Sophie Trupin

"The voyage to America seemed endless, and the world of water that engulfed us was terrifying. We spent most of our time below deck in what must have been the steerage section. It was a dimly lit, low ceilinged room, quite large and round, with bunks built into the walls. Each family occupied a section of upper and lower bunks. After a long voyage across the ocean the journey began all over again, but this time along endless miles of railroad tracks. Somewhere in this vast country was a place called "Nordokata." I had heard that strange name again and again for as long as I could remember. That was where our traveling would come to an end. I remember the scratchy, plush seats of those grimy trains, and the perpetual jolting and jostling.

Then we were traveling westward once more. We must have presented a strange picture with our foreign clothes and battered baggage. I imagine we appeared like a tableau, titled "A Jewish Immigrant Mother and Her Children" The central figure, a young, slight woman with a shawl draped across her shoulders; two young boys with caps and peyes, or earlocks, standing beside her; and two little girls in front with bundles at their feet. We spoke no English.

I remember the morning when we started on the last lap of our journey to the home my father had built for us. My mother sat with my father on the bench that ran across the front of the wagon, and we children sat in the wagon box amidst the baggage and provisions.

We traveled all day, and I don't remember meeting any other wagon or stopping anywhere. There were no houses or trees or rivers, only prairies and hills and sky. To my mother it must have been fearsome and devastating to be plunged into this vast, empty world after knowing only the narrow confines of her familiar ghetto.

My mother carried only three mitsvot; that is all that is expected of a Jewish woman. But in reality she could carry only two of the three. In her baggage were the four brass candlesticks which she polished every Friday at sundown from the day she was married, fulfilling the first mitsvah. The second mitsvah, as she taught me, was to say a blessing over the piece of dough she tossed into the fire when she was baking the Sabbath loaves. The third mitsvah, immersion in the ritual bath once every month, she could not carry with her.

My mother kept a kosher home, observing every holiday. This was never easy, but here it was even harder than it had been in the Old Country. There was no kosher meat, and hard-working men needed nourishment, so my father learned how to slaughter fowl in the prescribed way. He had a special ritual knife for this purpose and made a special prayer.

I remember seeing my mother make Chanukah candles. I don't know what she used to make them, but they were orange, and I used to look at these candles hanging from the rafters in the woodshed.

Several days before Passover, when the melting snow had run into the narrow valley at the south side of the hill we lived on, my mother, sister, and I set about getting our home ready for the holiday. Mother whitewashed all the walls and scoured the floors. She made the utensils kosher for Passover with scalding hot water. A stone was first heated in the range until it was red hot. It was then put into a very large pot of boiling water, making the water sizzle and hiss. The utensils were boiled for some time in this water. In addition, every piece of furniture was carried down to the slew and scrubbed and allowed to dry on the bank where the young grass was just beginning to appear.

Our family never worked on the Sabbath. There was nothing unusual about this in the Old World; any other mode of living was unthinkable. The Sabbath was considered even holier than any of the major holidays. Thus it was on the Sabbath day, in any season, my father and brothers devoted themselves to the study of Holy Writ. There was no synagogue or minyan of ten, but no matter. Each morning the tefillen was wound about the arm, and the forehead was adorned with the small black box containing the ancient prayer offered up to God, as it had been for centuries.

The Holy Days were observed with prayers, special dishes which my mother prepared, and cessation from work. However, for the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, something special had to be done. Even those Jews who had not spent their Sabbaths in rest and study and contemplation were compelled to stop and remember their training. And so it came about that on the day preceding Yom Kippur all the Jewish homesteaders, who were scattered over many miles, gathered their families and started on a journey to a common meeting place in order to observe the holiest day of the year. The farmhouse that could accommodate the most worshippers was the house of the Weinbergs. It was to be our shul..."