abundantly shed the arranged ethnographic photographies, among them many Jewish ones. All the more surprising, however, is this secular setting, where the rabbi raises a wine bottle – oh, those slender, thick-walled, opaque green shining old bottles! –, and with the other hand points to it in a teaching gesture with an enigmatic meaning. Whether he wants to propagate the drink or call the attention to its dangers, the scene certainly seems a cuckoo’s egg in the orthodox canon.
Under the picture the name of the rabbi is also included: Burech Bendit. About him, however, the world wide web does not offer any more detail either in Latin or in Yiddish letters. We turn to our Hebrew expert Két Sheng, then, who offers us the following information:
I won’t say it. It must be some general Jewish stereotype, as “Uncle Kohn”. Burech Bendit is in fact a double first name (I almost said Christian name, unberufen!), as both the Yiddish Burech and the Latin Bendit means blessed. Burech Bendit – sometimes in the Hebrew form, Baruch Bendit – is a common Jewish first name, just like Zeew Wolf (both meaning wolf, the first in Hebrew, the second in Yiddish), or Tzvi Hersh (deer in Hebrew and Yiddish). So I do not think you should seek for a historical person.
But he who seeks shall find.
In this postcard the glass has been already handed from Reb Burech to a more Bohemian member of his commnity, and the caption also makes its purpose more unambiguous: Reb Burech drinks toast, that is, he converts the double blessing inherent in his name into threefold. His gesture, however, remains enigmatic, as if he warned that too much is as bad as nothing at all.
And a third postcard also reveals us the name of the Bohemian character: he is Schlojmy Bäcker, who proudly leads under the chuppah his fiancee, “the Kaly”. The names suggest that the figures of the scenes might have been very well known, at least to a local circle. But which circle was it?
The company of Simon Gross, which published these postcards, had its seat at Main Street 27 of Czernowitz, on the following fin-de-siècle map section in the black house above the double letters “s” of Haupt-Strasse, to the left of the Serbian church of St. Paraskeva, the first Orthodox church of the city. This was a convenient location. Above, in the Rudolfsplatz was built the pride of the city, the Philharmony, raised from the donations of the most prominent citizens in 1876. In Hormuzaki Street stood the palace of the wealthy Fanariote Hormuzaki Barons, whose generosity permitted to Franz Liszt and a number of other renowned European artists to repeatedly tour in the city. In front of the building branched off from the main street the Judengasse – today Sholem Aleichem Street – where there stood the Yiddis theater, the other pride of the city, whose inhabitants with great devotion nurtured their mother tongue: here they held in 1908 the first conference of the Yiddish language, which launched the still blooming “Yiddish Renaissance”. And further down, at the corner of Schulgasse and Türkengasse worked the highly popular Municipal Theatre, which would be relocated only in 1905 to its present stunning location, the Theater Square above the main square, in the neighborhood of the still standing Jewish National House.
The corner of the Hauptstrasse and of the Judengasse, starting down to the right. Left, the porched entrance of the city market, and then the palaces number 25-27, in the second the seat of Simon Gross’ publishing company.
We have good reason to think, then, that Simon Gross’ publishing company and bookshop, flanked by theaters, had in its profile to publish and sell the contemporary fashion genre, the postcards with the portraits of famous actors and singers. And part of this must have been the promotion of the comic characters of the Yiddish theater on the opposite side of the street. It is quite possible that Reb Burech, Schlojmy Bäcker and “the Kaly” were such kind of constant comedy actors of the Czernowitz cabaret, as Aprikosenkranz and Untenbaum of the pre-war Yiddish radio cabaret of Lwów, or Hacsek and Sajó of that of Budapest much later. Whether this was indeed so, we count on the help of our readers.
The “Balaton” Serbian-Hungarian-Gypsy (!) band performing in the theater of Czernowitz. Postcard published by Simon Gross
And once the thrice blessed Reb Burech checked in Río Wang at the end of the year, let him say a threefold blessing for the coming year. The first one is the original Yiddish-language version of the Lechaim also included in the Fiddler on the Roof, performed in the 60s by the Barry Sisters, founders of the “Yiddish swing”. The second is Trinkt Lechaim! – as Reb Burech does it – from the 10s, in the orchestration of Elmer Bernstein from the musical film Thoroughly Modern Millie of 1967 (into which some violin motifs are also interwoven from the Bukovina collection of Joel Rubin and Joshua Horowitz). And the third one is where the Messiah himself says a blessing on all the world.
The Barry Sisters: Le Chaim! (2'49")
Elmer Bernstein: Trinkt Le Chaim! Wedding song (4'23") (From the film Thoroughly Modern Millie)
Klezmatics: Shnirele perele (6'11") (From the CD Rhythm & Jews)
“Baruch – Blessing.” King David drinks a toast in the Kaufmann Haggadah, first published by us in the internet. (Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences)