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The Feast of Sukkot from “Pavel’s Violin”

Copyright 2017, Walter William Melnyk, All Rights reserved

sukkah2The Feast of Sukkos was everyone’s favorite holiday in Lipnik. The Rabbi explained it as a celebration of the liberation from Egypt, and the wandering in the desert. A time, he lamented, when “the Jews were more religious than they are these days.” The Talmud commanded that once a year, at the end of the Holy Days, Jews should be build a temporary booth, a sukke, in their yard and live in it for a week. Well, strictly speaking only the men were obligated. But the rest of the family “dropped in” often, and all meals were shared there.
“The sukke reminds us that the Holy One, may His Name be blessed, brought us out from slavery in Egypt,” the Rabbi said each year, “and taught us for forty years in the wilderness before giving us the Promised Land.”
But every holiday had its worldly roots as well, and it was those roots that people who were not Rabbis were most likely to celebrate. Originally the Feast of Booths was a harvest festival, when villagers would live in temporary shelters out in the field, bringing in the harvest, and celebrating their bounty.
“Which is why our sukke today,” Levi whispered, eyes darting about for the Rabbi, “is decorated with gourds and vegetables, and wheat, which no Jew ever found in the middle of a desert!
By the time they had finished hanging decorations, and putting up a table and benches, it was nearly dark. Miryam and Beylke, along with, the daughters in law, began carrying platters and baskets of food from the house. Levi busied himself with a final inspection of the sukke, the Papa’s duty.
It could be of any size a family needed, as long as it had at least three walls, which could be of any material. The roof had to be natural, however, usually cut branches. The Mishna said so. It had to be solid enough to give shade, but open enough so you could see the stars through it at night. In nice weather it was nice. If it rained, it rained. And when the sun went down on the first day of the feast, the celebration would begin. In the gathering dark, Miryam lit the two candles, saying,

“Blessed are you Adonai Eloheinu, who has commanded us to light the candles of Sukkos.” Levi waved a sheaf of grain and a basket of fruit before them.
“Blessed are you,” he said, “Who gives us the fruit of the earth.”

“Can we eat now?” Anshel begged, from behind his mother, and they all laughed.

“I think we have a wise grandson,” Levi said. “Let’s eat!”
~

After the feast, with stars shining through the roof branches and fresh candles lighted, everyone helped to clear away the dishes. Brandy was brought out for the adults, cider for the children, and the eldest daughter, Mryam’s only daughter, Beylke, began the evening’s festivities with the family’s traditional request,

“Tattenyu!” she called out to her father, “Tell us the story of the Little Sukke!”
“Well, children, gather ‘round,” he said with a grin. This was always the signal for everyone to “gather ‘round,” no matter what age, on benches or on the ground, to listen to Reb Levi’ song.

“You know,” he said, surveying his many children and grandchildren, “Our sukke is not so little.” He gestured with a wide sweep of his arm. “But that is because our family is not so little!” Everyone laughed. Those same words were spoken every year. “And this story, about a sukke a kleyne, is not so much about a little sukke, but about a beloved sukke.” He paused and smiled at them all. “A beloved sukke for a beloved family.

“Of course I cannot tell the story without my fiddle!” he announced. The children all clapped with delight, the adults following their lead. Levi reached into a corner behind the table and brought out his old violin, the one he had used for this moment every year since the children could remember.

He made a great show of tuning the strings, taking far more time than was actually needed. This too was part of the family tradition. The young ones jostled and squirmed with anticipation, inching ever closer to their grandfather. The adults remembered days gone by, when they had done the same thing, in the same sukke. Levi continued to tune his strings, with mock seriousness, until he was interrupted by a young voice in the middle of the crowd,

“Grandpa! The story!” and, remembering his place, “Please!” Levi looked up, in pretended surprise.

“What? Oh. Oh yes, the story!” He drew his bow across the strings, testing his tuning.
“This song is an old, old story about our people. It was first told many years ago, when we escaped from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land.” Eidel, Beylke’s daughter, raised her hand.

“Were you there, Grandpa?” she asked. Levi pulled on his beard.

“You think because of this beard I’m as old as Methuselah?” he laughed. “No, Eidele, it was too long ago, even for me. But if you are a Jew, it is always just as if you had escaped from Egypt yourself. One day,” he turned serious for a moment, “you will understand.” He looked all around before going on.

