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Permanent Exhibitions > Eastern European Jewry > Stories from our Ancestral Homes


Recollections of my Father
CHAIM LAZAR FRIEDMAN HA-KOHANE
by his daughter Rosie Rosenzweig


GRODNO, BELARUS
 

Chaim Lazar Friedman ha-Kohane was born in Grodno, Poland (now Byelorussia) in 1898 to fairly well to do parents. His father Todres helped build the shul in that city with a very large Jewish population. My mother remembers sitting in a front-row pew in the shul with her father-in-law's name on a plaque or a cornerstone. That synagogue was probably the one that was burned in November 1941.

My father became an orphan at a very young age with his sister Becky looking after him. She departed for America at a young age. After losing his first son to the incompetence of midwives, Lazar bundled his young daughter Ethel and his wife Tzivia up in a wagon and made the tour of Poland through Warsaw and back, looking to resettle. He worked as a leather worker and, after the birth of his second  son, bravely followed his sister to the New World in search of a better life. What a gamble he took!

My father had a remarkable voice. I remember him shaving every morning singing “Oiche Choynia”  (Dark Eyes) and even ironing his pin stripe suit before he went to work.  Now I realize he had brown eyes, and my mother had hazel eyes, so he apparently had a great self-image as well.  When I was a little girl of about three or four I could stand on the benches in shul in the men’s section.  That made me as tall as him. Listening to him daven in such a rich tenor -- that was one of my dearest memories. Then, of course, I had to go to my mother because it was time for him to go up on the bimah and be part of the minyan for Birchat ha Kohanim. The mystery of seeing him hands spread under his tallis tent is still with me. His rich baritone alto voice pierces through the off key intonations of his friends. 

I still love being part of a minyan that includes this part of the service. Perhaps if there were not so many misfortunes: the loss of his parents; searching for work in Poland and then again in Canada; I think he could have continued his cantorial role from the shtetl that he had to leave in his middle twenties.

My mother tells this story of my father: “One day a poor man was in mourning and could not afford the price of tefillin to perform the year of Kaddish.  Lazar searched his tallis bag, found his set of tefillin, and gave them to the man so that he could daven properly.” She told me that story many times to demonstrate unflinching generosity and compassion .

He was an expert card-player and enjoyed pinochle with his sister, who later become the main caterer in town, my birthplace Windsor Ontario Canada.

Poker was his forte, much to the distress of my mother. When he cut the cards, they seemed to fly in mid-air.

My father was resourceful and clever, as he pursued many ways to make a living for his family; formerly a leather finisher in Grodno, he co-managed various establishments  with his family from a butcher shop in Brooklyn with his cousins to a deli in Windsor with his sister Becky. Finally he bought a second hand store as his final endeavor. 

However this trait most impressed me when I was about five or six years old and entered our home wailing from having stumbled on a wooden playpen in someone’s yards. I had a fairly large piece of wood embedded in my left leg, with a very small stub showing,  and my mother was calling a cab to take me to a doctor. My father put me on the dining room table and found a scissors. He caught the stub of the wood between the blades and twisted the scissors flat against my leg to fully extract a long bloody chunk from a hole in my leg.  I still don’t know how he managed to do that.

 

 

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