“Tonight, everyone, I have two surprises!” again the children clapped gleefully. “Beylke, my Daughter, come sit with me.” Beylke smiled. She knew what was coming. She went quickly to her father, and sat next to him on his bench.

“Here is the first surprise,” said Levi, his eyes twinkling. “Beylke has been taking lessons from me on the fiddle.” Everyone laughed. That was no surprise. They had all heard the sounds of those lessons for months, beginning with scratches and squeals, slowly becoming softer and sweeter.

“She has been taking lessons,” Levi said, “and now she is ready.” He handed the fiddle to her, “and tonight she will play for the sukkaleh tale!” More joyful clapping, and a cheer from Motke, her husband. Beylke blushed, and raised the instrument into position.
“This is an old, old tale,” Levi began, “and it has been told many times, in many lands, in the many languages our people have known. Many of the words have changed many times, and doubtless will continue to do so in the many years ahead.
“This is really a song about two sukkes,” he held up his fingers. “A little one, and a big one. We are sitting in the little one.” Everyone laughed. “Well, I know it looks big, but, believe me it is little compared to the other.
“The big sukke is our people, the Jews. It is so big that millions of us from all over the world fit into it!” A gasp arose among the children.
“But even if our little sukke looks weak, like a little storm could knock it over,” He paused and looked at one of his grandchildren. “Motel,” he asked, “has our sukke ever fallen down?”

“No, Grandpa, never!”

“Aha!” said Levi. “Never! And the big sukke is just like that. Only much bigger. For thousands of years we Jews have faced many trials and dangers. We have faced many storms, and sometimes we were afraid our story might be all over, and that our big sukke would come crashing down. One time it was the Egyptians in the Torah. Last summer it was the Prussians right here in Olomouc! The big sukke has been shaken by so many storms, but has it ever fallen down, Motel.”

“No!” Motel shouted. ”Never!”

“And so, no matter what fears come upon us,” Levi concluded, “we Jews may be shaken, but we will always stand.”

He nodded to Beylke, who began the sweet, plaintive tune, her slender fingers light upon the strings, playing, not with a learned technique, but with an inborn gift. Levi began the to sing.

A sikele a kleyne,
mit breytelekh gemeyne . . .

There was no sound, except for the father’s voice, and the daughter’s violin.

My Sukkahleh is small, not fancy at all
but is especially dear to me.
Thatch I put on a bit, hoping to cover it,
there sitting and thinking I’d be.

The wind was a cold one,
the cracked walls were old ones,
the candles were flickering low.
At times as if dying, but suddenly rising,
as if they did not want to go.

My sweet little daughter
sensing the danger,
got scared and started to cry.
“Father,” she cried,
“Don’t stay there outside
the Sukkah is going to fall!”

Fear not my child, it’s been quite a while
the Sukkahleh still stands strong.
The wind has been worse my dear,
but it’s been several thousand years,
yet the Sukkahleh still stands strong!

Beylke played the last half of a verse as an ending, and lowered the violin. The children looked around, quietly, in awe, at Beylke, at Levi, at the walls of their own sukkaleh that rustled and creaked in the night breezes. Miryam had tears in her eyes; as did all of all the adults.

“Our People haven’t fallen yet,” Levi said, “and we never will.”

Copyright 2017, Walter William Melnyk, All Rights reserved

“An air of joy . . .”

A new Reader Review.  Thanks very much to “Sideliner” from Spain!

Five Stars: Beautifully Woven
on August 22, 2018
“An air of joy to a people of faith and family intertwined with an elegy to the persecution of the Jewish peoples in germanic europe. Crafted and caring it carries the reader through history on the strings of a violin that still exists today. Bravo.”

Center for Judaic, Holocaust & Peace Studies

Last Friday (June 1) I was honored to be asked to read from “Pavel’s Violin,” and to play the violin itself, at a Shabbat observance of the Secular Jewish Community of Asheville, in Asheville, North Carolina.  The proceeds from book sales at the event were donated to the Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.

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Appalachian State University’s Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies was founded in 2002 to develop new educational opportunities for students, teachers, and the community. Located administratively within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center seeks to strengthen tolerance, understanding, and remembrance by increasing the knowledge of Jewish culture and history, teaching the history and meaning of the Holocaust, and utilizing these experiences to explore peaceful avenues for human improvement and the prevention of further genocides.

The Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies is an associate institutional member of the Association of Jewish Studies, a member of the Association of Holocaust Organizations and of the North Carolina Consortium of Jewish Studies.

Objectives:

  • Organization of public lectures, research colloquia, campus exhibits, scholarly workshops and conferences for academic and community audiences at ASU and–in cooperation with national and international partners–in North Carolina, the United States, Germany and Israel.
  • Development of a visiting scholars program that regularly brings both international and American scholars in Jewish or Holocaust Studies to campus.
  • Sponsorship the Martin and Doris Rosen Summer Holocaust Symposium for public school teachers from the United States and Eastern Europe, ASU students and faculty, and the wider community.
  • Introduction of a post-doctoral fellowship program in Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies.
  • Support of an expanded undergraduate minor in Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies (under the College of Arts and Sciences) and its curricular offerings.
  • Support of research-oriented study abroad opportunities related to Judaic, Holocaust and/or Peace Studies in Europe and Israel.
  • Encouragement of cross-campus, interdisciplinary cooperation and faculty development related to Judaic, Holocaust and/or Peace Studies.
  • Facilitation and support of student and faculty research and publication in Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies.
  • Expansion of a Library and Resource Center that collects and makes accessible resources, scholarly publications, and archival collections in Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies to ASU students, faculty and staff, teachers, and the wider community.
  • Establishment of a fundraising, grant writing, and endowment program that ensures the Center’s continued operation.

 

Pavel’s Violin at the Nashville Symphony

Copies of “Pavel’s Violin” are soon to be featured in the Symphony Store at the Nashville Symphony, as a part of their Violins of Hope Nashville exhibition!

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See their website for more information:  http://violinsofhopenashville.com/

Walter William Melnyk, Pavel’s Violin
From the author: “Pavel’s Violin is an historical novel based upon the true stories of Pavel Lustig, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz, and a Jakob Stainer model violin that he received after his escape from an Auschwitz death march. It is a tale of joy, sorrow, despair and hope, inspired through the music of this instrument.” Melnyk is a Tennessee-based author, and all sales of his book go to Holocaust awareness efforts. Learn more at PavelsViolin.com.

Violins of Hope Nashville

Visit Violins of Hope Nashville, sponsored by the Nashville Symphony:

Violins of Hope

About Violins of Hope
The Violins of Hope are a collection of restored instruments played by Jewish musicians during The Holocaust. These instruments have survived concentration camps, pogroms and many long journeys to tell remarkable stories of injustice, suffering, resilience and survival. The Nashville Symphony is bringing the Violins of Hope to Nashville to facilitate a citywide dialogue about music, art, social justice and free expression.

The Nashville Symphony has partnered with more than two dozen local groups and organizations on a community-wide series of events around these instruments, highlighted by an exhibition at the Nashville Public Library. The sound, presence and stories of these instruments will drive the creation of music, visual art, theater, public conversation, interfaith dialogue, readings and educational activities throughout Middle Tennessee.

“Each of these instruments has a remarkable story to tell about resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable difficulty,” says Alan D. Valentine, Nashville Symphony president and CEO. “This singular collection will serve as a springboard for many of Nashville’s cultural organizations to explore the vital role that music, the arts and creativity play in all of our lives. We are thrilled to be working with so many enthusiastic partners on this historic initiative.”

“The Jewish Federation of Nashville is honored to partner with the Nashville Symphony in bringing the Violins of Hope to Nashville,” says Mark S. Freedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. “For our Jewish community, this represents a profoundly important opportunity to let these sacred instruments provide a measure of redemption to the millions of Holocaust victims who perished simply because they were Jews. These violins should serve as a clarion call throughout our city that the words ‘Never Again’ must resonate through every one of us in our collective struggle to overcome bigotry and hatred.” (from ViolinsofHopeNashville.org)

Reader’s Praise

Pavel’s Violin is averaging a review of 4.7 stars.  One reader says this:

stars-5-0._CB192240867_  Haunting
December 24, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

Well written..very much in the style of the Czech language and culture. The feeling you have from the words are ancient yet contemporary; just like the land itself. The words, whether narrative or descriptive, allow the visual images to flow so vividly.
Lovely.”

Just like the Land itself:

Bruntal